by Jeffrey R. Charles.
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Section 1 (the above-linked document) includes an Introduction and the following chapters:
Dedications; The Experience of Totality; Making an Eclipse; Instrumentation and Preparation; Selecting Bolivia as the Country to Visit; Murphy's Law Strikes Even Before I Leave Home; The Expedition Begins; The Perils of Being a Commodity; A Dizzying Hodgepodge of Events; Glaring Inequality; Getting to the High Altitude Eclipse Site.
The morning of the November 3, 1994 total solar eclipse, we awoke to a mostly clear sky. The only visible clouds over the altiplano were thin bands of cirrus. The cloud bands were visible in all directions. While the clouds could interfere with the outer corona, they also had the potential to make my 360 degree panoramas look really interesting.
Our site was about 1 km west of Sevaruyo, and a few meters higher than the town's elevation of 3740 meters. Health wise, I felt only slightly better than the night before, and it was clear that my physical condition had not really improved much. I could no longer remember many aspects of my planned eclipse procedures, and I had even forgotten that Venus would be visible next to the eclipse. It was a good thing I had prepared a check list for my procedures!
Delfina had come with Roberto's family and made coffee for everyone, so I had some. My equipment was set up North of where the bus was parked. Some other people from our convoy were set up on a hill to the south. Two of them had 60 mm refractor telescopes, and at least one of the telescopes was set up to project partial phases of the eclipse onto a small screen. Some people had film cameras, others had video cameras, and still others had no cameras at all. But for our group, there were enough solar filters to go around.
The missionary who had driven his van to the eclipse site began taking video of the general area and interviewing people. It looked like he was doing an excellent job of documenting the general surroundings. (That was something I was too tired to do.) He, Willma and the few students from Buenas Nuevas all knew that I was going to be busy during the eclipse, so they did not pepper me with questions or interfere; however, there were others from the convoy who did not have such consideration.
Rich People Interfere Again, But One Person is Helpful:
As could be the case in any country, some relatively well-to-do local people, unindoctrinated in eclipse etiquette, soon huddled around my telescope, fully equipped with their flash cameras and a plethora of questions. Some of them even kept walking or standing right in front of my telescope (usually to look at it) so with the help of Roberto, I roped off the area immediately in front of it. But not all of the people were a problem.
One helpful person from our convoy was very welcome to be in my immediate area. Ana Flores, who had come in the missionary's van, was aware of my condition from a previous conversation and had graciously offered to operate one of my cameras and interpret to some of the people at the site. This was a welcome offer, because I knew that my condition would not allow me to perform all of my planned tasks at the eclipse.
It turned out that my condition didn't allow me to do a good job of showing her what needed to be done with the camera, and this in turn prevented her from contributing as much as she could have otherwise. In spite of this, even the matters of her translation and moral support were very welcome. Few others at the site seemed to grasp the gravity of my condition, and the repercussions it could have on my work at the eclipse. I'd never been sick at an eclipse before, and I didn't know what the impact would be.
Some people at the site began to express differing opinions as to when it was and was not safe to look at the sun. Since it is not safe to look directly at the partial phases of any eclipse, I wanted to be sure that no one tried to look at the partial phases without proper eye protection. Fortunately, the moon's shadow would appear in the northwest and provide a fascinating distraction for the people that is safe to look at during the moments just before totality. (This is where a group briefing may have helped, but there was no energy for it, and no time was allowed to prepare.)
As I set up more of my equipment, incessant questions from the richer people continued to be a distraction. This put me in the position of having to be a so-called "guide" for them. To make matters worse, one of the more prominent locals who were not associated with my host was apparently confusing people by telling them that they would not be able to look at the eclipse even when it is total! (After seeing my video and noticing the relative chaos of my immediate surroundings, a Bolivian Astronomer whom I met after the eclipse joked: "Don't the accessories for your telescope include something like a sword for these people?")
Fortunately, with the welcome help of Ana's translation, I was able to announce the order of events that were expected to occur at the eclipse, including my prediction that yellow color would become visible toward the north and south a minute or so before totality. This helped reduce the number of questions, but it did not entirely eliminate the problem.
At this eclipse, I had hoped to explain certain aspects to Willma Alcocer and a few of the Buenas Nuevas students she brought with her. But it had not been possible to set this up in advance, because no one cared to interpret what I said into Spanish for them. However, interpretation kindly provided by Ana Flores would now make that possible. But then some rich people imposed themselves between Willma and I, so she and the students went over toward the host family. Rich people had struck again.
A few seconds after 7:19 a.m., the moon begins to cover one edge of the sun, and we have first contact. The countdown to totality begins! At this eclipse, 3 minutes and 8 seconds of totality are predicted to begin at 8:22:01 local time. Since it is not safe to look directly at the partial phases of the eclipse, people improvise. Some use the solar goggles I brought, while others use small mirrors to reflect an image of the eclipse onto the sides of vehicles or other flat objects.
The moon continues its relentless trek across the sun. By about 8:05, it becomes easy to see that the light has dimmed. The light is harsh, and shadows are extraordinarily well defined.
At 8:16, a slight darkening becomes visible on the northwestern horizon. A minute later, it becomes more obvious. The lunar umbra has appeared. Totality is only 5 minutes away. At 8:17, I take a panorama with my indexing rotary platform. In spite of the fact that my area is partially roped off, people still occasionally wander between me and the platform. This made it difficult to change shutter speeds at the right times, and I missed making some of these changes as a result. I also forgot to make some of the belated settings after the people did get out of the way, so my later panoramas (including those taken during totality) did not come out very well. The procedures I'd practiced did not account for people getting in the way.
The ambient light continues to dim considerably. By 8:18:35 (3:26 before totality), the umbra is substantially more obvious. The sunlight is dim but it is still harsh due to the thinning crescent of photosphere that remains.
All of a sudden, I begin to fall behind on my eclipse procedure, and realize that I am wasted. I am acutely aware that I am not in any condition to properly implement even the newly paired down version of my procedures, but am at a loss as to what to do about it. I'm too tired to feel panic, so I experience more of a dull anxiety combined with helpless resignation. My efficiency is far less than half of what it should be, and my senses are so dulled that my ability to take things in is markedly reduced. I was only able to remember things about this eclipse that I had taken pictures, video, or specific note of, quite unlike my experience at previous eclipses.
The Lunar Umbra Becomes Obvious to Everyone
At 8:20, there are only two minutes to go until totality. Some faint yellow color begins to appear to the north and south, near the boundary of the approaching umbra. Ana sees this before I do and points the color and the umbra out to people:
La sombra esta alli ya. Vez?
(I will try to translate: The shadow is already there. See?)
No es oscuridad?
(Isn't it dark?)
Si. Esta oscuro.
(Yes. It is dark.)
Si viene, suve alla.
(If it comes, it goes up there.)
Alla ya a aqui. Como es. Alla, y alla, es amarillo.
(There it comes. Like this. Over there, and over there, it's yellow.)
Excitement quickly builds as more and more people see the spectacle. Many utter exclamations about what they see. Some people take pictures; with many of them using flash, which they should not do. No shadow bands are observed by anyone.
The light intensity begins to drop fast enough that I can barely perceive it is getting darker second by second, and the crescent sun is getting thinner and thinner at an unmercifully fast rate!
The leading edge of the lunar umbra had gradually become so poorly defined that it is no longer observable. The sky near the zenith is the deepest blue I have ever seen, and it is darkening at a faster and faster rate. I begin to take another panorama with my platform, but I keep pushing the two buttons in the wrong order. I finally get it right and alternately push them.
By 35 seconds before totality, Venus becomes obvious, but I was too spaced out to remember that it was Venus, so I just announced that it was a star or planet. The blazingly bright crescent sun is to its lower left, set against a perceptibly darkening deep blue sky, and there is very little localized glare around it. I mentioned that people should take no more than a brief glimpse at the "star or planet" (i.e. Venus) because of its close angular proximity to the sun.
Though I should not have been looking at it, I briefly see the moon's entire outline against the sun's inner corona. It is fascinating to see, even more so than totality in some ways. But I do not plan to look at it again, since it is not safe to look at a partial eclipse, no matter how extreme it is! Apparently, the thin clouds are not going to be a problem! I am feeling as much excitement as my dulled senses and condition allow!
The trailing edge of the umbra has now moved above western horizon, and the yellow and orange color below and toward either side of it is becoming more saturated. About 17 seconds before totality, a mountain to our west is engulfed by the umbra and it turns dark with remarkable swiftness, going from a dim sunlit tan to a darker dusky gray in less than a second. (At this eclipse, the speed of the umbra perpendicular to the line of sight to the sun is over 0.7 km per second (it is slowed slightly because earth's rotation is following it), and due to the moderate 36 degree solar elevation angle, the ground speed is over 1.2 km per second!)
As seen through a solar filter, there is now only a short sliver of the sun left. It rapidly shortens, and its ends begin to break up into small pieces, briefly making it appear like a shrinking arc of beads.
Finally, only a small, contiguous group of beads are left. They appear to be as though they are a bright diamond set against the ring of dimmer light from the solar corona. The effect is different from the last "diamond ring" I had seen because there is little diffuse glare around the last remaining beads of solar photosphere. (This is also something I should not have been looking at, for eye safety reasons.)
The beads quickly dim and go out until only one is left. I yell, "look at the sun now!"
The last bead of light quickly dims and goes out within a second or two.
And then: The sun is gone!
Ana interprets when I say that people can look at the eclipse without filters just as totality begins, then she looks at the eclipse herself and literally jumps up and down with excitement as she exclaims "Aleluia!" Some other people reacted with similar enthusiasm. There are emotional cries of "It's so beautiful" and "Que Lindo!". Totality has begun!
A 40 to 60 degree long (but shrinking) arc of the bright pinkish-red chromosphere becomes very obvious, being far brighter than the solar corona. The arc of chromosphere quickly shortens and disappears behind the moon. There are no naked eye prominences, but a small one is visible at the five o'clock position under magnification.
On the ground, the umbra engulfs our immediate area in an instant as it races toward distant mountains to the east. Its motion on the nearby ground is not observable, but it is easy to see it pick off mountains in the distance, some of which remain sunlit until several seconds after second contact (the beginning of totality) from our site.
The corona is stunning. At the first casual glance, it appears to be an irregular ring of white light around the dark, round, outline of the moon, extending out to an angular distance equivalent to about one solar radius from the dark edge of the moon. But a more extended observation of the corona reveals that there is a soft quality to its light, and that it has brighter plumes and streamers radiating out from its center. This was the first time I realized what people meant when they referred to the corona as being "pearly white". That is the best description possible.
A longer look reveals that the corona extends out at least one solar diameter in all directions. Some of the eastern and western coronal streamers (which are at the five and eleven o'clock positions) extend well beyond three solar diameters. The lower one is well over four solar diameters! Due to the extent of the corona, I decide to go with longer exposures and zoom out my video with the 3x converter to get more of the corona. Then, I pan my wide angle video camera to the east and take some photos of the eclipse over the horizon with a 20 mm lens. By now, the eclipse has been total for over 35 seconds.
Some of the children begin to sing "How Great Thou Art" in Spanish. I don't know if this is spontaneous or if someone is leading them. The sky overhead is a dark gray-blue color, and the area occupied by the moon appears to be about the same color and brightness as the grayish blue sky immediately surrounding the corona. It is not black at all. Not even close. Now I know what an eclipse picture really should look like!
The leading edge of the umbra has again become visible as it closes in on the eastern horizon. Most of the yellow color around the horizon has lost a lot of its saturation. It is not completely dark, and I can read the shutter speed dials on my cameras with only a little difficulty. If I had to guess, I would say that the incident light was equivalent to an exposure of about one second at f/4 with ISO 100 film. My photos later showed that this estimate was in the ball park.
I finally finish shooting my slides of the corona and go to check on my video cameras. Two of them are fine, but my wide angle corona camera does not seem to be working! I thought the problem may have been the battery, and I waste several seconds trying in vain to put on a new battery and restart the camera. It turned out that the battery was not the problem at all - I had left the solar filter on! Another casualty of accumulated sleep deprivation. After this debacle, I go back to my other equipment and take a 360 degree panorama with my indexing rotary camera platform.
Now, I get to do what I have wanted to do for years!
I look at the corona through my Vernonscope 94mm refractor at a magnification of 20x, and the view is magnificent! The corona looks absolutely stationary, and its polar streamers (actually plumes) are very sharp, almost as though they were etched with a fine blade. Some radial polar plumes are fanlike, and some of them each contain myriads of incredibly fine radial lines. The detail is absolutely breathtaking! No earthshine on the moon is visible in the eyepiece, but it is obvious in my corona photos having three second exposures. I quickly switch to my camera with negative film and start shooting more pictures, looking directly at the eclipse as I do so.
Suddenly, a bright slice of bright pink light (the chromosphere) begins to appear at the western edge of the moon. I yell: "It's almost over", and Ana interprets so that people will be ready to look away from the sun at the right time. The arc of chromosphere quickly lengthens until it wraps around almost 60 degrees of the moon.
A tiny part of the sun's bright photosphere suddenly appears through a valley on the edge of the moon and quickly increases in brightness, gradually washing out the dimmer light of the corona. In the earliest stages (the first second or two), it looks like an incredibly bright feature on a ring, which may be why many describe this part of the eclipse the "diamong ring" effect.
It is time to look away from the sun. Totality is over.
After the frist couple of seconds (it definitely is not safe to look at by this time) the increasing area of exposed solar photosphere quickly overwhelms the corona. By 20 to 30 seconds after totality, a few corona features may remain visible (in photos, since it is not safe to look) on the opposing side of the moon. If there are no clouds, it may be possible to detect the outline of the part of the moon opposite the emerging sun (again, in photos) until up to 2 or 3 minutes after totality.
The lunar umbra remains visible in the east and southeast for several minutes after third contact, as it races toward lucky eclipse observers farther along the path of totality. It turned out that my wide angle video captured the rapid and dramatic motion of the umbra right at third contact. At the same time, the ambient light is increasing rapidly.
Soon, the umbra is gone and the entire sky appears normal again, even though there still is a strong partial eclipse remaining. People from our convoy soon appear at my telescope, wanting to see partial phases of the eclipse through it. Some even bring cameras and take afocal shots through the eyepiece. This prevented looking at Venus through the scope before it became lost in the glare of brightening sunlight, but the partial eclipse will be more interesting to most anyway. (After I saw how bright Venus was during totality, I could tell that it was Venus.)
About an hour and a quarter after the end of totality, the partial phase of the eclipse ends at fourth contact.
Roberto had noticed that the time between first and second contact was substantially shorter than the time between third and fourth contact and asked me why that was so. I sleepily explained that the sun was higher in the sky between third and fourth contact, and this allowed rotation of the earth to cause our observing site to "follow" the moon's motion to a greater degree, thereby slowing the moon's apparent rate of motion in front of the sun. He grasped the concept, and oddly seemed to be just as impressed by this aspect as he had been by totality.
Months of practice and preparation have minimized the impact of stress and illness on the performance of my work at the eclipse. But there are serious problems. The data collection for the primary experiment relied heavily on manually setting the shutter speeds on the camera atop the rotating panoramic platform at precisely determined intervals. This was not properly performed, resulting in drastically underexposed 360 degree panoramic photos during totality. This compromised the experiment and ruined any chance of having dramatic 360 degree images that could immerse people in the experience of totality at a planetarium, etc.
In particular, I later discovered that I only took one panorama during totality instead of the planned two, and that the panorama I did take during totality was underexposed by nearly five f/stops. I later discovered that I had missed the step of slowing the camera shutter speed (and prepating to take one of the panoramas) while my camera was blocked by one of the pushier people in our convoy, and I never went back to correct this. (If I had not been exhausted by previous demands of those with political agendas, it's almost certain that this step would not have been missed.)
The poor outcome in data collection (via photos, light meter, and video) will compromise the accuracy of the primary experiment and the quality of the photos; however, it appears that with some difficulty, it might be possible to partially salvage the experiment by using the other pictures and video I had taken of the horizon for aesthetic purposes. (Ultimately, the video was not enough to salvage the work, so I had to perform the experiment all over again at another eclipse the next year.)
I was not aware of all of these problems at the time (such was the nature of my brain fog from illness), and I only discovered some of the problems after the film was processed. Then (long after the trip, when I had rested), I went back to view and listen to video that was recorded at the eclipse. From this, it was possible to reconstruct what had happened, even in terms of details that I did not remember at all. Because I was unaware of the full scope of what had gone wrong while I was still on site after the eclipse, my spirits were still farily good that day.
I did not get to start taking down my equipment until after fourth contact because people were looking through the telescope and posing for pictures by my setup. This, and being ill, delayed and slowed packing my equipment, and we did not leave the site until almost noon.
Willma Alcocer Beaming After the Eclipse
An hour or so before we left the eclipse site, the ambient temperature was high enough that I did not need the coat that had been loaned to me, so I went to put it in the bus. While I was on the side of the bus that is away from most of the people, I saw Willma Alcocer (of Colegio Buenas Nuevas) preparing to put some cold weather clothes in a cargo door near the back of the bus.
When she saw me, she acted in a light hearted way that I had rarely seen, so I decided to take a picture of her while she was beaming. This beaming may have been the brilliance that seemed younger than me that I'd sensed at our first meeting. Other than when we first met (but before the men came to the house for the imposed meeting only minutes later) she had never looked this happy at the house. I later realized that she only acted like this during rare times when people at the eclipse site did not have line of sight to us. She looked so young and happy. Her radiant smile seemed even brighter when she looked like she was bursting with happiness.
Our group packed everything up and left the eclipse site at about noon. I was the last to finish packing, partly because I had left everything set up until fourth contact so people could look through my telescope and take group pictures by the equipment. This time, all of my equipment was in the bus with me, and none of it was in the van. The clouds had thickened considerably, but at least they had stayed out of the way for the eclipse.
Back to Cochabamba
On the way back to Cochabamba, we went into an isolated and deserted looking area on the outskirts of Sevaruyo, so a few people (including myself) could clear our plumbing. Unfortunately, the only private place was a stable that was infested with horseflies, so contending with them for my blood made for an interesting balancing act. In the U.S., using a similarly unconventional restroom could be interpreted as having to "void where prohibited by law".
As we were getting back on the bus, I looked at the desolate surroundings. It was all brown adobe walls and brown dirt. There was not a green plant in sight, which was quite a contrast to our eclipse site. Until I saw this extremely desolate place, I had been impressed at how desolate our comparatively less desolate eclipse site was. I recall thinking how desolate and alien this area would have looked only a few hours before, when the eclipse was total.
On the road back to Oruro, I tried to partially lay on my left side in the bus seat, with my feet over the front wheel well. The ride was rather rough. I had forgotten that a seat near the longitudinal center of the bus would provide a smoother ride. The road was well traveled on this particular day, so the air in the bus became filled with fine dust from the road on a few occasions.
After some time, we stopped at a curious isolated group of sand dunes. While some children from our group played in the sand, I shot some video of the area. Later, the bus blew another tire, but this time the spare was inflated and we were able go get underway again in a less than an hour. Not long after this, we could see a train off to our left. It was probably carrying other eclipse chasers back from the center line.
Before long, we entered Huari, where the streets were again paved. We stopped there and I saw to my usual problem, but this time, we were able to find some "real" restrooms - something more substantial than a stable or a hole in the ground. Before we left the town square, I purchased a wall hanging made from llama hair.
A woman in my host family encouraged me to negotiate for a low price with the indigenous lady selling it. I could tell that the seller did not like to deal much, so I only bartered to a modest degree. She may have sold it for less, but it was well made and the reduction in price from further barter would be minimal for me but it could represent a lot for her. In addition, I wanted a rural person such as herself to get my money rather than some merchant in the city who would probably be many times richer than she was. If I had it to do again, I probably would have paid the reasonable price she asked and not bartered at all. People are more important than money or stuff.
The Busy Streets of Oruro
We arrived in Oruro a couple of hours before sunset, then drove to within half a block of the 4-story house belonging to Roberto's relatives. We waited there while our driver and Roberto looked for a new spare tire for the bus. As we were waiting, I was observing some indigenous street vendors in the area. One of them had a wide array of shoes on a low profile display that must have been at least four meters long.
I noticed that an older indigenous lady was wanting to cross the street at the intersection, but none of the cars were letting her by. She waited patiently for several minutes before a break in the traffic allowed her to start across. Unfortunately, she did not walk particularly fast, so the traffic cut her off before she even got halfway across, causing her to have to retreat back to the corner where she started. She tried to cross several times before she made it across, and even then it must have been due to luck, because not even one of the many drivers would do as much as even slow down for her. It was as though no one even saw her.
I later saw a younger indigenous gal with a child have to go through the same ordeal. It was like having to play several games of "Frogger" in a row, every time you wanted to cross the street. It seemed that it would be burdensome to these people's livelihood if simply crossing the street was always such an ordeal. In other respects, people in this area did not seem to be any more rushed than those in Cochabamba.
It began to get very cool about an hour before sunset, so I retreated to the bus. Through the window, I noticed a dog chewing on something as he was on the sidewalk, apparently oblivious to all of the people nearby. The dog had a curious posture, standing up on its hind legs but completely laid down on its front legs.
We left the area after a few more minutes. Just outside of town, we got gas and lined up to take group pictures beside the bus. Many people wanted to get a group shot. When one person finished taking a picture, another would want to go and take a shot. It was amusing to repeatedly hear someone exclaim "Uno mas!" after each person would finish taking a picture. After everyone got a group picture, we left the station.
As we passed a check point near the station, some older women selling bread ran to greet our bus. The driver stopped and they came on board, selling items to a few of my fellow passengers. After this, we resumed our journey.
Farther outside Oruro, I could see snowcapped mountains ahead in the diatance. These probably included Cerro Gigante and maybe even Mount Illimani. I was surprised at how clear they looked, since some must have been nearly 200 km away from us. I recall thinking about how exceptional the Altiplano must be for deep-sky observation and astrophotography. Even though it was cold, it impressed me as being a better possibility than Australia for observing southern sky objects. It certainly had looked dark the night before.
Leaving the Altiplano
As we were about to cross the boundary of the Altiplano, I could see the last colors of sunset leaving the sky, in what was the day's second appearance of sunset colors. We approached a check point near the edge of the Altiplano (the same one by which our bus had blown a tire a day before) and noticed that the missionary's van was beside the road. His van had broken down, but he thought he could handle things and he said that there was no need for us to hang around for him.
We continued on, and it seemed to get dark rather quickly. As we were on the way down the mountain road, I could see the lights of Cochabamba in the distance, but we did not get to stop and take pictures. On the way to the eclipse, Ana had pointed out that one could see the lights of Cochabamba at night from near the large bridge, and I had looked forward to seeing the sight.
It was now dark, and I looked out the bus window to try and see the night sky. I could make out the Magellanic clouds, but the view lacked the glory of what I'd seen the night before. From the Altiplano, it had been awe inspiring when seen from outside the bus.
Arriving Back in Cochabamba
Well before eleven, we began to see signs of development, and by eleven, the street was lined with single and two story buildings. Surprisingly, I could already see the light of the large Cristo statue that was clear over on the other side of town. Half an hour later, I could distinguish the shape of the statue. We all arrived back in our part of Cochabamba by about midnight. I was surprised that it had taken an hour to drive only part of the way across town, but then, we obviously had not been driving on a controlled access freeway.
Over the next couple of days, I rested, took my negative film to be processed (at Photo Broadway and Photo Relieve), then went to a few nearby shops and city buildings. I decided to get some of my film processed locally so it would not be at risk of damage from airport X-ray machines on the return trip. I also wanted to get prints of some of my photos to give to my host and some of the schools I had visited. Photo Broadway did a good job processing my color negatives, but it seemed that they wanted to gouge me on 3-1/2 x 5 reprints (pricing them at one U.S. dollar each) so I did not order any. (I instead had prints made in the US and mailed them.)
Photo Relieve also did a good job on my other color negatives, but they got several air bubble marks on my black and white ones. They were late in finishing one of my rolls of film (it was a rush job that was not given to them until after my final visit to Buenas Nuevas on the day before my departure), so I had to arrange for it to be picked up after I left the country. Visiting relatives then brought the photos to me the next year. On one of my later trips to a photo lab, I met German Morales (a person from the ASO astronomy center I'd met before the eclipse) as he was riding his motorcycle. He may have come there to pick up some processed photos.
In the days after the eclipse, I watched some TV to see if there was going to be any late news coverage about the eclipse. There was some, but only one day later, there was considerably more coverage about a bomb scare in town. Apparently, Bolivian authorities had located the leader of a local coup which had failed in the early 1980's. He was under arrest in Brazil and Bolivian authorities were trying to extradite him. His operatives responded to this by planting bombs in Cochabamba and at various other locations in Bolivia. The news showed that one such device, about half the size of a shoe box, was found in what appeared to be the same local city government building that I'd been at only a few hours before. (Hard to know for sure, since the news only showed an outdoor staircase area.) Fortunately, it had been possible for the authorities to take the device it out of town and explode it with no damage to people or property.
A Family View of Saturn
One evening, I set up my telescope so Roberto and his family could look at Saturn. I wanted to go out of town and take photos of southern deep sky objects when I felt up to it, and wanted to give his family an opportunity to look through my telescope on a night other than one in which I would seek to take photos. A couple of other people were there, including Willma, who waa again a director at Colegio Buenas Nuevas.
Both Willma and Roberto's wife Gloria had an amusing and likable tendency to musically pronounce "mmmm" or "ahhh" when they were impressed by something. On one occasion, both Gloria and Willma did it at the same time, and Roberto almost laughed his head off.
Eventually, I noticed that Delfina (the maid) had not been invited to look at Saturn through the telescope, so I asked if it was all right with them if she did. I was rather shocked by Gloria's reply when she said "She would not know what she was looking at, and even if she did, she wouldn't appreciate it." Being rather taken aback, I asked again if the maid could look, and added that all that needed to be done was to inform her about what she was looking at. When Delfina was given the opportunity to look, I could tell she did understand what she was seeing and that she did appreciate it.
It bothered me that anyone would have such an opinion about Delfina, because she impressed me as being a person of good character. The difference was that she was not given the same educational opportunities as the family she was working for. Having seen the quality of the staff at Buenas Nuevas, I hoped and anticipated that the next generation of people like her would have more opportunity.
New Friends: Astronomia Sigma Octante
The Friday before the eclipse, I had met German Morales and one other member of Astronomia Sigma Octante (ASO) after one of my presentations at Universidad Mayor de San Simon. This was the lone good thing that resulted from my having to make so many unscheduled and unplanned presentations before the eclipse.
ASO is a center for astronomical research in Cochabamba, and German, the director, had invited me to their meeting of Sat. Nov. 5, 1994, which was held at Centro Simon Patino. Roberto had met German and liked him quite a bit, so he did not try to prevent me from going to the ASO meeting. (If he had, he would not have gotten a vote.)
November 5 had been the first day of the trip in which I began to feel a little better, so after resting most of the day, I had just enough energy to feel up to attending the meeting. German had asked if I could bring my eclipse video so his group could see it and possibly copy it, and I has happy to oblige.
Astronomia Sigma Octante (ASO) Meeting of 5 Nov. 1994:
A little before sunset, German arrived in a cab and I went with him to the meeting. Centro Simon Patino was a nicely landscaped area that was originally inhabited by a person who had become very wealthy from mining in Bolivia. The meeting room was not as large as some used by astronomical organizations in the U.S., but it was certainly adequate for the group's size at the time. The meeting area also had a large recess in the wall which was covered by a wood door. This area served as a library for archives of ASO observations.
I became most acquainted with German Morales Chavez, the director, Marcelo Mojica Gundlach (a member of the group having German ancestry), and Marcelo Enriquez (an Electrical Engineer). Meeting them was enjoyable.
The ASO meeting was entirely about the eclipse, which came as no surprise. Being an eclipse chaser, I was delighted! As the meeting began, I was also delighted to see that some of the basics were being covered in both English and Spanish, which made it a lot easier for me to follow everything. German started by showing his eclipse slides. At first, the projector jammed and projected bright white on the wall, but they took it in stride. Marcelo joked: "This is the sun", then German chimed in: "Closeup of the sun", after which some in the group laughed.
German had photographed the eclipse at the Cassegrain focus of his 20 cm f/10 Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. He got excellent results, and had very good images of the transition to totality at second contact. He also had good images of the prominence that was visible during the early seconds of totality.
Marcelo Mojica Gundlach showed his slides next. He had used a Celestron 80 mm f/12 refractor, and took a wide range of exposures. On his longest exposures, the corona would not fit in the picture area, but he had positioned the eclipse off center in a few pictures, which allowed him to record a greater extent of the equatorial streamers.
The group's video had been shot by a person who was not in attendance and was not available, so my video was shown next. Prior to the meeting, I had hooked my camera up to a VCR, so I was able to copy of my corona and umbral video as I played it for the group. They seemed impressed by it, probably because I had a large image scale for my second contact footage. As with most presentations, there seemed to be less interest in the umbral video. I find the umbral effects just as fascinating as the corona, but few others do.
ASO Insturmentation and Experiments:
After the video, the group showed me their photographic prints. It was then that I realized just how serious this group was about astronomical observations. I had never thought they were mere armchair astronomers, and their pictures and experiments revealed an impressive degree of sophistication in their work. More than what I had seen from most amateur astronomical groups in the USA.
Among other things, they had constructed an instrument having multiple photodetector sensors to obtain data for a light intensity graph of the eclipse at multiple wavelengths. This may not sound like a big deal at first, but it is quite impressive when one grasps how scarce electronic components and materials are in Bolivia. They had to use what resources they could get, and had to resort to 1/8 inch Masonite (R) type material for the circuit board. I was impressed that they would take on and successfully implement a project like that, since many in the U.S. won't take on a project unless there is an off the shelf "turn key" solution.
After the group showed me their still pictures, German gave me a look at the ASO library. In addition to star charts and other media, they had detailed maps of the path of totality and literally hundreds of pages of sunspot and variable star observation reports. I had never seen anything like it in a U.S. astronomy club.
Of course, ASO is more than just an astronomy club, being a center for astronomical research. The real emphasis of their work is in observation and documentation for scientific purposes. Rarely do they just go out and take astro photos purely for aesthetic purposes or have "star parties" for casual observation. German has been a contributing observer since about 1976.
In addition to documenting observations, ASO is also involved in promoting astronomy in educational institutions and they occasionally present lectures at local universities. Since the eclipse, ASO has built an observatory and sought support for a planetarium in Cochabamba. ASO is also looking for financial and other sponsors so they can obtain a 50 cm aperture telescope (preferably a Cassegrain) for their observatory and expand their efforts. Thus far, most ASO activities have been funded by the members themselves. This severely limits them, since their talent far exceeds their financial resources.
At the end of the meeting, I was able to video tape German as he dictated a brief history of ASO in Spanish, then some of the other members presented brief abstracts of their work for my video record. I later showed the video at JPL and the Riverside Telescope Makers Conference (RTMC). That RTMC talk was rather long, lasting over an hour, since I presented three papers back to back: The ASO paper, my umbral experiment, and my 1994 eclipse photos.
The ASO meeting was one of the most enjoyable astronomy meetings I had ever attended. They invited me to a later meeting that was on the night before my departing flight, but I had to turn them down because of my condition.
Visiting the Home of ASO Director German Morales:
After the ASO meeting, German invited a few of us over to his house for dinner. There, I got to meet German's family, including the newest addition, Margarita, a well behaved orphan pup dog. I normally don't like dogs, but this one was different, being gentle and winsome. Unfortunately, Margarita only lived to be a few months old.
After dinner, Marcelo briefly showed me a notebook containing roll after roll of solar photos which he took for sunspot records, then German showed me some of his instrumentation, including a home made piggyback mount with longitudinal adjustment for his Celestron 8. While we were visiting, German was playing some music he liked which was recorded by a former member of the group "Yes".
We later went up to German's computer room in the attic. The stairway was a curious arrangement of a single inclined post having risers attached to it. German is a system analyst by profession, and is well versed in many computer languages, including Assembly, FORTRAN Cobol, RPG, Basic, Pascal, and C. He likes C the most, and for ASO work, had settled on using C and Assembly language almost exclusively. German showed me the animated simulations he had written for the eclipse. These simulations had been used on local television in some parts of the country, and published in Los Tiempos, a Cochabamba newspaper.
German had also written a program to predict the times for the eclipse in various areas, and their predictions for my observation site were within four seconds for all four contacts. (It was even closer than this after compensating for the high elevation of the altiplano.) The predictions were generated directly from the Besselian elements.
At the time, German was also in the process of writing a star chart program having a 50,000 star data base. There was also a computerized database for ASO which had a lot of bells and whistles. After seeing all of the ASO work, we just hung around and talked for a while. A little after eleven, I was ready to crash, so German called a cab for me and I returned to my host's house.
A few members of Astronomia Sigma Octante conduct regular observations of sunspots, variable stars, and other astronomical objects. They are clearly much more than armchair astronomers. German and I corresponded by postal mail after my expedition, and about a year later, German was able to get Internet access, making Email communication possible. ASO now has a home page, which is in the links section of my Eclipse Chaser and Versacorp web sites. We continue to communicate by Email from time to time.
One thing I had wanted to accomplish on the trip was to visit some rural evangelical churches that our church (the Latino church in Pasadena) had been involved with starting as mission churches. Sunday, November 6 was the only window of opportunity to actually attend services at these churches. One thing that neither myself or my host knew until the evening before was that one of the services started at 6:30 a.m! Fortunately, the services sometimes start late and can last up to several hours, so we would be able to arrive late and still catch some of the service.
Roberto and his oldest daughter decided to go to rural (or "campo") churches with me. I had started out the morning with a worse case of Montezuma's revenge than what I'd had in the last few days, but I decided to still go to the campo because I did not want to miss seeing the churches I had heard so much about from my pastor in Pasadena. I hoped there would be conventional restroom facilities where we were going, but this hope was in vain.
A musical group that was going to perform at some of the churches arrived at my host's house in a pickup truck that had been purchased by the pastor of the Pasadena church. With Roberto driving, we left for the campo at about 8:30. The ride was rough, and we made a stop or two before we reached the edge of town. Once out of town, the road got rougher, so I was not too happy a camper, given the Monty's revenge and pain from prolapse, etc. But I wanted to visit these churches, and this was the only opportunity to do so. In this case, it was no pain, no gain.
Iglesia de Huasarancho
Finally, we arrived at the first church in Huasarancho. The church building was a structure having only two complete walls; one at the front and one along one side. The other sides were made up of a partial wall and supports for the roof. The structure probably started life as something other than a church.
The service was still in progress when we arrived. The 20 or so people in attendance were Quechua, the area's local people of indigenous descent. There was a really neat quality to these people that was something I could not quite quantify. Even though I could not speak their language (Quechua is different from Spanish) I seemed to sense a great depth to these people, particularly in some of the older women. At the church, I was able to meet the father and uncle of Vidal Juarez, the pastor of the Pasadena church.
The service alternated between short sermons, birthday acknowledgements, and congregational songs that were accompanied by a large drum. After an hour or so, the musical group that had come with us sang and played using zampoñas and other musical instruments commonly used in Bolivian folk music. They were really good. I think the name of the group was "Cojunto Mosoj Kanchay".
Some wanted me to speak in front everyone in the church, but at that moment, I was not in a condition to stand and be continent. But I recall that I may have said a few words while seated, which were interpreted by Roberto. The service ended before noon. Afterward, one of the men served a drink to everyone out of a bucket. I had some, since I figured I already had any kind of bug I could catch anyway.
I finally reached a point where I had to find a rest room. During the service, some had told me where the rest room was, but I had not been able to find it. Now, after the service, I was able to get more detailed instructions. I had walked right past it, because it was not a rest room in the conventional sense. It was a doorless adobe structure is less than 1 meter square and 1.5 meters high. It was not tall enough to even stand up in, and the "toilet" was a removable cement plug in the center of the floor. It gave a whole new meaning to the term "public" restroom!
There were no paper products of any kind, so I was glad I'd brought some. There was an adobe structure near the rest room structure that seemed to be for cooking, but there was no provision for washing one's hands. Fortunately, I had brought a small bottle of water with me. After observing the area, I had expected that there would be more in the way of rest room facilities, since I had seen several television antennas on the adobe huts and houses in the area. Apparently, in spite of the impoverished conditions, many of the area's residents are at least able to have televisions. It appeared that many of the area's people farmed, since the area was immediately surrounded by fields.
Iglesia de Tarata
From Huasarancho, we went to Tarata. [On the way there, we passed through an arch at the edge of a town called Cliza.] Tarata had more infrastructure than Huasarancho, with several dozen of its buildings being made of something other than adobe. The Tarata church service was in full swing when we arrived, but like many Latino churches, one can come and go during the service without causing a fuss. This is one thing I like about the Latino churches I have visited; the service isn't all programmed like in many churches attended by my fellow Anglos.
Though I did not know it while I was in Tarata, the other church our Pasadena church was involved with was actualy in Cliza, not Tarata. Apparently, the musical group with us was scheduled to appear in Tarata, so that is where we went. I did not mind, because the Tarata church and the 100 or so Quechua people in it were really neat.
The Tarata service seemed to be segregated, with the men on one side and the women on the other. They were all very friendly people and seemed contented in spite of the way they are denied equal opportunity within the local culture. Not even one Quechua person there or anywhere else complained to me about their situation.
The music in the church was loud and they did not have many instruments, but it seemed spontaneous and the musicians were pretty good, making it both enjoyable and memorable. I video taped some of the music and still listen to it on occasion. The Tarata church service alternated between brief periods of preaching, longer periods of special music performed by local members or the visiting musical group, and even longer periods of congregational singing. People clapped their hands to many of the songs, but it seemed like few of them actually sang along with the song leader. One thing is for sure; the people there seemed to be having a good time!
At one point, I was asked to go up front and talk to the people, even though I did not speak Quechua. Roberto told me that the people would not care whether or not I spoke their language, but that just the idea of a visitor addressing them was what they appreciated. I had a combined English and Spanish bible with me, so I read from it in Spanish, but said everything else in English. I figured that if any people there were bilingual, Spanish would be their most likely second language.
I don't recall exactly what I spoke about, but I do recall speaking to them out of concern about some radical, sensationalist U.S. televangelists, and expressing the hope that the related radical doctrines would not influence their church. The dogma promulgated by some of the more off the wall televangelists had permeated a many Latino churches in the U.S., and recent occurrences of this influence in some church services in the U.S. had become undignified, to put it mildly. In some cases, adoption of such doctrines in U.S. churches was followed by a climate of disunity and people holding grudges against each other to an extraordinary degree. (This can happen when sound doctrine is replaced by that which appeals to people's feelings.)
I had to look for a rest room in Tarata too, and initially, the facilities offered were similar to those in Huasarancho, only there was a door and obvious treads for one's feet were molded into the concrete floor. Roberto eventually found someone who allowed me to use a detached restroom at his house, which was more like what I was used to. This was very helpful, since it had a real three dimensional toilet.
On a couple of occasions, the church had visitors line up at the front, so that people in the congregation could greet them if they wanted to. The greeting was different than an ordinary hand shake. People would shake hands, then each would gently touch the other's shoulder with one hand, then both would shake hands again. I got the hang of it after a while.
Even though I could not speak their language (the Quechua language is different from Spanish) I again seemed to sense a great depth to these people, particularly in some of the older women. They seemed to have a quality of meekness combined with depth of character. I usually do not get such impressions about people, so it was neat to have an impression of what good character in a person is really like. Some of these people seemed so deep that it made me feel shallow.
The service ended at about 2:00 in the afternoon, and some church members began serving rice and chicken (aroz con pollo) to anyone who wanted it. Of the churches I visited in Bolivia, the Tarata church is one I would really like to visit again.
The Wayward Truck Keys
With the church service over, I thought I'd be able to get back to Cochabamba and rest, but this assumption was wrong. Unknown to either Roberto of myself, the members of the musical group had taken off on foot for a birthday party in or near Tarata -- and they had inadvertently taken the keys to the truck with them! Tarata was too large of a town to look for them door to door, so we just had to wait. Many people from the church were still in the area, so Roberto asked them about the musical group. No one seemed to know where they had gone.
I alternated between sitting and laying down in the bed of the truck, but I could tell that my condition was going down hill. I needed rest, but for some reason, I seemed to be getting more worn out even though I was just doing nothing. Around 4:00, the wayward members of the musical group returned (with the truck keys) and we were able to leave for Cochabamba. On the way back, they played music as they rode in the back of the truck. It sure was better than listening to the radio! I crashed when we got back.
An Impromptu Birthday Party
Three of my presentations (imposed during the meeting on my first day in Bolivia) were scheduled for the next day, Monday, November 7. All of these had to be canceled due to my extreme fatigue and continued Monty's revenge symptoms. I rested all day, but felt only a little better. Even though it would push my limits, I still hoped I could go out as planned that evening and photograph southern deep sky objects. It was my last opportunity due to the waxing moon and other factors.
Unfortunately, Roberto either forgot that I wanted to go out of town, or he did not care. Late in the afternoon, he informed me that he was having a lot of people over to his house to look at Saturn through my telescope. When I reminded him of my planned deep sky photo session, he (as usual) demanded that I accommodate him. This meant that I would neither get rest or deep sky photos.
In spite of again being appropriated on short notice by Roberto, I decided to try and make the best of it. The gathering was a "star party" in the literal sense, with food, live music, the works. In this context, I could see the advantages of having a yard which was completely enclosed by a high wall as this one was. It offered good privacy and a reduction of outside noise. I wondered why this type of thing was seldom implemented in U.S. housing developments.
The party turned out to be an enjoyable time, but I was distracted by the fact that it was costing me what could be my last and only opportunity to photograph the night sky from Bolivia. The party ended a little after eleven at night.
Unexpectely, part of the festivities had been a birthday party for Willma, the director of Buenas Nuevas. This made me feel a lot better about it. If I had been told of this in advance, it would have made a big difference, and I would have at least made a card for her. As it was, it seemed that acknowledging Willma's birthday was just a last minute afterthought for Roberto.
After the party, some of us decided to go out of town so I could still try and take my astrophotos. Unfortunately, it became cloudy before I was able to set up my telescope mount, so we drove back to town. I crashed a little after 2:00 am. Nothing was scheduled for the next day, so I got to sleep late.
The next day (8 Nov.), I sleepily tried to begin packing, but ended up getting very little done. I probably ended up crashing most of the day, because after the trip, memory of this day and the next was not as clear as for other days. I also didn't take real time notes on those last few days in Bolivia. Accordingly, some details in this journal for 8-9 Nov. (and parts of days after that) are more reliant than usual on reviewing my video.
In the evening of this day or the next, Gloria took me to La Cancha, (a local trading area that was sort of like a flea market in the U.S.) where I purchased some ponchos and other items. Two female Quechua merchants seemed to have almost all of the items I was looking for. Ponchos worn by men usually consist of two woolen squares that are sewn together, but which have a gap in the middle to put one's head through. Those for women are longer and are intended to be wrapped around a person sort of like a cloak.
I was going to use the ponchos in the U.S. to keep warm at star parties and the like, and I did not want to have to poke my head through a small opening when putting it on, so I got the wrap-around type women wear and hoped people in the U.S. would not notice the difference. (Not that it would matter in California: One would fit right in even if people did notice!) I ended up using one of the ponchos a lot at work, since my work station was right under an overenthusiastic air conditioning duct. At work, this earned me the nickname "Poncho".
On one of my last few nights in Bolivia (circa 8 Nov.), I went to a local video store to rent a tape containing Mexican news broadcasts of the 1991 total solar eclipse. I was not able to go until about eleven p.m., but since the store was only about six blocks away, I was inclined to walk to it. I'd been told it was safe to be out at night in that part of town, so I decided to go for it. Roberto sent his oldest daughter with me so she could interpret and keep me from getting lost. As we were on our way, I noticed that quite a few people were out, and some even had children with them. It was a very pleasant time and the night time temperature was warm, considering the 2500 meter elevation of Cochabamba.
The video rental store apparently had a flexible policy which allowed legal duplication of a news broadcast tape such as the one I was renting. They either make a local copy for a specified charge, or one can simply pay a higher rental rate and make a copy. Presumably, the higher rate was to take care of proper royalties. The video turned out to be quite nice, since it was made up of many Latin American newscasts from locations along the path of totality, all arranged in chronological order. It would be neat if something like that could be made for other eclipses.
On this and other days, I also copied all of my eclipse video, and most of my other video from the trip, so the host family could have a copy. I also made copies of eclipse video that other people had taken, to the extent that they let me copy it. However, only one party responded about whether I could use their video in an eclipse production that would combine the photos and video from all parties, so a full compilation video was never made. The only tape that was eventually made used only my video and some video from one other person.
The Staff and School Children of Colegio Buenas Nuevas
When I got up at 9:30 on the morning of Thursday, Nov. 10, I still did not have much stuff properly packed. My flight home left the next day, so I had plenty of work to do if I was going to get all of my equipment, newly purchased Ponchos, and extra stuff my host wanted to send to their family in the U.S. packed. Among other things, I had bought some Coca tea, which Roberto assured me was legal to bring to the U.S. Just to be on the safe side, I figured I would make it prominent on my declaration so U.S. customs would know about it right off the bat.
A little after I got up, I was informed that Willma Alcocer had called from Buenas Nuevas, and she was asking if I could go to Colegio Buenas Nuevas so the children at the morning and afternoon classes could say "good bye" to me. I was pressed for time and knew I could not make it for the morning students, but I though it would be fun to try and make it for the afternoon group.
A return to Colegio Buenas Nuevas was more important than just being "fun." The two previous appearances there had been hard won. This is because, only hours after I arrived in Bolivia, I had been, against my will, thrust into a meeting with rich, and (then unknown to me) politically connected, men. In the high pressure two hour meeting, these men had spent over an hour trying to coerce me into avoiding Buenas Nuevas, and one of them had scolded Willma in her own house when she began to back me up in defending her school. After that, I wanted to do anything I could for children in lower income parts of town. It was obvious that much was arrayed against the poor, and I wished I could have stayed in Bolivia longer if it would make a difference for them.
Also, seeing to the welfare of children at Buenas Nuevas was more than just a job to Willma, and I wanted to contribute to her effort in any capacity I could. Willma said the best time would be about 3:30. I'm glad I went, because it was a real treat. Far more importantly, going there seemed to make a difference for the students. (Also, while I had hoped to visit Bolivia again, I never did get to, so this sadly proved to be a true farewell.)
Roberto's wife Gloria and I got in a Taxi and went to Colegio Buenas Nuevas. She came with me to interpret to the taxi driver and also at the school. (My Spanish had evaproated after I became ill almost two weeks earlier.) Willma had been working at the school for almost 18 years, but this would be Gloria's first time visiting there.
Willma was out in front of the school to greet us when we arrived. She then escorted us into the school. This was a rare time that I didn't need the restroom as soon as I reached the destination. It was also possible to take about half an hour of video on this final visit to Colegio Buanas Nuevas.
As we reached the west school entrance, a Quechua woman got there at about the same time we did. Willma invited the woman to go in front of her. This would seem like common courtesy, but Willma was the only person I ever saw do this during my entire two plus weeks in Bolivia.
When I entered the school grounds, I was literally "swarmed" by appreciative children, and a mass of children hung on to me as I made my way through the school and toward the library. I took video initially, while my free hand was being held by the children, with a different child holding each finger. I had not been around children much in years, and this was a touching experience.
Eventually, I had to put my camera away in order to keep my balance, then more children grabbed on to my other hand. As I approached the library entrance, Willma told the children to let go of my hands so he coud go inside, and they instantly did so in response. I then pointed his video camera at the students and asked them to say goodbye into my camera, which they enthusiastically did, with many of them waving. Once in the library, the Willma introduced me to some of the staff.
Afrer this, whenever we entered an open area, I was at times surrounded by a sea of enthusiastic children out to a radius of up to two or more meters! It was neat. All the while, I felt that Willma was the one who the children should be showing appreciation for. They probably did not know how much she advocated for them and the school. They also probably did not know about the long argument with wealthy men who had tried to prevent me from visiting their school.
Willma then gave me a tour of the school, introducing me to various staff members in the process. The tour included a good part of the school, including the afore mentioned library, the equivalent of a kindergarten crafts area, and a few playgrounds. One of these was a large paved area that was immediately west of a large structure with an arched roof. In the crafts area, I was surprised and impressed to see the sophistication of the kindergarten art projects, which were much more complex and ornate than what I recall doing at that age.
While I was being shown the art projects, some children entered the room. One who had a missing front tooth smiled really wide and waved to my video camera. Willma had an especially kind and tender expression as she described the crafts with a soft voice. One item she showed was a cup with a clown face, collar, and flexible carrying handle added to it.
After we left the crafts room and went outside, a little girl carrying a bouquet of flowers took my hand and held it as we walked to the same auditorium or lecture hall where I had made eclipse presentations a couple of weeks before. I'd never had a child do something like that out of the blue before. I didn't know if it was spontaneous or if Willma had her do that to keep me from getting lost, since Wilma knew I had not been well in recent days. It was neat, like so many other things about the students and staff at the school.
By the time I was led to the auditorium for a second time later in the day, the school had set up a VCR and television so the students could see my video tape of the eclipse. I had anticipated that this might happen, so I had brought a copy of the tape with me. While showing the tape, I narrated various events and Gloria interpreted. Gloria had been to the total eclipse with our group, and she seemed to know quite a bit about the eclipse and the video, so she sometimes narrated without the need for my (sleepy) input. Some additional children were outdoors, and looking in through the window to see the video.
When the presentation was over, a large group of students converged on me, so I sat down on the front of the stage where I could greet them and take video of them, partly to show to Willma's family in the USA.
When I left the auditorium, many of the students followed me, and I occasionally continued shooting video. Some of the girls would giggle whenever the camera was pointed in their direction. After a while, I noticed that one of the boys was carrying a nicely painted wood cutout of an animal cartoon character that may have been one of his school projects. It was sort of amusing to see his antics with it.
A Going Away Party at Buenas Nuevas:
I was invited to have a late lunch and "going away party" in a class room with a few dozen of the children. The Heroine started the event with a prayer. The children had what looked like a chocolate drink for their meal. He was told that it had a full complement of vitamins in it.
To my pleasant surprise, the children had made me a nice wooden apple, a wood picture frame, and a clock shelf. I was also given three flowers, and one child even gave me a piece of candy (a chocolate relleno). I was also presented with a Psalm 128 poster which had been signed on the back by some of the students and one staff member (Carmen), though Willma had not signed it.
A little before leaving the school, I was able to interview a few members of the faculty about the eclipse. It was a happy time, even though I had to communicate via an interpreter because my Spanish had again left along with my health almost two weeks earlier. One staff member (Carmen) said she was so overcome with emotion during the total phase of the eclipse that she was glad when it had ended. (This is another reason why I had wanted to do a briefing before the eclipse - so our group would know what to expect during totality. But impositions by poltical wannabes and wealthy people had depleted my reserves to where I had no energy to prepare or give a briefing before the eclipse.)
Well after this interview (when I played back my video of it), I was alarmed to find that a comment I'd made earlier had apparently been inadvertently misinterpreted in a substiantial way. I had previously commented that I hoped conditions in Bolivia would eventually allow at least some children such as those at Buenas Nuevas to have the opportunity go get a college education and eventually even get the opportunity to work at a place like NASA if they wanted to. This had apparently been misinterpreted, and at least one member of the faculty seemed to think that I was going to arrange for one of the students to temporarily come to the U.S. (two decades later) to work with me. This was something I had not said. It was obviously something I lacked the authority or means to facilitate, so I gently tried to set the record straight on the matter. I think I succeeded.
As our time drew to a close, Willma and one of the staff members thanked me for selecting the eclipse site for them, and for visiting the school. They said goodbye together while several students were still nearby. It had been my priviledge to speak there, and to be shown the kindness of their goodbye luncheon. It is a time I treasure to this day. As we were about to part, Willma and the other staff member seemed sad for a few seconds, and I was sad to see Willma sad. But we kept it together because some students were still nearby.
As Gloria and I left the school, several children hung around with us until near dark. There was no school bus pick up in the usual sense. There were some buses, but only a few of them showed up at any given time. Many of the children are from relatively poor families. Some have to walk fairly long distances to a bus stop, while others may have to walk to school.
Looking for Zampoñas, but Finding Police Dogs:
At about sunset, Gloria and I tried to to locate a manufacturer of zampoñas, a type of musical instrument used in Bolivian folk music. I had wanted to buy a set of three zampoñas, but the impositions of Roberto and company had prevented it.
I had given up on being able to get any zampoñas, but then was told that a zampoña maker was located very near Buenas Nuevas, and right across the street from where the city kept its police dogs. But through a mix up in interpretation, someone thought that I had actually wanted to see the police dogs, which was not my intention. And soon, my interpreter had taken me right to them.
The sound of the dogs had the highly undesirable effect of discouraging the children from Buenas Nuevas who were still with Gloria and I, so they left me there. I could sense disappointment in their voices as they said goodbye, and wished that I could have bid them farewell in a more normal way. (Now I was really in the dog house.) But it was probably just as well that they got home before dark.
Gloria seemed to like dogs, but she didn't seem to like poor children. I wondered if maybe she took us there so she could see the police dogs herself. That was her first time in that part of town. We had the grand tour, and she really seemed to enjoy it!
I (reluctantly) saw the dogs, and took video of all 18 of them. Many were German Shepherds, and some were quite large. The police dogs were very obedient. One whistle from the trainer and all of the barking instantly stopped!
The Last Time I Ever Saw Willma Alcocer
At the end of Willma's shift at Buenas Nuevas, she came to my rescue. She led us out of the police dog facility and to an area by the south side of the dirt roundabout that was immediately east of it. At about sunset, Wilma said a quick goodbye to us, then walked to the west end of the roundabout. She then began walking northward, along the west end of the roundabout, toward a street that led to the northwest. As she continued walking north, I thought she was going to catch a bus or taxi back home. I then wondered if I'd see her again before my flight left the next day.
Looking toward the west-northwest, the ground sloped away behind Wilma, with a vast part of Cochabamba in the background, and mountains behind that. Wilma was less than 25 meters meters away, yet she looked small against the vast background. Even though she was still in sight, I already missed her. I pulled myself away from my emotions and took wide angle picture of the scene. I then looked in her direction again, until she became obscured by a cement wall. With her disappearance came a sinking feeling.
I wanted to see her one more time, but there was no nearby vantage point that would work. A scene from the movie Doctor Zhivago came to mind, where the Doctor desperately ran upstairs in the house at Varykino and broke an iced over window so he could see Laura one last time as she was taken away. It felt like that.
In reality, the Wilma was not leaving us. She was locating the zampoña maker. Well after sunset, but before it was dark, Willma returned with the news that she had found it. That was music to my ears! Seeing Wilma again was even better. The zampoña maker worked out of his house, which was near where the police dogs were kept.
While Willma was with us by the south side of the roundabout, the lights of Cochabamba were visible over the moderately distant Police Dog facility fence. I briefly took video of the scene. Wilma had developed a slight cough just before we went to the zampoña maker. She went to the Zampoña manufacturer's house/shop with us (the interpreter and I), and her cough got better as soon as she was indoors.
Wilma soon left us there and caught a ride home. It was not a setting where we could talk more via Gloria's interpreting, and Gloria and I would be there several minutes, then go to La Cancha.
(This paragraph added in 2023: Little did I know, our visit to the zampoña maker on 10 Nov. 1994 would be the last time I ever saw Willma Alcocer for the rest of her life. (She passed away on 22 August, 2023.) In 1994, I started missing her even before my flight left Bolivia the next day. And I wanted to come back to Bolivia to see her more than anything else, and to also do astronomy outreach to people in poor areas. However, due to circumstances beyond my control, it was never possible to go back to Bolivia. First for finanical reasons (I was laid off 7 months later) and then for medical reasons. And she was unable to to come to the USA after her retirement; first due to red tape, then later mostly for medical reasons.)
The recent goodbye at Buenas Nuevas would be the last time that Willma and I ever got to communicate before my flight home the next day. We never got to say a proper goodbye beyond when she and some of the Buenas Nuevas staff had said goodbye together.
Roberto and the rich men who imposed themselves since my first day in Bolivia had interfered with the entire trip to such an extent that I had very little time with Wilma, especially in the early days before I lost my Spanish. I was both surprised and glad that today's trip to see Wilma and Colegio Buenas Nuevas was even possible, because Roberto and the rich men had previously made such a concerted effort to keep me from visiting the school even once.
Home Grown Zampoñas
The zampoñas and other instruments were all made by members of a single family. The man of the house was also a musician. He was very skilled and had no legs. He did not have the three sizes of zampoñas I wanted in stock, so he offered to make them that evening and deliver them to me that night. I accepted his offer because it was my last chance to buy instruments.
On the way back to the house, we made another stop at La Cancha, where I purchased another poncho and a few other items. This time, I had my camera bag with me, and as a result, the local merchants were not as willing to deal as before. The two Quechua merchants I liked from before were not there, so I did not purchase very much stuff.
In my still sleep deprived, brain dead condition, I bought a bright blue safari hat, mistakenly thinking that it would be an appropriate item to wear for some occasions back in the U.S. Gloria bought me a metal pen holder with an engraving of what she called a Cholita (Quechua maid) on it as a gift to me from her family.
I knew that my souvenirs and the items my host family wanted send with me would require an additional piece of baggage. The family had a small suitcase they were willing to lend me, and Willma had offered another, but I wanted to look for a single large one in order to lower the excess baggage charges that could be charged by the airline. We did not find a suitable suitcase, so I ended up borrowing the small ones the family and Willma offered to loan me. They were returned when my Bolivian friends in the U.S. visited Bolivia several months later.
While Gloria and I had been shopping for a suitcase, we noticed that one female indigenous vendor was hitting a little girl. At first, Gloria did not know if the girl was the daughter of the lady who was hitting her, so she inquired. The lady responded by telling her to "keep out of internal matters". The lady appeared to be the mother or a close relative, and the child's alleged infraction was something like her having taken an empty cardboard box from somewhere without asking. The little girl was in tears, but did little in the way of the balling, screaming, and yelling that some kids in the U.S. seem to do when they get upset.
This child displayed meekness and apparent sadness instead of anger. I had also seen such a trait among some lower income adult people in Latin America, where they allow themselves to feel sadness rather than immediately plowing such feelings under and getting mad or holding grudges. This is a really noble thing, and it allows such people to treat each other kindly out of consideration rather than the fear that someone having a short temper will get mad. After things calmed down, the lady allowed me to give her child a couple of the flowers that had been given me at Buenas Nuevas. I did not have means to take the flowers home anyway. I gave the other flower to my host's family.
Packing for the Trip Home
After arriving back at the house, Delfina (the Quechua maid at the house, who had been to the total eclipse with us) graciously allowed me to interview her on video about the eclipse, with Gloria acting as her Quechua interpreter.
After this, I packed for my flight the next morning. Between the ponchos I had purchased and some things the family of my friends in the U.S. wanted me to take back to them, I had to bring two extra suitcases. This cost about $100 in excess baggage charges on the return flight.
The extra bags made the packing take almost all night, so I was still packing when the people arrived with my new zampoñas and flutes. At first, I could get everything of my own, plus the items others were sending, into my own bags and the extra bags. However, new third party items kept being added.
Because of all the new additions to stuff people were sending back with me, I was not able to get the clock shelf made by the students at Buenas Nuevas to fit in the luggage without risking breakage. This was very disappointing, because the items from the students at Buenas Nuevas were something I cherished more than almost anything else I had. Anything from the students or staff at Buenas Nuevas was very important to me, and I did not want to risk breakage, so I asked if it could be sent to me by mail or with someone from the U.S. who later visited Cochabamba.
Getting Back Home
The next morning (11 Nov.), Roberto drove me to the Cochabamba airport. Getting checked in and onto the plane was harried but everything worked out. The trip back included a plane change in Santa Cruz.
In Santa Cruz, I left my Lloyd Aero Boliviano flight to connect with an American Airlines flight to Miami. I arrived and went through immigration, where they were quite thorough in their inspection of both my baggage and my person. Some other passengers were frisked and even strip searched due to recent terrorist threats. The authorities were apologetic and the searches were performed in booths, but a strip search is still just that. Even so, the prospect of a strip search would be a lot easier to handle than being spread all over the ground like so much peanut butter, as would happen if a plane were to be blown up.
By now, my insides were requiring that I visit the rest room for an extended time every few minutes. I now had dysentery in addition to the problems related to the demands that had previously been placed on me.
Stranded in Santa Cruz
As fate would have it, I was on such a visit to the restroom when the airline made an early boarding call for my flight. Problem was, I could not hear the boarding call (which was earlier than scheduled) because it was not made over the intercom. So, unknown to me, the plane boarded while I was in the rest room.
When I returned to the gate, I had the frightening experience of seeing my airplane being gently towed out toward the runway, well ahead of the scheduled departure time. I was stranded for at least 24 hours, which was a traumatic experience for me, owing to the condition I was in. Fortunately, the airline acknowledged that they failed to use the intercom, and that it was due to their mistake that I missed the flight; therefore, they arranged for me to stay overnight in Santa Cruz at their expense.
Once I got over the shock of knowing for sure I was stranded, I called the people who were going to pick me up in LA to let them know I would arrive a day later than expected. Then, I had to go back through immigration and take a cab to the hotel. I arrived at the Hotel Arenal around 11 A.M. It was fancy. American Airlines had just made a friend.
The view from my high hotel room was fabulous, but the first thing on my mind was sleep, so I crashed. When I awoke several hours later, and it was night time. I could see the constellation Orion rising over the city. Obviously, its orientation was much different than from the U.S. I took a hot shower, looked out my window a while, then went back to bed. When I woke up the next time, it was to a requested wake up call on 12 Nov., and it was time to go to the Santa Cruz airport - again. I had slept almost 20 hours, with only a half hour gap in the middle.
Getting the Rest of the Way Home
My new flight left Santa Cruz on 12 November. On the way to Miami, I became very acquainted with the smallest room on the airplane. Unfortunately, it seemed that every time I used it, we would encounter turbulence and the fasten seat belt sign would come on. Ride 'em cowboy! Once at the Miami airport, I looked for my checked bags and was informed that they had already been flown to LA. That was fine with me.
The leg from Miami to Los Angeles was on a DC-10. I discovered that the overhead baggage compartments in these aircraft are not well suited for heavy articles when I tried to put the case holding my telescope in one. When a flight attendant and I finally succeeded in getting the telescope in the compartment, almost everyone in the back section of the aircraft applauded! (When removing the case at the end of the flight, I experimented to figure out how to position it so it would fit without any trouble.)
The aircraft took off with an unusually high angle of attack and maintained the angle for about half an hour, making me feel as if I was being pushed back in my seat. The flight was tiring, but otherwise uneventful. Finally, we landed at the Los Angeles airport.
I was so overwhelmed with relief when I got off the plane that I was ready to kiss the ground. Vidal, pastor of the Pasadena Llamada Final church, and his son Johann met me at the airport and helped me get my checked bags and gave me a lift back home. Home at last!
Reflections on an "Interesting" Expedition
When I returned from Bolivia, I was initially in a daze from the combination of stress, relief, and other reactions. It was then that I began to realize the true gravity of what had happened over the last few weeks. It took several more days before I was able to grasp the full weight of it all. Even then, I may not have really grasped the full extent of it because it slowly came to me as my health began to turn around.
Several weeks later, while in a local camera store, I met a person who had previously met me on the flight back from Bolivia. He related that he thought I had been in really bad shape on the return flight. When I asked him for particulars, it became apparent that his impression of my condition was even worse than what I'd remembered. It was as though I had been mere shadow of myself while so ill.
The overwhelming experience I'd just lived was one of the hardest and most stressful of my life up to that time, but some aspects of it had also been among the most precious. Even after experiencing things with dulled senses, many things were unforgettable.
One can never forget the inspiring dedication of Willma to the children at Colegio Buenas Nuevas, the way the children there had greeted me in unison, the way I had been surrounded by a sea of children, with some of them holding on to each of my fingers, the little girl among them who gave me flowers and held my hand as I had toured Buenas Nuevas; the sight of kids enthusiastically carrying their desks down the stairs at the Emanuel school; the kindness and gentleness of the older women at the church in Tarata; the kind and gentle nature evident in the Quechua maid at Roberto's house; the kindness and hospitality shown by German, his family, and the other members of Astronomia Sigma Octante; and many of the other people and events that had been a part of my life over the last few weeks.
Some in Bolivia had captured my heart, eclipsing even the eclipse. The difficulty I had experienced from a few people there was just that: difficulty caused by only a few people. As for the rest of Bolivia, part of me already wanted to go back.
Summary of Planned Versus Actual 1994 Eclipse Results
(This part was added a long time after the eclipse.)
The following tables show planned versus actual eclipse results, first according to goals, and then according to the cameras or other instruments used.
Summary of Planned Versus Actual Eclipse Results, According to Goals:
CATEGORY: GOAL SPECIFICS, DESCRIP: STATUS: CAUSE(S): 360 Pano. 360x90 panoramas,HRes W6 FAIL (14%) UndExp5Stops/RichP* WIDE PIX Eclipse w/Horizon, Still PARTIAL (50%) TooFewPix/Ftg-RichP* WIDE Vid Umbra Approach, Video SUCCESS (100) N/A WIDE Vid Eclipse w/Horizon, Video PARTIAL (85%) Panned 20s too late. LIGHT LEV. Light Curve of Eclipse FAIL (10%) UnableAttempt/RichP* CORONA PIX Corona Series to Stack PARTIAL (80%) No Inner Corona Pix. CORONA PIX Long Exp. Cor. Still W4 SUCCESS (100) N/A CORONA PIX Earthshine on Moon SUCCESS (100) N/A CORONA PIX Medium Angle Cor. Still SUCCESS (100) N/A (Ana F. helped) CORONA VID Corona Video (2 Angles) PARTIAL (90%) Zoom out too early. CORONA VID Corona Video Medium Ang. FAIL (0%) SolFiltLeftOn/RichP* CORONA VIS Look at Corona w/Telesc. SUCCESS (100) N/A UMBRA VIS. Look at Horizon Dur.Tot. FAIL (0%) Fatigue,SolFD,RichP* EQUIPMENT On-Site Equipment Photos PARTIAL (50%) Fatigue,RichPeople* SCENERY General Photos of Area FAIL (25%) Fatigue,RichPeople* NIGHT SKY Deep-Sky Photos (S.Sky) FAIL (0%) Demands By Roberto. Percent Success (Unweighted: 904/1600): 56.5 Percent Success (Weighted: 1274/2400): 53.1 * RichP. means: Cause was illness and fatigue resulting from recent demands by rich men to speak at numerous schools for rich people.
Of the above objectives, the corona images are adequate if some processing is done to recover inner corona detail when the images are stacked. Photos taken with color negative film have relatively good dynamic range. The medium angle corona video is a complete failure because the solar filter was left on. The light curve is shown as a 10 percent value because some light level data could be recovered from photos.
The worst failure was in regard to 360 degree panoramas. Burdensome impositions by wealthy locals in the days before the eclipse prevented enough sleep and resulted in exhaustion and illness. This in turn prevented proper execution of planned eclipse procedures for this and other aspects. There was also some on-site interference by rich people. First of two planned panoramas of totality was never taken. The second was underexposed five f/stops. This rendered it useless for either immersive recreations of totality or the umbra projection altitude experiment. The experiment had to be done all over again at a later eclipse in 1995 to even partially salvage the work, which had begun with the total solar eclipse of 11 July, 1991. A 14 percent "success" rate is shown only because the panorama for 41 seconds before totality could (with a lot of work) potentially be recovered for use as an immersive image.
Summary of Planned Versus Actual Results, According to Camera Used:
Assembly 1: Wide Angle and Panoramic Assembly: No. RfDes/ Camera/ Lens/ Purpose/ Result/ Failure / Cause(s) / Notes 1. NFM-A / Nik FM/ 16F / 360Pan / UExp14/ 5stopUE / RichP-Ftg*/ TotUEx 2. NF-A / Nik F / 20R / WideStl/ 50% / TooFewP / RichP-Ftg*/ Shared 3. NF-B / Nik F / 350 / WideCor/ 100% / N/A / N/A** / OKAnaF 4. S-TR7 / Sn.TR7/ 0.45/ WideVid/ 85% / LatePan / RichP-Ftg*/ - 5. CPhot / CnPhot/ Zoom/ Misc. / 50% / TooFewP / RichP-Ftg*/ - Assembly 2: Corona Still and Video Image Assembly: No. RfDes/ Camera/ Lens/ Purpose/ Result/ Failure / Cause(s) / Notes 6. N2020A/ NN2020/ V94 / Cor.Sld/ 80% W4/ NoInCor / RichP-Ftg*/ - 7. NF-A / Nik F / V94 / Cor.Neg/ 90% / NoInCor / RichP-Ftg*/ Shared 8. JVCSZ7/ J.SZ-7/ 3x / Cor.Vid/ 90% / ZmTooEr / N/A / OK Assembly 3: Corona Video Assembly: No. RfDes/ Camera/ Lens/ Purpose/ Result/ Failure / Cause(s) / Notes 9. Fsh550/ Fsh550/ Zoom/ WCorVid/ FAIL / SolF On / RichP-Ftg*/ - Percent Success (Unweighted: 559/900): 62.1 Percent Success (Weighted: 869/1700): 51.1 * RichP-Ftg means: Cause was illness and fatigue resulting from recent demands by rich men that I speak at numerous schools for rich people. ** OKAnaF means: Assistance by Ana Flores (of Bolivia) enabled success
Of the 9 listed cameras, the camera for items 2 and 7 is shared.
The video camera was zoomed out too early to get much close up inner corona video, but video can be taken of the processed film images to recover that aspect.
By comparison, success rates at other eclipses in the 1990's were:
1991: 80% (4 of 5). No cameras automated. Cloudy, but objective was umbra.
1995: 100% (7 of 7). 3 of 7 cameras automated. Had enough sleep. Ideal eclipse trip.
...Because there were no imposed political agendas.
Things that happened, or that were discovered, after the eclipse expedition.
Contents of this "Afterword" Chapter: (Scroll down to each part.)
Colegio Buenas Nuevas, and its PM Director, Wilma Alcocer: (1995 and later)
* Willma Alcocer, the afternoon shift Primary Director at Colegio Buenas Nuevas with whom I had become acquainted (and who had joined me in defending my planned appearance at her school against politically connected wealthy people who wanted me to speak only at other schools), lost her job there several months later.
* She had been at Colegio Buenas Nuevas for 18 years, and had given of herself to serve the children there. The position was much more than just a job to her.
* Over a thousand local people protested in Cochabamba to support her, but she was eventually relocated to another local school by those who owned the school property.
* The cause of this was totally unrelated to her performance, or her defense of my speaking engagements at the school.
* Apparently, an ambitious female "friend" of the vice council of a foreign organization which owns the school property was allegedly after the director position. This new person had allegedly intended to double the director salary after she got the job. She never got the job, probably due in part to the local protests, but the bottom line is that Willma still lost her job at Buenas Nuevas in 1995. She was very saddened by this, and remained so for a long time.
* In early 1997, the school property owners allegedly tried to get Willma to come back to Buenas Nuevas, but I understand that she refused to go back at that time, partly due to a justifiable concern that the same type of problem could happen again.
* I since learned (circa 1998) that she returned to Buenas Nuevas near the middle of 1997, to the benefit of the faculty and children there. She retired many years later.
* I later heard that the Government of Bolivia took over the Buenas Nuevas school property sometime after 2005. I do not know if this is the current status.
* This 1994 Eclipse Journal (first published 1997) noted disappointment after men with political agendas imposed burensome circumstances that prevented adequate rest and eclipse experiment preparation. This was indeed significant in that it caused illness, resulted in the failure of eclipse experiments that had required hundreds of hours of preparation, and had financial repercussions. However, this pales in comparison to hardship experienced by Bolivian victims of these men and their ideologies. But the main disappointment (their burdensome impositions crashing my health and severely limiting time with Willma both before and after when my health crashed) was not then published for privacy reasons. Even worse, these men worked against Wilma, against what Wilma wanted, against the poor, and against her school. This is published now, after this sad event:
* Willma Alcocer passed away on 22 August, 2023. Her funeral in Cochabamba was on 24 August, 2023. She was preparing to (legally) come to the USA to be with her sister (only 20 miles away) when she passed away - only two weeks before she would have arrived. (I was not aware she tried to come to the US in 2023 until after she passed away, perhaps because there had been so many unsuccessful attempts before. I had been made aware of her many previous attempts ahead of time.)
* I learned of Willma's passing when one of her relatives who was aware of my 1994 eclipse web pages kindly informed me out of the blue by the next day, which was 28 years, 9 months, and 13 days after I had last seen Willma in person.
* Her passing had a profound but delayed effect on me: I could hardly function for well over a week, and was out of sorts for over two months and more. So close to seeing her again in this life, but now that can never happen. She will be missed by many, including me.
* Sadly, this was worse for her than it may seem, because her passing was preceded by situations that were stressful to her. Because one of the relationships that was previously obscured in this eclipse journal (for her sake, as long as she was on the planet) was how the troublesome person referred to as "Roberto" fit into the picture.
* In reality, Willma was actually one of the "host sisters" in 1994. But then unknown to her relatives in the U.S., she had no say in what happened at the house:
** Instead, a usurper brother-in-law ("Roberto") appointed himself head of the extended household, then he and other political and/or wealthy people ran the show. I don't know if the external influence (where he let external political and/or wealthy people influence the household) was unique to 1994, or if it continued for decades.
* Also in reality, Willma and the "family member" scolded by political and wealthy people who imposed themselves on my first day in Bolivia - are one and the same person. There was no other family member standing with her. She and I stood up to these people alone. (This was an hour before I suspected their political connections and partially gave in out of concern for Willma and the host family's safety.)
* Willma is the host sister who died in the "Roberto's Schemes" segment below.
* It was all so unjust. A tragic end to a wonderful person. She deserved better.
* But all of this happening to her does not lessen who she was in the slightest:
* She never let herself be corrupted by such surroundings. And in spite of possibly being oppressed at home, she persevered in her service to the children at her school.
* A eulogy of sorts for Willma is at the end of this web page, as are links to some local Bolivian announcements about her passing.
Bolivian Protests in Support of Teacher Pay and Pensions: (Circa 1997)
* Over a year after my visit, the Bolivian government radically cut back on the size of pensions that would be received by retiring school teachers and directors.
* There were protests, mostly in La Paz, and these were put down by the government. Two people were killed. Some demonstrators were arrested and ended up "missing" for days, but were later released. These events were disappointing, because the government of Bolivia had recently been tolerant of public expression and protests. No Bolivian I personally know has turned up dead, beaten, or permanently "missing" at the hands of the local authorities during that crisis.
* This is quite unlike what could have been the case in some central American countries during the 1980's, or maybe in Peru in the 90's. This does not mean that things are particularly "good", but it can be said that circa 1994~1997 Bolivia was relatively safe place to live and visit. (Maybe not so much after 2000.)
* The problems I experienced in Bolivia resulted mostly from prejudice ingrained within the local "elitist" culture, and did not involve any sort of government sanctioned imposition. Given the right circumstances, I would visit Bolivia again. In fact, I'd look forward to it. (The above was obviously written before the 2019 coup! It spread ideology similar to what was problematic in 1994 to much of the country.)
Roberto's Schemes: (They never seem to stop)
* Roberto (the self-proclaimed head of the household I visited, and who did not actually own a majority interest the house - or so it was thought) had allegedly manipulated local circumstances to get the title of the house put entirely into his name - all without authorization from the actual owners, and without financially compensating the actual owners. This process had begun even prior to 1994. This explains why he "acted like he owned the place" in 1994.
* At least one of the three sisters who owned the house was allegedly intimidated into signing off on the property against her free will. This was not known for some time because the sister did not volunteer it, and (I heard) she downplayed it when asked about it. My impression is that this was due to somethng akin to Stockholm Syndrome, because this sister was not as passive on matters that did not involve Roberto, or when away from his influence. My own experience with Roberto is he projects that there is a line of volatility which would be unpleasant to cross.
* When another sister became aware of the situation, she and the previously intimidated sister sought to execute legal instruments which could reverse the matter. Unfortunately, reversal was not possible as of when this was written, so the sisters were (to date) only able to subdivide the property and attempt to get half of the land back; the half without any substantial structures on it. Roberto had effectively expropriated the house for himself.
* After getting control of the house, Roberto "let" the unmarried sister who he had allegedly intimidated remain in one set of rooms there.
* However, she was (allegedly) abused, at least verbally, while there, and this escalated over time to become particularly egregious by 2023. By then, this sister's health rarely allowed her to engage in social activities or otherwise escape the house.
* The same year, he allegedly did not let another sister (and part rightful owner) who lived out of town stay in the house when she came to visit this resident sister.
** This meant that the visiting sister had to stay somewhere other than the house.
** This also meant that the unmarried sister who lived there had to leave the house for protracted periods of time in order to spend meaningful time with her visiting sister. (The distance was not far, but each stay was long enough to be meaningful.)
** This situation was difficult and stressful for the resident sister due to her age and condition. (Not to mention the accumulated stress of her interest in the house allegedly having been taken, and her being under Roberto's thumb for years.)
*** (It appeared she was under his thumb even in 1994, because her affect and spirits seemed better when she was at work versus when she was at home. It also seemed obvious that Roberto had steamrolled her in 1994 to usurp her host role.)
** And sadly, in 2023, she died of complications from a medical crisis she experienced on one of these extended stays away from the house. A trip and stay required only because Roberto did not let the visiting sister stay at the house - a house for which both sisters (combined) had the majority of rightful ownership.
** In other words, a preventable death. And she of all people deserved better.
** The previous schemes, wrongs, and apparent ill gotten gain by Roberto had enabled further wrongs, ultimately resuting in a tragic end for one of the sisters:
** And thus, after a lifetime of her giving to the children of Cochabamba, this was the tragic end of Willma Silvia Alcocer Borda.
** Willma who gave, done in by the schemes of one who only knows how to take.
* Perhaps my 1994 concern about the threat that some who imposed themselves could pose to the rightful owners of the house had been well founded after all. That concern was the only reason I had even partially given in to their demands.
* In 1994, I could have never imagined that any of the men who imposed themsleves could pose a threat of THIS magntitude (mortal danger) nearly 29 years later.
* Now I knew what type of person we were dealing with in Roberto! In 1994, I could not have imagined that such cruelty lurked in him. But apparently it did.
* It appears this wasn't about events in 1994. It apparently was more about ongoing differences between he and the other mens' ideology, versus her working with the poor. But with him, it later appeared to be more about personal control than politics.
* Roberto presumed to be the head of the extended household in which Willma lived. And he failed miserably in his responsibility to her according to any reasonable standard external to himself, because she died on his watch, under circumstances he created. (But there are some who want control without responsibility...)
* Willma died on the eve of leaving Bolivia to legally come to the United States, where she would no longer be under Roberto's control. When control is the goal, the welfare of the person under control is never the concern. If control is threatened, some with control issues may destroy whoever or whatever is under their control. In so doing, they have exercised the ultimate control over who or what was under their control. (The fatal 1978 Jim Jones / Jonestown incident is a cautionary tale of this.)
* If this was a part of what happened, Willma may not be the last victim: Abusers and those with control issues always need someone to control or abuse.
* Roberto's actions were not only against Willma. He also demonsrated that he was against her school, and thus, against the poor.
* Proverbs 29:7 may highlight some differences between Willma and Roberto:
"The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor,
The wicked does not understand such concern."
* The egregious nature of Roberto's alleged actions also illustrate that people like those who caused problems for Buenas Nuevas and myself in 1994 (and later, problems even for his own resident and visiting relatives) are a very small minority of the Bolivian population. (If it was common, the country would be in tatters.) This is very fortunate indeed.
Political Connections Discovered After the Fact: (1995 to present day)
* Later investigation showed that some of the troublesome people who were at the 26 October meeting in Bolivia had political connections. (This was the "scheduling" meeting that was demanded of me on my first day in Bolivia by the men who had rabidly racist anti-indigenous views.)
* As noted in Section 1 of this eclipse journal, I later learned that a local street bore the family name of some of these people, and that one of the others (who I was informed worked for the Embassy) had a brother who was a Bolivian presidential candidate.
* Several years after my eclipse trip, the very man who was at the meeting decided to lay the groundwork to run for president of Bolivia himself, in lieu of his brother.
* Another of the men in the same meeting was associated with yet another political candidate who came to power as Vice President of the country several years later.
* Some of the people were elites to a degree, while others were "wannabe" elites who had acquired very brown noses.
* Even unknowing association with people having so many foreign political connections could be problematic in my line of work, especially if they tried to imply that I supported their politics, then further tried to connect such support to an employer. (Obviously, views of an employee never indicate those of an employer.)
* Therefore, after my expedition, I wrote the brother of the presidential candidate, to sternly warn him that if anyone claimed or implied my endorsement of any political candidate or agenda, I would publicly disavow their claims. I determined that I probably would be opposed to any agenda these people would be associated with, after seeing their apparent attitudes toward the poor of Bolivia and their roughshod treatment of both Willma Alcocer and myself.
** (I was on the outs with him anyway, since I had the audacity to fall ill, and thus became unable to make all of the coerced presentations he and his cronies wanted.)
* In addition, I did not want to have to worry about what the implications of alleged or perceived foreign political involvement or endorsement could be on future career options, should I eventually become involved with projects associated with certain agencies. I assumed that these people may have tried to gain social or political points by "arranging" for me to speak at various places. And who knows what sort of claims they made behind the scenes to cover their coercion of others and myself.
* But as each political connection was discovered, things got more complicated.
* Given the scope of political connections discovered after the fact (some found after the previous 4 paragraphs), there was growing concern for people in Bolivia:
* Those I was concerned for included Willma Alcocer. One of the political people had scolded her in what had been thought to be her own house - in response to her simply and legitimately saying the word "Amen" in defense of my speaking at her school - and that was when she was in the presence of some of her extended family. And no one in her extended family [including Roberto, who was herein disclosed as being one of her relatives only after her 8/2023 passing] did anything to defend her.
* Therefore, my published dedications to Willma were maintained for decades. The original dedications to Wilma were based entirely on admiration and respect for her character and her work. And these had been shown in my presentations about the 1994 eclipse from 1995 onward, and in this eclipse journal since its first publication in 1997. The dedications would have been maintained for those reasons alone.
* However, a secondary reason for continuing to present and publish dedications to her was to increase her visibility inside and outside of Bolivia. Then certain people in Bolivia would know that others would discover it if anything unusual happened to her. This was not anticipating a conspiracy or anything. It was just a precaution based on past experience with these people, plus second hand information indicating that one of them may have been harming Willma financially.
* A third reason was to publish the truth about my always thinking highly of Willma and her work, in the event Roberto tried to isolate her and make her think otherwise. Here too, just a precaution based on past experience with him.
* Another precaution was that I refrained from publishing terms these people might find insulting (such as the possibly fitting term "wannabe politician") for as long as Willma was on the planet.
Medical Repercussions: (1994 through circa 2006)
* Owing to aspects of my condition that were undiagnosed in 1994, everything that would crash my health in Bolivia (from demands by those with political agendas) had been set in motion by the end of my second day there. (This is partly due to high work load before leaving home. Without the previous high work load, I might have lasted until day 4 of this tripled schedule.)
* At that point, continuous bed rest for several days in a row would have been the only way to keep exhuastion from snowballing. Even though I did not have a full diagnosis in 1994, I knew (by experience) how to avoid exhaustion when I managed my own time. But when others triple one's work load, that's another story.
* The impositions tacked up to TEN hours per day onto my schedule on some days.
* It took weeks to recover to a point where I could do my work at my job as well as before the trip, and a "full" recovery (sans the part requiring surgery) took almost 9 months.
* As an aside: What Roberto and the others did smacked of colonialist thinking, but on a microscopic scale: Find a resource (be it water, mineral, or human), then exploit it to the maximum extent possible in the short term, without any regard for the long term cost. In fact, when Roberto demanded the 26 October meeting with the wealthy men, I questioned him about cost versus benefit over the short and long term. I had explained to him that what he was doing put my eclipse experiments at risk. And I asked him if it would be better for him if he helped enable successful results (by honoring my original schedule) - because then, I'd be in a position to acknowledge him for his assistance after getting results. The payoff for him could have begun as soon as 10 days later, when I could locally, then elsewhere, begin presenting results after the eclipse. But Roberto wanted nothing to do with it. He was only interested in what could pay off for him, etc., in the next week, without regard to how it would play out 10 days or more into the future.
** Roberto seemed shortsighted. This became more obvious when he torpedoed a formerly favorable situation with Los Tiempos, as noted in the "..time with Willma.." segment below. (Los Tiempos had asked me me to write an article on my experience in Bolivia - if it was a good one. But the actions of Robero et al made it anything but that, partly because impositions from him, etc., caused me to fall ill. IF he'd honored my previously agreed to itinerary, the trip likely would have been good, I would not have become ill, there would have been more time with Willma, eclipse work would have succeeded, and Roberto would have received kudos in the article. But he was only interested in pleasing himself and his rich cronies in the short term.)
** This discussion with Roberto took place several hours before I met Willma Alcocer, so the impact of Roberto's proposed impositions on time that could be spent with her had not as yet become a consideration.
* The prolapse condition that got worse in Bolivia had lasting effects. I did not even begin to recover from the increased prolapse until weeks after I returned to the U.S. But the problem came back later. Specifically:
* The next spring, I had to unwillingly switch contracting companies related to my job due to recent contract awards to "Small Disadvantaged Businesses" (SDB's) by my employer. One of these "disadvantaged" businesses tried to change previously negotiated provisions of their signed contract with me. When I resisted, the SDB representative said that they would not execute my contract paperwork with my employer unless I let them change the provisions. This obviously put me under a lot of stress, since I could lose my job due to their proposed inactions. I could hardly sleep for seveal days, and the prolapse condition returned and grew even worse.
* Since this SDB company would not honor its agreement, I had to either sue them for breach of contract or switch to yet another contractor, all on short notice. A suit did not seem viable at the time because it would have increased my stress level. I'd never filed a suit before, so I switched companies instead.
* The only new contracting company that I could switch to in the required time frame was not an SDB, and this placed contractual limitations on the scope of work I was allowed to do, and the office facilities I could use. There were then several related close calls regarding my job, and I was ultimately laid off on 23 June 1995.
* I had wanted to return to Bolivia to observe southern sky objects, but mainly to visit people I did not get to spend much time with in 1994. But being laid off had financial implications that prevented a return to Bolivia. Going there long enough, while also avoiding politcians, would cost a great deal more than even the 10/1995 eclipse in Thailand. So, a "politician-free" return to Bolivia was beyond my means for years. After resuming employment at the same place (but as a direct employee) many years later, I lacked stamina to simultaneously work and travel long distance. Then came age. So it never was possible to return to Bolivia.
* After the odious contracting experience with an SDB in 1995, I was glad to later see Affirmative Action at least start to go the way of the dinosaurs. This was the second time that loss of a job was related to Affirmative Action.
* I later had to deal with an SDB for my COBRA insurance, and they prematurely canceled my vision and dental insurance and would not accept premium payments for it. (I had 11 months of COBRA eligibility left, but they refused to accommodate it.) This prevented getting some badly needed oral surgery. (That SDB seemed to be disadvantaged alright, but its "disadvantage" appeared to be a mental one!)
* My worsened prolapse condition ultimately required major surgery and 9 days of hospitalization in early 1996. There were multiple contributors to this over time, so this outcome was not entirely due to the experience in Bolivia.
* The 1996 surgery was also a prerequisite for a return to Bolivia. 1994 had shown that a prolapse condition (causing pain, incontinence, and bleeding when stressed) is not compatible with emphasizing time in economically disadvantaged areas there.
Impact the Above had on Time with Willma Alcocer (1994 and later)
- (This part was not published until Wilma Alcocer sadly passed away in 2023.)
* It was not possible to spend much time communicating with Wilma Alcocer while in Bolivia back in 1994. Even though it appeared there was a strong mutual desire to talk (a lot) while I was there, little conversation was possible for numerous reasons:
* First and foremost, unexpected impositions by wealthy and politically connected men interfered with almost every aspect of the trip. Their impositions were a copious burden that added up to TEN hours per day to my schedule on some days.
* Those imposing themselves were invited into the house where I was staying by the person referred to as "Roberto" in this 1994 eclipse journal. He was also one of the men who made impositions and demands. (Leaving the house to stay elsewhere was not then practical as I had only traveler's checks and cash (no credit card) with me.)
* Roberto USURPED the host role from the women who were supposed to actually be my hosts, and he used this usurpation to work against Willma. Specifically (as noted below) he and the men actively tried to PREVENT the very things that Willma wanted, and had been looking forward to, in regard to my trip to Bolivia: Namely, appearing at the school where she was a director, and spending time with her.
* On my arrival, Roberto demanded that I meet with these men less than six hours after I arrived at the house - right after a 22 hour (door-door) trip, via a 4-leg flight.
* This demanded meeting began only minutes after first meeting Willma Alcocer.
* At this imposed two plus hour long meeting, it became clear that these men had two main objectives and several secondary objectives:
** First, without any advance notice, they demanded that I appear at multiple (well over a dozen) schools and universities in the next several days. Most demands were to appear at these schools before the eclipse, which would make properly preparing for my eclipse experiments next to impossible. (And these experiments, some other eclipse work, and southern sky object imaging, all of which had required hundreds of hours of preparation, failed as a direct result, which had financial repercussions.)
** Second, and more relevant to Willma, the men made it clear that they were against my appearing at Colegio Buenas Nuevas. (The school where Willma was a Director, and the only school at which arrangements had been made in advance.) The men spent over an hour trying to pressure me to drop appearances there. They did not want me there at all. Why? Because the school was attended by students from indigenous and low income families. The mens' bias was abundantly clear:
** It was clear that they not only wanted more for the rich, but they also wanted to keep indigenous and low income people DOWN. Perhaps to ensure there would be a "servant class" of people who have to work for next to no nothing. (In 1994, a typical full time Quechua maid earned the equivalent of only $70 US per month.)
** Third, in addition to the above, the men (mostly shortsighted Roberto) also later demanded that I accommodate TV and radio interviews, drop a proposed project for a local newspaper (Los Tiempos) that had already contacted me (and instead, interview only with competing newspapers), and a myriad of other things.
*** (Ironically, this Journal would have been the requested Los Tiempos project - IF my Bolivian experience had been more favorable. It had been requested (conditional on my experience in Bolivia proving to be a good one) directly by Alfonso Canelas, then the director of Los Tiempos, before I even arrived in Bolivia. (I was seated next to him on the flight down.) Sadly, Alfonso Canelas passed away in 2009.)
* As the imposed meeting with Roberto and the wealthy men wore on, one of the men sharply scolded Willma, right after she had simply said little more than "Amen!" in support of one of my arguments against the men, as they were trying to prevent me from appearing at her school (Buenas Nuevas).
* No one at the house (including Roberto, her brother-in-law) did anything to defend Willma after this unjustified scolding, even though she was a resident at, and partial owner of (until Roberto took it from her), the house. (Her residency was not disclosed in this journal prior to her passing away.)
* This and other aspects of the imposed two hour meeting (where I argued against the men trying to require that I, without any advance notice, give up to FOUR free lectures per day, each up to 2-3 hours with Q&A and interpretation), led me to have concern for the safety of some in the household (including Willma) - if I did not at least partially capitulate to the demands.
* Therefore, purely out of this concern, I accommodated many of their demands, up to three lectures on some days, not counting some additional engagements. (Events years later showed at least one of these men was indeed a threat to at least Willma.)
** But I did not cancel all of my previously arranged appearances at Colegio Buenas Nuevas. (The rich could have their corerced "more". But they were not going to take from the poor. Not that time. Not any time that the Lord provided strength to resist.)
* As a direct result of all of the impositions and demands from the above men, my health failed by the end of my second day in Bolivia.
* When my health failed, my ability to understand Spanish evaporated for the rest of the time I was in Bolivia. Willma did not speak English, so all communication from then on had to be via an interpreter. This in turn ruled out any private conversation.
* I also had very little available time or energy, given the imposed schedule, illness.
** In addition to the imposed schedule, there were rarely breaks from new demands by "Roberto" unless I avoided the house during waking hours. (Avoiding the house also prevented being with Wilma there during her off-work hours, but even when I was there, Roberto's impositions prevented being with her anyway.)
* About the only respites from constant demands by Roberto and his cronies were when visiting Willma's school, when "playing hooky" from the house, or when the occasion of Wilma's birthday party kept him at bay (only during it) for a few hours.
* When I was at the house, Roberto often imposed his oppressive and insufferably annoying presence. Obviously, I would have vastly preferred to be with Wilma. Even when Wilma was at the table for meals w/them, she seemed inhibited by him.
* Because of this, the total time Willma and I could communicate directly was less than two hours (none in private), and the total time we were in the same room, area, or vehicle in a larger group context was probably less than twenty times this long.
* Accordingly, we never got to discuss the context of our mutual feeling that "we have known each other for a long time" (from our first meeting), nor were we able to discuss how we might communicate with each other after I went back the USA.
** (The former may not have even needed to be discussed outright if political impositions had not limited time together so severely during the relatively brief trip.)
* We could not write or call after 1994 because her interest in her house had been taken by Roberto (she lived in a few rooms there, but under his thumb), so nothing to that address would make it through to her. (And, there was language barrier too.)
** (In a letter I sent there not too long after my 1994 trip, I wrote good things about her, and requested that she be informed that she was much appreciated. But relayed information later showed that this probably was not communicated to her, and that it could have even been implied that it said the opposite of what it actually said. It was in English, so her only way to know what it said was via translation by Roberto et al. This served as a test case for written communication to that address.)
** (I was then too dull to think of writing her at the school.)
* Therefore, subsequent (sparse) communication was indirect via visiting relatives.
* Visiting Bolivia again was not possible because I was laid off from my job seven months after the 1994 trip, and circumstances after that made it impossible to responsibly fund a trip there for 9 years (as noted below). By that time, I lacked endurance to maintain employment and make a long distance trip at the same time. Ten years after that, I lacked the endurance for such a trip under any circumstances.
* Also, going to Bolivia could not be like an ordinary trip if I was to see Willma. This made a trip even more unaffordable after being laid off in 1995. Specifically:
** It would have been necessary to stay at an undisclosed location that only she knew about, but that Roberto (who lived in the same house) and his wealthy political cronies (who were all against her work with the poor) did not know about.
** It was a necessary precaution. It seemed the men had long arms: 29 years later, one of them caused her stress that led to her death, so some of them were dangerous.
* I also wanted to do astronomy outreach to schools and towns in poor areas if the schools wanted me to (including setting up a telescope for students if a school wanted), but this would have been hard to do without attracting the attention of the problematic wealthy and political men.
* Any return to Bolivia also had to be after surgery to correct the prolapse condition that got bad while I was there in 1994. This was done as soon as it was possible with my health insurance, in January 1996. But after that, recovery of enough stamina to travel very far took over a year. The 1994 experience revealed that a prolapse condition and related incontinence were not compatible with some parts of Bolivia.
* It would also be necessary to learn more Spanish than I knew in 1994 (and hope it would not evaporate with stress), but that could be learned in parallel with some of the other prerequisites. However, funds and health proved to be the greatest barriers:
** In 1998 and 1999, I shared the fate of low income people I wanted to be with (by being poor myself), but could not be with them because I was stuck here. I'd started a business after not finding a job for a long while after being laid off in 1995. But then another company raised millions in venture financing off my invention in 1997 without authorization, while I was in debt for R&D and patent fees - that then could not be recouped. During the worst year, I had only beans and rice for most meals.
** (Paying off this debt via a new day job is why I could not go to Bolivia for years. It also prevented going to solar eclipses, but those were lower priority than Bolivia.)
** (If there had been more communication with Willma by this time, I may have been more risk averse, and chosen a lower risk path than starting a business.)
** (Specifically, political nonsense imposed by her brother in law limited time with Wilma so much that even basic things about where she was at were unresolved when I left Bolivia. If it had been known that she would want to see me again, a return to Bolivia would have been for US, not just for me. And that would be a hundred times more reason to find a way back there than is the case when everything is unknown.)
* Willma also made several attempts to legally come to the USA. But this obviously was not until after her retirement, owing to her dedication to the children.
* Willma's attempts to come to the USA were mainly to be with her sister.
** But seeing Wilma, even regularly, would have been possible in that situation.
* However, for years, her attempts to come to the USA were not successful.
* She later needed surgery to be strong enough to even make a trip to the USA, and she had that surgery in 2018.
* But the "pandemic" hit after her long recovery from the surgery, and the new USA Admin. did not drop its vaccine mandate for legal immigrants until May of 2023.
* She was preparing to finally come to the USA in late summer 2023, when she died on 22 August, under the circumstances in the "Roberto's Schemes" segment above.
* And so, due to circumstances beyond my control, I never had an opportunity to see Willma again for the rest of her life.
* In summary: Interference by wealthy people having political agendas contrary to Willma Alcocer's work prevented spending much time with her in 1994. I wanted to make a return trip to Bolivia and stay in an undisclosed politician-free location (to preserve my health and freedom) so I could see her again, but this was not possible. And she was unable to come to the USA for years. Then, when it looked like she finally could come to the USA, she died two weeks before she would have arrived.
* When people from two continents meet, but then are deprived of mutually desired local time together by third parties: They may think they will be able to see each other "next year", or the next year, or the year after that. But before you know it, 29 years go by, and neither one has seen the other. Then, one of them passes away.
* However, if imposed political nonsense had not limited time together in 1994, we would have then known if there was mutual interest. Then, seeing each other again would be to benefit both, not just one. There would then be compelling reasons to meet again. And with this being the highest priority, there would have been a way. For example, I may have taken a lower risk path of even a menial job after failing to find work in my field after being laid off in 1995, as opposed to starting a business.
* Shameless "Roberto" and his wealthy, politically connected cronies were the encountered loci of coercion, of illness, of harm, of separation, of suffering, of bad outcomes, of oppression, of opposition to indigenous and low income people, of opposition to what Willma stood for; and ultimately, of death and heartbreak.
* Never underestimate the ability of politicians and rich people to ruin everything!
* This 1994 Eclipse Journal is the only journal I have published that gets into political matters in a host country. This is because political matters were not imposed on me or people I know on any other eclipse expedition. Also, I maintained long term communication (for decades) with certain people I met on the 1994 eclipse expedition, and this led me to follow events in the country long after I left. This long term contact also provided some insight into subsequent events there.
Eulogy for Willma Silvia Alcocer Borda (2023)
Introduction (not part of the eulogy): Willma Alcocer was central in the positive aspects of my 1994 visit to Bolivia, partly because she was the only local person I knew who was sympathetic to the plight of the poor, and because she showed me the kindness of giving me a tour of the school at which she was a director (Colegio Buenas Nuevas), and letting me make presentations about the 1994 solar eclipse there. In so doing, she lent me her dream of making a difference for the wonderful people that are the students there, even though my contribution was very small.
I saw first hand that her work with these wonderful indgenous and low income people was opposed by several wealthy and politically connected people, and even by some in her own extended household. I also saw, and later heard second hand, that this was not without short and long term cost to her. But she was steadfast in her commitment to the students at her school, regardless of economic status or race, and she cared about them and wanted the best for them. She was steadfast even when opposed by people with means or political agendas. This was inspiring.
Therefore, it is fitting that her passing, and her inspiring life, are acknowledged in this journal. My presentations and web pages related to the 1994 eclipse have been dedicated to Willma et al from the beginning.
Even though it was only possible to communicate directly with Wilma for a few hours in 1994 (why is in this 1994 eclipse journal; see above), and to be in a group setting with her for only a few tens of hours, she made more of an impression (and she seemed more familiar in some ways) than many people I had known for months or even years.
What follows is not a formal eulogy. It is instead based on an email I wrote to the kind person in her family who had informed me of her passing, so it could be used in a collective eulogy at her funeral. I heard that at least some of it was read there. I did not learn of Willma's passing until the afternoon of 23 August, 2023. She had passed away only the day before, and her funeral was to be at 10 AM (Bolivia time; 7 AM in my time zone) on 24 August, which was only about 16 hours later.
Willma has long made such impact that it was not possible to say nothing. So I wrote what I could that night, while zoned out from both recent illness and the sad news. Her announcement spelled her name differently than the spelling I had in 1994, so I used the spelling in the announcement for the text below. Details such as the RTMC conference are mentioned because one of her relatives was interested in astronomy, and may be familiar with it. It was difficult to write a eulogy as short as the one below, because I don't know if I could ever stop writing about one so selfless as her.
The original eulogy text, with some corrections (mostly in paragraph 6 and the one on perseverance), and with an introduction paragraph added at the beginning, plus one paragraph (about making a difference) and one line added at the end, follows:
"I first met Wilma Alcocer in 1994, while visiting Bolivia at the time of the 3 November 1994 total solar eclipse. When I first met her, it was immediately obvious that she put others first, and that she had dedicated herself to the welfare of the children at Colegio Buenas Nuevas. It was my joy, honor, and privilege to know her, and an honor that she let me make presentations at her school about the eclipse.
In my opinion, the world lost one of its clear examples of Jesus Christ being reflected through a person when Wilma left the planet. Wilma knew Christ as her Savior, and she acknowledged Him and prayed even in public settings.
What I said of her in a dedication to her in my 1994 eclipse journal and subsequent presentations is something that I still believe was accurate clear up to her last day:
"Wilma Silvia Alcocer Borda, a woman of noble character whose faithful service to the to children of Cochabamba Bolivia is an unforgettable inspiration."
This dedication to Wilma was also shown when I made presentations about the 1994 eclipse, including at the Riverside Telescope Makers Conference (RTMC) in May 1995.
Rarely in life does one have the pleasure and the privilege of meeting one so kind and caring, so guileless, so unpretentious, so principled, and so much more. Her selflessness and dedication were extraordinary. She was extraordinary.
What she did for the children was driven by her character, and the character of Christ in her. She had a presence that was kind and comforting. Yet she also had the tenacity to stand up for her students, and the consideration to take some of them to Sevaruyo for the 1994 total eclipse.
Inspiration from Wilma's life does not have to end with her passing. This inspiration can live on in those she inspired. And we, through Christ in us, can aspire to reflect Him as she did. To remember her, and with God's help, to follow her example.
Sometimes, it is hard to even imagine what an inspiring person might be like until we meet one. And she was an inspiring person that shows what an inspiring person should be like. Her life inspired us to want to be better people. And knowing her, even briefly, changed who I was.
It also is not often that you can unabashedly say good things about a person, and know that whatever you say will always be an understatement, and that nothing good that is said about them is an overstatement. Such was the case with her. And her service to, and advocacy for, children, especially poor children, was a mantle that few others would carry. In my entire life, I've met less than half a dozen people that I can say such things about. She was remarkable.
Wilma's life has shown the importance of sacrifice to advocate for others who would otherwise have no advocate. Her example inspired reliance on the Lord and perseverance even in protracted trials related to my currently being an avocate. And I wonder if I would have gotten through some of these advocacy situations or trials in the same way if I had not met Wilma and seen the Holy Spirit work through her. Only God can bring about real solutions in our trials, and only He can get us through them. But often, there is also a path to walk; sometimes a very long path, before we see respite or deliverance. And inspiration from people like Wilma has helped show that dark days can be followed by brighter days, and that it is worth it to persevere in our walk with the Lord through our trials, and not give up.
At the end of the day, she made a difference in people's lives. Probably thousands of people's lives. And this stemmed from who she was. Wilma's job was also important. A great deal more important than my job ever was. She was important in many people's lives. Important because she put them first. Important because she made a difference. Of all the things a person can do with their life, there are few if any things as meaningful as what Wilma did with hers.
I am blessed and privileged to have known Wilma Alcocer, to have met her several times in 1994, and to have occasionally kept up with her through family members who called and visited her. Those of you who are related to her and honored her can be very proud (and so many more things that are more noble than being proud) to be her relatives.
Blessed be the memory of Wilma Silvia Alcocer Borda.
We have all been blessed by knowing her."
(Jeffrey R. Charles. 24 August, 2023. Sunland California, USA.)
Comment: An announcement of Wilma Alcocer's passing and funeral (with a photo of her from the 1980's), and links to two of her other funeral announcements, are at the end of my 1994 Total Solar Ecipse Photo web page.
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Recommended Reading: Other material related to eclipses, including corona images, umbral images, and my umbral experiments.
Images of the 3 November, 1994 Total Solar Eclipse: Diamond ring, chromosphere, inner corona, middle corona, extreme outer corona, polar to rectangular conversion for a "panorama" of the corona; obvious earthshine on moon; totality and horizon with 20 mm lens; series of six 360 degree panoramas of the umbra before, during, and after totality; instrumentation; images of unique areas in Bolivia. This URL also indirectly links to my images of the 1979, 1991, 1995, (and now 2017) eclipses.
Predicting the Appearance of the Lunar Umbra at Future Total Solar Eclipses
For journals of my other eclipse expeditions, go to Eclipse Chaser's Journal at the EclipseChaser Home Page
EclipseMovie Home Page. Includes a fictional account of an 1869 eclipse.
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Document originated: xx January, 1995
Bolivian experience outline originated: 12 December, 1996
Document converted to HTML: 11 September, 1997
Document (sans "Afterword" chapter) last significantly modified: 15 June, 1998
Eulogy for Wilma Silvia Alcocer Borda added: 27 Aug., 2023
Links, format, and limited elements last modified: 27 Aug., 3, 24 Sep., 2 Dec., 2023.