by Jeffrey R. Charles.
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Copyright 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2018, 2019 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 east 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 out 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 ask me questions or interfere; however, there were others from the convoy who did not have such consideration.
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. 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 translate 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.
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.
A few seconds after 7:19 a.m., we have first contact, and 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 my 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 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.
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 there now. See?)
No es oscuridad?
(Is it not dark?)
Si, esta oscuro.
(Yes, it is dark.)
Si viene, suve alla.
(If it comes, it goes up there.)
Alla va a aqui. Como es. Alla, 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 detect it is getting darker second by second and the crescent sun was 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 all of the moon's 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 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 or orange color below and toward either side of it is becoming more saturated. About 17 seconds before totality, a mountain to our east is engulfed by the umbra and it turns dark with remarkable swiftness, going from a sunlit tan to a dusky gray in less than a second.
There is now only a short sliver of the sun left. It 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 rim of dimmer light. The effect is different from the last diamond ring I had seen because there is little diffuse glare around the photosphere. (This is also something I should not have been looking at.)
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!
A 40 to 60 degree long arc of the bright red but shrinking chromosphere becomes very obvious, being far brighter than the corona.
Ana translates that people can now look at the eclipse without filters, 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!
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 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 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 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 30 seconds.
Some of the children begin to sing "How Great Thou Art" in Spanish. 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 platform.
Now, I get to do what I have wanted to do for years!
I look at the corona through my Vernonscope at a magnification of 20x. The view is magnificent! The corona looks absolutely stationary and its polar streamers are very sharp, almost as though they were etched with a fine blade. Some radial polar streamers 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 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 translates 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 appears through a valley on the edge of the moon and quickly increases in brightness, washing out the dimmer light of the corona. It is now time to look away from the sun. Totality is over.
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 to be 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.
About an hour and a quarter after the end of totality, 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 site to follow the moon's motion to a greater degree, thereby slowing its apparent rate of motion in front of the sun. He grasped the concept, and oddly seemed to be just as impressed by this factor 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.
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. This 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.
We pack up everything and leave the site at about noon. This time, all of my equipment was in the bus with me. 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 myself and a few others 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 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 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.
My host encouraged me to negotiate for a low price with the indigenous lady selling it. I could tell that she 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.
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 did 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 what must have been Mount Illimani ahead in the distance. I was surprised at how clear it looked, since it 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.
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 the missionary's van beside the road. His van had broken down, but he thought he could handle things and 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.
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 see the light of the large Cristo statue 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 out 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, and 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 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.
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, so I had to arrange for it to be picked up and mailed after I left the country. 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.
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. 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.
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 Wilma, the director of 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.
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.
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 armchair astronomers, and their pictures revealed an impressive degree of sophistication in their work.
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.
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.
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 zamponas 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 translated 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.
From Huasarancho, we went to Tarata. [On the way there, we past 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 at the time 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 if 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 in some of their services had become undignified, to put it mildly. In some cases, adoption of such doctrines in US churches was followed by a climate of disunity and people holding grudges against each other to an extraordinary degree.
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, and some 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.
With the 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 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 our musical group returned 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.
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 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. It turned out that part of the festivities were a birthday party for Willma, the director of Buenas Nuevas. This made me feel a lot better about it. The party ended a little after eleven.
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, I sleepily tried to begin packing, but ended up getting very little done. In the evening, 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 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 JPL, 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 nights in Bolivia, 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., and 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 translate 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.
The School Children of Colegio Buenas Nuevas
When I got up at 9:30 on the morning of Wednesday, Nov. 9, I still did not have much stuff packed. My flight 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 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. Also, seeing to the welfare of children at Buenas Nuevas was more than just a job to her, 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.
Roberto's wife Gloria and I got in a Taxi and went to Colegio Buenas Nuevas. Willma was out in front of the school to greet us when we arrived. When I entered the school grounds, I was literally "swarmed" by appreciative children, and mass of children hung on to me as I made my way through the school. I took video initially, while and my free hand was being held by the children, with a different child holding each finger. It was a touching experience.
Eventually, I had to put my camera away in order to keep my balance. Whenever we entered an open area, I would become surrounded by a sea of enthusiastic children out to a radius of up to three or four meters! It was neat. I was later given a tour of the school, meeting various staff members in the process. The tour included a lot of the school, including the library and the equivalent of a kindergarten area. I was surprised to see the sophistication of the kindergarten art projects, which were much more 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. After we left the class room, a little girl carrying a bouquet of flowers took my hand and held it as we walked to the lecture hall I had been in a couple of weeks before. I had never had a child do something like that out of the blue before. It was neat, like so many other things about the children and staff at the school.
The school had set up a VCR and television so the children 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 translated. Some children were looking in through the window to see the video. When the presentation was over, a large group of children converged on me, so I sat down on the front of the stage so I could greet them and take video of them.
When I left the lecture hall, many of the children followed me, and I 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 a chipmunk cartoon character that may have been one of his school projects. It was sort of amusing to see his antics with it.
I was invited to have a late lunch and "going away party" in a class room with a few dozen of the children. Willma Alcocer started the event with a prayer. The children had what looked like a chocolate drink for their meal. I 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, picture frame, and 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 poster which had been signed by many of the children.
A little before leaving the school, I was able to interview a few members of the faculty about the eclipse. At least one member was so overcome with emotion during totality that she said she was glad when it had ended. Well after this interview, I was alarmed to realize 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 a student to come to the U.S. and temporarily work with me. This was obviously something I lacked the authority or means to facilitate, so I tried to set the record straight on the matter. I think I succeeded.
Several children hung around with Gloria and I until near dark. There was no school bus pick up in the usual sense. Many of the children are from relatively poor families, so most typically have to walk to school.
At about sunset, Gloria and I tried to to locate a manufacturer of zamponas, a type of musical instrument used in Bolivian folk music. I was told that his business was located very near Buenas Nuevas, and right across the street from where the city kept its police dogs. Through a mix up in translation, someone thought that I had actually wanted to see the police dogs, so I (reluctantly) saw them, and took video of all 18 of them! Many were German Shepherds, and some were quite large.
The dogs had the undesirable effect of discouraging the children from Buenas Nuevas who were still with Gloria and I, so they left me there. Probably just as well that they got home before dark. Now I was really in the dog house. The police dogs were very obedient. One whistle from the trainer and all of the barking instantly stopped!
Willma finally got off work at Buenas Nuevas and came to my rescue. She even found the zampona manufacturer. That was music to my ears! The 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 zamponas 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 home, 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 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 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.
After arriving back at the house, Delfina graciously allowed me to interview her 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 zamponas and flutes. I was not able to get the clock shelf made by the students at Buenas Nuevas to fit in the luggage without risking 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, 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. As fate would have it, I was on such a visit 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, and it was time to go to the Santa Cruz airport - again.
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. I later met a person who had previously met me on the flight back from Bolivia. He related that 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.
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; or 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, a part of me already wanted to go back.
Things that happened, or that were discovered, after the eclipse expedition.
Colegio Buenas Nuevas, and its Director, Willma Alcocer: (1995 and later)
* Willma Alcocer, the director of Buenas Nuevas with whom I had become acquainted, (and who had defended my planned appearance at her school against those 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.
* Thousands of local people demonstrated 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.
* Apparently, an ambitious female "friend" of the vice council of a Swiss organization which owns the school property was 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 demonstrations, 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 have since learned 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.
Demonstrations 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 demonstrations, 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 demonstrations. 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 is 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 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.
Roberto's Schemes: (They never seem to stop)
* Roberto (the self-proclaimed head of the household I visited 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, and without financially compensating the rest of the owners.
* At least one of the sisters who owned the property was allegedly intimidated into cooperating by signing off on the property against her free will.
* 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 only able to subdivide the property and attempt to get half of the land back; the half without any substantial structures on it.
* Now I knew what type of person I was dealing with in Roberto! (Roberto is not his real name.)
* The egregious nature of Roberto's alleged actions also illustrate that people like those who caused problems for me are a very small minority of the Bolivian population. 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 (the meeting that was demanded of me on my first day in Bolivia) had political connections.
* 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 worked for the Embassy) had a brother who was a Bolivian presidential candidate.
* Several years after my eclipse trip, the very person who was at the meeting decided to lay the groundwork to run for president of Bolivia himself, in lieu of his brother.
* A different one of the people in the same meeting was associated with yet another political candidate that came to power several years later.
* 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. (Views of an employee never indicate those of an employer.)
* Therefore, after my expedition, I wrote the brother of the presidential candidate, to warn him that if anyone claimed or implied my endorsement of any associated 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 myself.
* 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 my career, should I eventually become involved with projects associated with certain agencies. I assumed that these people may have been trying to gain political or social points by "arranging" for me to speak at various places.
* Some of them kept introducing me as a "NASA scientist" before a presentation, but I kept correcting them and saying I was just an engineer. This correction probably did not make them very happy.
Medical Repercussions: (1994 through present day)
* 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 several related close calls regarding my job, and I was ultimately laid off on 23 June 1995.
* After this odious contracting experience with an SDB, 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 dental insurance and would not accept premium payments for 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.
Local Political Groups Versus Churches: (1994 through present day)
* There may have been manipulation of some in the Bolivian religious community by politicians and their operatives. Speficically, it appeared that a political movement tried to gain Christian support by calling itself "Christian", and possibly even infiltrating some churches. However, its modes of operation (and hyper-racist views of indigenous people) did not line up with true Christianity. The movement did not appear to have significant national political power in 1994, but they apparently did have at least some local influence, and a relative of one person had run for President in the past.
* More particularly, some among those who had demanded that I make presentations without advance notice (and people I met that they knew) appeared to have a world view that was similar to a mixture of unbiblical versions of Postmillennial and Dominion Theology, in that they called themselves "Christian", yet expressed contempt toward indigenous people, then did whatever they could to limit opportunity for them. They created the impression that they thought it was up to them to work toward bringing about their version of "heaven on earth". They seemed to feel "entitled" to make social or political gains at the expense of others, to impose their will on others, to use corercion or other "un-Christian" methods to do so, and to appropriate or exploit anything that could otherwise benefit indigenous people. It was a classic example of people deluding themselves into thinking they were doing things "for" God, then thinking any means was justified.
* All of this could easily cause some outside of their political group to associate "Christians" and "churches" with the racist anti-indigenous views of their political movement.
* This in turn could have contributed to persecution of evangelical churches when a government led by an Indigenous President did come to power in 2006. This is one of the perils of generalization.
* It is not known if the movement encountered in 1994 was associated with any behind the scenes aspects of the 2019 coup, but the views expressed about indigenous people in both 1994 and 2019 were almost exactly the same. At the very least, it seems that a common ideology is related to both.
* Both extremes (the so-called Christian political movement, and the emphasis on Andean religions promoted by the indigenous president) are compelling examples of why "separation of Church and State" (in the way intended in the US Constitution) is a good idea.
* Lesson learned: Don't let your church, denomination, or religious community be "used" by a political group! Doing so will distort the message of the gospel. The true nature of God is not determined by actions of those who claim to represent Him.
Extreme Socio-Economic Inequality: What It Ulimately Brought About: (2005-2019)
* After observing extreme inequality between opportunities afforded to people of European descent versus those of indigenous descent in Bolivia, I knew it would only be a matter of time until there was a backlash against the elitist "ruling class". I did not know if the backlash would be violent or peaceful, but I suspected that the outcome could easily be a totalitarian state.
* Just to be on the safe side, fictional names and relationships were used for certain people mentioned in this Eclipse Journal, to protect their identity. If there was a backlash against the "ruling class" that was put down, and the wealthy increased their grip on the country, Bolivia's poor, and those sympathetic to their plight, could be at risk. Likewise, if indigenous people came to power, certain people who had oppressed the poor could be at risk if their names were known.
* I could also tell that oppression of indigenous people by the minority "ruling class" made Bolivia ripe for being exploited by socialists, possibly even with foreign backing. All that was needed was for a "champion" to emerge from the indigenous ranks.
* This is what happened twelve years later, when Evo Morales was elected by popular vote in 2005. Soon after this, backlash against decades of oppression of indigenous people by the former "ruling class" began.
* Morales also sought to make native Andean religion the state religion.
* As the socialist Morales regime expanded its power, it also began persecuting groups that had not oppressed indigenous people. Persecuted groups included evangelical churches that never oppressed anyone. (In fact, some persecuted churches were made up entirely of indigenous people!) Ultimately, even some of the churches that I had visited in 1994 were shut down because of the Morales regime or his goons.
* The socialist Morales regime was corrupt, but it had been elected. The minority "ruling class" had brought this upon themselves, and (unfortunately) on everyone else.
* Later, the regime effectively circumvented the Constitution via the courts so Morales could run for a third term. Then he tried for a fourth term and was accused of election tampering, after an investigation found anomalies in a small percentage of the count. Widespread demonstrations against him followed, and his regime began to weaken.
* On 10 November 2019, the Morales government ended when he fled to Mexico after a coup that culminated in an ultimatum from the military, which had begun to favor the former elitist "ruling class".
* There is no doubt it was a coup. When the military "recommends" that you resign, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that failure to comply could easily result in "sudden onset lead poisoning" from a bunch of bullet holes.
* The political shoe was once again on the other foot, yet there was almost no outside media coverage.
Resurgence of an Eerily Familiar Political Ideology: (2019)
* After Morales resigned as President, and interim government soon formed. The new opposition minority government claimed it was "Christian". Its officially stated position was that it wanted to be inclusive. However, this was mixed wtih racist rhetoric from some elitist coup backers and participants who said they wanted to purge indigenous people from certain government positions, and purge certain religions.
* The transition might have gone better if the elitists of the former "ruling class" had shown more restraint when taking over. But as it was, the interim opposition government inflamed the situation in only two days, partly by failing to disavow declarative statemens that some elitists in their ranks made about the roles indigenous people may or may not be allowed to play.
* In addition, only one of the first sixteen appointed interim cabinet members was indigenous (at a time when symbolism was important), while at least 40 percent of the country is made up of indigenous people.
* All of this provoked supporters of Morales and many indigenous people throughout Bolivia. Morales also fanned the flames from Mexico. Demonstrations soon followed.
* The interim government then showed a seemingly "entitled" attitude when it decreed that police were exempt from criminal prosecution if they killed demonstrators. Predictably, at least five unarmed demonstrators were massacred in Sacaba (just outside Cochabamba) the very next day. In all, 23 were killed in the first week. And this may only be the unfortunate beginning.
* Based on the attitudes I observed in 1994, there may be no limit to the harm this "'ruling class" movement could do to indigenous people (including indigenous political rivals) if they think they can get away with it.
* The views toward indigenous people that appear to be held by some of those who seized power after Morales left in 2019 seem eerily similar to views of wealthy people with political connections that I had the misfortune of encountering on my 1994 trip to Bolivia. Namely, they call themselves "Christian", but some of them appear to be rabidly against equal opportunity, education, or position for indigenous people. The highest profile official interim leaders were not openly expressing this bias, but they also were not quelling its expression from LFC and other elitists within their own ranks.
* If members of the new Bolivian government really are Christian, they should act like it and stop killing unarmed civilans. A new government cannot claim any moral high ground over the previous oppressive and corrupt socialist regime if they continue to oppress and kill unarmed indigenous civilians. In its first week, the Anez government forfeited any high ground it might have otherwise had. Their bullets spoke louder than their words or religious symbols.
* Therefore, it is important that people (including the news media) make a distinction between a political group or party that may express unbiblical views in word and deed while exploiting the word "Christian" (or people that get delusions of grandeur from misinterpretation of the Bible), and actual Christians. There is a huge difference.
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; images of unique areas in Bolivia. This URL also 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.
Need information about eclipses for your planetarium, motion picture, or other project? Jeffrey R. Charles performs science consulting in regard to eclipse phenomena and instrumentation. Please direct inquiries to Jeffrey R. Charles (jcharles *at* versacorp *dot* com) or click here for more information about total solar eclipse related science and engineering consulting.
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Document originated: xx January, 1995
Bolivian experience outline originated: 12 December, 1996
Document converted to HTML: 11 September, 1997
Document last modified: 15 June, 1998
Links and limited elements last modified: 19 Nov., 2019