Words from Kenya

Solar Eclipse 2013 at Allia Bay on Lake Turkana

Solar Eclipse over Lake Turkana

It’s no use pretending otherwise, the eclipse was a terrible disappointment. Everybody gathered at Allia Bay had invested a lot of time, effort, and in many cases a large amount of money, to be in the right place at the right time to see the full solar eclipse or (as I now know to call it) totality. None of us did.

A sandstorm, on the leading edge of a lot of cloud and wind but very little rain, swept across the flat volcanic land. It swept across all of us peering skyward in Allia Bay and then it swept out over Lake Turkana and it swept across the sun only minutes after it first met the moon.

Just before totality there was a small break in the clouds, but not over the eager (desperate might be a better word) watchers gathered on the shore. Instead it illuminated a small patch on the lake.

Totality was visible along a very narrow band around the earth; at this point in northern Kenya that band was only about 30 miles wide. This meant that even though it got very dark over us in Allia Bay we could see bright sunlit skies on the horizon to the north and especially the south. So it was more like standing under the mother of all storms than the coming of night.

The small patch of light reflected on Lake Turkana, where the part of the sun still uncovered by the moon shone on it, suddenly went out. For a few seconds (I’m reliably informed it was 11) there was nothing but blackness and silence and then there it was again, the small faint patch of sunlight reflected weakly on the lake. The moon had slid past totality and a slither of the sun shone out. For a brief moment, just at this point, the clouds parted above us and we saw the almost total eclipse.

However the disappointment of the watchers at not seeing the actual moment when the moon covered the sun completely was tangible. Some people had walked away before totality when it seemed obvious that they would see nothing; they sat huddled in vehicles waiting to leave. Others continued to sit by the shore looking deflated. A few hardy souls were trying to make the best of it, and so was I as my 7 year old son’s deep disappointment was turning to tears (this had been a much anticipated and planned for trip).

The truth was that what we did see on the shores of Lake Turkana that afternoon was both beautiful and amazing. The sandstorm that blasted us had swept across Lake Turkana in dramatic curtains illuminated from behind by the slowly fading sun. As the eclipsed sun shone down across the lake through breaks in the cloud the light was unearthly and eerily beautiful. All this over land might not have been so impressive but seen across the back drop of Lake Turkana in this stark volcanic wilderness it was spectacular. But that is not what people had travelled days to see and it was very hard, even for the most positive of people, to feel good about it.

I consoled myself that I wasn’t one of those who had flown in from Europe or America just for the afternoon, and plenty had. We at least had built a wider trip around the event. So had many others, making this just one part of a visit to Kenya that included game reserves and the beautiful Kenyan coast.

The next day we went to explore Sibiloi and all the disappointment of the day before was forgotten about. It might have taken a cosmic alignment to get us there but Sibiloi National Park turned out to be worth all the effort in its own right.

You can see some of my photographs from the solar eclipse here

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