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2001/12/14 : Annular Eclipse

in Costa Rica

Thursday, December 6th, 08.30 AM. It rains on Roissy Charles de Gaulle Airport. We are leaving to the sunny Florida. We feared the worst due to a French air traffic control strike. A lot of flights are cancelled, but ours to Miami is maintained. We'll only have 15 minutes delay. Great !

 The most important was to catch our connecting flight to Costa Rica where we planed to witness the annular eclipse on December 14th. Security has been strictly reinforced in US airports since the September 11th events. We'll have around five controls but nobody claims.

 A final passport control and body security check in the gangway and we board the American Airlines Airbus A300/600. We leave Miami under a heavy rain.


 Two hours and a half later, we land on Juan Santamaria Airport of San José, capital of Costa Rica. It is raining here too. It is 07.30 PM, but 03.30 AM in Paris. We have been travelling for more than seventeen hours and we really start to be tired. We just need a good night of sleep. Tomorrow we have to wake up at 05.00 AM.

It rained all night long. At dawn the sun is brightly shining which suggests to be a great day. We awoke refreshed and are very excited to leave to Tortuguero, North-East, on the Caribbean coast. This is the only excursion we'll share with other tourists. We are six couples seated in a minibus en route to Guacimo.



 Costa Rica is a very small country: 50 700 km², just one tenth of France surface. Stuck between Caribbean sea and Pacific ocean, Costa Rica is the country of active volcanoes, rain forests, wild rivers and waterfalls. A large number of natural parks shelter a luxuriant flora and fauna, and everywhere, coffee and bananas plantations.

In Costa Rica, you never calculate distances in kilometres but in driving hours. We'll soon understand why. Just after Guacimo village we drive a secondary road and we had to keep the second gear during 50 km to reach the Tortuguero wharf.



 We suffered one hour and a half, zigzagging to avoid hundreds of potholes. Tossed, bumped, shacked, we lived a remake of the French movie "The Wages of Fear" but this is our backs which were about to burst. We swapped our minibus for a bottom flat boat, a "lancha".

This is the only, but very nice, way to reach Tortuguero. Tortuguero is a large tropical forest national park. Its tangle marshes and narrow channels give Tortuguero a small Amazonia appearance. This is a total disorientation.



 We navigate along the Rio California main river, and we really do not know where to look at. Great iguanas are resting on top of nearly 30 meters high trees. The harsh cry of howling monkeys means we just invaded their territories. A frighten bright red bird flies away in front of us.

Large Montezuma birds nests hang from branches. We meet hundreds of herons, egrets, green parrots, ibis, eagles and colorful butterflies. Nearly one hour later we reach our hotel : Laguna Lodge. The sky suddenly turned cloudy, and it starts to rain heavily.



Tortuguero park is also famous for its Leatherback and Green turtle nesting on the nearby sandy beach. We missed the nesting season which occurs from July to October, but as the hatching lasts sixty days, we have great chances to witness baby turtles birthing.

 We for sure are on the Caribbean cost, but beaches here are not as idyllic as in the West Indies. Quite rough waves make them hazardous to swim or surf. Only turtles feel at ease. Protected, they will be able to nest without being disturbed.



 Baby turtles are always birthing after sunset. The baby turtle which broke its buried egg feels a different temperature in the sand and it starts to climb to go up to the surface. Some are so deeply buried in the sand they cannot reach the surface by themselves. They need some little help and that is precisely what happened to this little baby turtle.

 We only could see one, but what a great emotion seeing this little turtle manage to try to find its way to the sea. If it survives it will be back in around thirty years, on the same beach, to nest. Good luck, little turtle, and take care of yourself… My God, it's raining again !


 It didn't rain but poured all night long. The average rain falls here is 5000 mm annual. We woke up at 5 AM to go on an early morning canoe birds watching excursion among the narrow channels. The sky is brightly blue and the sun gives fantastic colours to the nature.

 We leave the main river and enter the small and narrow channels. We are in the heart of the forest. It is impossible to say where the earth starts and where the water stops. This is the kingfisher, herons, egrets, green parrots, sloths, spider monkeys, howling monkeys, white head monkeys, iguanas and turtles kingdom.


 Flora is as extravagant as fauna. Thirty meters high trees, coco trees, banana trees, ficus, enormous philodendrons, orchids and all sorts of bromelias, hibiscus, anthuriums and many many other tropical flowers. Branches and roots mix together in this luxuriant thousand different green colours forest.

 It is time to go back for breakfast. We'll return for a second excursion just after. Loud black clouds magically covered the sky. The wind starts to blow and ripples the river surface. We berth under a heavy rain. We can't see the facing shore.



 The rain doesn't stop. Our guide prefers to defer our excursion after lunch. We gaze at the now furious river carry large bunches of water lilies to the sea. The underwear we washed yesterday didn't dry yet…

 It doesn't rain any more, but the sky is totally overcast. We are back for the second visit among the narrow channels .The motor is off, just drifting in the silence, we can easily watch at the so magnificent birds.



 This young one meter and a half long boa constrictor doesn't seem to be disturbed during its nap.

 Extracted from Jurassic Park, this dragon is able to walk and run on the water surface to escape from predators, but this one doesn't seem to be frightened. It didn't even move an eye when we approached.



 This, for true, is a magic place. The channel becomes narrower and sometimes we have to bend our heads to avoid branches and lianas.

 This little white head monkey seems to be quite inquisitive. It shows a great interest in our expedition, but it is greedier and soon goes back to delicious little yellow fruits.



 An extra gift. These young red deers are quite rarely observed. That's what our guide said, very suprised too. He found an explanation : the water level rose because of the floods and the animals stay upper on the ground, which make them more visible. The sun sets behind the clouds, it is time to go back to the hotel before the night falls, and go on our way in Costa Rica.

 We woke very early this morning, and the sun is brightly shining. We find back our flat boat to return to the wharf and then Siqquires. Once on the place, we say goodbye to our travel companions and get our hired car : a Dahaitsu 4X4. Our destination : Arenal Volcano. Arenal was a quiet volcano till 1968 when it suddenly erupted due to a violent earth quake.



 The volcano didn't stop its activity and is very impressive at night. We were truly impatient to contemplate its amazing fired top at night. We drove during five hours among millions of potholes and under a pouring rain, and when we reached Arenal, it was totally foggy.

 We'll know later ( and we had it on good authority ) that Arenal is visible twice or third a year ! Here is our own vision of Arenal. One little compensation, we heard it rumble and we had a bath in the 35° water in the hotel swimming pool. This hot water comes direct from the volcano hot natural springs. This was really great!



 We have to go on to Rincon de la Vieja volcano, four hours drive from Arenal, close to Liberia. We had to brave an important muddy landslide and the 4X4 was very efficient. We'll rest during two days in a real hacienda located in another natural park. Shortly after Arenal we find the sun back.

 The hacienda is located on the volcano slope, twenty km far from Liberia, at the end of a secondary chaotic road which doesn't allow us to drive faster than 30 km/h. We reach Guachipelin Hacienda under a cloudy sky. Our backs seem to be broken. The place is superb. Soon we have a horse back ride to the hot water and mud springs.



 I won't be able to sit down during two days, but what a ride, even under the rain. Later on, we are able to witness a beautiful sunset over Pacific ocean. We are very impatient to stay on the sunny desert beaches on the pacific coast. Coatis are as familiar as pets, they can be found everywhere and are not easily frightened.

 On the next rainy morning, we are going for a walk in the natural park of Rincon de la Vieja. The volcano never showed, its head always hidden in the clouds. On the way, we meet some boiling mud and water ponds, and numbers of howling monkeys, coatis, and noisy green parrots.



 The hacienda prepared a giant BBQ for the tonight dinner and a typical band is playing costarician music. Tomorrow, December 12th , we are leaving to the sunny Nosara on the pacific coast, seven hours drive, via Liberia, Playa Hermosa, Nicoya on Nicoya peninsula in Guanacaste province.

 Nosara is the driest place in Costa Rica, that is why, Fred Espenak, alias Mr Eclipse, elected this village to observe this annular eclipse on December 14th. The sun is back as soon as we reach the pacific coast. It is very hot. Fifty km separate Nicoya from Nosara and the road counts around ten potholes per Km²…



 It hasn't been raining here in Nosara for two months and the trees in the neighbourhood are covered with a thick dust, trucks and cars blow when driving on those dry and damaged roads.

 Aahhh ! Nothing to do but rest during four days. Go to the beach and swim in the warmy Pacific Ocean. Sun bathe, and walk along these wonderful desert beaches. It will be paradise like. Our hotel, Lagarta Lodge is a small Eden. It lays on the hill and overviews the Pacific Ocean. What a sight !



 I didn't hear Jean-Paul wake up at dawn. He went for a walk in the small natural park down the hill. He's just back for breakfast, muddy but delighted and made nice shots and movie. The weather is very fine. We decide to go to the beach and try to locate the best place to observe the eclipse tomorrow.

Watching the eclipse from the hotel would be the easiest option, only one detail made us change our minds : the sun will be partially hidden by high trees from the first contact till annularity.



 The beach could be another good option, but it will be high tide tomorrow during the eclipse, with perhaps a lot of people gathered on the beach.

 We wish to say "hello" to fred Espenak at his hotel, but he didn't arrive yet in Nosara. No problem, we'll have plenty of time tomorrow morning. A lot of astronomers ( amateur or pros from all around the world ) have arrived in Nosara. They all wear an eclipse T-shirt : Hawaii 1991, Brazil 1994, Costa Rica (yes, yes ) 1998, and of course Zambia or Zimbabwe 2001.



 One of them tells us than the "Blue Marlin" restaurant, a little bit further, is selling T-shirts commemorating this annular eclipse. We rush and buy ours.

 Then we leave to Ostional beach, eight km far. It will take us nearly forty minutes to reach the place and we'll have to ford three small rivers… Ostional beach is famous for its all year long Green turtles nesting. The beach is covered with millions of broken ping pong balls like eggs. We decide to come back at night and perhaps have the chance to see some green turtles nest.



  One cold "Impérial" (nice local beer) is relaxing sipped in the swimming pool at sun set. The view from the hotel is really great. We can hear some howling monkeys down in the park. Sun set is fabulous. How nice the life is.

 Two of other hotel guests decide to join us for the trip to Ostional tonight. We arrive at 9 PM. A ranger who works for the turtles protection welcomes us on the beach. Two big green turtles of over 200 kg are spotted nearby. He points his electric torch in their direction but carefully avoid to aim their eyes.



 The night is so dark we can't see each other. We come close to the first exhausted turtle which crawls to reach the dry sand. We never saw so many stars in the sky. Today is the peak of Geminid's meteor shower and dozen of brilliant shooting stars light up the sky. This is a magic, grandiose, touching moment.

 We spot each other just by listening to our voices. Jean Paul is laying down and films the turtle with his infra red camera. The turtle seems to cry and slowly goes on to its release. The exhausted second one starts to dig its nest on the very shore. The worst will happen later on. At dawn when the turtles return into the ocean, their nests will be systematically destroyed.



 It seems turtle eggs have the magic power to reinforce men virility, then the nearby village inhabitants come on the beach to rob the eggs they will sell a good price. Turtles are protected everywhere in Costa Rica, except at Ostional, universally known as a famous place for nesting. Ecologists are vainly trying to fight against this lucrative robbery.

 Friday December 14th. Today is the eclipse day. The small Nosara village will be for a couple of hours the centre of the astronomical world.



 Just after breakfast Jean Paul and I are preparing our equipments. Same ones as for our last eclipse observation in Zimbabwe. We only brought digital cameras, filters, tele extenders and micrometric mounts on tripods. Everything seems to work normally. The weather is fine. Everything looks good.

 It is time to go downtown. A Swiss TV reporter is coming with us. He wishes to make an eclipse report with two amateur astronomers : Jean Paul and I ! This report is supposed to run on the German French ARTE broadcast. We need to go to the post office. I have some home made eclipse covers to be cancelled on the eclipse day.



 Costa Rica didn't issue a special eclipse stamp as they did in 1992, but as a eclipse stamps collectors, we'll have a nice philatelic souvenir of this day. Back on the main street, it seems clouds circle the top of the nearby mountains , and… yes, for sure, they are drifted in our direction.

 "Blue Marlin" restaurant ( where we bought our T-shirts yesterday ) is extremely busy. Our reporter wants to buy a T-shirt too. They are showing on a big table : T-shirts, eclipse viewers, eclipse cans coolers, and of course, hundreds of "Imperial" cans. People will be thirsty this afternoon in Nosara.



 Fred Espenak and his group arrived yesterday evening. We meet him at his hotel when he was just about to leave for his observation site, the Nosara Beach Hotel, a constant under construction hotel, over viewing the Nosara beach.

 Still escorted by our reporter and his camera, we follow Fred Espenak and his team. The Costarician TV is on the place too and cameramen set their equipment. The scientific "Cientec" Costarician foundation has come too. The sky is fully cloudy.



 We ask the Costarician TV reporters if the place is a private observation site. As they say it isn't, we decide to stay here too to observe the eclipse.

 We can't believe customers are staying in this hotel. Everything is under construction. Men at work are building a kind of minaret which gives this hotel a future sect temple looking… The minaret has been allocated to Fred and his team.



 We have to pay attention where we are stepping. The stairs are not finished and the steps are irregular. Metallic frames are emerging from everywhere, and many cables dangerously lie down on the floor.

 Everyone is carefully setting his equipment. The sky turns more and more cloudy.



 Fred looks nervous.

 We are staying on a cupola close to Fred's minaret. We have to be very cautious cause there is no hand rail to protect us from a possible 10m fall down.



 You just need a compass to confirm that the sun will precisely set at 245°, in this exact direction.

 Can't be true ! Rain drops start falling. We dash to protect our cameras under a plastic bag. We missed the first contact. Nevertheless it seems a small blue hole appears in the grey sky…



 The small blue hole turns larger and larger, and then the sun finally appears. Everybody is shouting.

 Kids start to wear their eclipse glasses.



 Here it is ! We at last spotted the sun in our lenses.

 First picture…



 Second picture…

 Ugh, nice green one ! This is due to the solder glass filter on Jean Paul's camera.



 Two more pictures and the clouds win over the blue hole ! The sky returns totally overcast. It lasted two minutes and a half. Finished, over, terminado… Heavy rain drops start to fall again.

 The clouds turn darker and darker. It hasn't been raining in Nosara for two months, then WHY today ?



 All telescopes are now protected with plastic bags.

 From time to time a clear sky hole is breaking the clouds, but it never breaks at the right place.



 Fred is giving up. No, there will be no improvement.

 This is a total dismay…



 Fred's team just beneath our cupola, doesn't trust any more.

 Frankly, nobody doesn't trust anymore.



 Anyway, the show must go on…

 But the spirit is truly low.



 Costarician TV is resignated too.

 Here is Fred's equipment. Quite clever his counterweight system… and what a gain of space in the suitcase.


 Life is cruel Fred, isn't it ?

 It must be so beautiful, up there, over the clouds…



 No, it is so stupid.

 What a disappointment !



 The Costarician TV reporter, on live broadcast, tells the Costarician Tv watchers they won't see the eclipse.

 Totality will occur in a few seconds. The show is ruined. Colours are changing. The clouds turn lead like.



 This is now totality ! We just imagine the beauty of the phenomenon over heads.





 It must be superb up there…

 The sky is suddenly breaking over our heads, but it is no use now. The western horizon remains totally cloudy. We patienyly wait till the end of the eclipse but we know no miracle will happen.











 Reporters from the Costarician newspaper LA NACION didn't succeed to get better pictures than us. Here are their pictures taken in Nosara and Libéria, north of the country. They will be printed on the main page of the newspaper.





 But some people are very lucky. Olivier "Klipsi" Staiger and Vic Winter decided to observe the eclipse from Punta Leona, south of Costa Rica, close to Jaco City. For sure the weather was cloudy too, but he is the only one who could observe and make some nice pictures of all the phases of this eclipse. Thanks Klipsi and Vic .









Photos by

Olivier "Klipsi" Staiger

And Vic Winter

 It is time now to leave Costa Rica. On our way back to San José we crossed the Taracoles river, located in the Carara natural Park. The river is known for its crocodiles. The are quite big. A lot of ibis and egrets are the only ones able to approach them, and they do not seem to be scared. Tomorrow we are returning to Paris.





 The sun is shining in San José. Tonight the whole town celebrates the Light Festival with fireworks and firecrackers. All the children wear Santa Claus' hat. This festival just before Xmas looks like a carnival with its parades and fancy dressings. Bye bye Costa Rica. Rendez-vous on 2002 june 10th. In the sunny Mexico for the next annular eclipse.

© 2001 Martine TLOUZEAU et Jean-Paul GODARD. Tous droits réservés

ème visiteur de l'Uranoscope. ème visiteur de MsEclipse.