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Black sun at NYAMAPANDA

Our special jun 21. 2001 solar eclipse trip

to South Africa and Zimbabwe with AFA

Friday june 15th. We left Paris on a chilly spring night to reach autumn the next morning. We are fourty four happy few from AFA ( french astronomy association ) travelling to South Africa for an unforgettable tour before rejoining Zimbabwe where we'll watch the total solar eclipse on june 21st.


As soon as we arrived, we are escorted by two french speaking south african guides. We'll separate on the return day. We are divided in two groups and driven in two very comfortable busses. Our first destination : SOWETO.

Today, Soweto is commemorating Hector Peterson's death, this 13 years old school boy killed during the 1976 riots. His memorial is covered with flowers. The ceremony ended few minuts ago. We are expected for lunch and the children prepared special songs and dances for us. The emotion is great.


But it is a long drive to our night stop. We pass through the Highveld rich plains and finally reach Waterval Boven, a gentle little town at the foot of Drakensberg. But how can you rest when you gaze at the so clear and splendid southern sky ? How can you resist to the sparkling Southern Cross and glossy Milky Way.

Very short night indeed.We had to get up at 6 AM. We drive through the Mpumalanga ( ex Transvaal ) mountains, cross Sabie and Hazywiew cities. The Lowveld landscapes are gorgeous. We already feel a little in the Bush, as a matter of fact, hippos are often crossing the road at night and you are invited to drive cautiously.


We are expected by an authentic SHANGAN Chief. He invited us for a the lunch in his village. Shangan are one of the various african ethnic groups. His wifes prepared a tipical lunch and his sons danced for us. They live in " rondavels " round dry mudded huts which keep the air fresh and cool when it is so hot outside.

We are now in the Kruger parc. We swapped our busses for four eleven seats Jeeps driven by a Ranger. Ours is named JAAP. How wonderful. Suddenly we are thrown in another world, here is true Africa. We gaze but have to remain quiet, here you have to take it seriously with Mother Nature…


It is hot and landscapes are pure beauty. Antelopes graze along the road ( the speed is limited to 50 km/h and it may cost you a lot if exceeded ). A big hippo whose back is covered with birds, takes a sun bath on a flat stone, a crocodile wakes up. It is nap time.

We really do not know where to look at. The animal seem so tamed, but they are accustomed to the cars, not to humans. It is absolutely forbidden to get off the car, even if out of order. These animals are wild, unpredictable, then dangerous. But what a delight to be able to admire them in their natural environment.

Vultures gathered on a tree, which clearly indicates a carrion is nearby. We didn't have to wait for long. Four young lions killed a giraffe a few days ago and they are looking after their diner. They have food enough for about one full week, then they will hunt again and vultures will end what is remaining.

A thirsty lion just got up, and is heading for the pond across the road. Immediately, zebras, impalas and other antelopes stare at him even if each one knows he doesn't fear anything. Satisfied, the lion returns to his place, but antelopes are keeping on the alert for a while.

Many lions, especially in the north of Kruger parc, are tuberculous and die. They get the virus eating buffalos which have been, themselves, contaminated by mixing with tamed oxes on the Mozambique border. This is a very serious problem and there is no solution at the present time.

We are driving on tar roads or gravel tracks. We'll spend the night at SATARA restcamp, 50 km far, but for our greater pleasure, we'll zigzag to get there, the most important is to reach the camp before they close the doors, at 5.30 PM.

The sun sets early and it is starting to be cold. The bush wears golden colours and one by one the stars light up. Mars, overhead, glitters in Scorpio. The night sky is so clear than the Milky Way reveals its thiniest curls.

Two spotted hyenas, behind the fence came in search for ribs during our diner at the restcamp restaurant BBQ. We know it is forbidden but they got a free diner, as every day I suppose, cause we have been told they are regular " customers ". We have the strange feeling of being penned in and observed…

We are too tired to gaze at the starry sky, we need a full night of sleep, as we have to get up at 5 AM cause we are leaving for an early morning safari. What a thrill when the lion's roar wakes you up, how delightful to fall asleep again and feel warm under the blanket…

Monday, june 18th, 5 AM. A superb close conjonction of the Moon and Venus is the first gift of the day. It is quite cold and we are dressed as for a polar expedition. Our rangers prepared some coffee and cookies. We'll have a real breakfast when returning from observing the animals at sun rise.


If sunset was gorgeous, sun rise is splendid. We do not even care for coldness. A couple of lions is lying on the roadside and wait for our day star warmth. Venus switches off its light, the Moon fades, the sky turns pink, and suddenly the first beams of the sun lightly touch the top of a century-old baobab.

He was there, quiet, greedily eating the branches of a young tree. We found him superb, sympathetic, cool. But what happened with him when he decided to cross the road ? When he saw our Jeep his ears started to flap, we heard a loud trumpeting and now he is rushing at us…Darliiiiiiiing !!!

Jaap can't move the Jeep cause another car is parked aside and the driver panics. Jumbo enjoyed and stops two meters from us, then he turns back and see the other Jeep, so what does he do ? He rushes at the other car…The other ranger moves back the car and Jumbo decides to go back to his breakfast. What a memory !

A baby hyena is absolutely cute. You want to pat but mother hyena doesn't agree. Buffalos look quiet and cool but you shouldn't bother a buffalo cause he turns upset and then rushes at you and it is worse than the elephant.

We drive on roads and tracks and everything is matter to wonder. Our rangers never stop communicating by CB. One just located a rhino and called Jaap. We shortly are on the place, but the rhino didn't wait. Shall we be able to watch the famous "big five" ?

Big five are the biggest animal which have been the most hunted in the past. These are : lions, elephants, leopards, buffalos and rhinos. Our group didn't succeed to see the leopard but nobody really feels frustrated. Various species of birds can be seen too : martial and african fish eagles, vultures, hornbills, rollers, starlings, weavers, ibis, guineafowls, herons...



Kruger parc lays on 350 km from north to south and reaches 60 kms in its larger width. Its surface could be compared to Wales. You'll find inside 2500 km of roads and tracks, 24 restcamps and lodges, 20 petrol pumps, picnic areas, one hospital and one airport.

Kruger park supports 147 mammals, 507 birds and 114 reptiles species. It is one of the biggest natural park in the world and nature is kept intact. Man never interferes in Mother Nature's laws. Life passes, made of joys and dramas. South Africa gouvernment plans to extend the parc in Mozambique and Zimbabwe.



This second night is dedicated to astronomy. We set our telescopes cameras and binoculars up. The Milky Way is so clear you could nearly touch it. We are spying the main interests of the southern sky : Jewels box, coal sack, Omega Centauri, and many many more…

We had to wake up early again cause it is a long, long way to Pretoria our night stop.



It is time to say goodbye to our rangers. We return to our Pullman busses. The sun didn't rise yet.

We'll exit Kruger parc at Orpen Gate, 50 km far from Satara camp. We'll have the breakfast there. Of course we meet a lot of animals.



Hunters go sleeping, hunted start a peaceful day. The sun is just rising, and soon will burn the bush and its inhabitants.

We for sure are sad to leave this delightful place.



It seems we are starring a remake of both Hatari and Daktari. We all made a child's dream come true when living in Kruger park and what beautiful memories we are taking back with us

We can't no longer stay cause after tomorrow we have to witness the most beautiful show the nature can offer : a total solar eclipse. We especially came for this event and we have to be back to Johannesburg…



We cross Drakensberg mountains and will climb up to 2000 m . We'll also see some unique landscapes..

A 600 years old baobab is a short break opportunity. An old african legend says the baobab was asleep when God started to assign plants on Earth. When the baobab woke up, he was alone. Upset, God took the baobab and strongly trew it from the sky. The baobab fel down and crashed head first in the soil, the roots up.



This is why the baobab is called the "upside down" tree. No less the 15 persons will be necessary to surround this tree.

We are on the " Escarpment ". The Blyde river runs in the bottom of a 600 m deep canyon. This canyon is one of the most spectacular sites of South Africa. The "three rondavels" remind the tipical african villages huts.



It is from this place that Xhi, the little bushman, sent back to the crazy gods the famous Coca Cola bottle.

The Blyde river canyon lays on 26 km. It has been digged by the river in the midst of Drakensberg and offers this extravagant panorama on the three rondavels. Each one is named after the three Shaka's wives, the great zulu chief who fighted the bantu invaders.



What a giddy sight ! It is recommended not to walk too close, fatal falls are quite common.

Coral tree likes this place. Beautiful red to orange clusters appear when blossoming in winter.



Bourke's Luck potholes are a fascinating example of the active water erosion. Bourke found gold on this place. We looked for gold too, but there is no more…

Last stop before Pretoria : Pilgrim's Rest. This gold seekers village created in the XIX th century has been totally and marvelously reniewed, but everything is genuine. N'debele women are wearing colorful clothes. They are spinning belts and necklaces with million of small multicoloured glass pearls.


This is our last night in South Africa. Tomorrow, we are leaving for Harare.

Wednesday june 20th. What a strange feeling looking at this tiny little moon crescent. Tomorrow, yes, tomorrow is the eclipse day…



At this present time we have to be aground before flying to Harare. Eric ( the group leader ) already told us : no more than 10 kg of bagage weight per passenger. So we have to check one more time. We'll take only our necessary belongings with us, the remaining things will be kept in lockers at Johannesburg airport till we return.

We are 8 "happy few" to board this Beechcraft for VIP or movie stars of...Million Air airlines. Quite normal. Afterall we are astronomers, so we know what stars are. The other members of the group will travel in a bigger plane.



I can assure you, the pilots didn't keep their eclipse glasses on during the flight.

Two hours later, we are landing on Harare airport in Zimbabwe. Quick guided tour in the city, and a briefing just after diner. Some of us are not astronomers and do appreciate some informations about eclipse phenomenom and photagraphic advices


Thursday june 21st. It is the D day ! We got up at dawn cause we have to reach NYAMAPANDA, small village located on the north eastern mozambican border. We need three hours to get there.

Police patrols are on the whole way long, and we had to stop several times for control. Zimbabwe is known as an unstable country for a couple of years. But, here we are. The weather is fine, nothing to fear regarding the meteo.



Olivier who previously entered the eclipse path datas in his GPS, is now reading the distance which separates us from the center line.

Jean Paul agrees… Jean-Luc, Patrick and Eric have gone to visit our observation site : the Muzezuru school football yard, 10 km far from here.



Nyamapanda is living an historical moment. Located on the center line, this small village is waiting for a minister who decided he couldn't miss this event. Zimbabwean TV had to be here and is fixing the cameras.

I'll never know if I appeared on the national evening news…


Waiting for our group leaders, we taste the Zambezi lite and buy some T-shirts commemorating the event.

We at last are on the place. Due to the bagage limitation we brought only cameras. A digital VCR with tele extender for Jean Paul, my good old Olympus OM1 with 200 mm lens and tele extender plus my digital camera, and two photo tripods.



We are ready, everything looks OK. Jean Paul has already gone for reporting. He is filming and interviewing other members of the group preparing their observation.

The country is unstable and police patrols are on the site. But police(wo)men do appreciate a glance through a telescope or binoculars, and they feel so happy getting some eclipse glasses.


Everything under control ! Let's go for the lunch.

A picnic has been organized for us and the little school boys are waiting to start the show they especially prepared for us.



Patrick is fixing his apochromatic refractor on an equatorial mount. He says he never eats before an eclipse…

Jean Paul is, one more time, checking if everything is allright. Come on ! Let's go for the lunch…

Boys and girls offer us a nice show with frenetic dances and rythmed songs.

The little Muzezuru school boys came to meet us.

Nice picnic in the shadow of the acacias trees.

The eclipse starts in half an hour, better not let it get me down !

01.53 PM. Off we go ! First contact. The moon just started biting the sun on the left hand side. Jean Luc and Eric are responsible of the timing and have to annouce it loud and clear.

Every body is ready. The count down has just started.

Is your heart beating faster Marie Luce ?

Other ones prefer to observe with comfort. Where did they get all that stuff ?


Inexorably, the moon is eating the sun…

Jean Paul's equipment : A Sony DCR PC110 on micrometric mount, microphone and home made solar screen ( a solder glass mounted in two spray tops ) over the tele extender. A remote control avoids vibrations.



The colours change, the sky turns darker.

Jean-Paul is watching his eclipse movie, everything looks perfect.


Colours turn metallic, and it is truly cooler. Eric shouts that totality is expected in 4 minuts.

Why haven't we brought more eclipse glasses…


03.16 and 56 seconds PM. Second contact. We are in the dark. People are screaming, other are aplauding. This is pure ecstasy.

Somebody shouts : "Protuberances, look at the protuberances, they are enormous" !!!

Jean Paul is enraging. He is so charmed by the blak sun he forgot to reset the camera when he put off the solar screen. We won't have the second contact on the movie…

It is OK now, but the image is now out of focus. Fortunately image processing will do some miracles…

Protuberances are all around the sun. My goodness, what a sight…

Three minuts and four seconds...



…of total happiness !

Jean-Paul took the digital camera and runs to a big baobab nearby…



…he only shot 4 pictures. He didn't even think to shoot more. Fortunately he succeeded to catch Jupiter .

I am now working with the OM1. I am shooting and shooting and I quite don't know what I am doing. I am trying to enjoy the maximum…



The corona is fabulous…

This eclipse is one of the most beautiful I witnessed.



03.19 PM. third contact. The athmosphere is so clear you still see the inner corona when the diamond appears.

Somebody shouts : The shadow bands, look at the shadow bands !!! Yes…on the path, I can see them, right here… This is the first time I could see them.




We can breathe again. The sun won the battle, and nature is recovering its colours. We have plenty of time now to catch the crescent images…

…and go on raving for a while


Many think the eclipse is over, but we still remain watching the moon slipping on the solar disc.

Till everything returns to normal.



Now we can celebrate it together ! Where did Eric get this Champagne ? Did he bring it from France ? I now understand why we were limited to 10 kg of bagage...Thank you Eric, what a nice surprise….Cheers !

Georges, our south african guide witnessed his first eclipse. I think he loved the show and will be ( perhaps with us ) in the north of Kruger park on december 4th.2002, for the next one.



Cheers to you Bernard, and cheers to the eclipse too !

Our zimbabwean guide is much more relax now.



Now, it is really over.

The1200 little school boys are still with us. We already know the tomorrow lesson matter. These kids are very poor, we gave them all what could be given as pens and paper. They are needing so much. You can help and send pens and paper to this address : Muzezuru Primary School - P.O. Box 83 - Mudzi - Zimbabwe



We couldn't leave without shooting the souvenir picture…It is time to return to Harare and have a real and long sleeping night.

Even if we didn't have to get up early this morning, nobody succeeded to sleep well cause the eclipse excitment was great. It is time now to go back home for every body…



…which gives us the opportunity to start a superb eclipse T-shirts collection at Harare airport.

We kept our nice small Beechcraft to fly back to Johannesburg. All newspapers are relating the yesterday eclipse



It is time to leave this beautiful South Africa. We did enjoy our stay and all the people we met.

Friday, june 22nd. As a farewell gift the moon offers us its first crescent as we are cruising at 33.000 feet.


We gaze at this tiny little crescent and we remember yesterday, and the magic of this eclipse. We are quite aware we lived a predilected and unique moment. Eric, when are you starting to organize the next one ?

We left Johannesburg on a winter evening to reach Paris on a hot summer morning, and you know what ? Besides this eclipse we did another incredible thing : we lived the four seasons in only one week. Amazing, isn't it ?


Reportage : Martine TLOUZEAU et Jean-Paul GODARD

ème visiteur de l'uranoscope.

ème visiteur de MsEclipse.

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