On June 21, 2001, there was a Total Solar Eclipse visible from Southern Africa. We, Fred and Monica Bruenjes (Monica is Fred's brother, no wait... Fred's SISTER!) travelled there from San Diego, California to see the eclipse and go on safari. This page is our report on what we experienced. If you're here only for the animals, you can skip ahead to the next page, while astronomers may skip to the eclipse page.
We left San Diego in the afternoon. This is the plane we took across the USA to New York.
While flying across the country there was a large thunderstorm system, and of course it was right between us and where we needed to go. The storm was spectacular as we flew by, with bolts of lightning and a light show provided by the setting Sun.
We landed in Newark, New Jersey very late, and spent the night with our Grandfather. The next day we drove through New York City to John F Kennedy Airport. This shows Manhattan in the distance.
Whoa, we must really be going somewhere because this plane is BIG!
The flight from JFK to Johannesburg, South Africa took an interminable 15 hours. I maybe got one hour of sleep I was so uncomfortable. An aisle or window seat makes a huge difference, those middle seats are terrible. This photo is of our group just after getting off the plane, as we load our bags into a tour bus that will take us to our hotel.
On the way to the hotel we got a glimpse of one of the three downtowns in Johannesburg. This one is almost deserted; all of these office buildings are largely vacant except for the first floor shops. When Apartheid ended all of the white businesspeople fled the area in fear. The faceted, mirrored building was owned by DeBeers, the diamond company.
In the morning we took a tour of Soweto, the South West Township, where blacks were clustered. This area has houses that range from cardboard shanties to millionaire estates. This is the central marketplace, where all the minibus taxis come from and go to. This was the slow part of the day, so it was relatively uncrowded. Occasionally there would be cries of "Shoot me! Shoot me!" because the locals are very photogenic and love having their picture taken.
Minutes away is Mandela Village, many acres of the poorest of the poor. They live in shanties built from whatever is available. Many of the building materials were obtained through "midnight shopping". Every shanty has a number painted on it, denoting that family's place in the waiting list for government housing.
In a better part of town is a school for the local children. The children put on a song and dance for us in exchange for a donation. I think it's a good trade, the school is bright, clean, and cheerful.
Here is our guide George with our group beside Winnie Mandela's heavily guarded house. This is in a more upscale part of town. The joke about cars here is that the BMW means "break my windows", because only BMWs are worth stealing. Across all of Soweto, we saw as many BMWs as bicycles.
Fred, in front of Nelson Mandela's old house. Yet another place where Fred got in trouble for taking pictures when he shouldn't have been. The house is reconstructed, it had been bombed and only the bottom few rows of bricks are original. The inside is wallpapered with photos and articles on Nelson Mandela.
The meat market. This was the clean one; the one next door kept all the meat on the ground.
In the afternoon we toured Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa. This is Paul Kruger's house. Kruger was the Dutch (Africans pronounce it "Dajj") ruler around the last turn of the century. In his time this street was off limits to Africans.
A statue of Kruger, with a palm-treed government building in the background.
The Union Buildings, full of symbolism this is similar in purpose to the US Capitol Building in Washington DC. The grounds and the building are off limits to all and this was the closest we could get.
The Voortrekker Monument, celebrating the triumph of the Dutch settlers over the native Africans. This monument is now un-P.C., and we were the only ones in it.
The view of Pretoria from the Voortrekker Monument.
The next day we flew from Johannesburg to Zambia aboard a chartered DC3, built in 1941. The pilot is older than the plane, the toilet is incomprehensible, the emergency placards spell "Emergecy" wrong, the trim is broken so the ride is sickeningly rough, but gosh this is a great plane, really! I really came to love it, it has a lot of charm to it and it is built like a tank. I feel perfectly safe after the first hour.
Aboard the DC3, and every eclipse chaser's worst nightmare is appearing... clouds. Lots of them. We crossed our fingers and trusted the almighty... Jay Anderson, the Canadian meterologist whose comprehensive weather analysis predicts an 80% chance of good skies on eclipse day.
Because this isn't the USA, and because it is a charter plane, we were welcome to come up to the cockpit and chat with the crew. Top and center on the panel is a state of the art Garmin GPS receiver, a near necessity in the African bush were landmarks are few and far between.
On the ground in Livingstone Zambia, next to Victoria Falls. We walked right through customs thanks to our group leader's excellent arrangements. Another group spent an hour and a half declaring every camera, every lens, every little thing they brought. We were greeted at the hotel with a cocktail (tropical punch, I think) and a washcloth.
Our hotel's waiting area, across from the front desk.
After a quick clean up we walked over to Victoria Falls. A mile wide and 300 feet tall (twice as high as Niagara), you can't see all of the falls at once from the ground.
A magical spot. The mist obscures a lot of the view, and you have to wait a long time for just the right moment to take a picture. It's actually not a mist like at Niagara, but more like a pouring, driving rain when it hits you.
Turning around, we can see down the canyon to the Zambezi River and the railroad/car bridge between Zimbabwe and Zambia. This bridge is famous for bungee jumping.
On the way back we met a group of Vervet Monkeys.
The night before the eclipse. We had an impromptu star party next to the pool, to check out our equipment before the eclipse, and to enjoy the Southern sky.
We flew to Landless Corner, Zambia to view the eclipse. Landless Corner is a farm owned by Ron and Megan Landless, who treated us to an excellent lunch.
Below is a panorama of our observing site that I created with my digital camera. You can click on it to get a 360 degree Quicktime 4.0 VR panorama (739k) of the whole area.
The eclipse was a Total Solar Eclipse, where the Moon completely blocks out the Sun. This is a rare event that happens every 1-2 years in seemingly random parts of the world. The next Total Solar Eclipse in the United States is in 2017.
Below is an animation of the eclipse that I assembled from photos and video that I took of the eclipse. This shows the entire eclipse in time-lapse. In reality the entire sequence took about three and a half hours. Click here for a larger version (618k).
During totality, the Moon completely covers up the Sun, and you can see the Sun's corona (solar wind), and prominences ("flames" coming off the Sun). The view below is about what it looked like to the naked eye, but of course with less detail.
We had an interesting experience after the eclipse. After we had boarded the DC-3 to go back to Livingstone, the Captain came back and told us that we would all need to sit up as close to the front as possible, preferably with the big guys in the front seats, or else we wouldn't make it up off this short grass field that was a runway for today! Without any complaints we abandoned our favorite seats and squeezed into the forward part of the plane. The takeoff went just fine and we cleared the trees at the end of the "runway" by... just enough.
If you're interested in more details about the eclipse, click HERE.
Otherwise, click HERE to go on to page two and read about the second half of our trip, the safari portion.
All text and images © 2001 Manfred Bruenjes - All Rights Reserved
All text and images are © 2001 Manfred Bruenjes - All Rights Reserved. Image inlining is strictly prohibited. Email for permission before using an image or text.