Since 1963, I have taken adventures, both far and near, to chase many total solar eclipses. This is the story of one such adventure.
In March 1988 I went off on another eclipse adventure. Often, I'm asked "why bother travelling to so many? Once you've seen one, you've seen them all." My usual response is "once you see one total eclipse, you will understand and became an eclipse chaser yourself." There is no way to describe a total solar eclipse. No photograph can do it justice.
There are other reasons for eclipse expeditions. The main one is that it is an excuse to see far off, exotic places. No need to spend months agonising over where and when to go. Nature makes the decision for you.
Every eclipse I've travelled to has been a profound experience - and each time the eclipse itself had nothing to do with it. I've seen young travelling companions who's lives had been transformed as a result of being exposed to different cultures, and spending time in close company with people of diverse personalities. The eclipse itself is the climax of a spiritual experience.
There are the people. We all have one goal as we prepare for the eclipse. We have the joy of making new friends. Seeing familiar faces. Renewing old acquaintances.
On this trip, my teenage daughters travelled with me. We journeyed nearly half way around the world. "The world is getting smaller" we always hear. Well, I suppose that's true, but when you are on the go for 30 hours, it's still a long, tiring trip. We know the Pacific Ocean is big. But after travelling across it, we felt how big it is! We had a 20-hour night on our westbound journey. On the plane we were fed dinner. Our next meal was - dinner. And our meal after that was - dinner again. Finally, as we approached the Philippines, we caught up to breakfast. Four airplane meals in a row! Thank goodness for McDonalds in downtown Manila!
We were placed in a different culture. We experienced both the happiness, sadness, and different standards of a far-off land. You learn to accept their ways. You pay the custom and security officials to "expedite" your passage - or spend hours having your luggage searched. Could you ever buy a policeman's hat in Toronto? No problem doing this in Manila! But smiles everywhere. The people were exceedingly friendly. My daughters made a number of friends in the Philippines.
We hear of poverty, but in Canada most of us don't face the reality of it every day. Late one night I broke the safety rules and went out by myself to walk the streets of a poor area of Manila. I saw young children roaming the streets, who I thought should be home in bed. Most were in rags and dirty. Some approached me asking for pesos. Then I realised: most of them had no home - or bed - to go to. How can I describe my feelings when I saw a seven or eight year child - sound asleep - in the gutter?
In the past, I have often travelled with some or all of my four children and always had to psych myself up for the joys of travelling with kids. Fun in it's own way, but... be prepared to handle those fights, tears, and screaming sessions. This time, I travelled with my 16 and 18 year old daughters. As we left, I psyched myself up for the usual holiday with kids.
Boy, was I wrong. It was a real learning experience travelling with my daughters. In real life, teenagers and their parents just don't make a habit of spending much time together. But now we were forced into a situation were we actually had to communicate! And co-operate! And we did. There were no fights. No tears. No yelling. My daughters were not treated as "cute little kids" on the tour. They were treated as equals and as adults. Not only were they not a bother to me, but were actually very helpful. Having them with me made my trip more enjoyable. I think they started to look at me in a different light. I certainly learned that they had grown up. We developed a new respect for each other.
I went off on an adventure with my two little girls. Somewhere, I lost them. But I returned home with two young women.
So now you know why I make eclipse expeditions. I will continue making them. But the eclipses will have little to do with my reasons.