Posted in Life, Travel

Is the second total solar eclipse as good as the first?

Is the second total solar eclipse as good as the first? This is the question I believed never needed to be asked, because of course it is. In fact, I was sure it would be better because I knew what was coming. On this day, 1 year after the solar eclipse in Chile, let me give you my answer to this question.

My first total solar eclipse was the Great (North) American Eclipse of 2017. We traveled far, slept little, and had a life-changing experience. I saw black circles everywhere for weeks afterward.

2017, Idaho

Even before the 2017 eclipse, I realized that the following eclipse, July 2019, would pass within half a kilometer of my former employer’s worksite in Chile. Soon, others at work realized too, and a huge event, involving a hundred guests and many staff, was planned.

The kind of event we were hosting is always a huge challenge, but I told everyone involved in the planning who cared to listen that it was going to be worth it. NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENED, no matter the six months of planning, and the week on the ground, the stress and chaos, the lack of sleep, it would be worth it for that minute and a half of totality: the most spectacular thing your eyeballs will ever encounter. I told myself this too.

Totality was going to happen in the mid-afternoon of July 2, 2019. We traveled as a group to just inside the zone of totality in the Coquimbo Region of Chile. There was a vast tent set up on an even more vast carpet of green hessian sacking.

2019, Chile

On arrival, we refreshed on pisco sours, then we sat down for lunch (well, I didn’t because I was managing a crisis, but I saw that others had lunch). There were solar telescopes set up outside and a live feed projected in the tent of the sun being slowly covered by the moon.

Since I didn’t get lunch I decided to bail on the speeches and headed out to the front of the green carpet where all the photographers were setting up. I got the tripod up, got the big (300mm) lens on and got out the solar filter for the lens (recycled from 2017). All the first-timers had a screw-on solar filter (or no filter) and I felt very smug knowing that my paper one was going to do the job just as well, and would be much easier to get off at totality. I also had a solar timer app I used in 2017. (Well worth the $2-$3).


I knew that first part of the eclipse, where the sun slowly covers the moon (the partial phase), wasn’t going to be that interesting a second time, so I half-heartedly clicked the camera and mostly lent my filter to my teammate and discussed exposure times and apertures with people.


I also explained what was going on to the non-astronomers, and showed them the pinhole effect and generally talked them through the approach to totality. I emphasized that they should not try to take photos on their cell phone, and just watch instead. As we got closer I set up my GoPro to do a timelapse.

Since we were on a valley floor it was very easy to see the moon’s shadow approaching  – seemingly much faster than in 2017. With help from the app, I counted it down for the people and told them when to take off their solar glasses.

Totality was as beautiful as in 2017. The corona was different, and for some reason, I noticed the color of the horizon and the color of the landscape more. It was mesmerizing. I clicked the camera a bit and warned people as we were coming out of totality.

2019, Chile

Afterward, the newbies around me were either crying happy tears or exclaiming with excitement. It was truly as good for them as it was for me in 2017. But, you may have guessed, it just didn’t have the same impact for me the second time. Perhaps I was shattered from the trip and from the drama of the day, or maybe this is what it’s like for everyone. (Later, I discussed this with a second-timer who agreed with me).

But, it was still great fun to look at the photos on the back of the camera, and to get a totality photo straight onto work’s social media from the desert. Our team was also unwittingly featured in one of the best photos of the event.

So, in summary, please go and see a second total solar eclipse, but my suggestion is to find a way to make it different from the first experience (e.g. go on a boat, a plane, or try for a cool angle on the photo). The next one is December 14, 2020, visible from the southern part of Chile and Argentina.


Posted in Travel

One afternoon in Santiago: Cerro San Cristobal

This is my first trip to South America and so far things are going well. I was woken up in the night by a 6.8 magnitude earthquake that no one else in Santiago seems to have noticed. I went for a run in the morning and felt sure that we were at altitude because the run was so hard… but no: Santiago is only at about 500 meters above sea level. Then I made the mistake of checking my email, and the day started to vanish.


So, in the early afternoon, determined to do something touristy even though I was travelling solo, I decided to go to Cerro San Cristobal and hike to the top. This didn’t seem to be in the TripAdvisor Top 10 things to do in Santiago but I’m a sucker for an outdoors activity so it seemed perfect.

So, having forgotten to eat lunch, I scribbled myself a note and a map, and had a quick read up on the Lonely Planet and headed out to the Manquehue train station – a short walk from my hotel. After miming to the ticket agent and giving him 5000 pesos he gave me a loaded Bip! card and I was on my way.

The subway/metro/tube/underground was very easy to figure out and it was 9 stops to the Baquedano station. The Santiago Tourist Guide told me to just head straight for the big hill, which I did.


Walking along the Pio Nono road in Barrio Bellavista was a familiar feeling – such streets exist in every major tourist destination I have ever been to. People were being hustled into restaurants, while others already seated were feeding on piles of chips and burgers and beer. Now, the beer I can understand, but the street was not one for people-watching, or for enjoying the afternoon sun. It was hot, loud, smelly and busy.

After making my way past the chaos, and the people sitting on the ground with blankets laden with plastic toys for sale, I made it to the Funicular Station. I already knew I was going to walk to the top instead of taking the train so after a quick check in with the Tourist Office I headed up the road. A couple of websites had mentioned that it was a 45 minute walk, and was “quite steep at the beginning”. Using the directions I’d memorized from the web I found the trailhead without difficulty.


After about 2 minutes on the trail I realized a couple of things: one, doing this walk at 3pm in 80% humidity while wearing jeans was not a good plan; and two, that I really should have consumed more than just an iced coffee and a croissant since I got up in the morning.

After a very hot and slow walk to the top, I arrived, bathed in sweat, trying to look like I meant it. On the way, many people in workout gear passed me, but I also passed just as many exhausted people sitting on the concrete benches on the trail.

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At the top of the trail I passed a café selling drinks and snacks, so I promised myself something if I made it right to the summit. After climbing what seemed like an endless set of stairs, past another café where people were sipping ice-cold lemonade, I made it to the statue of Mary. Church music was playing and people were sitting on the steps, enjoying the view. It was a serene place, and I sat for a while, taking it all in.

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Then, sufficiently revived, I headed back to the café for a well-deserved coke before retracing my steps home.