Solar Eclipse in Bolivia
November 3, 1994
Huachacalla, Bolivia

Photos by Ed Hedemann and Ruth Benn


Huachacalla is in the middle of the 13,000-foot high Bolivian altiplano, normally very dry (and a bit dusty) and relatively free of rain, clouds, and other meteorological conditions that make observing eclipses difficult.

We arrived late in the afternoon of Nov. 2. The site was divided by the local river and road into four parts: one for the scientists (our spot), one for the tourists, another for locals, and another for children. The national police ringed our site not letting people pass unless they had the proper IDs (it was the plum site, being less crowded than the other quadrants). Rumors that the president of Bolivia was going to show up at our site were unfounded, to the relief of some who feared dust storms being kicked up by his helicopter. However, this did not stop the wind from kicking up a nasty dust storm later that evening.

Unfortunately, dust turned out to be the least of our concerns since the skies that afternoon and evening before the big event were awfully cloudy. With predictions circulating that eclipse morning was going to be marred by high cirrus clouds, there was talk about driving a couple hundred miles along the centerline of the eclipse path to try to find clearer skies.


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The beautiful but very cloudy sun rise at 6 am on the morning of the eclipse.
altiplano.JPG (29098 bytes) We didn’t get much sleep, in part, because of worry about cloud cover. But at 5 am the sky was clear. However, as the sun began to rise (6 am), the sky began to cloud up again. First contact (when the moon begins to take a nibble out of the sun) came at 7:20 am and totality began at 8:20 am. It was too late to do anything but wait it out and to hope we could see the eclipse. With first contact, it was clear that we would be able to see most of the eclipse, despite the high thin clouds. 
The dry, dusty, extremely high altiplano with the disturbing clouds shortly before totality (to begin at 8:20 am).


Within about 15 minutes or so of totality, the sky darkened noticeably—not from clouds, but from the moon covering the sun. It was an eerie light, accompanied by a drop in temperature. It wasn’t all that warm to begin with (in the 40s, I would guess). Totality probably dropped the temperature another 10 degrees.

As the eclipse progressed, people shouted out the various occurrences (“Baily’s Beads,” “diamond ring,” “second contact” (when totality begins), “there’s Venus,” “Jupiter,” “Mercury,” etc.). Lots of excitement during this 5-minute period. Totality lasted only 3 minutes 8 seconds. When someone shouted out “mid-eclipse,” we couldn’t believe it was half over, only a minute and a half to go. Bolivian_diamond_ring.JPG (3669 bytes)
Bolivia_corona.JPG (10669 bytes)  

Ed had two cameras (one with color film and one with black and white) set up on tripods. During totality his longest lens (500mm) on the color camera, and his second longest (200mm) on the B/W. The 200mm lens allowed him to take in Venus and the eclipsed sun in the same frame. So during totality, Ed shuttled between the two cameras trying to take photos with a broad range of exposures (from 1/8 second to 1/500 second), and being  carefully not to jostle the cameras.

Photos taken with 500 f/8 mirror lens and Kodak Royal Gold 400 film (which produces brown blacks). High cirrus clouds scattered some of the corona’s light creating a less than black moon.


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Flamingoes flying over our eclipse site just after totality.


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Eclipses of the 1990s

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