Trees cannot grow in the province of San Juan, Argentina, at least not without artificial irrigation supplying them with water via aqueducts. Even the province’s world-renowned wines are grown by vineyards that exist only as the result of government-supplied water stipends.
It was here, in the middle of this arid, dusty environment, that we arrived to experience the total solar eclipse on July 2, 2019. San Juan is nestled up against Andes mountain range, north of the province of Mendoza where we were picked up at 6 o’clock in the morning, by our solely Spanish-speaking tour guide for a five-hour drive to the line of totality.
We arrived a little before midday to a postage stamp town, La Igelsia. We were pleasantly surprised with the weather, as it was a bright sunny winter day. The tour company Yafar Destinos managed to turn an abandoned field into an oasis of hospitality as we waited the many hours for first contact. They provided breakfast, followed by a full buffet for lunch, complete with an Argentinian roast. With unlimited beer and wine, it was easy to pass the time gormandizing and socializing.
Amateur astronomers gathered from all over the world in this barren desert. For many it was their first, including my 68-year-old mother ,whom I had urged to accompany me to experience this phenomenon. It was also clear that there were many veteran eclipse chasers among us. One group of gentlemen came from Southampton, UK, and included an 89-year-old who was about to witness his 19th eclipse. He had seen his first when he was 25 years old. I asked him if he could name them all, and he could with ease.
Others came from Chicago and the Midwest, where they had experienced the Great American Eclipse in the summer of 2017, and were hooked. That is also where I contracted the eclipse-chasing bug. No picture or description can quite capture the experience, but evidence of the visceral reaction that watching an eclipse evokes is the many thousands of miles people travel for an event the lasts only minutes.
Darkness fell, the wind changed direction, a hush fell over the assembled crowd, and all were left awe-inspired by the brief but brilliant event. Whether you travel to distant lands, or are lucky enough to have one cross your backyard, I encourage you to seek out that zone of totality, and to revel in the cosmic ballet. Whether experienced once, or 19 times, it is sure to leave a lifelong impression.