When half a year ago people were asking me how long did I intend to stay in Indonesia, I’d say in one breath, “Until the Total Solar Eclipse, on March the 9th 2016.”
“And after that?”
“After that, I don’t know…”
Witnessing a total solar eclipse has been a dream of mine.
After enjoying the energy of a partial solar eclipse in March 2015 on the hills of Poland, I knew that 2016 was going to be the year of the Total Solar Eclipse. But not without a challenge: the eclipse was to take place in Indonesia.
Even though life showered me with twists and turns, the vision of the eclipse never left my sight and on the 8th of March, I found myself on the 16th floor of the Aston Balikpapan hotel in Borneo.
Located right at the waterfront with an unobstructed vista stretching from east to west over the Makassar Strait, the hotel promised to eclipse-hungry travellers a good vantage point for witnessing the phenomenon.
The place was fully booked months in advance.
The idea of the total solar eclipse was so alluring that people flocked to this small city from different parts of the world. The hotel’s management was ready for us. Live band, tables full of food. What else do you need? Oh, that’s right! Clear sky. We kept our fingers crossed…
The eclipse was to start at 7:25 AM. We wanted to have breakfast before (can you enjoy anything on an empty stomach?) and that meant we had to be up and ready early on. No problem! As long as I would get to the balcony on time, I could run around, mow the lawns and water the plants. You name it.
While we were sitting and eating our food, interesting conversations were popping up all the time. But I was only listening with one ear. The eclipse was about to start, so I was super diligent in controlling time.
I have waited far too long to miss this now. When we were about to stray into another subject, I peeked at JC’s watch and froze. 7:20 AM! Alarm bells went off in my head. Time to go! Time to go!
The party gathered at the table was easily roused by this sound. Everyone stood up and we hurried to the elevators.
Everyone except for JC.
For him, it was time for another coffee. Tick-tock, tic-tock. He walked towards the coffee machine as if he was walking onto a yacht. He poured a cup, looked around, then poured another cup.
In a fully booked hotel with twenty floors to service, the elevators are painstakingly slow.
As we waited for the lifts to come down, coffees shaking in our hands, I felt the minute hand of the clock dig deeper and deeper in my brain. Tic-tock. Tic-tock.
I looked at the indicator displaying which floor the lifts were at and burned the plate with my laser vision. The smell of melted metal filled my nostrils.
I looked at JC, concern clear on his face, and I came back to reality. Tic-tock, tic-tock. Oh well, there will be many more other eclipses to see…
When the elevator finally graced us with its presence and other people pushed themselves past us, I understood that there was going to be no relief. Tic-tock, tic-tock. My killer instincts were about to kick in.
I watched the floors light up one by one.
Stopping at nearly every floor, the elevator granted me with a great opportunity to practise my breathing. Tic-tock, tic-tock. I tried not to look at JC, afraid that the storm in my eyes would give him a few new grey hair. Suddenly, a thought came, What if we get stuck???
After what seemed like two days of journey, we finally made it to the 16th floor, our coffees almost gone.
“Quick, quick! It has already started!” Rachel shouted as soon as we left the lift. Jogging, we entered the room and Michael handed us the eclipse goggles at once. We unwrapped them mid-air and made it to the balcony at last.
I stopped with a gasp. A wonderful view spread in front of us. The water was blue, the sky was clear, and we were missing one person…
“Where is Kris?!”
As we all looked around in confusion, Rachel’s telephone rang. “Kris is stuck in the lift…”
My eyes opened wider and wider. Poor Kris!
And, This could have been me…!
I was in that elevator just a moment ago, thinking that I would go crazy if it got stuck. I thanked my guardians for sparing me this adventure; surely they knew that my heart wouldn’t handle it this time.
While Rachel went on a brilliant rescue mission, I realised that there was nothing I could do to start a lift that was stuck between floors. The only thing I could was to return to the balcony and enjoy the magic of the day, which was exactly what I did.
The Moon was already covering 20 per cent of the Sun, which could only be noticed thanks to the exceptional goggles. Otherwise, we would not see any difference as the Sun was blinding bright.
The Moon was slowly making its way over the Sun’s face, turning it into a smiley cartoon. As I watched this completely mesmerised, more people joined me on the balcony. Including Kris.
What a relief!
Although it was still early in the morning, the sun’s heat was already difficult to bear. Despite that, I was reluctant to leave the balcony. I was glued to the chair, eclipse goggles on my nose.
The spectacle of Moon gliding over the Sun, slowly cutting off all the energies that travel between Earth and the outer space was incredible. The closer we got to the totality, the more the world around changed.
Shadows were growing longer and an eerie filter was put between the spectators and the world we tried to observe.
Reality started bending.
The sea changed its coloured. The Moon was almost perfectly aligned. I pressed “Record” in my smartphone. Without looking at the screen, I let it capture the atmosphere, catch the moment, while I focused on the eclipse itself.
Staring at the Sun through my goggles, suddenly, the thin shape disappeared completely and my vision became pitch black.
I took the goggles off.
A perfect ring of light welcomed me in the place where the Sun used to be.
“Oh my GOD!” exclaimed JC.
“Wow! Yay!” Michael joined in. People downstairs were clapping. The Sun and the Moon, locked in a rare embrace, received an enthusiastic ovation.
The temperature dropped down. Everything around us was shrouded in a display of incredible colours with stars showing up on the firmament. The clouds were rising from the sea, extending their arms towards they sky, eager to join in the planetary dance.
All sounds became hushed.
For a few seconds, the transmission between the Universe and us was completely cut off. The cleansing of our planet was being done, a full reset. And then the world started turning again. The new beginning marked by a cosmic bling coming from the Sun’s diamond ring.
I looked around in confusion… What has just happened? Has everyone felt it? The powerful reset and all? I sat down overwhelmed.
A few moments later, the group left the balcony to find some relief in the air-conditioned room.
I couldn’t move.
I could only sit in the chair with goggles protecting my eyes. It was getting hot again. I felt sweat trickle down my back, sink into my blouse. But I was unable to leave the balcony.
Against the odds, I went all the way to the end of the world to witness the solar eclipse and the eclipse was not yet done.
Cherishing the Sun and the moment and the events that took me all the way here, I tapped into the peace and serenity that was still lingering in the air, knowing that it wasn’t going to last for long.
And it didn’t.
Now, that the eclipse has come and gone, I am still facing the question, “What’s next?”
My answer is still the same, “I don’t know…”