Into Africa

Posted by Rich Talcott
on Monday, November 11, 2013

Darkness had fallen by the time we touched down in Nairobi on October 30 following a nine-hour plane flight from London. Along with about 30 other eclipse enthusiasts, I had traveled to Kenya with MWT Associates, Inc. to witness the November 3 total eclipse of the Sun at a site that, climatologically speaking, had the best chances for clear skies of any land-based observing site. Although we would be in the Moon’s umbral shadow for just 14 seconds, we all thought it was worth traveling nearly halfway around the world to witness. (I'm posting these blogs after the eclipse due to Internet issues while traveling.)


The Karen Blixen Museum lies just 6 miles (10 kilometers) from the center of Nairobi. // photo by Evelyn Talcott
But the days before the eclipse offered their own charms. On Thursday, October 31, we experienced the sights and sounds of Nairobi. Although many family members and associates had concerns about safety following the recent terrorist attacks on the city’s largest mall, we felt secure (helped no doubt by the ubiquitous presence of armed soldiers and security checks at most buildings). The highlights of our first day included visits to the house of Karen Blixen (author of Out of Africa and several other books) and the Nairobi National Museum, where we saw fossils of some of the earliest humans and their immediate ancestors. Many of these finds came from near Lake Turkana in northern Kenya, where we will be on Sunday to view the eclipse.

On Friday, we drove north of the city to the Treetops Hotel. Along the way we saw plenty of exotic animals (to those who call North America home, at least): elephants, giraffes, antelope (several species), baboons, warthogs, and more. The hotel’s historic claim to fame is that it was where Princess Elizabeth was staying in 1952 when she learned that her father, George VI, had died and she would become Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain. But the chief draw for 21st-century visitors are the nightly views of animals that come to the adjacent water hole and salt deposits. The highlight was a family of more than a dozen elephants that entertained us for more than an hour.


A troop of baboons crosses the road as we head toward the Treetops Hotel. // photo by Evelyn Talcott
Saturday brought us to the Mt. Kenya Safari Club, which sits right on the equator. Although the mountain — Africa’s second tallest —remained hidden in clouds throughout our brief stay, the club offered plenty of other attractions. My favorite: the opportunity to stand with one foot in Earth’s Northern Hemisphere and one in the Southern Hemisphere. In the afternoon, we went on another exciting game drive that included a visit to the Sweet Waters Chimpanzee Sanctuary, where orphaned and abused chimps come to live. Before dinner, I gave a talk on the following day’s eclipse and Comet ISON (C/2012 S1). With less than 24 hours to go before totality, everyone was psyched with anticipation.

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