Senior editor Kristin O'Meara visited Antigua in time for a
solar eclipse. Her report follows:
SHIRLEY HEIGHTS, Antigua -- When it came to promoting February's
solar eclipse, Antigua was the land that hype forgot.
Unlike Aruba and Curacao, which were coronated as eclipse
central by NASA, Antigua never promoted itself as a prime viewing
The eclipse, nonetheless, turned into a big-time event that
captured the interest and imagination of tourists and locals
From the day of my arrival, there was a palpable sense of
People who had done their homework knew the island would
experience at least three minutes of total eclipse and had flocked
there from all over the world. Scientific-looking types arrived
lugging weird skywatching equipment in clunky metal boxes that were
covered with logos of past eclipses.
Once on island, these eclipse-chasers spent a good deal of time
stalking the perfect viewing spot. Some were so obsessed that they
camped out on their territory for days in advance.
Low-tech folks like me hunkered down in our hotels or headed for
St. Johns instead, where we sought out cheapo eclipse-viewing
glasses and tacky T-shirts.
The island's residents were pretty excited, too. An Antiguan TV
station carried a program on the eclipse.
A panel of local educators took calls from the population and
answered questions about the best and safest ways to watch the
event. Apparently, the show was a good idea because even when
compared with a slew of cute, earnest calls from school kids, the
adults' questions really took the cake.
One caller was quite worried and wondered if she could be
blinded by malevolent, people-seeking rays even if she stayed
inside with the blinds closed. Another woman complained that the
event resembled a pagan festival, and she vowed not to take
I switched off the set just as the world's-end people got their
two cents in. "What hogwash," I thought.
The day of the eclipse dawned hot, with a mixture of clouds and
sun, and when I arrived at Shirley Heights, a scenic overlook that
is one of Antigua's prime historical sites, there was some
hand-wringing amid the skywatchers.
Would the clouds break?
Would photographic equipment work?
Would the barbecue line ever move?
Fortunately, the answer to all three questions was yes.
While downing some hot dogs, my cohorts and I noticed that our
surroundings had taken on a curiously grayish cast despite the fact
that the sky was now mostly blue.
We glanced at our watches: 1:30 p.m. The festivities had
We picked a rocky perch just below a fenced-in pavilion from
which to watch the proceedings.
A buzz began to work its way through the crowd as people
detected the sky's changing hue and began to herd toward the peaks
and edges of the mountaintop overlook. Little by little, people
donned their special glasses or peered through smoked glass -- and
even welder's masks -- at the sun.
As the sky grew darker, it took on a surreal shade of silvery
purple that gradually descended as the excited conversation of
onlookers grew to a crescendo.
Finally, the sky grew eerily dark, as an ash cloud over
Montserrat and passing ships stood out in bold relief against the
horizon. As the moon planted itself firmly in front of the sun, an
unholy, unbridled whoop went up from the crowd. In the strange,
silver shadow of the moon, people screamed, applauded, cried and
One solo onlooker who waved a Puerto Rican flag throughout the
proceedings screamed and did a frenzied dance when the sun
disappeared, euphorically whipping off his protective glasses to
stare at the sun.
The three-plus minutes of total eclipse slid past in what felt
like seconds, and when I took a look back at the sweaty, ecstatic
group around me, it was nearly impossible to find a face that
wasn't plastered in a face-bending smile.
As the sunlight started streaming down again, my companions and
I looked at each other in amazement. For a moment, we agreed, some
tiny corners of our minds had wondered: "Could this be the end of
None of the scientific articles I'd read or the reasoned
explanations on CNN had been able to bury that strange, primordial
"Titanic" be damned, I tell you. Who needs special effects?
Mother Nature still puts on the best shows of all.