My Mexican eclipse - Salish Current
April 12, 2024
My Mexican eclipse
Margaret Bikman

Science enthusiasts young and old, “lunatics,” poets, a president, farmers and tourists were among the crowds gathered in Mazatlán to watch the April 8 solar eclipse, reports Salish Current’s correspondent. (Margaret Bikman / Salish Current © 2024)

April 12, 2024
My Mexican eclipse
Margaret Bikman


My Mexican solar eclipse began as a plan to go with our daughter and her family to Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia where we’d also visit the home where the television show “Anne of Green Gables” was filmed.

Looking ahead to April 8: “The sky went dark … and the chickens went crazy,” Magdalena, Mexico, agave farmer Pepe Vergara recalled of witnessing the eclipse in 1991 as an adolescent. (Margaret Bikman / Salish Current © 2024)

April 8 was to be the day of the eclipse. The historic site wouldn’t open until May. It probably would have been rainy and overcast anyway in the Maritimes.

After a hard study on the Exploratorium website, I saw plenty of other options — Conway, Arkansas! Bloomington, Indiana! Cleveland, Ohio! Buffalo, New York!

But wait!

Mazatlán, Mexico?

Sun! Beaches! Tacos!

But airfares cost thousands of dollars, and most flights were not even available.

Research librarian that I am, I consulted a map of Mexico. There’s a highway from Guadalajara to Mazatlán — and Guadalajara’s only 298 miles away, a five-to-six hour drive.

Booked it!

So, why did we spring for Mexico?

We still regretted not driving to Eastern Oregon in 2017 to be with friends as we descended into darkness, because we thought the traffic would be clogged with eclipse-seekers (turned out not to be the case), and the forest fires were daunting. We opted for a semi-cloudy experience in a field in Skagit County.

What is this thing called “total solar eclipse?”

According to NASA, it’s when the Moon completely passes between the Sun and the Earth, and the sky darkens almost like it’s dawn or dusk. The corona — the Sun’s outer atmosphere — will be visible, and for that time, when the Moon is completely blocking the Sun, viewers can remove their eclipse glasses, which otherwise is obscured by the bright Sun.

I talked with some people about their eclipse experiences. 

Brass bands jammed every night on the beaches of Mazatlán during the week leading up to the solar eclipse. (Margaret Bikman / Salish Current © 2024)

I conclude that there are three general reasons why people travel to see an eclipse:

  1. It’s a true spiritual experience
  2. It’s a chance to observe an unusual astronomical event with a family vacation
  3. And it’s a community celebration, with the knowledge that it’s being shared with thousands of others

My friend poet Judy Kleinberg, although she’s not what’s called an “eclipse chaser,” nonetheless has experienced three eclipses.

Her first viewing was on her birthday, Feb. 26, 1979, when she was living in Seattle, and knew nothing about eclipses except that you weren’t supposed to look at the Sun before totality. She and a friend went to Pasco by train, and were walking when they noticed the light was changing. 

“At the moment of totality,” she said, “we were standing in a parking lot, dumbstruck, and I found that tears were rolling down my face.”

Her second viewing, in 1998, was also on her birthday! She went on a Caribbean cruise specifically to see the eclipse. On the cruise ship, because they were on the water with no land in sight, she said they could see the shadow of the Moon rushing toward them across the sea until they were in the shadow themselves. Again, she cried.

“An awesome sight”: locals, tourists and scientists on the beach at Mazatlán gasped at each bite the Moon took out of the Sun. (Courtesy Margaret Bikman, 2024)

She saw the 2017 eclipse, in Salem, Oregon. She cried once more.

Bellingham drummer Nathan Matson watched the past week’s eclipse from Gatesville, Texas. He combined the eclipse experience with a big family gathering.  He was looking forward to lots of food, a visit to the Alamo and a terrific reunion with relatives he hadn’t seen for a while.

Post-event, Nathan said, “This eclipse so exceeded my expectations. I have no words to describe it. It was exquisitely beautiful. If a supreme being or intelligence wanted to take a form and show itself, it could look like this. 

“It brought tears to my eyes and took my breath away, which is rare for me.”

Our experience in Mexico

In the small town of Magdalena, a few hours north of Guadalajara, I met Pepe Vergara, an agave farmer with six children. He was an adolescent in 1991 when, he said laughing, “the sky got dark and the cows went ‘baa baa’ and the chickens went crazy.”

In Mazatlán, David Witzer and his wife, Jamie Churcher, who live in Victoria, British Columbia, are both pretty much eclipse chasers who began planning for their trip to Mazatlán more than a year ago.

David, who said he has always had a keen interest in what is beyond the confines of Earth, is an avid music listener and he recalled the line in the Carly Simon song “You’re So Vain” as also being an important influence in eclipses. He knew there was some broader significance of Carly’s lyric “you flew your Learjet up to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the Sun.” Such a reference, he believed, could only mean that a total eclipse was so spectacular that it needed to be seen.

2024’s eclipse offered David what he saw as likely his only opportunity to see a total eclipse first hand; a deep-rooted desire since his childhood.

Morning becomes night: the sky began to darken shortly after 11 a.m. during the April 8 eclipse. (Margaret Bikman / Salish Current © 2024)

Jamie says that for her, the event is both spiritual and astronomical. 

“I have been a lunatic (drawn to and mesmerized by the Moon) since my single-digit years,” she said. “I feel truly spiritually connected to it.” Like David, she was fascinated with the Apollo Moon landing and she continues to “spend many nights gazing into the heavens and watching the beauty and incomprehensible vastness of the night sky.”

David, an avid photographer, wanted to capture “a mosaic of images that collectively extended through the entire eclipse.”

He had purchased a solar eclipse timer app for his phone that would announce stages and count down timing for precise moments of the eclipse stages, also advising when to remove the protective camera filters and eye glasses to view totality and when to replace them after the Moon’s full shadow was no longer safe to view without protection.

But as the countdown began, he said, “in awe, I became completely distracted from my camera and lost any intended devotion to the technical attention or demands of amateur photography.”

Totality — and journey — complete! (Margaret Bikman / Salish Current © 2024)

His description, in an email: “Above us, draped within a deep blue indigo canvas, the aura of the Sun’s outermost atmosphere, the corona, surrounded the entirety of the Moon’s dark side, offering me and all others a moment that seemed to extend beyond any belief of realism.

“There is something about the immensity of the sky, in its full depth of millions of miles, suspending both the Sun and Moon in accurate pairing and alignment, that only a witness can possibly understand.”

Our Airbnb host, Claudia Zamudio, said that, as soon as NASA identified the Port of Mazatlán as the best geographical point to appreciate the solar eclipse, the natural phenomenon became a tourist event.

People in Mazatlán were very excited about the eclipse, she said, and tourists from around the world, including scientists, even Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, headed to Mazatlán. The city government and different companies offered many cultural events and the malecón (the avenue along the beach, one of the longest boardwalks in the world) was closed to road traffic so that all tourists could witness this event from the beach. 

My experience: We were on a popular beach, crowded with locals, tourists and scientists who were whooping at each bite the Moon was taking out of the Sun. Music from live mariachi and brass bands from the beach was filling the air. And when we could see the corona, it was a mix of silence, gasps and cheering.

I felt like perhaps this once in a lifetime event was shared by thousands, and whether it was spiritual or not, our quietly spectacular universe was putting on a show for all of us.

Our journey was complete. 

By Margaret Bikman

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