On August 21st, we witnessed one of the most unique natural phenomenons in the world, a total solar eclipse, this one known as the Great American Eclipse. Our great two-week journey through 8 states in the USA culminated in this spectacular event.

This USA eclipse is my third total solar eclipse. I watched my first one on the Faroe Islands in 2015 and my second one on Pulau Belitung, Indonesia, in 2016.

We were spoilt for choice when choosing the destination for this total solar eclipse, as the totality path goes all the way from the west coast of the USA in Oregon at local sunrise to the east coast in South Carolina at 2:49 PM. I think most travellers chose Oregon as their place to watch the eclipse, as it’s the first place in the country that will experience it, and it was also very special as the sun was still rising when totally eclipsed.

We, however, chose the tiny village of Makanda in southern Illinois, as this is the one place in the country where the duration of totality is the longest, 2 minutes and 40 seconds. And who doesn’t want more totality seconds!?

Makanda and the nearby city of Carbondale had really gone all out on eclipse gear. There were signs for eclipse viewing spots and weather announcements everywhere. There was eclipse merchandise in every shop. They had even sold out on eclipse glasses days ago. This was definitely an eclipse hotspot!

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We arrived two days prior to the eclipse as we were scared of getting stuck in traffic. We spent the first day exploring Carbondale, a rather uninteresting city, and slept in the car in Walmarts parking lot.

The next day, we drove around the area looking for a perfect viewing spot for the eclipse. We had planned to visit quite a few parks and lakes, but instead ended up following a number of Amish buggys to the Amish Carbondale Church, where we had an experience of a lifetime!

In the evening, we drove to Makanda and walked around the quaint hippie village, which reminded me so much of Ubud on Bali!

The hippie village of Makanda
The hippie village of Makanda

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Ubud-like scenes in Makanda
Ubud-like settings in Makanda

We spent the night at a parking lot in Giant City State Park, located two miles east of Makanda, where we had found the perfect spot for viewing the eclipse the following day by the Little Grassy Lake.

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We hoped and prayed for perfect weather on the day of the eclipse, and thankfully it was amazing. For our area, it couldn’t have been better.

Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to pass into the area of the lake in the morning, as it was only for registered guests at a nearby hotel. So we opted for an “eclipse viewing field” in the same park instead, where quite a few other eclipse chasers had set up their gear as well. We arrived there at 7.30 and waited for 4,5 hours in the burning sun before the eclipse finally started.

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At this eclipse, more so than my prior two, I really noticed how my surroundings changed as the sun got eaten more and more by the moon. My eyes had to adjust to it quickly getting darker. The birds started singing, getting ready to sleep. The people around me cheered and blurted out the occasional “oh my gosh!”. Seeing the eclipse with American locals was a lot of fun. They are a happy and loud crowd, and their reactions to the eclipse were seriously the best! Every time I watch an eclipse, the experience is completely different, and that’s the beauty of it. That’s why I’ll never stop chasing them.

As the sky got darker, more people stood up with their eclipse glasses and cameras on tripods, ready for the big moment of totality.

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Occasional thick clouds came in over southern Illinois that day. I must admit that I was scared for totality to be completely covered in clouds like in the Faroe Islands. I so wanted Amanda to see it. One can only really understand the impact an eclipse can have, if one sees totality and the spectacular diamond ring.

Thankfully, by 1:20:11 PM, the moment of totality, the skies had completely cleared and we were able to enjoy the full 2 minutes and 40 seconds of totality!

In total darkness, the stars were coming out, people were cheering, cameras were going off, a drone was circling above us, and a helicopter passed by high above us. I looked up at a plane far above, hoping that the passengers would be able to see the phenomenon of the totally eclipsed sun as well.

For the third time in my life, I was totally mesmerized.

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The diamond ring effect!
The diamond ring effect!

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The eclipse was amazing. Just as amazing as the one in Indonesia last year. Just as much of an experience as the one in the Faroe Islands two years ago. My wish came true, Amanda experienced her first total solar eclipse, and I saw my third one.

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When the whole ordeal was over, we went to Walmart in Carbondale to stock up on water before getting on the road again. Here, the cashier told us that they had all gone out to see totality along with many travellers who had parked in their parking lot for free to view the eclipse, but unfortunately, a thick cloud had blocked their view of the eclipsed sun, leaving them with only disappointment. Amanda and I had really been very lucky.

Getting out of the park after totality had passed was nowhere near as hard as we had imagined it to be. There was a little queue, but it eased up quickly. The situation on the highway was very different though. We were expecting a large traffic jam on the entire eclipse path, and at least in our part, that was what we got. Getting out of Carbondale and towards St Louis was a nightmare. There were so many cars going the same way as us that we had to give up on getting to Chicago that same day. Instead, we decided to just drive to St Louis and call it a night. But that also took 7 hours instead of the usual 2 hours!!

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Despite the traffic jam, I had the most enjoyable day. Although I’m sure nothing can beat the experience that my two eclipse friends Elien and Liam had. The couple, who I met back in 2015 on the Faroe Islands (and again in Australia in 2015 and on Bali in 2016), got married in Idaho during the total solar eclipse. This sounds like the most perfect romantic wedding. I wish them all the best in their beautiful life together.

I’m really glad that we chose to watch the eclipse in Makanda. The weather was absolutely perfect. Makanda is also quite special, as it’s the only place on this eclipse path that will also see totality during the next American total solar eclipse in 2024. Maybe I’ll be back there to see it again? 😉

Unfortunately, there’s no total solar eclipse in 2018, but I’m already looking forward to the total solar eclipse of 2019 in Argentina or Chile! Now to start planning that one!

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