“This Odongo here is an Alur from Jonam, the land that holds Packwach, the home of the total eclipse. That’s how we rock. Not even Jesus saw the eclipse during his time, but Packwach will have it,” Rwanda-based Ugandan journalist, Jacobs Seaman Odongo posted on his Facebook page at the weekend.
For starters, Odongo’s excitement won’t stop at posting on social media. The “boy” from Alur is actually flying down back home, “to witness the total eclipse and be part of history.” And history it is indeed. Now, the hybrid eclipse does not occur as frequently as a meal or even presidential elections. It takes generations and centuries, if not millennia to happen. The one we are all anticipating in which, to put it in the lay man’s language, the moon will pass in front of the sun and cause a shadow on the earth’s surface, causing temporary darkness, last occurred on March 16 1466. Scientists speculate the next will be on June 3, 2114.
If that doesn’t sound fascinating enough, then how about the fact that since Jesus Christ’s birth, the world has only witnessed seven of the type according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) website. Better still, the hybrid eclipse is the rarest of all. To crown it all, Uganda has been zeroed down on as the best spot to view the natural occurrence, estimated to last one minute and 40 seconds.
The sad news though is that not every corner of the country will give the best of the historical moment. During a press conference last week at the Uganda Media Centre, tourism minister Maria Mutagamba revealed that Masindi, Soroti, Gulu, Arua and Pakwach districts, “have been identified as most strategic vantage points to view the eclipse.” Yes, in the whole world. According to various sources, Pakwach has been touted as the most strategic place to view it. Owiny Primary School, the minister revealed, has been cited as the central ground for the event, expected to attract over 30,000 tourists dominated by scientists and foreigners, though only 10,000 have confirmed according to the minister. However, according to Benon Twinamasiko, a physics lecturer in Makerere University, Gulu out of all the places in northern Uganda will have the best view because it is right on the path of the eclipse.
“I think the tour operators and promoters have latched on Pakwach because of the other tourism opportunities also available after the eclipse. There is a view there, but Gulu has the best,” he said in an interview later.
So how do we join the 30,000 or 10,000 for the 4.15pm historical episode? Is there anything on the side of preparation we need to think of before hitting the road? Oh yes, there is.
Mind about your health
“If we don’t take care, we are likely to have an epidemic of blind people in Uganda. You know some of us like trying things out to see what happens, please don’t dare this time,” a ministry of health official sounded the alarm bells on radio last week. Speaking to journalists, Dr Issa Makumbi, the Ministry of Health Assistant Commissioner for epidemiology and surveillance resounded the warning with emphasis against using naked eyes to view the eclipse. “This could cause irreversible blindness. If someone lacks certified eclipse viewing glasses, pinhole cameras, welders’ goggles, undeveloped black and white film that is not closed, it is advisable to view the eclipse through water in a basin.”
The specialist has spoken and we can only add so much. Apart from using naked eyes, even sunglasses, binoculars, telescopes and developed films are dangerous and must not be used.” Certified eclipse viewing glasses and pinhole cameras may not be that accessible but welders’ goggles are and may cost you at least Shs20,000 just like the undeveloped black and white film at your nearest photo studio which will come at half the price or less.
Carry enough money along for other tourism sites
The hybrid eclipse is not a film or football match that you watch till sleep takes the better of you. It is less than a two minute affair. Value for money therefore comes to play. You don’t want to travel from Jinja or Mukono to Pakwach, spend over Shs70,000 on transport for such a short time, however historical it is. The solution therefore is to maximise the time. Venture into domestic tourism. Like the state minister for finance, Fred Omach puts it, “With several tourism attractions like the White Nile, rift valley gorges, various species of migratory birds on Lake Albert and its 66 fish species, tourists will get value for money even after viewing the eclipse.”
When to leave
November 3, the D-day is a Sunday. Assuming you are going to Pakwach or Arua to leave on Friday or Saturday is the question. Or can you even hit the road that very Sunday?
Well that entirely depends on what else you want to do there. If you want to tour other places, one can leave as early as Thursday though that comes with a bigger budget. Ideally Friday is good. The different bus service providers such as Nile Coach and Gagaa operate on a fairly strict timetable. Whatever day you choose, beware that to catch a bus to Nebbi-Pakwach and Arua. Departure time is 7am, 11am (morning travel) and 9pm, 10pm for night travellers at a fee of Shs32,000 for the seven-hour journey. The executive section travels at 11pm at Shs50,000. You will need at least Shs18,000 aboard Teso Coach or Kakise buses to Soroti. The other areas like Gulu and Masindi will cost you about Shs20,000. Arua and Soroti have airfields so if you are considering air transport, book with the various airline companies in advance.
Arua and Pakwach stand out as some of the busiest towns in this country, with a bee hive of business activity. Soroti and Masindi are equally busy. So is Gulu. This in itself is good news. Good news because accommodation, if you choose to sleep there before or after November 3, is easy to come by and affordable. White Castle Hotel, Oasis Inn in Arua, Solot Suites and Elysian Guest house in Soroti, the famous Acholi Inn, Pagoda, and Sport View in Gulu are some of the accommodation options you may consider. Phone calls made to the different service providers put the average bed and breakfast cost at Shs30,000 to Shs50,000.
With consistent assurances from the Uganda Police on security and efforts to allay terrorism fears, with speculation that the President might grace the Pakwach eclipse viewing, with the historical attachment this day brings, you don’t want to just hear and read stories and you also don’t want to be caught unawares. Let the preprations start now.