The Night Skies of Southern Africa
July is winter when you’re south of the Equator. The days are pretty short and the nights are cold!During what I considered to be my “summer vacation” trip, I wore my down jacket every night in Southern Africa. We were often waking up before the sunrise and setting up our tent as it was getting dark.
Each night, we would set up our tents, and then explore the campsite a bit while one of our guides, Norman, cooked for the group.
Sometimes we’d use this time to shower, help chop vegetables, or just relax after a long day. As an animal lover, I’d often be off checking out the local flora and fauna.
One of my favorite things to spot were these beautiful nests, which were all over, and always seemed to be on the brink of falling off:
The sun would usually set sometime before food was ready.
Once dinner was prepared, we’d gather around a fire, eat, and chat about our day. Our other guide, Justice, would often give us a briefing for the next day to come.
After dark, there were even more bugs to spot, on nearby trees (like this cricket), or sometimes on the walls of the bathroom, like that big one we had also seen at Fish River Canyon (hand for scale):
After dinner, we were usually so tired we just went right to bed. But sometimes, we stayed up with our cameras, trying to capture the beauty of the night sky. The Milky Way is really bright when there aren’t street lights around! Can you believe there are this many stars?
In the morning, we’d have to take down our tents and head out for the next day’s adventures.
After more than a week of camping, skin dry and dirty from the cold, dusty wind, we arrived back in Cape Town to a posh hotel for our last night of the trip. Somehow, we got upgraded to a bigger room than we paid for, and got a view of the sunset over the ocean.
We hadn’t expected to do much sky gazing in Cape Town, where many less stars were on view due to the bright lights of the city. However, something unexpected happened. We met up for dinner with a woman I met 17 years earlier, on my first visit to Cape Town. Through the power of the internet, I had located her and asked if she’d like to meet up. She suggested a restaurant downtown, and we arrived without a reservation but got seated on the patio, overlooking the harbor.
As we waited for our food, we kept seeing people with cameras, looking up at the sky. With the help of our smart phones (finally back in cell reception land), we learned that there was a lunar eclipse that night. And our seats on the patio gave us front row seats!
In addition to the full coverage of the moon, as the Earth’s shadow blocked it from the sun’s light, Mars was huge and red, at its brightest just to the side of the moon. It was an incredible sight. I didn’t bring my camera with my zoom lens, so just watched for hours and took bad photos with my cell camera.
Luckily, this was the longest eclipse of the century. It started at 7:15 and reached totality at 9:30 PM. But then it stayed totally dark for 1 hour and 43 minutes. During that time, it was visible, but just a kind of deep red glow. We drove back to the hotel in time for me to grab my zoom lens and capture it as the eclipse started to recede again.
It was a truly magical evening, and I was glad to capture it, at least a little bit, with my camera. A fitting end to a trip full of beautiful skies!