By Nigel Nassar
November 3rd, it is. Mark that date, which is actually just a matter of days away. In fact, as you read this, Pakwach town in Nebbi district, West Nile, is chock-a-block on all sorts of activity in preparation for this date. The Occasion? Something called a hybrid solar eclipse!
By now you probably already know the science of this stuff, right? Well, at least the basics, as it is all the country is talking about lately. Anyway, I will fill you in, nonetheless.
Where-Gipir and labong separated. PHOTO: Nigel Nassar
This exceptionally rare occasion of a hybrid solar eclipse occurs when the dark disc of the moon completely blocks the bright light of the sun, preventing its rays from reaching the earth. As a result, a dark shadow is cast on the surface of the earth, with only a faint ring of light seen surrounding the moon's disc.
That occurrence is what Pakwach is revving to show the world on November 3, as experts have earmarked the town as the best place to view it, alongside Arua, Soroti, Gulu and Masindi.
And thanks to the impending once-in-awhile do, the media have taken the buzz about the event to a whole new high.
Which is justifiable, seeing as it is something no one alive today has seen in all of their many years on earth, unless, of course, there is someone out there who is 547 years or more?
Yes, 547 years is how long it has been since the last hybrid solar eclipse occurred, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
To be exact, NASA, the US aeronautics and aerospace research agency, states that it last occurred on March 16, 1466, and that it was only the seventh of its kind since the Messiah Jesus Christ was born.
And with the next one projected to take place on June 3, 2114, which is 101 years away, the loud build-up to 4:15pm on November 3, the time and day this generation will witness history, would be expected.
Which is why the Uganda Tourism Board estimates that more than 30,000 tourists, scientists and eclipse hunters from all over the world will stream into Uganda for this moment.
One thing though. This occurrence, for which the world is buying really expensive air tickets and booking hotels at astronomical prices, is estimated to last a minute and 40 seconds.
And while many people out there have commented on published articles about the eclipse, yearning to travel to Uganda and catch a glimpse of it, others have asserted that because the do will be short-lived, it will not be good value for money.
And that is where they are getting it wrong. Local tourism enthusiast Amos Wekesa of Great Lakes Safaris thinks such are mere pessimists, who “are ignorant.”
In another world, Wekesa thinks, they would probably have a point. But when that world is Uganda, Lonely Planet's best travel destination for the year 2012, which is only the other day, one is bound to get buried neck-deep in the country’s tourism richness other than just the eclipse.
“Besides, if a minute and a half is attracting the world to a country, that means it has a connotation worth writing home about. I condemn the thinking that it’s a mere minute and a half, especially if it’s Ugandans passing such thinking around. Foreigners might say it because they are ignorant about the country, not Ugandans. The reason we are poor is we haven’t worked enough on our image overseas. This is our time to shine, let no one ruin it. We have a lot more to offer than just the eclipse.”
Edwin Muzahura, head of marketing and spokesperson for the Uganda Tourism Board, which is spearheading promotion of the eclipse viewing in Uganda, says:
“Everyone out there with plans to travel to Uganda for the eclipse is in for a surprise.”
“The eclipse is something that should get you over here so we utilise that chance to show you around our beautiful country. From tree-climbing lions, rhinos, hippos, rhinos, antelopes, giraffes, all the way to our headline attraction the mountain gorillas, you will see it all,” Muzahura says.
“True, the eclipse will be short-lived, and some people will definitely have a feeling they don’t have value for money. But what are we here for? Our role is to give you that value in the other attractions we have lined up, and I am confident about the packages different tour companies have lined up, especially those in northern Uganda that have not been explored much” he adds.
Of course there are those who will hunt an eclipse even when it’s to last just a flash. “In fact, as we speak, a number of such eclipse hunters – German astronomers, other forms of scientists, journalists and tourists – are already in the country. For those, give them the eclipse and they are sorted, it will not matter what form of eclipse.”
So, while those are sorted, the others who might not feel as sorted have also been taken care of in the said packages, which can show them to other parts of the country, or West Nile itself, in the days after viewing the eclipse.
The entire northern Uganda, which is the entry way into West Nile, is a region which has been virgin for a bigger part of the last two decades, owing to insurgency by Kony rebels.
That is no more, and the region is safe for exploration. So, eclipse viewers on road up there will enjoy off-the-beaten-path activities the mere travel to, and being in Pakwach, provides.
Right by the roadside on the almost 8-hour drive up north, tourists will get to enjoy the picturesque view of Karuma falls, and even stop by for photo opportunities.
Also, Murchison Falls National park on the road to Pakwach should already be bracing to offer its scenic view of the River Nile rapids and a good portion of Uganda's wildlife.
There is also Kidepo National Park as you drive further up north from Pakwach, whose almost virgin offering will whet tourists’ appetites.
For those who fancy a homestay experience so they can imbibe a bit of cultural heritage from Pakwach’s local community, well, the plate is beaming.
One of the intriguing folklore told in this community is the story of a beautiful mystery princess, who suddenly appeared at a place called Wang Nyamulia in Pakwach ages ago. Apparently, all Pakwach men were chasing after her, and that she ran to a particular spot, where she suddenly disappeared in thin air. This spot, which suddenly developed an equally beautiful rock, is one of the major attractions today. It hosts a rock-climbing challenge tourists can partake of.
And right after Pakwach Bridge near the railway quarters is the place where the fabled Luo folklore brothers, Gipir and Labong, quarreled and split ways - remember the legend of the spear and the bead? Yeah. One crossed the Nile westwards to form the Luo of West Nile, the other stayed to found what is today called Acholi land. Tourists here will get to hear the whole story of how the feud started.
Tourists listening to the Gipir, Labong history
Leb Kampala, where the White Nile kisses the Albert Nile, is also in Pakwach, ditto Fort Emin Pasha in Wadelai, Rwot Omach’s tombs, and the western escarpment of the rift valley. Another big attraction that side, are hundreds of migratory birds on Lake Albert and its 66 fish species.
Add all that to Owiny Primary School, where the whole hybrid solar eclipse-viewing activity will take place, and you have your self an overflowing plate.
Plus, we have learnt that Talent Africa, famed for throwing crazy theme parties, is on hand around this place to throw one of those. Remember Full Moon Party, which rocked the two months back? We gather this time they are throwing an astronomy-themed one, with outdoor environment, eclipse glasses, seasoned DJs, food, drinks and a prime eclipse viewing location on the banks of River Nile. This just might cut it for party-loving tourists.
And all the above offerings are beside the source of the Nile, which millions travel far and wide to come see every year.
Clearly, it's not for nothing that former British premiere Winston Churchill called Uganda the Pearl of Africa. The hybrid solar eclipse on November 3 will be an entry point into showing the world why.