Eclipse throws parts of Chile, Argentina in the dark for two minutes

A solar eclipse that lasted for about two minutes threw southern Chile and Argentina into the darkness on Monday.

Heavy rain had threatened to prevent thousands of binoculars in Chile from seeing the eclipse, but at the last minute the clouds parted enough for the phenomenon to be partially visible.

“It was beautiful, unique. The truth is that no one had much hope of seeing it because of the weather and the clouds, but it was unique because it cleaned up just in time. It was a miracle,” said an emotional Matias Tordecilla, 18. told AFP from the city of Pucon on Lake Villarrica.

“It’s something you not only see with your eyes but also feel with your heart,” added Tordecilla, who traveled 10 hours with her family to see the eclipse.

In Argentine Patagonia, several families and foreigners had set up camp between the towns of Villa El Chocon and Piedra del Aguila in hopes of seeing the eclipse.

Even if it did not rain there, strong winds had threatened to affect the visibility of the second total eclipse for Chile in the last 18 months.

This one struck at 13:00 (1600 GMT) when thousands of tourists and residents gathered in the hope that the clouds would disappear in time.

“It made my skin crawl,” said Pucon resident Cinthia Vega.

Despite restrictions on movements put in place by authorities to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, nearly 300,000 tourists had arrived in the Araucania region about 800 kilometers south of the capital Santiago.

Dozens of amateur and professional scientists set up telescopes on the slopes of the Villarrica volcano – one of the most active in Chile – to observe the phenomenon as the moon passes between the sun and the earth.

The eclipse would be visible along a 90-kilometer-wide corridor from the Pacific coast of Chile over the Andes and into Argentina.

In July 2019, about 300,000 people showed up in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, home to several observatories, to see the previous solar eclipse.

Chilean authorities had been worried that the eclipse would attract large numbers of people.

There have been more than 570,000 cases of coronavirus among the 18 million inhabitants with almost 16,000 confirmed deaths.

Strict controls were announced for the areas where the total eclipse would be visible, with free movement prohibited both the day before and after.

Eclipse significant for indigenous peoples

This event was eagerly anticipated among Chileans’ indigenous people Mapuche, the largest group in the south of the country.

In Mapuche culture, an eclipse means the temporary death of the sun during a battle between the star and an evil force called “Wekufu.”

Indigenous people used to worship the sun “like a god”, astronomer Jose Maza told AFP last week.

According to domestic expert Juan Nanculef, the people would light bonfires and shoot “stones and arrows in the air” to help the sun in its fight against Wekufu.

Nanculef actually performed a ritual when the eclipse began to ask nature to put an end to the rain and make it visible.

“In the past, it was 100 percent effective,” he said.

This time, it seems to have worked well enough to give people a glimpse of the eclipse.