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Some Quick Facts about Zambia, Our Voyage and related Topics

Short of time (and you maybe too?) this one is only a multifold list of items, which I think were remarkable in any way. At least I can provide you with something more, than the pure total eclipse report of 2001...

The Voyage Itself

  • We chartered an Airbus A340-300 of the Austrian Airlines; that occasion resulted from the membership of a pilot of that airline in an astronomy club, who wanted to see the 2001 total solar eclipse too. They will organize another airborne eclipse voyages in future; if you're interested too, look at Astronomy Travel or alternatively there.

  • It costed 1,000 Euro $ for each person in the economy class (which is suitable and sufficient comfortable even for such long flights in this modern and fine plane), to do the trip from Vienna to Lusaka, the big aircraft waiting about 17 hours there useless and then flying back. Rather cheap was the additional flight Stuttgart-Vienna and afterwards back from Vienna to Stuttgart: only about 120 Euro $ for each of us four flying from here, which was less expensive than a train ticket even with partly reduced cost (train card = Bahncard) would have been. Wow!

  • You can try and convict the 280 people, me included, who did it: in Vienna the pilots said, that they had 88 tons of Kerosin on board. While there is always some reserve included, you can easily calculate, that in both flights together (estimated about 70 tons per flight) the per head consumption was about 0.5 tons of Kerosin (distance somewhat more than 7,000 km per trip). Guilty, no doubt: for that short 17 hours at the Lusaka airport everybody on board consumed so much fuel, that an economical car like the VW 3L TDI would have gone more than 10,000 km with it. My only personal, despite somewhat lame excuse is, that I rather seldom fly with aircrafts (only for the second time in my 35 years life now).

  • After figuratively serving in jail for ecological vandalism now a more nice item: there were some movies offered as usual on long-distance flights, and I enjoyed on one flight the original US version of "Miss Congeniality" as much as I did in a German cinema (in Deutsch: "Miss Undercover"), how the lovely Sandra Bullock played as well the tough, no way lady like FBI agent Gracy Hard (watch the name!) as well as the undercover "barbie" they made of her for her job in the first place. Also in real life she has something of both characters in her. The other very good movie on the other flight was "Forrester" with Sean Connery and a talented young actor. Another strange New York story, which can happen only there, I think. A very good portrayal of an old, lonely New Yorker writer and an young boy, searching for his personal goals in life and especially work.

  • I have to say, I'm really in love with that at now still biggest flying Airbus A340-300 with it's modern and --- relatively, see above! --- economical design. The flights were rather smooth (luckily no notable turbulence was encountered) and while the cloudless African sky was nearly completely dark (for hours no light at night could be seen), in the more daylight times above Europe we could see the "eternal" city Rome and some other hightlights. The four engines with a full thrust of about 140 kN each are not too loud; the wind noise, which can't be avoided completely, dominates even in the takeoff phase.

Zambia: the Lusaka International Airport

  • At first many thanks to the nice people of Zambia! Our somewhat unusual flight schedule led to a landing at about 3 am local time, and the airport crew was obviously active (can you imagine, how many personnel you need to run a big airport?!) only for us, in the midth of the night... The toll control was very busy to cope with us nearly 300 people, but they got it done with maximum personnel and friendly, supportive posture. All speak good English (better than me, that's for sure). Maybe it's very obvious especially for us, because especially we Germans are mostly far from being friendly and supportive all time this way not to foreigners only, but also to anybody else...

  • Even additional "greeting personal" was present at our nightly arrival: women in traditional "checkerboard" dresses in the colors green and blue (instead of black and white). They were present not only for greeting, but also for guiding us through the otherwise nearly empty building... Really a long day for all people working at the airport!

  • The airport is not modern due to todays European and North American standards, but large enough, to cope even with todays biggest passenger aircraft, the Boeing 747-400 Jumbo Jet (which consumes about twice the fuel that ours Airbus does). One such an huge bird of the British airways proved that fact by landing about 400 to 500 other eclipse chasers few hours before the eclipse on the day, the shortest day of the year ("winter" solstice) on the 15 degrees south in geographical coordinates. These were not all eclipse vandals, there were another Corsair Airbus A330-200 (the two-engine smaller cousin of our plane) and a rather old long-distance Russian bird, an Iljushin Il-62 with four (tail) engines, which obviously came there soley for the same purpose.

  • You need to pay even under these circumstances 25 US $ for immigration and 20 US $ for exiting, which added 45 US $ to our cost table. Not important for a normal, several weeks stay, but a little expensive (as our flight in total) for this immediately-return voyage.

  • In the short time there we never left the airport. They had a guarded area prepared with more than sufficient space for all of us with all astronomical equipment.

  • Opposed to most other African countries Zambia is stable and there are no general problems in society. If you stay longer there, which I can recommend wholeheartedly, you can see the giant Victoria falls and some major national parks, which have all there signs present in the airport main passenger building. The real reason for our too-short stay was the impossibility, to get sufficient hotel room for so many eclipse chasers around the 21. June 2001 --- one year before all these were already booked.

  • It's a typical African landscape of course, with no woods, but only sparsely distributed trees and relatively dry (our luck!). Interesting was the presence of fine sand among the plants, probably wind delivered from the big sand desert Kalahari southwest of Zambia. (remember, that sometimes even Sahara sand makes it over the Alps into Europe!)

  • Opposed to the mostly cloudy European sky (seen during the flights) the Zambian sky was essentially cloudless. We used that twice to watch the starry southern sky: once after arrival and completing the immigration formalities, and once immediately before boarding. We had first trouble to identify constellations in the short time, while it was still dark and when we were able to see the night sky, but finally we could see a part of Cassiopeia, nearly half below the horizon, while circumstellar at our European locations, and even the there high culminating Mars; the highlights were clearly Crux and the nearby Centaurus constellation, featuring one of it's two brightest stars, the third brightest in Earths sky at all: Alpha Centauri, our neighbor sun-like star, just a little more than 4 light years (1.3 parsec) away. A longer trip should of course include careful and well-prepared study of the fascinating southern sky!

  • Finally some special stamps were made on "the very day", the 21. June 2001. Opposed to the amateur group with name "Deutsche Post" (German mail and package service, formerly a state carried group) the Zambian postal service managed to offer them for US $, which is fully accepted at least at the airport, on the eclipse watchers area. As old stamp collector I couldn't resist to this also once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get all of these stamps with an official postal stamp on an envelope. A true collectors item.

  • We well-equipped eclipse chasers had the chance to give the nice Zambian people some spare light protection devices (the dark folies "glasses"), who were not unexpectedly somewhat under-equipped in this regard. Maybe it was a little expensive for them too?

 

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remarks etc. to: stefan.urbat@apastron.lb.shuttle.de

(URL:  http://www.lb.shuttle.de/apastron/e2001bkg.htm)