Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Options: Stories from A to Z

Tuesday, the day before the eclipse, traffic picked up. The next morning, it was bumper to bumper along the little street next to the boardwalk. I felt quite smug that I only needed to walk a few blocks from my comfortable lodgings to the beach.  

Forrest had not committed to where he planned to view it, or with what group of couch surfers or eclipse chasers he would gather. When I asked him, he shrugged. “I’m not sure. There are several options.” 

“I’m staying right here,” I told him. “It’s the perfect location. If you don’t go anywhere else, you can find me along this section nearest to our cross street.” 

Perhaps at the beginning of our trip I’d have felt crushing disappointment at the prospect of not sharing the thrill of a total eclipse with my son. But by now, I was used to his ways, and he was used to mine. 

He liked exploring and meeting people, preferably Spanish speakers to practice the language. I didn’t want to meet anybody. Thankfully, he didn’t bring anyone over for meals or to hang out. I’d have hated that. I needed isolation to process my grief, to feel my emotional imbalance in all its turmoil, something I had to do over and over again. I had no idea when it would be enough and I'd feel normal again. When not with Forrest, I craved solitude. 

Totality in our area would be around four on the afternoon of July 2. Unlike 2017, this Eclipse of 2019 was easy, not counting the whole flying to Chile part of it. Go to the beach, find a spot on the sand or in an empty chair, sit down. Walk back when it’s over. Back then, Bruce and I had to prepare well in advance with hotel reservations, getting up before dawn to drive to the location, take chairs and food.

Around three-thirty, I headed over to the beach area and found the perfect spot. Crowds had gathered, mostly family groups in a party atmosphere. The chairs, benches and ledges along the boardwalk were all taken, and the sandy beach was filling up fast with large groups. 

I claimed my little hill, spreading my things out to save room for Forrest in case he joined me. The slight, crooked hill was too awkward for setting up camp chairs or spreading a blanket and too small for more than a couple people to lean their backs against. 

I felt lonely as I often did when alone among couples or families gathered for celebrations or dinner or just walking together enjoying their lives. I wondered what Forrest had decided to do. I wished he were here with me. 

Finally, I deserted that location and walked along the beach to find a less crowded area. Along the way, I saw Forrest approaching from the other direction. I waved and he ignored me in his stoic way, although I could tell he saw me. We met a few minutes later. 

“What’s up?” I asked him. “Are you headed somewhere to see the eclipse?” 

“No, that didn’t work out. I thought I’d find you.” 

“I had a pretty good place. Let’s go see if it’s still available.” 

We turned around and as we approached my little hill, I was happy to see it was still free. Forrest and I settled down to wait for the eclipse. There was still another twenty or thirty minutes until the moon would start its path across the sun. All these people stressed me out and made me tired. I made a pillow out of my sweater and pulled up the hood of my sweatshirt so that it nearly covered my head. 

“I’m going to take a little nap, Forrest,” I said. “Don’t let me sleep through it.” 

He ended up falling asleep as well, and we both woke up about the same time thirty minutes later. I felt much better, and the happy families no longer annoyed me. Fortunately, we had not slept through any of the moon’s historic journey, slow as it seems when you’re watching and waiting for it to completely block the sun. 

Forrest became impatient. At partial, he said, “This isn’t such a big deal." 

“Just wait, you’ll see,” I declared. 

Minutes later, “still not that impressive. Kinda cool that it’s getting darker though.” 

Shortly before totality, he figured it was over. “Okay, I guess I’m done.” He stood and looked around restlessly.

Bored Forrest tired of waiting for the moon

 “Forrest! Just watch or you’ll miss it.” 

Thankfully, he obeyed and therefore witnessed those few seconds when the moon completely blocked the sun, with only that thin, brilliant ring outlining the silhouette of the moon. 

“Wow, that’s pretty cool.” I no longer had to tell him to keep his eye on the sun. Like everyone else, he couldn’t look away. Totality is enchanting like that. 

As the moon passed on, seeming faster than before, daylight returned, confusing the seagulls and pelicans who had begun to gather for their nighttime routines. They veered up into the sky practically bumping into each other in their disorientation. I found the behavior of the birds nearly as intriguing as the eclipse.

Birds disoriented by the eclipse

In 2017, Bruce and I had been in an area with trees. As the light dimmed, the birds clustered in the branches out of sight. Above the ocean, these birds were in full view for us to appreciate their unusual behavior. We watched the birds as people around us dispersed. When the pelicans returned to normal flights and the seagulls to their usual skillful foraging about the shoreline, then Forrest and I moved on. 

“I don’t want to go back to the apartment,” I said. “This was a special event. We should end the day doing something different from our usual routine.”

“Let’s keep walking along the shore to make sure the birds are back to normal,” he responded. 

We had been frugal to make up for the high rent condo, although groceries were no bargain either. So different from my previous experience in Guatemala and Mexico. Around here, people dressed and carried themselves like they had money. Maybe the La Serena/Coquimbo area was wealthier than the rest of the country. It seemed more like California than what I supposed Chile would be.

Where was the street food? The local indigenous craft stalls? The mercados filled with fresh produce? 

“We should at least splurge on dinner at a seafood restaurant before we leave," I said. "After all, we’re right on the coast with fishing as a major industry.” 

“I know where there’s a string of local restaurants,” he replied. “In fact, we’re heading right for them. We can check them out and see what we think.” 

“Oh, good! I’ll buy dinner, my treat.” I had learned after Bruce died that the best way to get anyone to go out to dinner with me was offer to pay. 

We found a small place that looked out toward the sea, not fancy at all, run by a sixty-something couple. She was behind the counter, and he waited on us. They had just a few tables, and we were the only ones there. 

We ordered their seafood platters. Seafood soup, seafood empanadas, and fried fish. It was okay, nothing remarkable, but at least we got our seafood dinner on the coast of Coquimbo. 

As we walked home, we agreed we were done with Chile and ready to head north toward Peru. We had our reservation through Friday evening, but we decided to leave Thursday. Tomorrow. When we reached the apartment, Forrest checked the bus schedule online. 

“We can leave on the ten pm bus and drive through the night. Our first stop will be early morning in Antofagasta.”

 “Perfect. That gives us all day tomorrow to pack, do laundry, use up our food, clean the place up. I like the idea of no rush.” 

“We’ll go to the bus station in the morning for our tickets. We can walk there and back, then take an Uber at night with our luggage and stuff.” 

One more day to go for a long walk where I let the ocean breezes carry my grief away with the tide. Like the tide though, it always came back. I could see myself returning to Coquimbo for this fantastic beach. Winter, free of tourists, was best, and without an eclipse lodging must be cheaper. 

I visualized a group of Gowens coming out together. We could cram into the condo and split the cost five ways. That’s only a hundred bucks for a whole week of oceanside luxury in Coquimbo!

Never mind the whole getting to Chile part of it.


  1. Your seafood dinner reminds me of a small restaurant Frank and used to frequent- mainly because neither of us cooked much then and it was cheap and close- but I swear I think their seafood sampler was a frozen one from the grocery store!

  2. Thanks for taking me along on your trip. I've never been to Chile and love the thought of visiting the beach there.

    1. The beach along Coquimbo/La Serena is the absolutely most wonderful beach I've ever been to, even more than Baja Mexico and the California beaches. At least for what I wanted, maybe not for surfers.

  3. It was especially poignant as you recalled a previous eclipse in the company you no longer had on earth.

    1. I had not thought of that, Mirka, but you're absolutely right.

  4. A once in a lifetime experience and you got to share it with Forrest. Extremely special. Sandra

  5. Good to see the eclipse. One day which will probably never come I would love to see the beach of Colquimbo. I like small local restaurants but the food can be mediocre at times.

  6. I like your optimism at getting all the members of your family to Chile ;) So interesting about the birds! We had 95% totality of the eclipse a couple of weeks ago, but it only got as dark as it would before a thunderstorm.

  7. I am truly happy that Forrest didn't give up on the eclipse. I have a feeling he was more affected (the right word?) than he let on. Thank you for sharing that photo. I've never seen one along a beach.


Comments are welcome!