The Jakarta Post
With less than three weeks remaining before the appearance of the total solar eclipse on March 9, French artist Antoine Merger has been busy supervising the establishment of a tourist village in Sigi, Central Sulawesi, from which hundreds of foreign nationals are expected to stay and observe the rare natural phenomenon.
Standing in a 6,000-square-meter plot of land in Ngatabaru subdistrict, Biromaru district, 10 kilometers south of the provincial capital of Palu, the venue will host a series of events, including a culinary festival and a handicraft exhibition, to entertain visitors from March 7 to 11.
For practical reasons, all structures in the venue have been built using bamboo and thatched roofing.
'It will be easy for us to dismantle the structure by using such material,' said Merger, who leads the project, supported by the provincial administration and local art and cultural organizations.
Unlike a partial solar eclipse, a total eclipse can usually only be seen from a particular spot on Earth once every few decades.
The phenomenon occurs when the moon travels between the sun and the earth and casts the darkest part of its shadow, the umbra, over the earth.
Astronomers have predicted that this year's solar eclipse will fall on March 9, with Indonesia the only country in the world from which the phenomenon will be visible.
Dozens of cities across 12 Indonesian provinces, including those in West Sumatra, Central Sulawesi, South Sulawesi, Bangka-Belitung, East Kalimantan and North Maluku, have been identified as areas that will experience the short-lived yet breathtaking occurrence.
In Central Sulawesi, the provincial administration claim that more than 3,000 visitors from 12 countries, including the US, UK, Canada and China, plan to arrive in the region early next month in hopes of observing the solar eclipse.
The province's Tourism Agency head Norma Mardjanu said that the tourists have planned to watch the event from several regions, including Palu, Poso, Parigi Moutong, Banggai and Sigi, each of which offer, in addition to the opportunity to witness the total eclipse, various sideline festivals specifically organized for stargazers.
'In Palu, for example, all hotel rooms have been booked from March 8 to 10,' Norma said.
The shortest total eclipse will be visible on South Pagai island, West Sumatra, and will last for one minute and 54 seconds, while the longest, which will last for three minutes and 17 seconds, will occur in Maba, a small town in East Halmahera regency, North Maluku.
Many foreign tourists selected regions in Central Sulawesi from which to observe the total solar eclipse as the areas offer the relatively long eclipse duration of two minutes and 20 seconds and are more accessible than Maba.
Meanwhile, Central Sulawesi Governor Longki Djanggola called on visitors not to be afraid to visit the province despite a recent travel warning issued by the Japanese government due to terrorist activity in Poso.
Longki said Poso, located some 250-km away from Palu, was a safe place to visit, adding that the ongoing security operation had surrounded dozens of East Indonesia Mujahiddin militant group terrorists whom has been hiding in local forests.
'Terrorism happens everywhere, even in France or in Bali, There's no need to worry,' said Merger, who has been working with six other Frenchmen on the tourist village project. Since independence, Indonesia has experienced 18 partial solar, nine total solar and six annular solar eclipses.
A partial solar eclipse occurs when the moon blocks only part of the sun's disk, while an annular solar eclipse occurs when the moon is a new moon or too far away, and is subsequently too small, to completely cover the sun.
The last time a total solar eclipse passed over the country was in 1995. It lasted for two minutes and was visible only from Sangihe, a small island in North Sulawesi.