In a different, parallel existence my occupation would probably be an Astral Chaser and/or an Astral Cartographer (if, by any chance, the world still needs one?) *laughs*
My fondness with the night skies knows no limits. And I never would have imagined being able to check off a lot of my “evening” To-Do’s by joining PAS’ Overnight Stargazing Camp. Man, the experience was cosmic, far beyond what my heart (and body) prepared for!
(I haven’t slept during and after the event and it’s
almost past 24 hours since then. I’m impressed I can still compose this blog post, coupled with screaming bones and joints. Aha. Ha. Ha. *puddle goo* So written/grammar mistakes might be up ahead.)
I chanced upon the Philippine Astronomical Society, INC.‘s event post on Facebook around early January and I knew I had to join no matter what. Overnight Stargazing Camp, it said. Paid as soon as I received their details. Three days and two buses filled with participants later, I was confirmed to join Bus C (or Team Cassiopeia). I then prepared my mind and heart for something I have never tried before: camping, overnight-ing, bus traveling (to far places like Rizal) and stargazing — all by myself.
I almost almost chickened out and not go when three days before the weekend of the event it kept raining. My anxious mind kept at it with all the possible wrong things that could happen: stranger-danger fright, cloudy skies, no stars, no communication, far-off places, not prepared for the rainy weather… etc. It was a struggle. *weeps*
I was and am thankful for my family and buddies who convinced me that this experience might be good for me and that everything would be okay. To enjoy. Because, after today, I’m more than thrilled to share that the camp was astronomically awesome with breathtaking moments of awe and wonder. Where do I even begin?
The campsite was on top of a hilly place overlooking the mountains. Entirely remote with no signal whatsoever. The site itself was huge enough to accommodate more than a hundred of participants and campers; an open ground with nothing by the skies over our heads. The vast greenery over the horizon and huuuuge distance from the metro made me forget that I was still in Luzon. Heck, it reminded me of certain views back in America and this site made me feel like I was really away from it all.
PAS had once mentioned about sari-sari stores being available at the roadside near the venue. That I took note of and bought my own prior to the bus ride just in case. Later, over at the campsite I did commend inwardly that PAS themselves brought goods, snacks and drinks to sell for the convenience of the participants. A thumbs up on that.
So nestling down at a slight slope and armed with my Daiso mat, tripod, camera and music (and fooood!), I awaited for nightfall for the view I excitedly anticipated for. But before that PAS did a quick photoshoot of us and introduced the Human Bingo. It was a fun way to have us participants approach people about their identities. I was approached thrice for falling under the With Ponytail (2 times) and With Camera (1 time) categories. *laaaughs*
Tents were put up one after the another. Families gathered together, even couples and barkadas. Made me think of family and friends back home. There were comfort room cubicles in the middle of the campsite to which we all had to share patiently with each other.
During a time at dusk, I was dreading over at the fact the skies were heavily clouded. And it looked like it would rain. I don’t think I could remember how many times I prayed for good weather, and the fact that I had no idea what to do next. I was a camper with no tent! (Ay bahala na si Batman!)
But the moon shone so brightly next, with passing clouds here and there. Before I realized it a steady moonlight served as light to our campsite, illuminating the grassy field just right. Night had officially fallen. It was game time!
My first astrophotography attempts were filled with fibbling around the same dark, subject-less, poorly focused shots over and over again. I was trying to logically approach the camera setting, trying to remember my photography class back in college and Astrophotography For Dummies posts (my buddy Meia insisted I review).
I conversed with a few enthusiasts who shared their input as to how to go about it during the night. At one point I left my nest and trotted around the grounds were telescopes were placed everywhere, ready for viewing. Facilitators scattered around as well, sharing and doing talks on-the-spot as they point stars and planets using
lightsabers lasers. The talks were amusing, with hints of formality but plenty of playfulness. PAS members welcomed queries of any sort, enthusiastically teaching and conveying what they know. They even shared this certain app which shows the augmented reality of the stars and constellations placement (that I’ve yet to download myself aaaah!!). The members were friendly and consistent and might I add that their energy throughout the evening was really something.
The temperature steadily dropped and I found myself walking around with my jacket AND blanket. Rizal was freakishly cold! But my giddiness managed to keep me comfortable, nestling back at my spot, sitting on my mat and watching the moon and stars. The skies were peppered by stars and I was already satisfied with the view..
…until past 11PM the moon had set over the horizon and even more stars eventually appeared. Once were empty spots, stars – faint or shining brightly – filled the spaces. I saw the Gemini constellation, I discovered the one called Beetlejuice. A nebula cloud could be seen via telescope and the surfaces of the moon looked perfectly concave-ed (my OCDness was kicking in). The west horizon where the urban and metropolitan shone light but the darkness of Rizal managed to show stars after stars after stars.
And then once again I fell in love. The view of the stars was everything more than I expected. It was beyond my imagination. To add more joy to the experience, I listened to NOCTIS, Sunset Waltz, Valse di Fantastica and Somnus of Final Fantasy XV while gazing leisurely. I made an oath to myself that stargazing would be accompanied with game instrumental playlist-listenin’. I did it. I did it.
The second attempt to photograph went swimmingly well, finally configuring the appropriate setting. I think I took more than 300 shots of stars — the mix of the bad and good composition, color, etc — because I couldn’t stop myself to. It was only just a dream to try… until I was the one taking photos of stars. I was literally – more than hours of it – taking photographs of stars! I thought my heart would burst out of excitement.
But, alas, my excitement was overridden with shivers of cold and chattering teeth. I was freezing at around 2-3AM and even if I did try to take naps I couldn’t at all. It was so darn and painfully cold and morning dew were setting in.
At those hours I really wished the sun would rise quicker.
Still I tried distracting myself by capturing more photos, walking around and consuming coffee and Cobra (yeah… a bad combo. Heh. Heh.). There were talks and even more sharing and telescope viewing.
I was too glad I bought an extra battery for my camera or else I’d weep at one grassy corner because my only one battery couldn’t do anything anymore. I waited for the 4 to 6AM hour, where, according t0 PAS, that the Milky Way would be visible. I thiiiiiink I saw it? I just wasn’t able to confirm. PAS did share the summer season is a great time to see the Milky Way. And that I look forward to!
I couldn’t any longer feel my aching knee knobs and feet. And elbows too. The cold was impairing my desire to feel the giddy, astronomical feels. Daybreak came in and I wanted to hurry to get inside the bus and catch heat and rest. Before I realized it we were back from where we started — Cubao. And here I am, finishing this post.
The Overnight Stargazing Camp was so memorable. I couldn’t believe I braved it. I couldn’t believe I had the chance to experience it too. I told my family how amazing it was, the stars, the view and all and I think they want to join me next (with proper tents ahahaha!), with proofs I took using my camera. Photographs somehow captured the beauty of a star-filled sky… but no sufficient words can ever describe how majestic is to lay back and witness the starry sky itself.
Please do see it! I hope you do someday!
In case you wondered, my camera setting was:
- ISO: HI 0.7
- Shutter speed: 25″ to 30″
- Aperture: F4.5 to F6.3
- with tripod
On one very personal note: I had wanted to experience my first stargazing event with someone I like very much. But I realized that there were things I need to do for myself first: to travel and discover things at my own pace and time.
I just hope that someday, that someone will like to stargaze as much as I do.