Monday, October 27, 2014

Indonesia 2014... let's get this party started!

This image is appropriate for Indonesian bureaucracy. Both lanes of
traffic go the same direction, The sign says "Fast Lane Entrance".
Here I am again. Indonesia. 

I have been here for almost two months (which is hard to fathom) and this is my first blog post because life here has been... well... it has been routine. I spent a week in Jakarta shuffling through bureaucracy to secure all of my research documents. 

Then I came to Yogyakarta, which will serve as base camp until March. Life in "Jogja" has consisted of writing reports  due to people back in the states, going to language class, having meetings, sending emails to set up meetings and generally, just leading a pretty ordinary life, but in an extraordinary place.  There were a few really fun short outings with some great new friends (another post will cover these).

Well, now I am hitting the road and things are getting interesting. I just went on a fascinating jaunt about Indonesia to check out a research site and meet with organizations who can potentially help with my research. I finally have some pictures to share and stories to tell!

I have so many in fact, that I won't burden the reader with all of them in one go.

Chapter 1: Northern Sulawesi

First stop on the pan-Indonesia tour was the Manado, the capital city of North Sulawesi. I read while I was there, that Manado is 1,000 miles closer to Davao in the Philippines than it is to Jakarta.

Manado is culturally distinct from the other places that I have visited in Indonesia. The dominant cultural group there are the Minahasa. Frankly, I know nothing about the Minahasa other than that they have a reputation for eating anything, including dog, snake, rat and bat.

I am not going to pretend that this job doesn't have
its good points. Inside BNWNP.
I had a very short night in Manado before catching a ride with some stunned Indonesians (She is going where? By herself? In our car?) toward Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park, the potential site of my research. The road to the park skitters along the hilly, northern coast of Sulawesi offering amazing vistas of turquoise ocean that stretches to the Philippines. After several hours, the route turns sharply inland toward the rice paddies and coconut plantations of the Dumoga Valley. The valley is ringed by forested… well, mostly forested… mountains that form the boundary of the biologically rich Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park (BNWNP).

Before actually getting into the park, I met a friend conducting research there, whose assistance I was leveraging to make contacts for my own work in the future. We met in the small city of Kotamobagu, just outside of the Dumoga Valley. This is NOT a tourist place, as was clear by the parade of children that formed behind us as we took a stroll around town to shake out the kinks that I had formed after 2 long days of sitting in airplanes and cars. However, everyone was friendly, and enjoyed chatting with us.

Image of a bentor stolen from a motorcycle web page. If
anyone wants me to take it down, I will.
By far, the highlight of the time in Kotamobagu was our trip around down in a bentor. Bentors are a common form of local transportation in Kotamobagu. They are unique to the area… they are just unique. The picture gives you a start of an idea of what a bentor is like (a lowrider, motorized pedicab), but what the picture does not show is that most bentors have elaborate light displays as well as high quality sound systems that the drivers dj as you tour around town. There is intense competition for riders, as most people want the best music and style as the run routine errands. One persistent bentor driver attempted to attract our business by following us around blasting Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”… needless to say, we went with another driver who could provide a variety of house/club and the Indonesian version of R&B as we enjoyed touring around and shopping for the next day’s breakfast.

My man Jemmy at the border of the park (the
white column). You can see that the
coconut garden spansthe border of the park.

The next day it was off to the village of Toraut to stay in a research station directly adjacent to the national park. I arrived at the research station without even enough information to start to make a plan. It was a giant, terrifying, but necessary step into the unknown. Would I be able to research there? Should I research there? Are there issues there for me to explore? Would I like spending months in these villages?

The manager of the guesthouse, Jemmy, ended up being extremely helpful and informative. He has been with the park for nearly 30 years and clearly enjoys facilitating research activities in the park.

Inventorying biodiversity before it is gone.
Day one an introductory hike in the park started by passing through coconut gardens that penetrate into the park eating away at the biodiverse forest. Eventually, we entered beautiful, intact forest and made our way to a lovely waterfall. After a quick rest by the cool water of the river, we made our way toward my friend’s research plots. There we met up with his crew and watched as they climbed impossibly tall trees to get leaf samples so that the trees in this forest can be identified.

A word about this forest… In the northern hardwood forests of my youth, you might be able to see four to five species of trees at one time. In the forests of BNWNP, you might see more than twice that. The forest inventory currently being conducted in BNWNP had identified 70 different tree species in 2 50m x 50m plots.

This is what happy rainforest looks like. I wish I could put the sound
and smell in the blog too... I love it there!

Yep. That is mercury (with gold in it). It was
just in the water in the tub below which will be
dumped into a nearby canal.
After my intro day to the park, I was able to visit with community members and gather information on how health-environment relationships could be investigated in the area. One of the biggest potential disasters in the valley results from illegal gold mining and processing. The mines, high on hillsides within the park, result in forest destruction as trees are cleared for camps and burned by accidental and intentional fires set by miners. In the valley, gold is processed using mercury, which contaminates water discharged into the valley’s irrigation system. Workers in the gold processing plant work barehanded with mercury before it is burned off in open fires. The potential health damage from mercury poisoning is stunning.

Gold... and mercury... and a bare hand
In the four days in the valley (isn’t that a movie?), I got a good sense of the people and the issues there. The natural beauty is astounding and the people are welcoming and fun-loving. They are easy to laugh, but most of the time it is at me, and seem to be willing to share their opinions. There are a lot of different opinions that conflict, which is very interesting from a social science perspective. There is indeed something to investigate.

I finally dragged myself away from the forest to carry-on with my travels and meet with scientists and conservationists. Conveniently, I had a meeting in Manado on Friday and meetings in Jakarta/Bogor the following week, so I had to find something to do with myself for the weekend. The answer was Bunaken Island, but that is for another post!
Bunaken Island... stay tuned!