Tuesday, November 23

 

Ode to INCO

The soft orange glow of sledge dancing across the dark night sky;
The sweet taste of chrome 6 lingering in a cool mountain stream;
The sun glistening off brown billows of smoke that glide away from your towering stacks;
The infinite tropical sky blazing through where a mountain used to stand tall;
INCO how I will miss your great nickel mine
The great mists of amber silt drifting from your CAT shovels;
The excessive drinking that reminds me so much of home;
And most of all my dear sweet Paulina,
The woman who showed me that iron creases look good in everything.
I'll carry you with me in the lines that permanently mark my board shorts or swimsuit.
Paulina, the woman who taught me that cleaning up after yourself is highly overrated.
Goodbye sweet INCO

Monday, November 22

 

What are you doing???

Some of you may be wondering what exactly I’m doing in Indonesia. I am here in Sulawesi as a research assistant with Suzanne, a Ph. D student from Simon Fraser University. We are looking at Telmethrina sarasinorum and the affects color morph has on mate selection in varying habitats by examining light density, fish radiance and spawning frequencies. In other words…I watch fish sex. Sometimes I even videotape it. Yes this may be shocking. How did such a nice girl like me end up deep in the heart of Indonesia taping hours and hours of fish porn – a lot of which includes massive group orgies?
Every morning at 5:00 am, Suzanne and I wake up and get ready for a long day of voyeurism. We’re on a boat by 6:00 am heading to the many “red light” districts of lake Matano. At each site we swim a transect, which for all you non-scientists is essentially just a set line through the lake, and count the number and color fish. Our fish come in five color morphs: blue, grey, yellow, grey with a yellow head and blue with yellow fins. After that we take the video camera (this is the kinky part) and follow a male fish as he swims around shagging females and fighting other males. You see, it’s not all a giant love fest, the male fish spend more than half their time beating up other males. Although I’m not usually a fan of violence, the fights are my favorite parts. The fish push out their fins to look big and show off their colors, then they start twirling around each other performing an elaborate dance that culminates with hitting each other repeatedly. The Antonii (another species of fish that are similar to the Sarasinorum), have beautiful yellow and blue bodies and when they fight they put themselves at an angle that lets the sun reflect of their bodies and leaving a beautiful display of gold and blue flashes that sparkle in the lake.
Often times the Sarasinorum gather in huge swarms around falling trees. It’s like a huge night club: there are fish everywhere and they are all just looking for a nice piece of fish flesh to spend the night with (or in this case 1-3 seconds with). Half the time while the males are fighting for a female, the female has already found a new guy to spawn with. Sometimes when a female goes to spawn against the tree, 4 or 5 males try to sneak in and get a piece. In one of their more disturbing habits, the fish often spawn with a female and then turn around and eat their own eggs. Some of the really perverse males flirt with a female Antonii (because she’s a different species they can’t actually mate), get her all excited, let her spawn and then eat it all up. Not my favorite way to get food…but I guess it’s better than starving.
All in all the days of snorkeling and watching fish are terrifically fun and it seems that everyone should have a job like this where you can wear your swimsuit to work and eat lunch on the beach… although, I’m not sure I’d advise letting crocodiles into your office

Saturday, November 20

 

S.S Minnow

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,a tale of a fateful trip...

Every time I travel to a new country I am amazed by how much more relaxed everyone seems. People aren’t controlled by time and responsibility and are able to go with the flow instead of filling up their day with appointments and meetings. It’s a way of life that is different, but almost a welcome change. I stress the word almost. This morning we woke up bright and early at 5:00 am ready for another day on the water. When we got to the Yacht Club, there was the security boat (our preferred method of transportation) but no driver. This happens more often than I would like. Usually they are perfectly reasonable excuses like: I didn’t want to wake up early this morning or I had something else I felt like doing or (the most popular) I forgot. While this can be a little annoying eventually we get our driver and off we go. This morning the driver just didn’t feel like coming to work, so we had a different boat driver take us to our site. Unfortunately he was also supposed to take some ladies to Nuha to deliver milk. So…we were dropped off at our site with our gear and a tarp no bigger than a queen sized sheet. We finished our first couple of transects, set up our tarp and huddled under our couple feet of shade. It was a blazing hot day, definitely above 30, so it was nice to spend the time in the lake. By 12:30 we were a little curious as to where our boat driver was. The milk run usually ends by 11:00, so we were expecting the boat at any time (our driver’s parting words were “See you soon”). By 1:00 pm, we were beginning to ask ourselves when it was appropriate to call the boat driver. In Canada you might give someone 30 minutes or an hour to make their appointment. But, I was learning how to relax and go with the flow, so I figured 2 hours was probably a perfectly normal amount to be late. Plus, how could the driver possibly forget about us… we decided to wait. Then we heard thunder. So what do you do when your stuck on an island 30 minutes from the village with a storm approaching? You pray to God that the cell phone has service. By some miracle (the praying probably helped) we were able to get service on the phone, a very unusual feat. We proceeded to text the boat driver, but no answer. We then tried a friend in town, but lost signal on the phone. It started to look as though we might get stuck in the storm. Our shelter wouldn’t have won us immunity on any episode of Survivor and looked like it might provide us with a square foot (at most) of protection. We decided to opt with the pathetic city girls plan, abandoning the capable outdoorsmen strategy for another day. Cell phone in hand we got through to our boat driver, who sounded like he was at the bar or some other social establishment (this might be bitterness talking). Unfortunately we were immediately “cut off”. I use quotation marks because there is some dispute as to whether we were “cut off” due to natural causes…or due to someone pressing the “off” button on their phone. The other problem is that the only person in the entire world who knew where we were was our boat driver…hmmmm this could be a problem. Thankfully, we also got a text through to a friend in the village, who assured us she would call security and make sure our boat driver Wahab came to get us. We quickly got a text back that Wahab would be there shortly. He arrived just as the waves were picking up and we were fighting over who was going to get the last piece of mango. The first words out of his mouth were “I’m sorry, I’m sorry”…which leads me to the conclusion that we had indeed been forgotten. The driver also had a different boat, we asked why and learned that the security boat had broken down after the ladies got back from Nuha. Because the security boat was no longer working…they simply planned on not using a boat for the rest of the day. This seems fairly logical, but confirms my fear that without the cell phone, we wouldn’t have gotten picked up. But we did make it home and I’ve learned an important lesson: When traveling in Indonesia always bring a very large tarp and an extra mango.

Tuesday, November 16

 

The Dawn of the Dead

This week-end was Idul Fitri in Indonesia. Idul Fitri celebrates the end of Ramadan and forty days of fasting. It is the biggest celebration in the Muslim year and means a four day week-end for everyone (including me)! Originally Suzanne and I were hoping to work through the week-end, but it was soon discovered that NO-ONE worked during Idul Fitri which meant no-one to drive us around in our boat. Of course I was devastated about the mini-vacation, but was able to pull myself together and plan an awesome week-end in nearby Toraja. The Tana Toraja is a region of Sulawesi that sits in a huge valley and is known for it’s strange houses and even stranger funeral customs.
Torajan houses are shaped like boats, with massive roofs curving towards the sky. The houses themselves are carved with colorful patterns and massive buffalo horns. I’d try to explain the Tongkoan homes in more detail, but realize that they really are indescribable. The artistry and craftsmanship that goes into each home is incredible and really needs to be seen instead of read about. I will post some pictures on the site as soon as I can that will hopefully give you some idea about what it looks like.
The houses are nothing compared to the death ceremonies of Toraja. Funerals are the most important event in Torajan culture and are treated as such. When a nobleman dies they are kept in the house until appropriate funeral arrangements can be made (3-8 months). During this time they are treated as a normal member of the family- given a place to sit at the dining table along with a place setting. Apparently you can be invited to meet one of these dead people (thankfully I was not). If you go to a home with a dead person, you need to speak to them as if they were alive, ask permission to leave and you are expected to take photographs with the person as if they were still living. Essentially you must treat them as if they are alive and still in charge of the house. When the time comes for their funeral there is a massive ceremony where kerbaus (buffalo) are sacrificed…the more kerbaus that are killed the more important the person. Our guide told us that last year 300 kerbaus were killed for an important man in town. At 15 million rupiahs per kerbau (1500 USD), that is a LOT of money to spend on a dead man. After the ceremony and sacrifice the nobleman is placed in a home along with several gifts to be taken to the after life. Graves (even modern ones) are littered with pop/beer bottles (still full), cigarettes, and packages of food. Outside the grave are effigies of the deceased. For a rich person this means full-scale mannequins that sit on top of the grave.
Regular villagers are not given entire homes to be buried in, but are placed in man made caves. Generations of people are placed in caves, with the evidence often pouring out in the form of bones lying around. An especially disturbing funeral rite is the baby trees, where boxes with children under a year are strung up.
We spent a lot of time traveling around grave sites and the entire time I felt very intrusive. But, villagers were always eager to show us their families’ graves and it seemed that they were proud to show burial sites. Apparently during funeral season (after the rice harvests), tourists from all over fly in to see the ceremonies. I’m not sure I’d want to see that, but hearing about the history from old nobleman and village people was pretty interesting.
Tuesday morning we got to participate in another fun Indonesian experience…the Market! Because Rantapao (where we stayed) only has one market a week…they make it a GOOD one. An area about 4 by 3 city blocks is dedicated to selling everything including fruits, vegetables, rice, fish, pigs, clothes and cheap plastic crap. The most exciting area of the market was filled with men and their cocks (think fowl not phallic). The men sat preening and petting their birds (notice I omitted cock for a very obvious reason) and readying them for cock fights. It seemed like this was more preparation than full-on fights, as the cocks were only allowed to peck at each other for a couple seconds before being pulled away. I think that the men were showing off their birds so that later in the day people could bet on the finest fowl. The fights, although brief, were pretty neat. The birds puff themselves all up and then jump up and kick each-other in a very matrix-like manner. Besides watching the cock fights, I was able to pick up some red and black rice and buy some unidentified spices. Hopefully they are legal for entrance into Canada…
On the way back from Toraja I almost got to experience a funeral first hand…unfortunately I thought it would be my own. Our driver had clearly not slept the night before and began falling asleep at the wheel 4 hours into a 6 hour trip. There’s really nothing as scary as watching your driver’s eyes close and head fall while going down a switchback road in the mountains. I think I’ll be staying put in Soroako at least for a while!

Sunday, November 14

 

Tulala

After a week of hard work we took off to Tulala for a day of sun and surf. Tulala is a small village about 2 hours out of Soroako. The road system around the Soroako area is maintained for as far as it is useful to INCO…this means that after we pass the port where sulfur is brought in, smooth concrete roads disappear and driving becomes an adventure. ON this particular day we drove the tightest switchback I’ve ever been on up and down a large mountain pass. For added excitement the road is barely wide enough for one vehicle and frankly I haven’t the slightest idea how we managed to go by dumptrucks without someone falling off the side of the cliff. Tulala is relatively isolated from ex-pat contact, so our arrival in town brought out villagers eager to look at out strange skin and pinch our arms. I’m not entirely sure what the arm pinching is about, but I’m not too fond of it. In the village we found Pak Sejojo, whose ka-ting-ting we would use to get to Pantai Puta, an isolated white sand beach. Ka-ting-tings are thin, long wooden boats with LOUD two stroke motors on the back…the name comes from the sound the engine makes when you start it up. The Ka-ting-tings are everywhere in Sulawesi and carry a wide variety of interesting packages. On occasion you will see a ka-ting-ting with a Kijang (this is the Indonesian SUV everyone drives) or a couple of motorcycles on it. It’s even more interesting when you see one with a Kerbau (water buffalo) on the front. After a short boat ride we landed on Pantai Puta, directly translated to White Beach. The beach was phenomenal with fine white sand that came up past your ankles at every step. There was some decent snorkeling, although most reefs in the area have been blown up. It was discovered that setting off bombs on the reef was a much quicker way of getting fish than trying to get them with nets. Frankly I think some guys just decided that setting off explosives was amusing. I’m thinking of using a similar strategy when the salmon run next summer. I figure with a couple of sticks of dynamite in the Chilkat, I’ll have enough fish for the rest of the year. Obviously I’ll have to look at the fishing regulations to see what to do with the fish that aren’t big enough to keep.

Wednesday, November 3

 

Gas

Problems with petrol (and not flatulence) have been plagueing us for the past couple days. Unlike Canada, where it appears we have an abundance of gas, getting gas in Soraoko is a hit or miss operation. We've been using a pontoon raft to visit various sites along Lake Matano and have been thus using a lot of gasoline. Every afternoon after a long day on the lake we go to pick up gas, only to find out that the gas station is closed. You see...here in Soraoko the gas station is only open when there is gas. This makes sense, as having a gas station open with no gas available is rather silly. Unfortunately, there is no rhyme or reason to what time the gas trucks arrive, so you can check on the gas station 4 or 5 times during the day with no luck. This can be extremely frusturating!
On Tuesday night, we had the pleasure of pulling up to the gas station just as the gas truck came in. It was a true Indonesian experience. As soon as the tanks started being filled hum could be heard in the night air and within minutes a huge swarm of motorcycles started buzzing into the gas station. It appears as though these motorcycles are not confined to the same rules as cars, so they simply buzz ahead of everyone in line and form a huge crowd around the gas pump. With rupiahs in hand, people clamor for to be next in lie, while all the cars wait patiently. When the cars finally do get filled, the attendant pumps them full of gas until it spills on the ground. Then a bunch of men gather around the car and shake it while the attendant tries to squeeze in a couple more liters. If the gas meter reads 48 000 rupiahs, the attendant will just let the gas spill on the ground until it gets up to 50 000 (and they wonder why the run out of gas everyday).
Thankfully Saturday is the last day we will use the raft, so no more late night trips to the gas station. On Sunday, we head to the Ocean to do a bit of snorkelling and visit Malilli...should be exciting.

Tuesday, November 2

 

Hash Run

Don't worry this isn't some illegal activity that I'm participating in. The Hash Run is the social event of the week here at INCO. It's a very strange combination of a varsity track club and the Freemasons. On Monday mornings a "Hash map" is put up at various locations around INCO, the map discloses the starting place of that night's Hash run. Everyone...and I mean EVERYONE meets at the starting place at 5:00 pm, and the festivities begin and by festivities I actually mean a grueling run through the jungle. Three "Hares" set the run course by dropping a paper trail through the jungle about 30 minutes before the runners around. The pack of runners follows this paper trail in a race/run to see who can get to the end first. To complicate matters the hares set up "falsies" that are trails that lead nowhere - making the entire event something like a giant treasure hunt. The running part of the event is fairly brutal. Yesterday's Hash was about 7 km through jungle, rice paddies and up mining roads...this was all in about 28 degree heat. I was quite pleased with my results, coming in the top 20 or so and the 2nd female.
It's after the run that the cultish activities begin. All the runners assemble at the Golf Course and participate in the Hash circle. The Hashmaster puts on a long red cape and stands on a bench, decreeing various rules and regulations. Anyone who breaks a rule, or otherwise upsets the Hashmaster is forced to chug a beer in the center of the circle. I find this concept of drinking beer following runs a little odd, but when in Rome... By the end of the night, most people have been called to drink and everyone who hasn't is drinking beers anyways. It's quite the social activity and I'm excited for next week... In any case, dinner is ready and this computer is borrowed. I hope everyone is doing well.


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