Sunday, March 9, 2014

Field work finally begins

3rd of March.  My first opportunity to leave Dili and make progress in the field.  I head east with director Eugenio Soares and driver "Alex" in IPG's gold Land Rover.  Quick note: This is my first time in a country that drives on left-hand side of  We are setting off to deliver letters of endorsement to the Administrators of the Baucau and Los Palos districts.  We visit the cities of the same names. 
The route from Dili to Baucau to Los Palos

I quickly learn that traveling through the country will always be a harrowing experience.  The roads are narrow, just wide enough to squeeze to car widths in.  The roads are rough...very rough.  Traffic is a mix of slow moving motorbikes, fast and slow moving microbuses, slow moving haul trucks, and fast moving SUV/truck vehicles (including our Land Rover).  The roads vary from occasional stretches of straight runs to endless hairpin turn sections.  Within a few meters of the road are villages, the ocean, lagoons, pigs, goats, cows, dogs, people, hand-carts, rocks, etc. 
A typical house along the road.

A microlet minibus traversing the road.  The inside is also full of passengers.

Trying to make our way around a truck.

I am wondering if we will survive...

The driver set out at a furious pace.  I apologize to my wife for not protesting immediately.  When a free stretch of road is available, the driver accelerates to 100 km/hr and doesn't consider slowing until well into the upcoming blind corner.  When in the hairpins, acceleration and rapid braking are the only options.  Weaving between kids and animals that flank the road is done without slowing, aided by riding the horn to alert of the impending doom.  Ok, maybe I am being a bit melodramatic here, but I am reflecting my true experience in the moment. 

We arrive in Baucau, the second most populus city in the country.  As will all other portions of the traverse, there are no signs indicating direction or destination anywhere.  But no problem, just stop and ask!  We arrive just after noon, and find that the district Admin will be back from lunch at 2pm.  We must wait it out because it will take too long to go on to the next stop and make it back by the end of the work day.  After a $2 fried noodle lunch and some down time, Eugenio and I are in the Admin's office.  In their language, Tetum, Eugenio delivers the goods: he gives the same presentation I gave to the Minister a few days ago.  I sit there and listen while recognizing the general flow of the conversation.  Truely, they speak a mixture of Tetum and Portugese, and my knowledge of Spanish is semi-relevant.  I am drenched in sweat during the whole meeting, trying not to deliver a mixed message of nervousness! It goes well and they agree to locate possible sites for immediate installation. Check.

The sign at the entry of the Baucau Admin complex.

On to Los Palos.  We have a few hours to get there.  Across another coastal stretch and then an ascent through lush tropical foliage through a torrential rain.  This is clearly a different microclimate in comparison to the region around Dili.  We emerge on top of a flat, open plain that hosts the Los Palos district.  Los Palos is sparsely populated, and nearly all houses and buildings are right along the road.  We arrive at the Administrator's building, the largest in the area, and check in with security.  There is a handful of men watching what seems to be a bizarre Japanese game show on TV.  We shake some hands and greet them all and the Admin is informed of our arrival.  There are some photos of local flora and fauna on the wall and I take not of a warning of neon green colored Pit Viper snake.  It is a beautiful creature, and I expect to see one at some point in the future.  Mental note: ALWAYS sweep a field site before digging in to work! 
Again, Eugenio delivers the goods, and this Admin is quite interested in the science.  He keeps saying "terremoto" and Eugenio is confused, thinking that he means 'seismometer.'  Terremoto is Spanish/Portugese for "Earthquake."  I later learn the Tetum way to say earthquake: Rrai nacodoco.  It literally means 'earth shake' and is it fun to say...make sure to roll the 'r' in rrai.  It is agreed that we will install the station on the grounds of the Admin building as it is the only safe place to install it in the area. Check.

It is 5pm, and time for the 6+ hour drive back.  Since we are near the equator, there is 12 hours of sunlight every day, so it is light until 7.  That is when I find out that the Land Rover has pitiful headlights.  The high beams are almost as good as normal lights.  To further complicate the matter, drivers communicate by flashing each other with variable patterns.  This adds some more time to the trip home.  I am VERY happy when the long day is over.

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