Thursday, October 9, 2014

Road Trip in West Timor – Jalan jalan

We took on two of the four installations that we can pursue by driving directly from Kupang.  BMKG provided a vehicle, staff member (Jesse), and a driver (Jacob).  Between the five of us riding along with our equipment and personal bags, we had the truck at full capacity.  Leaving Kupang at 6am, we managed to travel east to the town of Kefamenanu to begin level 3 and 4 of the permitting process.  Our farthest destination was on the far SE of the Indonesian portion of Timor Island, the province of Malaka.  This region is in the process of breaking away to form their own province, yet they remain under authority of the Atambua province – this is what we discover upon arrival to Kefa.  Given this uncertainty, we were not exactly sure how to proceed.  Because Kefa was the targeted location for the second of two stations we planned to install, we sought out a local location to achieve some sort of success for the day.  This ended up being a loss of time, as we were taken to army grounds, then the house of an army officer, and finally the house of the army officer’s sister, all resulting in no progress  

A bit of strategizing and eating a very late lunch led us to decide to push on to the remote SE location to follow up with a connection provided by BMKG Kupang.  The 40km of travel to arrive in the village of Betun ended up being a 4 hour journey! Road conditions are very poor, and the mix of vehicles on the road significantly slow down any hopes of quicker passage.  Fortunately, Jacob is capable and has a high tolerance for this sort of work.  This was truly a trying jalan jalan (i.e., ‘road trip’ as poorly transcribed from bahasa in movie subtitles). We arrived in our hotel, quickly put up mosquito nets and proceeded to sweat out all available water in our bodies overnight. 

The next morning began with a call at 6:45am to meet with our local contact to find a site.  The result was skipped breakfast and rushing out to find a suitable location.  Ultimately, we travelled a little to the north to climb out of the sedimentary basin we stayed in overnight and located a nice site adjacent to an ecological preserve that hosts a large Teak tree forest.  This site is hosted in the back yard of the local leader of a small group of housed in the community.  Once we talked through the possible points of concern about the site over the upcoming two years, we went ahead with the installation.  This location was built out of a colluvial wedge shed off of the overlying topography or uplifted fluvial terrace deposits – the whole soil column is full of large cobbles and boulders that are moderately welded together with precipitated carbonate.  As such, digging the hole for the seismometer and putting fence posts in the ground required herculean efforts.  Cooper took on blisters on nearly every corner of his hands, and at least six locals helped out to move us along.  The sun was especially intense during the entire five hour install, with no wind or shade of any sort to provide relief.  Nova and Jesse has went back to Betun to complete our permitting and bring some food and water.  The water was absolutely necessary by then, and food was difficult to stomach in the heat.  Nonetheless, the station was completed (after a few other minor delays) and we were very happy with the station quality. 

Station in Betun after the install.  BMKG staff driver Jacob on far left along with the local crew.  They helped us build a concrete support for the solar panel stand.

The subsequent discussion and saying of goodbyes was particularly interesting, mostly due to the infrequency of bules visiting the area.  Cooper was particularly good with the crowd that gathered around the installation, working to make progress on his ability to speak Bahasa.  Time will tell if he has committed himself to marrying one of the village girls – they certainly seemed to be putting the pressure on as much as possible despite the language barrier!  It was all a very positive interaction, and it will be great to return to gather data over the coming years. 

We wrapped up around 3pm and headed back to Kefamenanu to stay the night.  We tried a different (supposedly better) route back and found it to be just as treacherous as the previous road.  My back and kidneys decided they had enough of the severe dehydration and provided a formidable symphony of pain to accompany the rhythmic sway of the truck slowly smashing across the rough road.  Good times.  ** side note: any time some sort of heightened discomfort sets in, there is the joyous search for diagnosis.  “Maybe its malaria, or dengue, of typhus, or bad food – crap, shouldn’t of ate all those chili peppers, or dehydration, or …” Might as well be all of the above **

The hotel in Kefa was a savior to arrive at.  By then, Cooper’s stomach was feeling off, but a spectacular lunar eclipse tempered our general malaise.  For 20 minutes we watched Earth’s shadow encroach on the light of the moon until only a smoky dark orange hue barely illuminated our closest celestial body – indeed an awe inspiring experience. 

The next morning, we headed back to the Bupati – the governing body for the province/regency – to obtain letters to install the second station.  They required us to submit the full project proposal that successfully obtain the grant to do this work, which felt like more of an arbitrary hurdle than anything.  I’m sure they are sleeping better at night knowing that Thorsten Becker is going to model global mantle circulation and its contribution to dynamic stress induced on the regional lithospheric system.  We moved on to our targeted location 10 km south of Kefa in the village of Noemuti.  Nova’s wheeling and dealing in Kefa allowed us to change our plan at the last moment to get to Noemuti, and we were led to a good location.  It was hot again, but not nearly as intense as in Betun.  We carried all of the equipment up a small slope to install on a local topographic high point.  As with most location, dozens of locals emerged out of the surrounding area to watch us work and then ultimately help out with some of the labor.  The digging and post pounding was much more accessible this time, and we had the station in in about 3.5 hours.  Towards the end, a little glitch in the data recording required the need to keep the crowd occupied as we did some troubleshooting.  Speaking through Nova, Cooper provided an excellent summary of why we were there and what this type of project can do to help out Indonesia.  They seemed to strongly respond to his point that this region of the country (NTT – Nusa Tengarra Timor) has been somewhat neglected by seismic installation – most instruments are in Java and Sumatra.  This was a strong point of connection, at least three generations of locals were on hand and at least half of the nearly 30 people in attendance were young children.  Much more could be said about this experience, this summary only captures some of the high points.
After the install of the station in Noemuti.
Working maps of the deployment.  Top is the whole Banda array, red symbols are installed stations, 8 in Timor Leste and now 4 in Indonesia (Rote Island SW of Kupang and 2 on Timor, NOMU and MALK).  The blue circles are planned installation sites, the orange and green symbols are stations that are part of the Indonesian and German networks.  Bottom is a zoom in to the Kupang area.

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