With the permitting process done, we could finally head out to the field! We left Ambon city by car and drove up to the north side of Ambon, where we would catch a two hour ferry north to Seram. The thing about traveling in Indonesia – it always takes much more time than you think it will. Knowing this, we arrived at the ferry very early in the morning (this is what an Indonesian sunrise looks like…), and proceeded to wait several hours until actually boarding the ferry (unlike the ferries in Seattle that many of us are used to, Indonesian ferries can’t fit more than a dozen or so cars).
Once we arrived in Seram, we grabbed a quick lunch, and then headed off on the long drive from the south side of Seram to the capital of Bula in the northwest part of the island. We had been told that this trip was a eight hour drive. Needless to say, it took several hours more than eight, about 12.5 or so. Keep in mind that roads in Seram are a new thing – the largely paved asphalt belt road that extends along most of the island was, just a few years prior, a simple gravel road. Roadworks projects are still going on along most of the belt roads’ length. The current road travels from Amahai, where the ferry drops off, to Kiindarat. Landslides and floods wiped out the portion of the road between Kiindarat and Amahai, leaving the southeastern and southern coasts inaccessible by car.
We arrived in Bula just in time for morning prayers – which occur at dawn. Falling asleep to the morning prayers from the mosque right next to the hotel was probably the most surreal experience of the trip thus far (the fire was pretty cool, though).
Most surreal moment was about to be replaced.
The next day, we continued our drive towards Kiindarat, where we would charter a boat to take some of the crew and our equipment towards Airnanang, the village that would be our home base during the Seram portion of our survey. The rest of the crew would walk the 12km or so footpath the rest of the way towards Airnanang.
We were fortunate to have a local political figure, Pak Jus, traveling with us as our escort. Pak Jus was born and raised in the area surrounding Kiindarat, and was the son of the local raja, a local king. In other words, we had a local prince as our guide.
I can’t even describe to you what if felt like to drive through the villages of rural eastern Seram, with Pak Jus (a prince nonetheless!) pointing out his elementary school and his uncle’s house, while blasting 50 Cent and Miley Cyrus. I. Can’t. Even.
In Kiindarat we experienced our first round of what would be many, many photographs. Foreigners are exciting, especially for villages in which we were the first foreigners they had encountered in living memory. What were we doing? What sort of research did we want? What was America like? Understandably, people were going to have lots of questions. For the most part, this region of Seram is not highly connected, these villages did not even know that we were arriving. I can only imagine what it must be like to have a large group of foreigners (because even our Indonesian team members from Jakarta were, for the most part, foreign to locals in this area) show up and ask to not only be fed, watered, and housed, but also to be taken to all the cool archaeology spots and learn all the traditional stories. It’s a lot, and we’re a lot, to take in.
Once our equipment was loaded onto the boat, we started off on our hike. We managed to make it about halfway to Airnanang before the sun set on us, so we chartered a boat from a small village to ship us over to Airnanang. Let me paint the scene for you. We had been traveling for a solid day and a half, survived not once but TWO long car rides, and we were exhausted. It was almost a full moon. The water was flat, the wind was warm. And it was a glorious boat ride, the first of many. A day of surreal experiences, finished off by a surreal boat ride in our homestay village.