For the past several days (actually it has been a several week lapse, but for the sake of the blog continuation, I will pretend. Please forgive me) I have been out in the rice fields, shooting b-roll and taking photographs of farmers, brown plant hoppers, and irrigation. Indonesia has had a lot of problems with climate change (insert political opinion here) causing an excess of rain and dry periods of extreme heat. Because of this, there has been a mass ‘infestation’ of the brown plant hopper, which is an insect that has destroyed rice fields across the country. Unfortunately, the insect itself isn’t the main problem. The insect spreads a virus into the plants that can then spread to other fields, even effect next year’s crop. So pesticide is ineffective. And if you have seen the landscape of Indonesia, a large part of it is rice fields, so you can see why it would be a big problem. Luckily, the Rice Research Center in West Java, where I spent alot of time, is working on solutions.
It was very humbling going into fields where farmers were harvesting rice, seeing groups of people stripping the last of the rice from the already harvested plants, in order to get every last grain from that harvest. The grains missed during harvest are hand picked then placed in large plastics sacks which are filled then sold to a middleman for approximately .35 cents (3,000 rupiah). We watched a group of farmers using a thresher which separates the grains of rice from the plant stalk, then a farmer would fill a bag, another would sew it up, and another would throw it onto his shoulder and carry it back across the field to an area by the road.
Currently (again pretending) we are 2 hours outside of Jakarta, in West Java. We being my guide, Yanti, and our driver, Ade (pronounced Adee). After the first day in the field, we spent the night at the Rice Research Center, in their guest house. It was a nice little house right in the rice fields, with a little garden out back and breakfast in the morning.
At the end of the second day in West Java, we stopped at a drive through safari which was AMAZING! Driving up to the entrance, there were people on the roadside with little stands selling bunches of carrots, to feed the animals. We bought three giant bunches, and laid the seats in the SUV/car down so we could shift from window to window with ease. I didn’t know what to expect at first, never having been to any safari much less a drive through one. As we entered the gates, llamas wandered up to the car. We wrestled a couple carrots out of the bunches, and as we held them out the window one of the llamas shoved its entire head into the window. We shrieked and flung ourselves to the other side of the car as Ade slowly rolled up the windows. We proceed.
My favorite part of the whole safari was the otters. We drive up to a little water hole with a waterfall, and a group of about 6 otters are splashing and playing in the water. As I lean out of the window to take a video, they spy the car and all of a sudden leap up onto the rock begging for food.
Side Note: (I don’t think otters eat carrots?)
There was a section for dangerous animals, and there were several gates the car went through that had to close before the car could proceed. You weren’t able to open the windows or doors (obviously). The ‘dangerous animals section’ was set up like ruined temples, and it was awesome to see the lions and tigers stretched out on these ‘ruins’.
At the end of that part, there was a section where you could ride an elephant around the park. Unfortunately, it was closed, but thanks to Yanti who told them I was a foreigner and unlikely to come back, they let us ride. We rode off on our elephant in front of a line of children waiting to ride. Life’s first lesson guys, life isn’t fair.
While we were riding the elephant, we passed an area of fallen down tree logs where there were these smallish sort of bears with long claws. Keep in mind there are no fences. All of a sudden, as we were passing by, the bears started to get into a fight with each other, slashing claws and roaring. Luckily, the elephant ambled on by and walked down these enormous stone steps into a deep pool of water. Of course, Yanti and I were shrieking and clinging to each other as the elephant rocked back and forth down the steps and out of the pool.
Next, there was a walking section where you could choose to sit with a leopard, a lion, or a chimpanzee.
Side Note: (I know there are people who think chimps are so cute, and look like people, whatever. Let me give my opinion here, and say I think they are one of the ugliest things I have ever seen. I’ve never liked them at the zoo, on TV nature programs, postcards, whatever. But seeing this one in person as it pissed all over every single person that tried to hold it, affirmed my belief more than ever that these things are gross, and should be held at more than arm’s length. Much less having to pay to touch it.)
We ate dinner at this amazing restaurant high up on the mountain, overlooking a valley. The restaurant was decorated with globes of light, and was open-air and beautiful. Yanti bought me two different kinds of tea as a gift. (It was delicious).
We dropped Yanti off on the way back to Jakarta, and I got to see pictures of her son, Ganesha, her husband, and she gave me even more gifts, including a new wallet and a cool mat for a laptop. I had such an amazing time I was sad to leave. Ade dropped me off at the hotel and we gave each other our info to find one another on Facebook.
The next day was the workshop I was there for, so I got up early to get the equipment together and meet the video company we hired. I was panicking around 7 AM as there was no sign of the company and they told me they would be there at 6. Finally, they arrived, got setup, and everything was on its way. There were some panic moments when they decided they wanted a photographer on the spot and we hadn’t hired one, so I let one of the video crew use my camera and he took the photos (thank god!) I was sequestered in another “video editing room” that was freezing! There I edited the video while two members of the video team would provide me files off their camera P2 cards, so by the end of the day/event, all the files would be edited and privately posted on YouTube. Then, the web team in DC (Melanie, who is awesome) comes in and tags all the video, then posts them on our website. It’s a great process, and this way, even though we might be on the other side of the world, video from the event is available less than hours after it was taken. The event was great, the video company great (called Crayon, in case anyone needs a company in Indonesia), and I stayed up late copying files and uploading video. Which I thoroughly enjoyed.
First thing the next morning, I had all my equipment ready again for a field trip with the Board members to travel out to the very place I been with Yanti and Ade at the beginning of the week: the Rice Research Center in West Java. We traveled by bus the two hour journey, then made a tour around the facility, which ended with lunch by a large pond. There was a large canopy, with a local ‘band’ with a woman singing. I was photographing the singer when one member of our group, who is Indonesian, grabbed me and started dancing with me Balinese style.
Reminder ( This dance was in front of several of my bosses, and all of our board members. But I will not lie and say I did not have a good time. )
When we prepared to leave, and everyone had boarded the bus, I was still saying goodbye to all the staff at the Rice Research Center. It is always sad when you meet such a great group of people and all too soon, it’s time to say goodbye, and you leave knowing you might never see these people again.
On the way back, we experienced first hand the awful traffic in Jakarta. A two hour bus drive became a 7-1/2 hour bus ride. There was never a specific cause (to us it seemed anyway), the traffic just didn’t move. At one point, several people got out to walk. When we finally arrived back at the hotel, it was late, and I had to pack everything up to leave first thing the next morning for Bali.