(Ali is currently on a plane returning from fieldwork in Indonesia, carried out as part of her PhD. Fieldwork involved collecting stalagmites from caves in Sulawesi to ship back to ANU for palaeoclimate analysis).
After months of planning, paperwork, bureaucracy, vaccinations, gear sorting, a crash course in bahasa Indonesia, applying for various visas, and booking all types of transportation… it happened. We made it to southwest Sulawesi, Indonesia for 3+ weeks of fieldwork. There are few ways to top research that places you in a lush, dramatic karst landscape, spattered with rice paddies, bamboo houses, and fluttering butterflies. Even Alfred Wallace found himself exploring this beautiful region, in search of that perfect butterfly and the key to evolution.
Westerners are not a common occurrence in southwest, Sulawesi. We made quite the spectacle everywhere we went, often towering a couple feet above the locals and covered in mud. We were ALWAYS greeted with a “hello mister” and asked to pose for countless photos. A little baffling and un-nerving at times, especially when asked for a photo opt when you’re washing your hair outside. It’s all in good-humour though and puts quite the spin on being a tourist.
The fieldwork itself was fantastically sweaty, smelly, and sodden with mud, guano, and very little blood. We worked hard trekking up steep jungle terrain, scrambling through caves, and hauling ridiculously heavy formations through all sorts of nooks and crannies. Awe, but we were rewarded with mouth-watering gastronomic Indonesian delights every morning and night. And, of course, with excellent material to bring back to the lab for SCIENCE!
The wonders of becoming personally acquainted with the raw materials of your profession! Whether you are a paleoclimatologist or a baker, there is a long and unique history behind that wiggly line, or raspberry muffin. I have gained the utmost respect for these ancient cave formations and the stories they have to tell. Fieldwork in Sulawesi was an unforgettable experience that I am lucky to have been able to share with such a great group of people. It may not have been easy or glamorous, but it undoubtedly was real. It brought me closer to my field and packs a whole different flavor of enthusiasm for my research project. It can be tough sitting in
front of a computer or laboratory machine day in and day out producing and fretting over endless amounts of data, reading and re-reading publications, trying to keep up and meet deadlines. Thankfully, this is only half of the story. Being able to go into the field and develop a relationship with the region I am studying and the people who live there is something that cannot be achieved in the lab and, for me, is an essential aspect of my project and where the passion for what I do is invigorated and expanded.