Goats, Hares, Hounds, and Water Buffalo!

Oh, wow, that was fun! St. Patrick’s day can be so much fun if you’re with the right group of Irish, semi-Irish, or pretend Irish friends! And tonight was one of those nights. But alas, the blog beckons, so here I am, back at the keyboard. And it’s all good.

It’s been over a week now, and we are no closer to finding Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 than we were at the start. There’s no SOS call, no emergency beacon signal to track, just some radar tracking by Malaysian military and some obscure handshake data forwarded by satellite that gives us the faintest of clues about where the plane was last located. But those pieces of data suggest that the plane may have flown over the Indonesian island of Sumatra and headed into the Indian Ocean. Well, if you know me, you know that’s all I need to segue into some old images from the archives that I took while in Sumatra!

A couple of weeks ago we talked about the early days of my first trip to work for Mobil Oil in the late 80s in a piece called You Can’t Trust These People. If you missed it, I recommend you go back and check it out for the interesting bit of human interest I discovered while working there.

Aceh has never really wanted to be a part of Indonesia, so stories of battles between Aceh separatists and government forces were common. I personally never saw any of that, but it was out there. There was always pressure from the corrupt Indonesian government, too. We were told about the time that the son or son-in-law of President Suharto sent troops with machine guns into the field office there to explain that Mobil would be buying disk drives from his company rather than the company currently providing cheaper and more reliable units. And if you ever wanted to get equipment into the country, you’d better have some bribe money for the customs officials, or it wasn’t going to happen. Good times.

So what does it look like in Aceh Utara, or North Aceh (at jey), the northernmost province of Sumatra? The country is beautiful, with rice patties and lush green palm trees everywhere.

Rice farm in North Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia

Rice farm in North Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia

There wasn’t much to do on the weekends, so I soon discovered the popular pastime called hashing. Hashing was invented in 1938 in Malaysia by a group of bored British expats who noticed that the countryside was as challenging as it was lush and beautiful, and thus would make a great place to have a game involving trail running with a not-so-well defined trail through the jungle. Oh, and, there would be beer!

Searching for the Trail, North Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia

A group of hashers searches for the trail, in North Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia.

Here’s how it worked. One or several members (the “hares”) were selected to go out early and lay a trail in the jungle. Different markers were used, but we used scraps of shredded office paper. It was perfectly acceptable to include false trails and broken trails in the process. Then, the rest of the runners, or the “hounds”, would attempt to follow the trail. If someone picked up the real trail after one of these diversions, he would yell “On on!”, and we’d all head off in that direction on the real trail again.

At the end of the trail was the beer truck, but first there was the ceremony, and this part was very serious. First timers would have to do a “down down” (chug a beer on their knees) while ice chests of cold water were poured down their backs. Fifth, tenth, etc. timers would go through the same process, except that ice was added to the water. Remember, we’d just been running through an equatorial jungle, so that water was COLD!. For this to work, the record keeping had to be meticulous, and it was. There was even a scribe assigned each week to record any unusual events. And there were always unusual events.

Pipeline Road, North Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia

Pipeline Road was built over the gas pipeline between Bachelor Camp and Arun Field, partly to discourage any unauthorized tampering with the pipeline, in North Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia.

On one run, there were a couple of small boys running near me, and some local village girls must have thought they’d make fun playmates or something, so they grabbed them and started running off with them. I assisted in the “rescue”, and we continued the run. Of course when this was written up in the weekly newsletter, it had me offering myself to the girls in exchange for the return of the little boys, and the group of girls tossing me unceremoniously back on the trail, face first. So good fun trumped accuracy from time to time!

Rice Paddy and Water Buffalo, North Sumatra, Indonesia

A farmer plows a rice paddy with his trusty water buffalo, in North Sumatra, Indonesia.

Another time I was running through the jungle and rounded a corner, only to come face to face with a huge water buffalo (and really, what other kind is there?), and his master. This water buffalo, which probably weighed over 1000 pounds, had a rope about an inch thick around his neck, and on the other end of this rope was a frail little Indonesian man who probably couldn’t hit the century mark on a scale. I would have busted out laughing if it had not been for the expression on the beast’s face. Suffice it to say he was not pleased. The water buffalo is to an Indonesian family what a dog is in our culture. They are extremely loyal and obedient, and very protective of their peeps. Well, I had stopped dead in my tracks, so I just gently eased around the behemoth and went on my way, and somehow lived to run another day.

Bachelor Camp, Arun Field, Sumatra, Indonesia

Bachelor Camp, Arun Field, Sumatra, Indonesia

The first time I visited, I was privileged to stay in the manager’s five bedroom house while he vacationed for a month back in The States, but after that it was Bachelor Camp for me. Bachelor Camp was essentially a motel for non-family contractors working at either the gas plant or the gas field, and while nothing fancy, it was certainly adequate. We had a single bed and nightstand, a desk and chair, a telephone, and a private bath. Common area facilities included a bar, a movie room, and an industrial sized grill, suitable for roasting an entire goat. So that’s exactly what we did. Every Thursday night we had a BBQ including whole goat, hamburgers, and hot dogs. I’m not sure where they found the goats, but I have a pretty good idea.

Goat eating the landscaping at Bachelor Camp, Arun Field, Sumatra

Goat eating the landscaping at Bachelor Camp, Arun Field, Sumatra

Well, that’s it for this week. Hopefully by the next time I write we’ll know what happened to that missing plane. But I don’t know – something tells me we may never find it. We’ll see.

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2 Responses to “Goats, Hares, Hounds, and Water Buffalo!”

  1. John says:

    Love the ‘Hasher’ reflections… Good call Ed!

  2. Catherine says: