14-Feb-2004 -- Sam Robinson (New Zealand), Conceição Alonso (Portugal)
Frank Macha (Tanzania), Rosalino Ximenix (East Timor)
Sam mentions a plan to conquer the Confluence Point (CP) to Timorese work colleagues. Their reaction is universal: “It’s on the Indonesian border – and armed militias are still active!” And indeed, the CP is off the road less than 5 kilometres from a border being patrolled by United Nations peacekeeping forces. The other side of the border has the UN’s highest risk rating, basically a no go area. Sam checks with UN Security and finds out that while the visit should be safe – militarily – there’s a possibility that the road from Díli may be washed out so we might not get there at all. The man helpfully provides a radio call sign and a phone number should we get into trouble. Nonetheless, two international colleagues are keen to join.
We depart from Dili at 5.30 a.m. The road is clear so we go as far as we can, stopping off the main road in a tiny village called Maudekur (8°58.9’S 124°59.8’E) 115 km away, in a little under 2½ hours. We follow a path heading in the right direction.
We soon reach a stream coming from the direction of the CP, and follow it upwards. The remaining kilometres rapidly reduce to metres (about 900) but then the GPS countdown starts slowing dramatically. We soon reach a point where the remaining distance to the CP has been stuck at 800m for long enough, and the navigation arrow on the GPS has started swinging sharply to the right. The explanation is simple: the CP is up the hill in the jungle. It wasn’t. To cut a long story short, we’d taken the wrong stream, so it was up and over 4 hills through thick tropical jungle, one hill taking us merely 200m down the same stream.
We’re about to start a prickly and muddy descent into stream number four, when Rosalino Ximenix, a local resident, appears from the jungle. A common language is found, formalities are completed, and he asks what we are doing. He saw our footprints down in the village, and can’t understand why we didn’t take the relatively straightforward route to where we are now. He is not only sufficiently educated to understand “satellites” and “sort of international game” (our earlier explanations in the village using geographic concepts having totally failed) but is keen to be part of the final assault. He guides us to a fourth (third) stream-bed, and we head uphill. The countdown on the GPS is at last moving decisively.
We arrive at a delightful spot in the stream bed heavily shaded with trees, and beside a pool in the stream is a small sandy beach that is indeed our precise destination. By some miracle the GPS is actually working in the ravine under the trees, and the statutory photo is quickly taken before the GPS changes its mind. The GPS accuracy is 12 metres. We’re at an elevation of 148 metres, and it’s just after 11 a.m.
The other pictures are taken. The “general area” picture is deferred, because the general area is filled with tired people – the photographer intends to grab the shot as we leave, but forgets. An excuse to return?
Rosalino advises us not to return by the route we came, but rather to simply follow the river down to where we left the car. We need no persuading, that route is relatively straightforward.
A light lunch, a putting right of the consensus that has apparently developed in the village during the morning that we are from a bottled water company seeking ever purer sources, and we’re on the road home.