01-Apr-2007 -- It was time for a much-needed break from the Middle East; a two-week holiday to the beautiful tropical island of Sri Lanka was the ideal way to get away from it all, and do a spot of confluence hunting to boot. When we arrived on 30 March, only two of the five land-based points on the island had successful visit reports on the DCP site. Of the remaining three, the northernmost point (9N 80E) is deep in an area controlled by the LTTE (the 'Tamil Tigers') and is on a beach that may well be riddled with land mines. Although usually up for a bit of an adventure, we decided to give that one a miss, and instead headed north from Negombo to the little-visited fishing port of Puttalam, from where we would make our attempt on 8N 80E.
After a splendid evening drinking Lion Beer and eating an impressive array of vegetable curries with rice in our very friendly guesthouse, we set off earlyish in the morning on April Fools' Day, driving east along the A12 - the road that arbitrarily marks the boundary between Sri Lankan Government- and LTTE-controlled areas. The Confluence lies about 18 km from Puttalam (just inside the Government area) and the route to get most of the way is simple: follow the A12 to just before Karuwalagaswewa, then turn right and drive to Murukkuwatawana. At the Buddhist shrine there, take the right fork and continue down the track until reaching a small grave on the right-hand side of the road. The grave is about 500 m from the point and lies next to a small footpath that took us into the forest to a distance of around 250 m from the target.
After that, the hard part began. The point could only be reached by our bashing through the close-packed foliage of the jungle, which consisted of sharp thorns, branches that lashed our skin, and almost no tracks. Big piles of dung served as evidence of large mammals having passed this way before, but there were no signs of human activity. At 100 m from the point, it was very tempting to stop and take the photos, but we carried on, bleeding from every limb and not knowing whether we could really force our way through the thick plants. But in the end we made it - almost. The point lies next to a thick 'clearing', and an unforgiving heap of thorny branches brought us to a halt at just 8 m away. I tried tentatively to get closer but, frankly, it just wasn't worth the candle (or more cuts) for an extra eight metres. In any case, the views are essentially the same from where we stopped: dense forest/jungle to the North, South and West, and a view of the less heavily wooded area to the East from whence we'd come. The area immediately by the point is not typical of the route we took, however, as the former is under tree cover and the latter consists of waist high thorny foliage.
Battered and bruised and scarred, we trudged slowly back to the path, getting lost a few times despite trying to follow the GPS, and generally having an even worse time of it than on the way into the jungle. Back at the car, we were filthy and bleeding, but euphoric at our first confluence success in Sri Lanka. A passing Sri Lankan cyclist stopped to stare at us until we drove off, but given the extraordinary sight we must have been, I'm sure I'd have done the same in his position too.
Back on the A12, and just a few kilometres from the point, lies the beautiful Tabbowa Wewa - an artificial lake - where we parked up and sat peacefully watching water buffalo and egrets, dwelling on our apparent insanity, and mourning the loss of Claire's sunglasses - the first confluence casualty of the trip.
The story continues at 7N 81E.
: Phil Boyle and Claire Halperin work at the British Embassies in Ṣan`ā' and Cairo, respectively. This visit to Sri Lanka is the first confluence foray outside of Yemen for both of them.