Confluence hunters have climbed rugged peaks in the wilds of northern Canada, skied lengthwise across Greenland, offroaded hundreds of kilometers into the scorched wastes of the Empty Quarter, and hacked their way with machetes into the pestilent jungles of Africa. Inspired by such devotion to an ideal, we decided to pay tribute with a selfless sacrifice of our own, and stroll down one of world's most beautiful beaches for about half an hour.
Our location: the Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India, geographically closer to Thailand than the mainland. While there are five confluences scattered all around this vast and largely inaccessible archipelago, by sheer amazing coincidence, the only land confluence is located on Havelock Island, one of the few islands open to tourists and the site of Radhanagar Beach, dubbed the best in Asia by TIME magazine. Getting here still involves first finding your way to either Chennai (Madras) or Kolkata (Calcutta), taking the two-hour flight over to Port Blair, acquiring your Restricted Area Permit (just a formality for the main islands though), and finally a choppy two-to-four hour crossing on a spartan ferry across to Havelock itself.
April 15, 2009
At 9 AM we set off from our base camp at Island Vinnie's Tropical Cabanas. Navigator PATOKALLIO was equipped with a magic rod of divination ("Nokia 6110 Navigator"), an American-style modified pith helmet ("baseball cap"), a cotton-based four-limb sunlight exposure protection system ("T-shirt and shorts") plus strap-on vulcanized artificial soles ("flip-flops"), while zoologist TAKEDA had prepared ocular UV filters ("sunglasses"), a bipartite amphibious suit ("bikini") and an all-purpose protective garment ("sarong").
The first three kilometers from c. 12.02666°N 93.00400°E southwards were straight down the beach, occasionally clambering over mangrove roots and passing by the base camps ("holiday resorts") of other intrepid travelers. Zoologist TAKEDA kept a sharp eye out for mollusks and crustaceans, especially species of superfamily Paguroidea ("hermit crabs") that qualified as sufficiently kawaii ("cute") to merit extra attention. At one point, several specimen of Oxudercinae ("mudskippers") were sighted jumping about the surf.
Eventually, at around 12.00417°N 93.00677°E, with 800 m remaining to the confluence, the beach and the coastal road came together and then swerved off towards the east ("wrong") direction, with a bridge crossing a small and unnavigable river. Clearly inspired by the awesome powers of the confluence, islanders had set up a few native dwellings here, and a large forest path set off towards the west ("right"). The path started with a steep, muddy climb and then splintered off into various directions. Guided by our magic rod of divination, we followed some track until about 400 meters towards the confluence (12.00016°N 93.00366°E), before calling an emergency council and regrettably but unanimously aborting the mission. While the decision was painful, we could not ignore the facts that a) flip-flops provide limited traction on mud and suboptimal protection against columns of Solenopsis ("fire ants") such as those spotted on PATOKALLIO's foot; that b) the magic rod of divination was down to two blips of battery reserve; and c) that it was high noon by now and pretty darn hot in there. Crushed with defeat, we retreated to the beach and walked back, fine white sand between our toes and palm trees waving in the breeze, occasionally pausing to drown our sorrows in the warm, salty embrace of the Andaman Sea.
April 18, 2009
A 6:30 AM wake-up call, a pre-monsoon dry spell and the last day of our expedition to the Andamans: time for our second and final attempt. Thorough preparation was made this time: not only was care taken to wear long pants, socks and actual shoes, but zoologist TAKEDA reminded the team of the importance of eating a healthy breakfast and bringing along sufficient quantities of water. This time, the exploratory team was augmented by the presence of engineer SANJIT, whose eco-friendly three-wheeled group mobility device ("autorickshaw") was used to propel the assault squad past the treacherously inviting beaches directly to the trailhead.
Our initial angle of attack was to return to the previous 400 m spot and continue onward, but several scouting missions were all fruitlessly terminated by the river with under 100 meters of progress made. Exploiting his vast knowledge of the terrain, engineer SANJIT suggested backtracking and striking laterally out, through which means we were able to able to reach a fordable fork in the river. Initial exploration by walking along a river branch proved excessively slippery, so we opted to scramble up the opposite side and try out luck with a nascent trail there. Zoologist TAKEDA noted the presence of the trail of large quantities of fresh pachyderm excreta ("elephant poop"), but we determinedly plunged forward nonetheless. With 200 m remaining, the trail came to a fork, but the initially attempted left branch led back to the river. We retraced our steps and took the right branch, which -- finally! -- veered towards the confluence like an arrow: 200, 150, 100 meters! We reached 12.00053°N 93.00040°E at 03:35:22 18/04/2009 UTC, and with approximately 73 meters remaining to the confluence (7 satellites in view, accuracy 17 m), we deemed ourselves close enough and planted a stick in the ground to mark our achievement. Despite the comparatively high elevation of the point (10 m?), the GPS gave an altitude reading of "zero", and views in all four cardinal directions consisted of "jungle".
It was time to retrace our steps, but the fearsome forces of Mother Nature were not done with us yet. While negotiating her way over a particularly sticky patch of elephant poop, zoologist TAKEDA was grievously wounded by thorny brambles, one of the spikes digging deep enough to almost (but not quite) draw blood. Shaken by this near-death experience, we withdrew post-haste to base camp, where mugs of freshly squeezed lemon soda were raised in celebration and engineer SANJIT was awarded 500 Rupees (10 US-$/7.65 €) for his valiant efforts in shepherding two obviously clinically insane firangis. For the record, though, engineer SANJIT wishes to make it known that he may be available to assist others suffering from the same malady, and can be reached at tel. +91-94-74278303 or +91-99-33234884.