Tips for Confluencers
- Make your first confluence visit in a foreign country, it will be
- ... a country where you don't speak the predominant languages.
- ... and where you don't know the laws.
- ... and where you do not remotely look like a local.
- You can make do well enough with the Garmin MapSource WorldMap,
even if it does not have the most thorough data for the region you'll
be in. Good maps are overrated, that's why you have a GPS!
- Don't bother packing a magnetic compass, they're overrated too.
That's why you have a GPS!
- Other tools that might be useful depending on the area of your
confluence, like machetes, gaiters, ropes, snowshoes and so on, should
also be left at home. Attaining a confluence should be a real mark of
adventure, not something any simp with the proper equipment could do.
- Don't bother with any special clothing, it is such a hassle.
Business casual will be fine.
- If you are traveling with a companion, there's no need to make
sure someone else knows where you're going or when you expect to be
back, because the chances that both of you could end up in trouble are
- Make sure you have plenty of other work to attend to before
leaving on your trip, this will help make you leave later than you
originally plan and thereby add another exciting component to the journey.
- When you finally do get on the road, try to do it as rush hour is
- ... in a city with lots of new road construction, such that even a
recent map printed within the country is already obsolete.
- ... and in a country that has a somewhat lackadaisical attitude
toward road signs.
- ... and when you escape the city, eschew the expressway and spend
as much time as possible on the twisty, narrow, mountainous road that
goes to the same place.
- If possible, kill an animal during your trip. This sacrifice
will please the gods, bringing favor to your voyage.
- Assuming all the delays have been well-timed, you should be
arriving in the area of the confluence just before sunset. Rather
than clearly being too late to try, this will provide yet another
element of excitement as you can race the fading light to make it to
- Squander good photo opportunities that present themselves while
there is still daylight. It is crucial that you stay focused on the
confluence at all costs.
- Leave your torch (flashlight) in the car and plunge forward
in a thrilling rush to reach the magic spot. If the spot is in a
jungle, forest, swamp or other difficult terrain, so much the better!
Think of the stories that will be told of your adventure (either by
you or by those who mourn you).
- When your companion says, "I forgot to mention that it gets dark
quickly around here," reply, "We should probably just go back." When
he then says, "But we're so close, we can't have come this far to stop
now!" readily abandon your position and press forward.
- Once you have either reached the confluence or declared it
unobtainable for the trip, the fun doesn't have to be over! If
possible, find an even more difficult route back to your vehicle.
Bonus points are awarded for how wet, scratched, battered and bruised
you can get yourself.
- Out in the middle of nowhere would be the perfect spot to lose
things, to be found and wondered about as historical treasures by
people far in the future. Don't bother with token artifacts like
sunglasses or spare change or such, rather make it something
meaningful like prescription glasses or car keys or your passport.
- When you finally return to the vehicle, have the person who
is least familiar with driving in the area drive back along the
dark, twisty, rural roads. All the better if this is the first time
he has driven in a country which uses the opposite side of the road
from his home country.
- Get lost on the way back, too! Never let life stop being about
How I was supposed to know it was that Satan?
As you are probably properly inferring right now, James Seng and I
managed to do every one of the things on the list.
James is a Malay who lives in Singapore, and he drove his car up to
Kuala Lumpur so we could use it to go to the confluence. We were both
in town for the APRICOT conference for the week, and we picked one day
where we both had no specific appointments for the afternoon to go on
our adventure. James and I left our hotel in Kuala Lumpur around 3pm,
about three hours later than we had originally intended.
Of the four closest confluences to Kuala Lumpur, N3 E101 is in the
ocean, N3 E102 appears (from looking at lousy maps) to be quite far
from any road, N4 E101 is in the middle of a river, and N4 E102 is
quite close to a primary road. We chose the last, 98km (61 miles)
northeast of Kuala Lumpur.
That's 98km if you're a crow. It added up to nearly 200km by the time
we made it there, between the seemingly random driving involved in
trying to get out of Kuala Lumpur at rush hour and then following the
curvy, rural, mountain roads that we used most of the way there.
Traffic was horrible most of the way, too, and we were frequently
stuck behind slow moving vehicles.
Sadly, soon after leaving Kuala Lumpur, a cat darted from the side of
the road directly into the path of the car. Despite emergency
braking, it was just too close and was hit squarely. As both of us
are cat lovers and I am even a vegetarian, this troubled us for quite
some time afterward. There was just no way it could have been avoided
With sunset rapidly approaching, we didn't stop for any of several
interesting scenes along the way; not for the mountain vistas or for
the monkeys I really wanted to try to photograph. It was about 7pm as
we arrived in the area of the confluence, 25 minutes before sunset.
We followed the road to its closest approach with the target, some
260m (853') southeast.
As several houses were built alongside the road here, we walked back
westerly on the road's shoulder looking for a spot where we could
enter the jungle without going through people's yards. The houses
gave way to a steep hill, which finally sloped down enough for us to
head in at about 330m (1082') from the confluence.
At this point there was still a fair bit of light so I was optimistic
that we would be able to make it and get some photos. As we walked up
a slope through a grove of rubber trees that were being tapped,
monkeys high up in the branches scattered at our approach. On the
other side of the grove, a brook trickled down from the northeast,
flowing into a very large swampy area to the west. The foliage became
much thicker as we pushed our way northeast looking for a place to cross.
The jungle on the other side of the brook was clearly much thicker and
darker, yet when we found a place to cross to it without getting too
wet, we kept going inward. This was when we first experienced the
plants with large thorns all along their stalks; they make terrible
In the jungle the GPS signal got poorer and poorer, and our
positioning error was probably quite high. We still relentlessly
followed the directional arrow, making as best a straight line as
possible for the confluence. I busted through the foliage as James,
wearing Birkenstock-like sandals, followed behind. At one point, the
GPS indicated we were only 50m (164') away. Continuing to follow the
directional arrow was moving us further away (no doubt due to the poor
signal), the foliage was becoming incredibly dense, and it was clearly
dark enough that there was no hope of remotely useful scenery
photographs once we got there, so we finally stopped to rest. We took
a few pictures of the GPS and each other, then started back for the
The heat and humidity was really draining me, and
my partially paralyzed leg was constantly getting stuck on plants
as we stumbled near blindly through the dark. The GPS finally decided
it had no signal at all and quit providing information, so we headed
in the direction of the Moslem prayer music coming from the mosque in
the small community nearby. A faint glow of lights could be seen from
near the road. They were about as faint as the glow of the GPS and a
cell phone we were using as our only available light sources.
We came back too far west, and it was clear even in the dark that we
had reached the wide part of the swamp. We headed east along its
perimeter until we got to the spot we thought we had crossed at
earlier. We would soon discover that this was still too far west, as
we slogged our way through the swamp, sinking at points up to our
knees. James lost one of his sandals at least once, and ultimately
lost his spectacles. I lost a nice business card holder I got in
Taipei, along with several new contacts within it.
Leeches, spiders and snakes were on our mind and we both wanted to get
out of the swamp as quickly as possible. I could discern the rubber
tree hill in the dim light and headed for that. It was a bit of a
relief to be just two steps away from it, but one of those steps sunk
me in muck up to my groin. When I finally extricated myself, we both
leapt across the troublesome mire onto the firm bank of the hill.
I was sweaty, exhausted and starting to feel nauseous. James was
starting to feel very concerned that we might be stuck in the jungle,
a feeling heightened by having terrible night vision without his
spectacles. He could not even take comfort in the lights I could see
by the road.
We struggled up the hillside and across it toward the road; I wanted
to stop fairly frequently because of my physical condition, and James
wanted to press onward as much as possible because of his emotional
condition. We finally made it to the roadside, managed a couple of
snapshots of the bedraggled adventurers under a street light, and
trod back to the car.
Because of James's lack of night vision, I ended up having to drive
back in his car. Driving on the left side of the road, as opposed to
my native right, presented less of a problem than I expected it to,
and I even quickly adapted to the windshield and headlight controls
being reversed. The biggest challenge was that my bad leg makes it
very difficult to operate a clutch, but even that was accomplished.
The only mishap was when I got too close to the side of a concrete
bridge and gave the car a good solid jolt, but James swears to me that
the car is fine.
At 10pm we stopped at some relatively large town where James could get
cell phone reception, so that he could call in on a conference call he
was supposed to attend. We did a leech check, and after his call we
finally got back on the road as 11pm approached.
At Bentong we were able to get on the expressway that led back to
Kuala Lumpur. There was a tense moment for me as we approached some
sort of police checkpoint. Was my license to drive valid in
Malaysia? What will they think of how filthy I am? Or of James
sitting in his skivvies? What if the language barrier becomes a
significant problem? A myriad of thoughts raced through my head as I
approached ... and the officer waved me through with barely a glance.
We made it back to Kuala Lumpur in far better time than we made it
out, but then repeated the whole experience of getting lost on the
city streets. The map was helpful, but not enough, and augmented with
the GPS we headed down many tertiary streets through residential
neighborhoods and apartment complexes that kept getting us closer to
the hotel but at a frustrating pace. Finally, after I stumbled
through a conversation with a gas station attendant, I got on the
right path to the expressway that went nearly straight to the hotel.
10 minutes later we dragged our disheveled, slimy, sorry-looking
carcasses into the lobby of the very fancy hotel where we were
staying, smiled weakly at the hotel staff, and headed for bed.
This seems like it happened so long ago, even though I am writing the
account just three months after the attempt. Since that time, I have
successfully visited 12 other confluences in various parts of the
world without nearly so much drama. What a fascinating three months
it has been. My successful visits are not yet posted to the Degree
Confluence Project web site because I have not yet written the narratives,
but you can see pictures of them at my web site.