01-Jan-2004 -- The giant 12th century Buddha statues of Gal Vihara (in Polonnaruwa) are just 4 kilometers away from this confluence. I had looked up all the confluences in South India and Sri Lanka before we left, and this one was the closest to a site we'd be going to anyway, so I made it a goal for the vacation. We finished our sightseeing by noon or so, and tried to explain it to the driver. Usually it's much easier to say "we need to go 4 more kilometers down this road" than to try and explain latitude and longitude. I have a hard enough time explaining my degree confluence obsession to me natively-English-speaking friends. But we talked him into it, and he got us really close. Within 800 meters.
We had to turn off the main road, and go down a dirt tractor path, but as soon as the road got too small for the van, we told him to park in the shade and we'd walk from there. Easy-peasy. Less than 800 meters to walk, nice big tractor path, and beautiful rice fields filled with green plants, egrets, herons, and red-wattled lapwings. Then about 600 meters later we hit a river. The last person to visit the confluence (David Williams, visit #1)also went the way we did -- I thought we accounted for his river experience and had gone around to the other side. Dagnabbit!
OK, so we weighed our options. Go back to the van, and tell the driver to find a way to the other side of the river? (That’s what David did.) Cross the river somehow? Tricia convinced us to cross the river. We were only 200 meters from the confluence, and it would be silly to give up -- not to mention the driver might not be willing to go around, especially since he didn't know why we were going or we were trying to get to. So we looked for a way across.
There were quite a few trees on the river bank. In fact, it was overgrown jungle forest with liana vines and bamboo and all kinds of awful flora preventing our crossing, but there were a few trees that were climbable. I weighed three options -- two involved climbing very high in a tree, then crossing over to another tree that got near it, and climbing down the other one. The third option was to shimmy hand-over-hand across a thin tree that was semi-falling into the water. It got baseball-bat thin at the point where we could grab it, and was maybe 10 inches in diameter at the trunk. In between, it went from the base of the water across -- about 15 feet of water we had to cross. It was a pretty flexible tree -- good chance that it would bend down enough that we were shimmying with our feet dangling in the water. Even with our feet AND hands on the trunk, we still might be dipping our butts in. Nevertheless, that's the path we chose.
I went first. Good thing, too, because Dave had to climb through the mud I left behind on the trunk. I went hand-over-hand as far as I could go while still standing on the land, then swung my feet up in one big jump. Then I locked my knees around the branch and inched my way down it to the trunk, swung around upright towards the end and hopped off on the other side. I dug through the brambles enough to make sure there wasn’t a second impassable river or anything horrible, then told Dave he could come across. Tricia went back to wait in the van with her book. She enjoys confluence-hunting, but doesn’t quite have the obsessive drive that I do. Can’t blame her. Dave made it across no problem. We bushwhacked through to the other side and came out in more rice fields. These didn't have a nice tractor road going through them, so we had to balance carefully on the narrow mud dikes between the paddies. We went another 50 meters or so before one of the dikes squished under my feet and I went ankle-deep in mud. (At least I hope it was mud. I washed my sandals twice and they still smell. Maybe it was buffalo fertilizer.)
That’s when Dave decided he needed to wait near the crossing to provide a point of reference for me. No problem -- I kept going, and kept squishing through. I only really sunk in deep a few times, but one is all you need to get completely muddy. At least I didn't fall completely on my butt into the water. Some kids in the distance saw us and tried to get closer. They were scared though -- rural village kids usually are scared for a while, until they get enough friends together to get closer.
Finally, I got within 50 meters of the confluence point. There was enough cloud coverage overhead that my accuracy was jumping from 10 to 14 meters, and so the direction I was supposed to travel in kept switching on me. I decided to declare victory and leave. I took the obligatory photos, packed up, and weighed my options. From here I could see a nice big paved road, closer to me than Dave was. I could get to it, hitch a ride back to where we had parked (somehow?) and then hope that Dave figured out what was going on. He was too far away to call to, and he wouldn’t have started following me, even if he saw me make it to the road. So I decided to balance-beam my way back to Dave. We still had to shimmy back across the river -- this time Dave went first. The second river crossing was probably safer than hitching a ride from one unknown point to another without being able to speak the language. By now, the village kids were watching intently, and were up next to me on the riverbank. Dave and I both told them Happy New Year. They asked me a question which (since I know zero Sinhalese, but judging from the hand motions) must have been "it's so much easier to swim across the river, why is he hanging from the branch like that?" I just smiled. They thought it was hysterical to watch us swinging like monkeys across the river. We got back to the car a few minutes later, drenched in sweat and covered knee-down in smelly mud. The whole village was gathered around the van, chatting with Tricia and the driver. We waved to them, drove off, and headed back to the hotel.