26-Sep-2004 -- Having read about the Digital Confluence Project we (Joris Siermann, Douglas Sheil and Georg Buchholz) decided to search for one of the confluences closest to Bogor in Indonesia (where we live). Our goal was to reach the confluence 7 degree South and 107 east at a location in the south west of Sukabumi, West Java.
We headed of by car with little more than a tourist map of Java, a couple of battered looking GPS units, compass, an approximation of the location printed out by Joris, a few bags of nuts, and some confidence in our GPS and navigation kills. The distance from Bogor was indicated as 58 km South West.
We left Bogor around 8.00 on Sunday the 26 September. Traffic is normally bad if you head up to the main road (south towards the weekend congestion of the Puncak area) but we used a back road and after 45 minutes we hit the main road to the South coast. On the way we were unable to avoid the towns of Cicurug and Cibadak and their traffic (the norm here in Java).
We stopped at the road for a strong cup of coffee and proceeded down the main route east towards Sukabumi, where the navigation decisions had to be made. Based on our rough maps it looked like there was a road after Sukabumi heading south which might bring us close to the confluence. Since the map was in the scale of 1:2 000 000, even minor shifts in the printing accuracy could mislead us, but we decided to cross Sukabumi and look for a road heading South.
In the village of Sukaraja we headed South and then East, running for sometime along the north side of a minor railway line—this all fitted with the road we were looking for as seen on the tiny but remarkably accurate map. Finally we swung back south south west crossing the railway line. The area was one of pleasant irrigated rice fields and small villages. We knew we had to gain elevation. The estimated elevation according to the web site was 935 but we navigated steadily on around 600 m. Steep, plateau hills/mountains with precipitous sides and narrow gorges could be seen rising out of the irrigated rice fields ahead. The road climbed. Approaching the waypoint we noticed a forested hill (with a long ridge connecting it back to the larger massif that the road was transversing) and inferred that the point might be somewhere on its more distant far side.
We approached the hill from the east side and continued along this winding secondary road as it switched back and forth as it steadily led us up and towards the point. Our excitement grew, when we managed to reach the point up until only 500 meters by car. Parking the car at a bend in a wild looking plantation forest we set off by foot following a trail amongst the trees. By now we believed it was easy, a simple half kilometer walk in shady forest, and we’d be heading home.
The trail within the plantation followed the ridge: we were still heading nearly straight towards the confluence. While walking along the trail we noticed a group of long-tailed monkeys playing in the tree tops and rested to observe them for a while. But as we reached the distance of 250 m we noticed a sharp drop in front of us. Being in a forest with dense (often spiny) vegetation on the slopes, it was difficult to judge how much further we had to go or indeed how far we could go or what route was best. Nonetheless, our confidence continued to grow as the point grew ever nearer. We heard the distant rumble of waterfalls in the valley far below. At an opening we finally realized the reality: that if the point was still 200 m horizontally it must be some 100 m vertically meters below us, probably in the rice paddies we had glimpsed occasionally. The precipitous slopes made it impossible (suicidal) to descend directly, and we could see no easier circuitous routes. The added realization that we would have to climb all the way back even if we made it, persuaded us we should try to approach the point from below. This looked easy, though the walk might be quite long.
By now we felt we had a good understanding of the local terrain and our plan was that we “just” have to circumvent the hill and spur to the northeast and come around to and approach the point from the north side. We assumed, having driven up from the plains below, that the area we would need to walk in from would be rice field and thus rather easy. Coming back to the car we told our driver Yanto about the new plan. He just shook his head and kept politely silent.
We returned along the road and now took another similar quality road (not on our map) to the west. We passed the hill we needed to avoid well to the north of it and stopped by the river that appeared by our reckoning to head into the correct cleft amongst the hills where our goal lay. This was a small village, surrounded by narrow densely planted rice fields and a marvelously complex system of irrigation with water carried by a labyrinth of channels and bamboo pipes switching back and forth on the slopes above the river. The GPS indicated 1,5 km south west towards the point. The direction was pointing towards the mouth of the valley west of the hill from which we started the first attempt. The river itself wound back and forth in broad curves—we tried to follow these, cutting across some of the bends, and balancing on the narrow soil walls of the flooded fields. The river was shallow and easily crossed standing on stones or the irregular bamboo bridges that occurred every few hundred meters. Thus after a rather indirect walk along the narrow banks of the irregular rice paddies we found ourselves entering an increasingly narrow and rocky gorge. The GPS continued pointing up the stream. As the terrain became rougher dense forested slopes loomed closer forming an impressive leafy backdrop.
It rained for a few minutes, and we passed a few rather nervous looking local farmers who are presumably not used to groups of determined looking Europeans striding rapidly through their fields. “Where are you going?” they each would ask. Our answers “looking for mountains” or “just walking” seemed to reassure them somewhat, and a couple of them stopped us to shake hands.
After walking for a while along the stable path of a cemented irrigation channel hanging on the side of the valley, we reached a small dam. Climbing behind this we now moved down into the river bed itself as the gorge had narrowed to a steep sided gulley. The creek was small but filled with rushing water. The sound of water was the same as what we’d heard from above in the morning—but was now a deep roar. The terrain got more and more rugged, but the constant progress we were making encouraged us to proceed. We climbed over boulders, waded through deep water and constantly gained on elevation.
The last few hundred metes included scrambles up slimy boulders, vast block of loose rock, and small waterfalls. The sides of the valley were precipitous and there was no way around. There were moments where it appeared impossible to move on … but somehow we always found a route. This was not a walk for those of a nervous disposition—certainly not something to attempt alone. As it was, we ended up very wet, scratched, dirty and bitten by ants. Finally, we reached the confluence, which was (luckily considering the looming cliffs) sited exactly in the stream … right on the valley bottom. The creek had led us directly to our target.
After the mandatory pictures and a small snack, we headed back. We decided to climb up a scrambling route north up and out of the gorge (the side opposite to the ridge we had walked on earlier in the day). This seemed the only way to avoid those slippery boulders. After a few minutes holding onto the shrubs to haul ourselves up the extremely steep slopes we emerged into an area of rice paddies (maybe those that we had seen from top of the hill). Walking down amongst the open fields made us realize just how high we had climbed. Scenery was stunning. We could see the car sitting on the road 2 km North and several hundred meters below.
It took us another one and a half hour to reach the car. The decent was often steep, the landscape tumbles onto the plains below in a series of cliffs. We washed in a stream, and stopped for a soft-drink at a small kiosk—the norm it seems is to pour bottled drinks into a plastic bag so you can take them away. Finally we reached the road: time for another drink (seriously thirsty). The driver magically appeared with the car (foreigners get noticed here). We headed back to Bogor (stopping for another drink or three on the way). It was a good day out, and we are sure it will not be the last confluence we try to reach!