31-Aug-2008 -- We finally conquered Confluence 8N 1W on Sunday, 31 August, 2008 at 12:15 hrs, following an unsuccessful attempt some three weeks earlier. Unaccustomed to failure, the experience burned in our collective souls: reaching this Confluence was no longer an option: it had become an obsession.
We should have recognized the mortal danger in which we were placing ourselves by a number of signs: the granite skies, the swollen river, the hungry mud, the leeches, and the grass that cut like razorblades. But The Mission blinded us to reality. We were target focused - a mistake that could cost us all dearly.
Mustered on that morning was every one of the Boys of Borneo. There was the bull-necked Prussian Kel Bendeich who in real life specialized in Emergency Response where others did not want to go. He agreed to chase this Confluence to unwind after a harrowing month in the Democratic Republic of Congo where he had seen and done things you don't want to know about...
Also present was Ray Rutherford, 71 years of age but unwilling to admit it, known widely as Ghepetto because of his passion for carving wooden puppets and having a few tugs on the strings.
Also eager to hit the open road was the Toe-Cutter (aka Pat O'Brien) having taken the day off from his duty as a heavy equipment engineering trainer.
Our linguist and cultural interpreter, Ghanaian Joseph Dadzie, a well-known Mercedes driver who passed his dreary days as a Fire Chief, drove point in the Toyota convoy for the day.
Present and ever-vigilant was Dan Michaelsen, scientist and bard, as was high-flying (though neither a Borneo Veteran (nor a boy for that matter)) Anita Tarab. A well-known lawyer and environmental specialist, and new in Ghana but an old Africa hand, Dr. Anita had joined us fresh from the Tanzania frontier where she had completed manoeuvres only recently with a Gurkha mercenary security platoon.
Then there was the bad-ass youngster from Idaho by way of New Jersey. Commonly called "The Convict", this man would carve a trail that no one would forget.
Equally fresh in-country was Chuck Burns (Safety Specialist) and his adventurer wife Amy. The team was there and ready for the Mission.
The convoy of three Toyota Prados rolled away from the gates of Newmont's Ahafo gold mine (7°01.454'N 2°20.503'W) at 05:20 hrs. Ahead lay more than 300 kilometres of winding, un-maintained road, leading to the village of Adjahjah (8°01.565'N 0°56.571'W). Towns with names like Ntotroso, Sunyani, and Techiman flashed past in the early morning twilight. The trip was uneventful except for the lone woman, carelessly parading down the street in nothing but the skin god gave her. En route there was the occasional cluster of political party supporters marching, nay, tripping in their party-correct coloured tracksuits, to the sound of battered trumpets, trombones, and marching drums. Later that day conflict between opposing parties left a trail of mayhem, but we saw only white grins and high spirits when the convoy passed.
Shortly before midday the convoy rolled into the small collection of rude dwellings. Seeing the straw and mud construction, we glanced nervously over our shoulders for signs of the three little pigs and the big bad wolf. As drivers switched off ignitions of the Toyota convoy, an old man clad in clay-coloured shirt, pants, and sandals approached the lead vehicle. We had met him on the aborted mission three weeks earlier. "Please mister, do not cross the river today. The spirits have not been pacified!" he whined.
"She'll be right", the Prussian barked. "The Confluence is only 1.24 km ahead."
Ignoring all sensibilities, we pressed ahead. The river crossing was a logistics nightmare. Ghepetto, having spent two lifetimes "moving things" all over the world in the mining industry, stepped up to the plate. The traffic jam gradually subsided under his tutelage. On the river bank was the old, clay-coloured man, barking out the order "Enter" to everyone, ushering us into leaky wooden canoes of dubious seaworthiness. All the time we were eerily reminded of his warning earlier: "Don't go."
But our souls were ablaze. Oblivious to all consequences, we blundered into the riparian jungle. The humidity weighed like lead on our shoulders. Marching like ants through eight foot high elephant grass, suddenly we all felt collectively alone. The path broke from solid clay to ankle-deep black ooze. The trail continued to degenerate as the ooze turned to sloppy sedge-filled soup. Soon the group waded thigh-deep through the aquatic vegetation, oblivious to the malevolence that lay ahead.
"Let's go back, for the sake of the young ones", Ghepetto shouted. "None of us will survive."
"She'll be right", the Prussian roared, undeterred by Ghepetto's negativity. And the expedition stumbled deeper into the morass where the midday heat descended, not like a curtain as one would expect, but in pockets. As we penetrated the depths of this tropical hell, the air changed temperature dramatically. Ghepetto, who had survived a childhood in Ulster, Northern Ireland, whispered these words into my ear: "I can see a darkness". I shuddered at his prophetic insight. The tropical heat of midday was suddenly sub-zero. I was afraid...
Then our fortunes changed... for the worse.
For so many hours we trudged through this hostile environment. Gradually the mud deepened: inch by inch. Under the crispy frying tropical sun we persevered. The mud got deeper. Resolves dissolved. First there was thirst, then came pain. Suddenly, Dan the story-teller, sunk into the waist deep mud: "Anita", he screamed... "Don't let me die here."
"Get a grip, Princess", Anita retorted. Her lip curling up in disgust, then with lightning speed she slammed her cupped right hand across Dan's left ear, instantly bursting his eardrum. The hapless Dan recoiled in pain, and then regained composure. "Thanks, Anita. I needed that." He struggled for several minutes, and freed himself from the greedy mud.
As the sun passed the midday dome, a sense of urgency descended upon the group. Onwards we marched without the prejudice... On the trail a hypothetical conflict developed. "Livingstone, I presume", Ghepetto uttered to The Convict. A neophyte in the Great Continent of Africa, the Convict replied: "Say what." "So much for US education", Ghepetto mused.
From up ahead a cry went out: "710 metres to go." Like African hunting dogs the group picked up their ears. Giant grass gave way gradually to subsistence agriculture as we climbed off the flood plain onto a low plateau where more rude mud and straw shelters leaned at precarious angles. From within the shadows of the structures peered their taciturn inhabitants, too shy or frightened to greet or speak to us.
"Ninety meters to go", barked the Prussian. Palpable excitement surged through the string of thirsty and exhausted adventurers. The Toe-Cutter decided then to break out his ancient steam powered GPS.
"I haven't seen one of those since the war in Korea", Chuck said, barely concealing his envy. Armed with his museum piece, the Toe-Cutter set off on a path roughly perpendicular to the direction of the elusive confluence point. "Boys and girls, we have arrived", barked the Prussian. The exhausted expedition erupted in jubilation.
Ghepetto then reached into his knapsack and pulled out a bottle of chilled Dom Perignon, and casually ejected the cork towards the blistering African sky. He took a sip, then passed the bottle to the Prussian.
Mission accomplished! The search for Romance and Adventure was over.