10-Dec-2003 -- We had a special day. We were 4 persons: Leon Geffen, Philip Myers, Herschel Miller and Gilad Stern. We set out from Cape Town at 5.00am on Wednesday 10th December 2003 with a sense of excitement, tinged with the anxiety that someone else might beat us to the Confluence. We even joked about a group of people hiring a helicopter, flying in, landing on the Confluence, taking the digital photos, and flying back whilst one of the group, laptop in hand, entered a successful visit onto the confluence website, before we'd even filled up for the first time for fuel!
Leon drove us out of Cape Town and up the N7, a road which at its furthest point north meets up with the Namibian border. The early morning was calm and warm, and despite the sense of excitement, Gilad managed to snooze along the way. When he awoke, he was disappointed to find that he had missed out on seeing the small town of Citrusdal – never mind, we told him, you'll see it on the way back. On the return journey he snoozed again, and missed it again! But on we travelled, past row upon row of citrus trees, on past Clanwilliam and its stunning dam, further and further north until the scenery became more desert-like and the earth more parched.
At around 8.30am, with Philip now the designated "front-seat" driver for the rest of the journey, (the "back-seat" driver will remain nameless) we stopped in Vanrhynsdorp, and other than reaching the Confluence itself, had one of the highlights of the day – breakfast. Having been directed from one of the friendliest and most efficient petrol stations in the Western Cape, we found ourselves outside a guest house that from the outside looked somewhat suspicious, but once inside, with Herschel having sweet-talked the owner in Afrikaans, provided us with a hearty and delicious cooked breakfast that was whipped up in record speed, at a record low price, cheaper for four of us than the tank of fuel.
And then, stomachs full, the serious business of confluence hunting began. Having previously spoken to the farm owner's wife of the property on which we believed the Confluence to be, we knew that we must take a gravel road that runs parallel to a famous South African railway line, the iron-ore carrying Sishen-Saldanha line. Although the road is a private railway-owned service road, the farmer's wife promised us we could use it, and that it ran straight to, and straight through their property. The alternative to using this road was a series of dirt roads, barely marked on the only rural map we had, dating back to 1971.
We found the gravel road with ease, and despite one early wrong turn, which took us away from the railway, (the significance of which will become apparent later), we soon worked out that the road did indeed run absolutely parallel to the railway, and was kept in a condition that would put many tar roads to shame. Our main map reader, Gilad, was now able to find a number of points on the 1971 map which indicated that we were indeed travelling towards the Confluence, whilst Leon, our GPS consultant, was able to confirm Gilad's excitable assertions. During these somewhat heated exchanges between Gilad and Leon as to the virtues of 1971 maps as opposed to 2003 GPS technology, Herschel kept a look out for general points of interest, and flora and fauna, whilst Philip raced as fast as the "back-seat driver" would allow him, hoping to beat the notional helicopter/laptop-wielding group to the Confluence.
It soon became apparent that we had found ourselves on a road that would, as the farmer's wife had promised, take us virtually all the way to our holy grail – so, unlike the three blind mice, we all praised the farmer's wife!
We drove on the special road for approximately 50 km, and there, off to our left, we saw the farmhouse belonging to JJ Steenkamp, husband of the oft and aforementioned farmer's wife. It was at this point, as we drove with some reverence and perhaps a little foreboding onto their property, that the meaning of a "confluence" truly came to pass. You will recall earlier that we had taken one wrong turning that had perhaps delayed our journey by no more than five minutes, but as we drove towards the farmhouse, who should be driving towards us on his way to feed his sheep, none other than JJ Steenkamp, the farmer. Had we not lost our way, had we stopped five minutes longer for breakfast, had Philip not kept strictly to the legal speed limit, we would almost certainly have not met up with the farmer – so a confluence of events lead us to The Confluence – to our great prize of 31S 19E.
Mr Steenkamp, his farm supervisor Mr Arie Witbooi, and three sheep dogs greeted us with some bemusement and no doubt some amusement. From some 400 km and five hours driving away, came four madmen, desperately looking for an imaginary confluence on a vast farm, a piece of scrub that probably lay untrodden by human foot, although certainly trodden by sheep. Mr Steenkamp, once he had overcome his initial bemusement and had been initiated in our broken Afrikaans into the ways of confluence hunting, then drove ahead of us on his farm so that we could follow him to 31S 19E.
We reached a point on the farm road that Leon told us lay possibly 300 m from the confluence point. We parked our vehicle and walked the few hundred metres to the Confluence, when suddenly out of the sky just ahead of us swooped a helicopter and down by ropes dropped a SWAT team of confluence hunters, laptops and digital cameras in hand.
Just kidding - we were there, we had it on the GPS, 31S 19E. We had achieved with relative ease what we had set out to do. We spent around an hour at the Confluence, taking great care to follow the Confluence Project website instructions, photos of the general area, north, south, east, west, photos of the GPS and of course, photos of ourselves.
The photos are taken, the story is told, the Confluence mapped – been there, done that, got the T-shirt.