03-Jul-2004 -- On Saturday July 3, 2004, three adventurous Frenchmen left Balikpapan at 6 a.m., heading north. Our goal was to reach the Confluence Point located 117 degrees east, on the equator. One of us had already tried to reach that point in March, but had to give up 15 kilometers south of the objective. That was during the wet season and one section of the road was impassable without a 4WD vehicle.
This time the road was dry and we had no such problems. We had a detailed map of the area, which shows a dirt road running North-South about 5 kilometers East of the CP. As it turned out, this is a good gravel road, but it runs further east than shown on the map. It took us 5.6 kilometers due east of the CP. The map shows a number of trails heading west from this road. These lanes were presumably cleared when the area was logged, many years ago. We got the mountain bikes out of the car and started trying them systematically to see how far we could go. Unfortunately, the area west of the main road is swampy, and there were probably few large trees worth cutting down. All lanes stop within 500 meters or so of the road, as is indicated on the map.
We selected, on the GPS display, the lane that took us closest to the CP and rode back there. We reached an open area that had been burned and was covered with tall, thick grass. It is not clear whether someone ever tried to grow any crops there, but right now, nothing of commercial value grows on that patch, or anywhere within the last 15 kilometers we had driven.
We left the bikes in the grass, marked the spot, and continued west on foot. The vegetation is very thick. We had to open our way with machetes in dense undergrowth. We sometimes encountered patches of ferns that we could not go through. After half an hour of this exercise, we had progressed about 100 meters and were still almost 5 kilometers from the Confluence. It was already 3 p.m. and we know that at this latitude it gets dark by 6 p.m.
Discretion being the better part of valor, we decided to call it quits and we turned around. We went back to the main road to take pictures of the equator. In the attached picture, Luc stands on the northern hemisphere, Stéphane on the southern hemisphere and the GPS receiver between them marks the equator. Well, we do realize that our GPS receiver is not that accurate, but it was a fun picture to take.
We drove back to Samarinda, which we reached rather late, and spent the night there. On Sunday, we drove to Pampang, north of Samarinda, from which we rode the bikes and went on to explore a pretty canyon, but that is another story.
Recommendations for future attempts:
It seems unlikely that the CP can be reached from Balikpapan or Samarinda within one day. The best would be to drive there the day before, camp on the spot and start as early as possible in the morning.
There do not seem to be any roads on the west side of the CP. The map shows a river (which crosses the gravel road very near the equator) that winds its way north and west of the CP. It seems to get as close as about 2 kilometers. It might be possible to go down this river with a canoe and get much closer to the CP before starting hacking one's way through the bush. Good Luck!