the Degree Confluence Project


2.6 km (1.6 miles) SW of Kampong Kemahang, Pahang, Malaysia
Approx. altitude: 127 m (416 ft)
([?] maps: Google MapQuest OpenStreeMap ConfluenceNavigator)
Antipode: 4°S 78°W

Accuracy: 50 m (164 ft)
Quality: good

Click on any of the images for the full-sized picture.

#2: The Confluence Witch Project. It wasn't staged as a parody, it just came out that way. #3: The displayed coordinates are 68.9m (226') away, nearly a half hour after sunset. #4: A spectacle-less James manages a victory sign after emerging from the jungle.

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  4°N 102°E (visit #1) (incomplete) 

#1: At the time I overacted just how I was feeling, but in retrospect that would probably have been evident no matter how I acted.

(visited by David C Lawrence and James Seng)

01-Mar-2001 -- Eager to go on my first degree confluence expedition and facing an upcoming business trip to an area with no confluences at all recorded, I decided to search the net for tips for first time confluencers. Eventually I stumbled on to what seemed to be the perfect document.

Tips for Confluencers

  • Make your first confluence visit in a foreign country, it will be more exciting.
  • ... a country where you don't speak the predominant languages.
  • ... and where you don't know the laws.
  • ... and where you do not remotely look like a local.
  • You can make do well enough with the Garmin MapSource WorldMap, even if it does not have the most thorough data for the region you'll be in. Good maps are overrated, that's why you have a GPS!
  • Don't bother packing a magnetic compass, they're overrated too. That's why you have a GPS!
  • Other tools that might be useful depending on the area of your confluence, like machetes, gaiters, ropes, snowshoes and so on, should also be left at home. Attaining a confluence should be a real mark of adventure, not something any simp with the proper equipment could do.
  • Don't bother with any special clothing, it is such a hassle. Business casual will be fine.
  • If you are traveling with a companion, there's no need to make sure someone else knows where you're going or when you expect to be back, because the chances that both of you could end up in trouble are exceedingly small.
  • Make sure you have plenty of other work to attend to before leaving on your trip, this will help make you leave later than you originally plan and thereby add another exciting component to the journey.
  • When you finally do get on the road, try to do it as rush hour is starting.
  • ... in a city with lots of new road construction, such that even a recent map printed within the country is already obsolete.
  • ... and in a country that has a somewhat lackadaisical attitude toward road signs.
  • ... and when you escape the city, eschew the expressway and spend as much time as possible on the twisty, narrow, mountainous road that goes to the same place.
  • If possible, kill an animal during your trip. This sacrifice will please the gods, bringing favor to your voyage.
  • Assuming all the delays have been well-timed, you should be arriving in the area of the confluence just before sunset. Rather than clearly being too late to try, this will provide yet another element of excitement as you can race the fading light to make it to your goal.
  • Squander good photo opportunities that present themselves while there is still daylight. It is crucial that you stay focused on the confluence at all costs.
  • Leave your torch (flashlight) in the car and plunge forward in a thrilling rush to reach the magic spot. If the spot is in a jungle, forest, swamp or other difficult terrain, so much the better! Think of the stories that will be told of your adventure (either by you or by those who mourn you).
  • When your companion says, "I forgot to mention that it gets dark quickly around here," reply, "We should probably just go back." When he then says, "But we're so close, we can't have come this far to stop now!" readily abandon your position and press forward.
  • Once you have either reached the confluence or declared it unobtainable for the trip, the fun doesn't have to be over! If possible, find an even more difficult route back to your vehicle. Bonus points are awarded for how wet, scratched, battered and bruised you can get yourself.
  • Out in the middle of nowhere would be the perfect spot to lose things, to be found and wondered about as historical treasures by people far in the future. Don't bother with token artifacts like sunglasses or spare change or such, rather make it something meaningful like prescription glasses or car keys or your passport.
  • When you finally return to the vehicle, have the person who is least familiar with driving in the area drive back along the dark, twisty, rural roads. All the better if this is the first time he has driven in a country which uses the opposite side of the road from his home country.
  • Get lost on the way back, too! Never let life stop being about exploration.

  Respectfully submitted,

How I was supposed to know it was that Satan?

As you are probably properly inferring right now, James Seng and I managed to do every one of the things on the list.

James is a Malay who lives in Singapore, and he drove his car up to Kuala Lumpur so we could use it to go to the confluence. We were both in town for the APRICOT conference for the week, and we picked one day where we both had no specific appointments for the afternoon to go on our adventure. James and I left our hotel in Kuala Lumpur around 3pm, about three hours later than we had originally intended.

Of the four closest confluences to Kuala Lumpur, N3 E101 is in the ocean, N3 E102 appears (from looking at lousy maps) to be quite far from any road, N4 E101 is in the middle of a river, and N4 E102 is quite close to a primary road. We chose the last, 98km (61 miles) northeast of Kuala Lumpur.

That's 98km if you're a crow. It added up to nearly 200km by the time we made it there, between the seemingly random driving involved in trying to get out of Kuala Lumpur at rush hour and then following the curvy, rural, mountain roads that we used most of the way there. Traffic was horrible most of the way, too, and we were frequently stuck behind slow moving vehicles.

Sadly, soon after leaving Kuala Lumpur, a cat darted from the side of the road directly into the path of the car. Despite emergency braking, it was just too close and was hit squarely. As both of us are cat lovers and I am even a vegetarian, this troubled us for quite some time afterward. There was just no way it could have been avoided though.

With sunset rapidly approaching, we didn't stop for any of several interesting scenes along the way; not for the mountain vistas or for the monkeys I really wanted to try to photograph. It was about 7pm as we arrived in the area of the confluence, 25 minutes before sunset. We followed the road to its closest approach with the target, some 260m (853') southeast.

As several houses were built alongside the road here, we walked back westerly on the road's shoulder looking for a spot where we could enter the jungle without going through people's yards. The houses gave way to a steep hill, which finally sloped down enough for us to head in at about 330m (1082') from the confluence.

At this point there was still a fair bit of light so I was optimistic that we would be able to make it and get some photos. As we walked up a slope through a grove of rubber trees that were being tapped, monkeys high up in the branches scattered at our approach. On the other side of the grove, a brook trickled down from the northeast, flowing into a very large swampy area to the west. The foliage became much thicker as we pushed our way northeast looking for a place to cross.

The jungle on the other side of the brook was clearly much thicker and darker, yet when we found a place to cross to it without getting too wet, we kept going inward. This was when we first experienced the plants with large thorns all along their stalks; they make terrible handholds.

In the jungle the GPS signal got poorer and poorer, and our positioning error was probably quite high. We still relentlessly followed the directional arrow, making as best a straight line as possible for the confluence. I busted through the foliage as James, wearing Birkenstock-like sandals, followed behind. At one point, the GPS indicated we were only 50m (164') away. Continuing to follow the directional arrow was moving us further away (no doubt due to the poor signal), the foliage was becoming incredibly dense, and it was clearly dark enough that there was no hope of remotely useful scenery photographs once we got there, so we finally stopped to rest. We took a few pictures of the GPS and each other, then started back for the car.

The heat and humidity was really draining me, and my partially paralyzed leg was constantly getting stuck on plants as we stumbled near blindly through the dark. The GPS finally decided it had no signal at all and quit providing information, so we headed in the direction of the Moslem prayer music coming from the mosque in the small community nearby. A faint glow of lights could be seen from near the road. They were about as faint as the glow of the GPS and a cell phone we were using as our only available light sources.

We came back too far west, and it was clear even in the dark that we had reached the wide part of the swamp. We headed east along its perimeter until we got to the spot we thought we had crossed at earlier. We would soon discover that this was still too far west, as we slogged our way through the swamp, sinking at points up to our knees. James lost one of his sandals at least once, and ultimately lost his spectacles. I lost a nice business card holder I got in Taipei, along with several new contacts within it.

Leeches, spiders and snakes were on our mind and we both wanted to get out of the swamp as quickly as possible. I could discern the rubber tree hill in the dim light and headed for that. It was a bit of a relief to be just two steps away from it, but one of those steps sunk me in muck up to my groin. When I finally extricated myself, we both leapt across the troublesome mire onto the firm bank of the hill.

I was sweaty, exhausted and starting to feel nauseous. James was starting to feel very concerned that we might be stuck in the jungle, a feeling heightened by having terrible night vision without his spectacles. He could not even take comfort in the lights I could see by the road.

We struggled up the hillside and across it toward the road; I wanted to stop fairly frequently because of my physical condition, and James wanted to press onward as much as possible because of his emotional condition. We finally made it to the roadside, managed a couple of snapshots of the bedraggled adventurers under a street light, and trod back to the car.

Because of James's lack of night vision, I ended up having to drive back in his car. Driving on the left side of the road, as opposed to my native right, presented less of a problem than I expected it to, and I even quickly adapted to the windshield and headlight controls being reversed. The biggest challenge was that my bad leg makes it very difficult to operate a clutch, but even that was accomplished. The only mishap was when I got too close to the side of a concrete bridge and gave the car a good solid jolt, but James swears to me that the car is fine.

At 10pm we stopped at some relatively large town where James could get cell phone reception, so that he could call in on a conference call he was supposed to attend. We did a leech check, and after his call we finally got back on the road as 11pm approached.

At Bentong we were able to get on the expressway that led back to Kuala Lumpur. There was a tense moment for me as we approached some sort of police checkpoint. Was my license to drive valid in Malaysia? What will they think of how filthy I am? Or of James sitting in his skivvies? What if the language barrier becomes a significant problem? A myriad of thoughts raced through my head as I approached ... and the officer waved me through with barely a glance.

We made it back to Kuala Lumpur in far better time than we made it out, but then repeated the whole experience of getting lost on the city streets. The map was helpful, but not enough, and augmented with the GPS we headed down many tertiary streets through residential neighborhoods and apartment complexes that kept getting us closer to the hotel but at a frustrating pace. Finally, after I stumbled through a conversation with a gas station attendant, I got on the right path to the expressway that went nearly straight to the hotel. 10 minutes later we dragged our disheveled, slimy, sorry-looking carcasses into the lobby of the very fancy hotel where we were staying, smiled weakly at the hotel staff, and headed for bed.

This seems like it happened so long ago, even though I am writing the account just three months after the attempt. Since that time, I have successfully visited 12 other confluences in various parts of the world without nearly so much drama. What a fascinating three months it has been. My successful visits are not yet posted to the Degree Confluence Project web site because I have not yet written the narratives, but you can see pictures of them at my web site.

 All pictures
#1: At the time I overacted just how I was feeling, but in retrospect that would probably have been evident no matter how I acted.
#2: The Confluence Witch Project. It wasn't staged as a parody, it just came out that way.
#3: The displayed coordinates are 68.9m (226') away, nearly a half hour after sunset.
#4: A spectacle-less James manages a victory sign after emerging from the jungle.
ALL: All pictures on one page