15-Feb-2007 -- Abyan is one of the five 'troublesome' governorates of Yemen (along with al-Jawf, Ṣa`da, Šabwa and Ma'rib). One of the twenty-three al-Qā`ida terrorists who escaped from prison in Ṣan`ā' last year was shot at an Abyan checkpoint recently. And it is an area with a history of kidnapping and terrorist activity. My visit to 14N 47E gives more information about Abyan and its darker side. But it is also an area of very friendly people, and some stunning mountain and wādiy scenery, and this confluence point had been nagging at me for some time.
My preparations showed it to be some 20 km to the NE of the town of Lawdar, up a hill in Wādiy al-Ruqub. I spent the previous night in a grubby funduq in al-Bayḍā', capital of Abyan's neighbouring governorate, and left early (thankfully) to have a crack at the point. The first surprise was the sudden descent to get from one region to the other: the al-Bayḍā'-Lawdar road drops dramatically down 1000 m from the al-Bayḍā' plateau to the Abyan plains. As well as being a superb feat of engineering, it affords astonishing views across southern Yemen. The descent is not for the faint-hearted, however.
Lawdar itself is a bog-standard small Yemeni town and, apart from the amusement of driving through it on market day avoiding barrows, children and goats (or sometimes a combination of all three), there isn't a lot to delay one from progressing to the point. To the North is the entrance to Wādiy Ruqub, a dramatic wādiy flanked to the NW by a continuous mountainous wall and to the SE by discrete rocky hills. An asphalt road takes you through this scenery to about 1.4 km from the point, and a track passing through a small number of houses leads the way over to the hill to be climbed. It's possible to park about 950 m away from the target.
So far, so easy: the policeman that had followed me in his little Santa Fe was even content to sit at the bottom with a bottle of water and wait for me to come back down. I set off, feeling optimistic, starting at what appeared to be a reasonably shallow slope up the hill. It soon got steep, however - very steep - and I was having to use all four appendages to drag myself up it. The GPS count went down excruciatingly slowly. After an hour, I was still 500 m away. It was also getting rather hot and my optimism had started to wane.
I made a last, desperate, effort to heave myself up what I thought must be the summit, and then sat down dejected at the sight of much higher peaks ahead in the direction of the Confluence. I didn't have a lot of energy left, and I'd left all my food in the Landy (and had forgotten to have any breakfast, tshk). I thought it was over, and headed back down, towards a little side wādiy that I assumed would lead back down to the car. But, on getting there, I noticed that the GPS was indicating me up the small wādiy towards the point. So, one last effort then. The small wādiy rose gently until I was about 300 m from the Confluence. After that was more hell - scrambling and pulling myself up the hillside, stopping every 20 m or so to recover. I'd been going for about two hours now, used up the last of my energy reserves, and not really got anywhere.
But then I remembered how far I'd driven, the grotty hotel in al-Bayḍā', and the effort I'd already exerted on the hill. It would have been crushing to come away with nothing. So, somehow, I kept going until there really was no going further - just 91 m from 14N 46E. The GPS accuracy was 7 m: I'd done it, but only by a whisker! After a rest I examined the possibility of getting closer. Perhaps, with fresh legs, and more time (and possibly someone to belay me...), I could've done. But for me then, hanging off the hillside with no blood sugar left and a rapidly sunburning neck, this was as good as it was going to get.
The views to the North and West afforded superb views over Wādiy Ruqub and the forbidding plateau to the NW (thank goodness the point doesn't lie on that!) The view to the East shows the unusual rock structure of the area - reminiscent in shape of large crystal formations. To the South, one can see some of the thorny foliage that inhabits the area and scratches confluence seekers that aren't concentrating properly...
The walk down was much easier, and I got most of the way back down the small wādiy before getting stuck. Fortunately, one of the villagers from nearby was waiting (probably sent out to look for me by the policeman), and showed me the way for the last few hundred metres. Whilst walking, `Abdullāh Ṣāliḥ told me what a nice area this was and how peaceful life was here - 'not at all like Ma'rib or al-Jawf'. He offered his guiding services for the future - the next visitors to 14N 46E would do well to look him up at the small village. He referred to the area, the wādiy, the mountains and the village all as Raghb, which I assume is a corruption of Ruqub (or perhaps the other way around).
After dishing out water to the rest of the villagers who were waiting to welcome me, and apologising to the rather nervous-looking policeman for being such a long time, I set off for Ṣan`ā', with legs like jelly and driving like a mad thing to get back before dark and see my cat, Felix.
Notes: Travel in Abyan is best undertaken with a police escort, and trekking in the mountains is safer with a local guide. These are generally easily recruited from local villages (your level of Arabic permitting..!) Those wishing to visit Yemen should consult the travel advice of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, or the advice of their own Ministry of Foreign Affairs.