21-Feb-2004 -- After our fruitless efforts to reach 29N 9W yesterday and today morning, we still had the intention to try to get to another Confluence today. Around noon, we left Foum al-Ḥiṣn, passed the police checkpoint, and were again on the road P30 en route towards Bu Izakarn, about 115 km away. The rainstorms had ceased since the morning and the sky was clearing up more and more, but the road was still wet and from time to time it crossed creeks and small rivers on fords or bridges, where usually only dry riverbeds can be found.
In the early afternoon, we reached Bu Izakarn, a medium sized town placed at an important traffic knot from where major roads are leaving in northern, southwestern and eastern directions, and where many military facilities can be found. We stopped at Bu Izakarn for a longer break, first having some drinks at a tearoom, and then taking a walk around the town's centre. Here I saw for the first time the dead body of a migratory locust lying on the sidewalk - a really frightening large insect, no comparison with the grasshoppers I used to know, and for sure a plaque when appearing in masses. After a while we got into our jeep again and took the road P41 in southwestern direction straight towards Goulimine, in whose close vicinity the confluence 29N 10W is lying, and thus the direction pointer on my GPS receiver also pointed straight ahead for a long while on this road.
After about 40 km, the pointer began to swing aside, and only a couple of kilometres from Goulimine, we had reached the closest approach to the Confluence on this road. We were now at 29°1'26"N 10°0'44"W and at an altitude of 366 m, the point lying exactly 2.9 km to the SE of us, it was now 4 o'clock p.m. In the direction of the Confluence, a chain of low hills was rising up and no passage or road in its direction could be seen. But a distance of hardly 3 km should be feasible on foot, I thought, my only concern was the time that was left until it would be getting dark – but 2 ½ hours remaining until sunset should be sufficient – at least this I thought... We tried to prepare to the best for the expedition: to apply sunscreen; to take all necessary stuff with us, photo, spare batteries, water; not to forget to mark a waypoint on the GPS receiver, and, and, and... So it was not until 4:25 p.m. that we eventually set off.
We crossed the road and began to approach the lowest saddle in the chain of hills before us. As we walked, we stirred up some migratory locusts, now I could see them even alive, and they swirled and hovered above us as we passed by. The terrain was flat and covered with stones, bushes and euphorbia in the shape of cacti (Euphorbia officinarum ssp. echinus). Those plants, which are called "tikiwt" in the local Tašilḥit language, are very common in southern Morocco and grow on every type of arid soil, especially on the flanks of hills and mountains. They carry thorns and one should never touch their poisonous milky sap because it causes severe irritations if it gets on the skin or in one's eyes. The ground was slowly but steadily gaining inclination as we approached the hills and as soon as we started ascending them, the going was becoming more and more exhaustive because of the ever-increasing steepness. Finally, we arrived at the hilltop, curious about what we would find beyond. In our back, we could look down at the road and our car in the distance, about 800 m away and nearly 200 m below. In front of us, we saw the hill flank going down to a dry creek, which was meandering its way out into a vast plain that stretched out until some other hills far away. The Confluence was lying out there somewhere on this plain, still about 2 km away. The best way to approach it would surely be to descend into the dry creek and to follow it out into the plain, as the hill flanks were covered with loose stones and lots of those thorny plants. We stumbled down over the stones and around the bushes and plants, till we reached the dry creek, where the going was much easier because its bottom was formed of large and flat stone slabs.
Eventually, we were out on the plain, but it was not as levelled as it seemed from the distance. Some very deep gullies cut through it so that we had to go sideways until we could find an opportunity to cross them, and also some flat elevations lay in our way. Nur al-Din was now grabbed by the confluence fever and pushed on, while I indicated to him the steadily decreasing distance to our aim. And finally, at a quarter till 6 o'clock p.m. (UT ± 0) we circled in on the spot, which was on the southern bank of one of those gullies (here already broader and less deep, see foreground of Pic #1 and Pic #2), probably a run-off of the creek that we had followed along down the hills. The GPS receiver indicated an altitude of 370 m, which meant that we were nearly at the same altitude than the car where we had started, and an EPE of 4 m.
It had taken us 1 hour and 20 minutes to get here, and this made me uneasy, because now I feared about getting back in time before the night would fall. The sun was already sinking behind the hills in the West and the light around us was golden yellow. We quickly shot the pictures and I collected some large stones to build a pile with a cross pointing N-E-S-W (see group pic). In some distance to the NE we could spot a nomads' tent (see background of Pic #1), and to the West some big antennas were erected on one of the distant hills. Other than this, we could not see anybody or any human traces around. We would have liked to stay here longer, to calm down after such an expedition, and to assimilate the "magic" of such a spot, but with a feeling of leaving some imaginary part of ourselves behind, we had to leave too soon.
We tried to retrace our way back as speedy as possible, over the vast plain and back up the dry creek, except for Egü who separated from our group and tried to find another way. Soon after we had left the Confluence, the sun set behind the horizon, and dusk was quickly approaching. When we had reached the creek's origin and were climbing up the steepest part of the hill that was separating us from the road, it was nearly dark and we had to stare intensively down on the ground before our feet to distinguish between the darker patches of thorny euphorbia and the lighter traces of the paths between them. But loose stones often caused us to stumble. When looking up into the night blue sky, I could detect a marvellous thin crescent moon over the western horizon. It could be easily spotted for about 15 minutes, until it set at 7:25 p.m. This first sighting of the crescent after new moon defined the beginning of the Islamic month of Muḥarram and this meant we just experienced New Year's Eve of the year 1425 AH! The next day, I would be going to report this sighting to ICOP – the Islamic Crescents' Observation Project of the Jordanian Astronomical Society, where it would become published on the respective month's webpage.
When we had reached the saddle on the hilltop and started to descend on the other side, it had become nearly pitch dark. We had not heard or seen of Egü since a long while, now it was clear that it was an utterly stupid behaviour to split up in this situation. Jamila, Marwan and I stayed closely together, and Nur al-Din was only a short distance in front of us, we could hear him but we could no longer see him until he illuminated the display of his mobile phone – a faint blue spot of light somewhere further down. Sliding and skidding, we managed somehow to descend, mostly on feet but sometimes on our buttocks and sometimes even grabbing into the euphorbias' thorns. But the more we descended from the hill, the less steeper the terrain became, and finally we were down in the nearly flat part, and only a moment later, we had found back to our car in the dark. It was now 7:40 p.m. and our expedition had lasted 3 ¼ hours – much more than expected. When we just started worrying about Egü and imagined scenarios of him having got lost or hurt somewhere, he suddenly stepped out of the dark and so at last, we were all luckily back!
After this expedition, all of us were very thirsty and exhausted, so we drove the remaining short distance to Goulimine to recover from these strains in a downtown café. Then we still had to return to Agadir in the night, about 200 km to go with Egü driving the first leg. At mid-distance, I intended to interrupt our travelling in Tiznit, to have another glass of tea and to change drivers, but to our surprise Egü pushed on without a stop and with such a hurry that he nearly ran at full speed into a police checkpoint on the road. Fortunately for us, the police officers did not make a big fuzz about it, but now I took over the driver's task again. When pulling back on the road, the indicator could no longer be stopped blinking – still another negative experience with the car before our return, and considering all the other "negatives", I will not recommend this car rental and I will not mention its name here.
It was already an hour past midnight when we finally arrived at my brother-in-law's house in Anza/al-Ḥasaniyya, we were all well, we had crossed a distance of 825 km, and we had achieved one re-visit, one unsuccessful, and one successful confluence visit during the last three days – what a GREAT journey!