03-Feb-2004 -- Once again, we used the Ḥajj religious holiday to explore new areas within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Our journey was divided into two separate sojourns because some people could only make it for the beginning of Ḥajj, some only at the end of Ḥajj, while others could complete both portions.
During the first part of the journey, we visited the 22N 49E confluence and the 22N 48E confluence, and emerged from the desert near Laylā (300 km south of Riyāḍ). Now we were after the "un-bagged" 19N 44E confluence.
Conquering this Confluence took us a further 300 km southwards past al-Sulayyil, where we ran out of daylight. We decided that after four days in the desert, we would eat "posh" that night. So we stopped at a roadside restaurant to order a take away. Communications with the chef were poor, but we did establish that their menu consisted of "cluck cluck" (said while flapping the arms) – chicken, and they also had "baa baa" – lamb.
We took delivery of our freshly cooked food and camped in a secluded spot a few kilometres off the road. However we were spotted on route and were soon visited by a carload of bored young Saudi lads. They were pleasant characters and keenly invited us for a meal at their house. After we politely refused, they insisted that they could bring a goat or baby camel back to us, slaughter it, and we could feast at our campsite instead. Their hospitality was flattering but we sensed that their hidden agenda was to eye up the ladies that were with us. We eventually reminded them of the Saudi rules regarding men and women not mixing with each other, and they then left us. The lads did return though, bringing us a bag full of drinks, biscuits, crisps, sweets, etc. Very hospital people.
The following morning, we drove west about 80 km through the town of Wādiy Dawāsir, stopping there to repair a problem tyre. While waiting for the repairs we spotted a traditional Saudi bakery selling oven fresh Saudi bread. We just had to spoil ourselves by buying some and eating it on the spot.
We travelled a further 80 km westwards and left the tar road heading south. The terrain consisted of high mountains, which were dissected by steep valleys with sandy floors. It was beautiful country to travel through.
Once we were through the mountains, we came upon the endless sand plains of the Rub` al-Khāliy desert proper. But we did not leave the mountain fringes, as we needed to enter them again to try and locate the Confluence. To do this we had to locate the narrow entrance to a steeply sided valley. We finally located the entrance and then zigzagged for 20 km deep into the mountains. Our predetermined waypoints were comforting as we seemed to continually veered wildly off course down the valley.
We caused quite a stir in the valley when encountering a few groups of local Bedouins, as they were very interested in finding out what we were doing in their area. They were fairly aggressive in their questioning, and their lack of English together with our lack of Arabic caused some tense moments. We decided that we had no chance of explaining the Degree Confluence Project to these people under the circumstances, so we concocted another alibi. In the end they seemed satisfied that we were no threat, and allowed us to pass. However, they did use their radios to inform others of our presence.
We eventually ran out of light and had to find a camp spot for the night. This was no easy task in the steep valley that we were in, but finally found a small tributary, which we nestled into. But the news was out, and we had an early morning visitor who was allegedly looking for camels, but we supposed that he was sent to be sure that we were not up to any mischief.
We set off at a leisurely time, continuing up the valley passing more Bedouin camps. We crept into a tributary which we thought would take us as close as we could get to the confluence point. When the track petered out we left the vehicles with haste, in case we were followed and were interrogated again. Sure enough, as we climbed the hills heading for our prize, a posse of Bedouin arrived at our vehicles and shouted to us in the distance. We pretended not to hear and continued on our way. They would certainly be waiting for us on our return.
We were still about one and a half kilometres from the confluence point, but this was very difficult terrain. The hills were fairly high with steep narrow gorges eroded into them. The going was tough in the heat and most of the journey was spent either clambering up rocky hillsides or sliding down rocky hillsides. It was with some relief that we finally pinpointed the Confluence, half way up one of the hills.
The view was better than the normal sand/sky view that we have found in Saudi Arabia, but is was not grand. We constructed our customary "X" using rocks and took the obligatory photographs before setting off on the long trek back home. This was definitely the most difficult confluence point that I had visited so far.
While four members of our expedition actually stood on the confluence point, the other three members (Craig & Sandy Newman, and Gwen Mackie) did make a valiant attempt to reach it. It would seem fitting that they were acknowledged as they were party to most of the efforts to reach the confluence point.