13-Jan-2006 -- This trip turned out to be much easier and more rewarding than what I anticipated. After I studied this Confluence from satellite photos on Google Earth I decided that approaching from the North would be the easiest. My expectation was to hike in the mountains for about 5 km up a wādiy and then climbing the mountain when I was closer to the Confluence.
So, on 12 January I arrived at Wādiy Madha around 4 p.m., just in time to set up my camp and look at which valley could take me closest by SUV. I barely got my tent out when I was suddenly approached from all directions by locals. I felt completely surrounded and already started planning an escape route if things got out of hand. My Arabic is very poor and they barely even know "Hello" in English. It took a lot of patience trying to show them on a map where I wanted to go and to demonstrate with my hands that I only wanted some photos. Eventually, they invited me to go with them and have some tea (I got the impression that refusal was not going to be an option).
We went back to the local mosque where we sat down with their imām and had some tea. Still no one was able to communicate properly, so we tried to get along with my very limited Arabic and hand gestures. I soon showed them my satellite photos and also a map of the local area I bought in a bookstore. This immediately seemed to raise alarm with them, as they didn't even know maps like these were available to the public, never-mind a foreigner like me!
After patiently trying to explain to them and showing my Iqāma (residents' visa), it seemed like I convinced them of my innocence and they showed me to a room where I could sleep for the night. I felt very glad as it was already around 8 p.m. and I was very tired from the previous couple of days trip throughout Saudi Arabia. Just as I was about to fall asleep I was awoken from a hard banging on my door! My first thought was that they called the local police and I really didn't look forward to any problems. As it turned out the whole community gathered for a meeting while I was preparing to sleep. Fortunately this time, someone was there who could speak very good English!
So, there I was again, in front of all the village elders (and curious boys), gathered under the wonderful Arabian Desert with a full moon. Once again I had to try and explain why I was there, what I wanted to do, where I came from, etc. To make a long story short, after about 2 hours they agreed to let me go with someone who will guide me. Apart from the swarms of mosquitoes, I had a rather uneventful rest of the night.
The next morning just as the sun started giving enough light, we headed off to the Confluence. It was me and four locals (one speaking English). They showed me a trail by car that took us to less than 3.5 km from the Confluence, for which I was very grateful. After walking through the valley, over big boulders and up a mountain, we finally reached the Confluence just before 9 a.m. I am very glad we drove that close because the terrain was much more difficult than I expected from the satellite photos. Midway through the hike one person gave up and turned around. In the end, only four of us reached the Confluence and claimed our stake.
We found some stones stacked up on each other. Apparently some government or military people went to this Confluence several years ago for exploration purposes and probably built this stack.
The hike back was rather easy (it's usually easier going back) and we took it slower as Khālid had broken one shoe and had to walk bare-feet. We got back to the car very gratefully as the sun just started to become very hot. Khālid did very good with his bare feet and didn’t keep us up at all. Once we got back and the local people were told that all I did was take some innocent photos, they seemed much relieved. They invited me to a traditional lunch that was very good and afterwards I said my farewells.
This particular region never has foreigners visiting, not even Sa`udis from other regions. So when I arrived there it caused quite a stir. Khālid later told me that they were afraid I was a terrorist or that I somehow found gold in their valley they didn't know of. Once their suspicions were invalidated, they became even more friendly and made me give my word that I would visit them again. I can definitely say that apart from their initial suspicions, the rural people of Saudi Arabia are very friendly and accommodating. This was the first time I did I trip so far from Jidda like this into the country side and I am very glad things turned out the way it did.