12-Mar-2004 -- Warning: This Confluence is in a military area and should only be attempted if you have the necessary permission.
The weekend had rolled round fast and nothing had been planned. I had received a new Garmin during the week; so when I woke up on Friday morning I thought, better try it out. The only Confluence left within an easy drive from Cairo is 30N 33E on the Sinai Peninsula. Now there are problems with mines in the Sinai and there are a lot of military camps in the area. The Confluence is only a few kilometers south of the main Suez-Ṭābā/Nuwayba` road, which I have driven along twice before. However I did not have a Garmin with me on the previous occasions and was not sure where on the road the nearest point to the Confluence lay. I decided to scout out the point to see if it was possible to get to, not having a great deal of hope.
We set off from Cairo, my wife Liza and son Scotty, through the tunnel under the Suez and headed for Ṭābā. About 3 hours later we were getting close to the 33E longitude. We had passed some military establishments but seemed to be clear of them as we crossed the longitude and started looking for tracks south. There was a large escarpment running parallel and to the south of the road, and several Bedouin campsites visible. We passed a Bedouin track heading south and we turned off on the track and soon came upon a Bedouin camp where we spoke to an elderly gentleman who seemed friendly, but my Arabic was not good enough to understand much of what he was saying.
Just south of the camp there was a high-voltage power line with a track running approximately east-west just before the start of the rocky jabals. I tried to follow the power line track to look for access further south but the track was washed out and I had to stop about 100 m from the Bedouin camp. At that stage we were 4.69 kilometers from the point over the jabals. The large escarpment was not visible from this point but I suspected it would prevent access to the point itself. Young Scott had fallen asleep and Liza did not fancy walking in the heat of the early afternoon. It was a bright sunny day but there was a cool breeze when in the open.
I set off over the jabals heading for the point and was amazed at the amount of flowers being about. I stopped to picture some a couple of times laying down my Garmin by them for scale. After such a stop I crossed a fairly steep ravine and then realized I had left the Garmin behind! After crossing back over the ravine I struggled to find my brand new Garmin – talk about loosing something where you know exactly where it is – I had a photo of it in my camera showing its exact location but of course no Garmin. Luckily I found it higher up the ravine than I remembered and almost turned back having lost the time and the terrain appeared to be getting rougher. However, I persevered and luckily the terrain opened out a bit after the next jabal. This big escarpment was in the near distance and it looked like it might block my way, however the point may just be to the side of it, so I carried on.
Just short of the escarpment I came across two Bedouins on camels and at the same time realized that I would miss the escarpment. I went over and talked to the two men who would not let me photograph them but was curious as to what I was up to. The seemed to be saying that I should not go on, but did not try to stop me. I was so close I decided to grab the point and then leave quickly. It was less than a kilometer at this stage over a wādiy and rolling jabals, a short 10-minute walk. There was a Bedouin woman in the wādiy herding goats a short distance from where I crossed but no sign of a camp. I reached the point, took my photos and left without even stopping for a drink, then backtracked to where I had left the car. All the way back to the car, I only saw the Bedouin woman with her goats, now some distance away.
When I got back, after about 2 hours hiking, I was startled to realize that the car and family had gone! A bit worried, I walked down to the Bedouin to find two army personnel waiting for me, one of whom spoke good English. He explained that my wife and son were at their camp and we would join them. On the way back he explained that this area belonged to the military and I need permits to be there but he was friendly and said not to worry. Back at their camp, young Scotty was having a ball with his new friends and we were invited to tea and then try to explain why I was there. After a bit of a translation error where "Confluence" was mistaken for "conference" and them wanting to know who I was meeting for a conference in the middle of their land, I explained about the Confluence project. I had some of the printouts and the 2004 calendar to show them. They looked at my pictures in my camera including the ones from my successful visit to 29N 29E a couple of weeks before and seemed to be convinced of why I was there, but a bit mystified as to why anyone would drive three hours, walk two hours in the heat of mid-day to take a photograph of the Garmin, I had taken with me, and a barren bit of desert. At this stage I was beginning to wonder myself.
Anyway they were convinced but were struggling to explain it to their superiors over the phone, so we all went off headquarters. A few hours and several cups of tea later, everyone seemed to be in agreement that I was nothing more sinister than a Scotsman with a strange hobby, and I was allowed to set off home to Cairo. I was rather tired by this stage but the day was not finished with me yet as I had a rear tire go flat on me just before reaching the tunnel – just what I needed!
Talking to Liza afterwards, one of the younger men from the Bedouin camp had tried to chase and stop me from going any further, however he was unable to catch me and gave up. One of the elders then fetched the military and two of them gave chase for 45 minutes before giving up and deciding to wait at where I left the car. Amazing what the scent of a Confluence will do for a pair of old legs!
It was explained to me that foreigners were not allowed to leave the main road when traveling from Suez to Ṭābā as with a number of other roads in Sinai, so 30N 34E and 31N 34E are both off-limits without permits.