05-Feb-2006 -- Following our visit to 13N 45E, Sunan and I stocked up on fuel in `Adan before heading back out into the Governorate of Laḥij - this time in a westerly direction - to attempt to find the second Laḥij confluence point of 13N 44E.
This visit was a much more arduous undertaking than the last. We followed the road from the centre of `Adan into the industrial area of Šaykh `Uthmān, before entering the borough of Madīnat al-Ša`b. My, admittedly out-of-date, map hinted at a rough track that could be taken for some 100 km to the west across the desert. After several wrong turns, a small child pointed us the correct way, onto the coastal road. However, there has clearly been some progress since the map was produced: this was actually an excellent, straight, asphalt road, which enabled us to hurtle through the parched Laḥij desert, keeping the Arabian Sea on our left until we got to the tiny town of Khawr al-`Umayra.
The chaps at the military checkpoint there were somewhat astonished to see a foreigner, let alone one with diplomatic plates, on their remote patch, but they happily directed us onto the track leading north into the hills. This has to be the worst 'road' I have been on in Yemen: a raised plinth of roughly hewn rock that alarmingly vibrates both the vehicle and the driver's bones. At times it was possible to descend onto the sand, which made for faster going and was far more comfortable, but as we got further north this became less and less of an option.
Half-way down the road we passed the UNHCR refugee camp al-Kharaz, which is home to around 8000 Somalis that have fled from conflict in their country. To put the region around the confluence point in context, I quote one UNHCR report which described Kharaz in the following terms:
"If one could choose the worst location for a refugee camp in the world, Kharaz definitely qualifies. It is in one of the hottest areas in Yemen, with temperatures reaching over 45 degrees Celsius. The camp is approximately 102 km from `Adan and takes three hours to reach. The road is rough and can be treacherous. Security is unpredictable and an armed escort is imperative to and from the camp. The camp is so isolated that it is extremely difficult for refugees to socialize with others or to seek employment."
A couple of small villages lie to the north of Kharaz. We gave an old Šaykh a lift to al-Šaṭṭ, which is the nearest habitation of any size to the point. Past here, one is truly into the beautiful, but wild, hills of northern Laḥij and it became necessary to enlist the help of a qāt-chewing tribesman to navigate us towards the target. After some time spent winding around the hills, hovering around 2 km from the point, we got onto a reasonable track that went straight through two tiny hamlets to a satisfying 450 m from 13N 44E. Sunan opted to stay behind to chat with the tribesman, and I scrambled up and down in the hills and the heat until arriving at the point, which lay near the top of a hillock with beautiful views to the East, West and North. The general area would be a great place to go hiking - taking due care of tribal considerations - and it was gratifying to think that I was at the beginning of a great chain of mountains that runs deep into the Arabian peninsula.
The visit took a long time - a 7-hour round trip - but thoroughly worthwhile. It is on journeys like this, where one can see the environment change drastically, that one becomes aware of how rewarding living in such a dramatic country can be.
For notes about confluence hunting in Yemen, or the involvement of the British Embassy Ṣan`ā' in the Degree Confluence Project, please see the report for 15N 49E.