14-Sep-2007 -- Another personal nemesis confluence which, like 15N 44E, I was determined to conquer before leaving Yemen. My first attempt back in February 2006 met with failure on a rough track descending into a valley at around 10 km from the point. But later that year, whilst casually scanning Google Earth, I noticed a small village down a wādiy, near to 14N 45E. Knowing that, in Yemen, where there's a wādiy there's a way, I tried again with Sarah Marchant towards the end of 2006. The trip was a partial success - we found that it was indeed possible to continue down the track mentioned in the first report, enter the wādiy and drive to the village. Unfortunately, the wādiy was impassable to vehicles at around 4 km from the point, and we had no time to undertake the 8-km round-trip hike. So we had got closer than the previous time, but still no confluence cigar...
Thus, things had become personal. I now knew full well that 14N 45E was 'do-able'. But it was not until this month that another chance arose to try again. This time I took along two companions - my (long-suffering) girlfriend, Claire, and a new recruit to the DCP, Sarah, currently head of the UK's Department for International Development in Yemen. We'd waited until the summer heat, which can be fearsome at low altitudes here, had passed and made sure to allow plenty of time for the hike by staying the night before in a funduq in Ḥammām Damt, the nearest town of any size and famous for it's 'split volcano'. The next day, we drove from Damt to Juban (as for visit #1) and then turned off onto the descending mountain track, pausing only to let a large flock of sheep make its way past us before finally reaching the tiny village at the bottom of the valley. On the way, we'd picked up two friendly local shepherds, and they agreed that we could leave the Landy at their village whilst we went off for our hike.
Google Earth showed that there were two routes: either as the crow flies across the hills (4 km) or along the wādiy to around 300 m from the point (6 km). After a doubtful glance at some of the terrain surrounding the wādiy, we decided that it would be much quicker on the flat, despite the extra distance, and set off along the wādiy bed. The first two kilometres consisted of typically stunning Yemeni scenery, and we made very good time until we reached a large natural dam, which we supposed would become quite a beautiful waterfall at the right time of year. A slow hike up the side of one of the hills got us round, but by this time we had been joined by five youths from the local village. Two were armed with Kalashnikovs, and they had evidently been sent by the villagers to make sure nothing happened to us (and that we didn't get up to any mischief...) as is often the case when walking in Yemen on other people's lands. We tried to persuade them to wait under a tree while we did the walk: it was very hot, and they would not be able to break their Ramaḍān fast even for water until sunset. But they were insistent, and we all plodded off in the direction of the Confluence.
A moment of indecision came at around 2 km from the point. The main wādiy arched off in the wrong direction, and we had to decide whether or not to proceed down a rocky branch wādiy instead. The Google Earth maps we'd brought were little use regarding this, so we opted to take a risk and go down the branch. Although this proved to be the correct decision, it was extremely hard going: we had to clamber up rocks, cross pools of water, and avoid thorny branches, as the day started to reach its hottest point. At just 1 km from the point, we decided that there was little chance of making it and that we would go back to the car. The youths (happy at this idea) said they knew a quicker way that involved carrying on up the wādiy a little more, climbing a hill and then descending into another wādiy that would more rapidly take us back to the village.
Sad at the failure, but keen to get out of the heat, we pushed on, made it up the steep hill and gazed across a relatively plateau-like area of land. The GPS showed that we were just 400 m away from 14N 45E. Delighted, we realised that we could still nail the point and get back to the car quickly! 15 minutes later we were at the target which is located in a small depression in the hills, consisting of rocky runs to the East and West and flanked by smallish hills to the North and South. There was plenty of greenery around, poking out of the rocks. We got 'all zeros' twice, but were unable to capture it with the camera due to fluctuating accuracy on the GPS. Also, the sky had become very cloudy by that time, which spoilt the pictures somewhat (annoying, considering most of our walk had been under the merciless glare of the sun...) Regardless, Claire and Sarah posed happily with our rather young tribal 'escort', and I too was relieved that the weekend's efforts hadn't resulted in yet another failure for this problem confluence.
On the way back, the difficulties began. The villagers now (for reasons we still don't fully understand) began to doubt their 'shortcut', and we began to simply retrace our steps. Soon it became clear that we were going to have to walk back the way we came. We were hot, tired and running out of water, but gritted our teeth and resigned ourselves to the long walk back. This was made even longer by a diversion to a natural 'swimming pool', in which the boys went for a dip. But, considering the heat and the fact that all but one of them had had nothing to drink, we could hardly resent them that small pleasure.
However, as is so often the case in Yemen, things then started to get a bit ugly. The boys started to demand money. We'd planned to give them some when we got back to the car anyway, so I didn't think too much of it and made the mistake of handing some over straight away. But, of course, it wasn't enough, and neither was the second instalment I gave them. We tried to stick firm as we yomped back, but by the time we reached the main wādiy things had become notably more hostile, and Ibrāhīm had started to be a bit too friendly with the girls. I asked him to behave himself: his reaction was to ostentatiously load the chamber of his gun, remove the safety catch and point it at me. Rather taken aback by this, I told him off and pointed out what a great `ayb ('shame') it was for a tribesman to threaten an unarmed man with his weapon - especially a guest in his lands. Fortunately, the other boys agreed and berated him for shaming them, and we carried on.
To my surprise, however, the demands for more money continued. I tried the old "let's talk about this with the village elders when we get back" trick, but to no avail. By then, I was getting concerned, and hoped that face could be saved on both sides: I complained again about Ibrāhīm and his weapon and then gave them another 1000 Riyals (5 US-$/3.60 €). After I'd stumped up, I was relieved to see them confiscate his Kalashnikov. The atmosphere improved considerably.
The last two kilometres of the walk were still not entirely enjoyable. Claire and I (me especially) were shattered, although Sarah - who is in greatly better condition than us - showed impressive stoicism all the way back to the car. A small contingent of villagers was waiting for us; normally, we would have sat with them for a while, but it was late, we were tired, and not especially enamoured with the behaviour of their offspring. We started the long drive back up to Damt - passing camels on the way - and then carried on back home to Ṣan`ā', pausing only briefly to admire the wild beauty of the southern Ḥarāz mountains. A check on getting home showed that we'd walked only 11 km in total, but it had felt like triple that: it had been a sod of a point alright. But - as always - it was well worth it for the adventure, the exercise (!) and the experience of getting out into the real, rural Yemen, where one is never quite certain of what might be in store...