16-Nov-2001 -- Earlier in 2001 I had visited the town of Ménaka in eastern Mali, but by plane. On the way we flew near 16N 2E, a Confluence located in the Sahara desert some 40 kilometers west of Ménaka, and I photographed it from around 7000 feet up. I also determined in my mind to get that Confluence someday.
I had my opportunity in mid-November as I traveled north from Niamey, Niger, up into the desert areas of Mali. I visited Gao first, on the Niger River, and then traveled north to Kidal across the desert to visit a friend there. Then my Northern Irish friend Derek and I traveled southeast to Ménaka. The road across from Ansongo on the Niger was in comparatively good shape and we made good time, arriving in the proximity of the confluence about 11 am. However, the closest the road would get was right at 10 kilometers. I determined since I was driving a four-wheel drive vehicle in good shape that we would try it, especially as the area had looked really barren from the air when I had overflown it. But, as I have found multiple times when visiting Confluences, things are not always as easy as they seem!
We headed off the road north into an area of alternating sand dunes, grassy lowlands, and barren salt pans. I first tried the grass but soon found that the sand had clumped around the roots and it was extremely bumpy. We then tried to make our way from one salt pan to another but they were never very conveniently located. We did make slow progress, averaging a little over 10 kilometers per hour. Sometimes I was able to follow a dry wash by using low range four-wheel drive to get through the sand. On the way we spotted some camels grazing the bushes on a dune and I got off a camera shot. We also saw a termite mound that resembled a sphinx to Derek. Our Tuareg companion, Saya, was trying to be nice but couldn't understand why we were going such a long way into the difficult bush.
After nearly an hour of bumping and bouncing we neared the Confluence. It seemed at first to be located on a small hill, but when we got closer it was actually at the bottom of the hill, and there was a bush growing out of it. We parked the Suzuki on the hill and walked down to the point, harvesting a fine crop of desert burrs on the way. Then we had our picnic lunch, prepared for us by our hostess up in Gao, and headed back out to the road by a different route.
We found this time that we could make much better time by driving along the tops of the dunes and keeping the car in four-wheel drive. What we had thought were patches of gravel on the dunes were actually melon vines! Wild melons were growing all over the dunes. They reach a maximum diameter of about 3 inches and Saya said they were not good to eat, that they would "glue your stomach shut." So we didn't try them but Derek and I each picked one as a souvenir. It was good finally to see the road again and we made good time for the 40 kilometers into Ménaka, where we spent the night before heading back to Niamey.