26-May-2006 -- Two confluence points are accessible from the Ma'rib – Say'ūn road through the Ramlat al-Sab`atayn desert in Yemen. We visited 16N 47E in Šabwa on the way to Wādiy Ḥaḍramawt, and decided to give 16N 46E in al-Jawf a try on the return journey.
Both points are in the same desert. However, government cartographers have split the country into (fairly arbitrary) governorates, which sometimes may have little to do with the presiding geography, people, or culture. Technically, 16N 46E is in al-Jawf, although this flat sandy region has nothing in common with the mountainous Jawfiyy tribal areas (see 16N 45E). In fact, most Yemenis would consider this point to be in the Ma'rib area, and the few inhabitants of the punishing desert around the point certainly belong to the tribes of Ma'rib rather than al-Jawf.
There are 21 checkpoints on the desert road between Ma'rib and Say'ūn, and security is pronounced due to a rash of kidnappings of western tourists earlier this year. We had to travel the road with a police escort in order to get permission to make the journey. Between two of the checkpoints, about halfway along the route, we left the asphalt at a distance of 23.8 km from the point and headed towards a large rocky outcrop. Initially the surface consisted of dead flat, firm sand-gravel plains, on which it was possible to whiz along at speeds of 120 km per hour. At around 15 km into the desert, we moved onto a slower, deeply rutted track that took us past a Bedu encampment; earlier, we had spotted their goats attempting to graze in the middle of the sand flats. The presence of large numbers of pristine white animal bones in the area confirmed our doubts about the availability of food for the herd.
We passed the outcrop and drove within 60 m of the point. The terrain is near-flat, featureless desert in all directions, save for a view of the outcrop in the distance to the South. The police escort had declined to join us, but the CO, Hani al-Sawali came with us in the Landy along with his AK-47 in case of trouble. After taking our pictures, we returned the way we came, this time with Polly showing off her sand-driving skills, before rejoining the asphalt in order to continue our long journey back to Ṣan`ā'.
Notes: For more information about the involvement of the British Embassy Ṣan`ā' in the DCP, or confluence hunting in Yemen in general, please see our visit to 15N 49E.