14-Feb-2003 -- In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, instead of a scattering of 1-2 day public holidays through the year there are two 5-7 day breaks, for the celebrations at the end of Ramaḍān and at the climax of the Ḥajj. Residents thus have the opportunity to make a long trip, either inside or outside the country. Our group of eight chose to visit the western edge of the Empty Quarter, with four of us extending the trip to 10 days with a similarly off-tarmac (although not as sandy) visit to the centre of the country. The 10 day round trip was 1,300 km off road, plus another 1,700 km on tarmac positioning the vehicles. We visited 8 Confluences, four in a square on the western side of the Empty Quarter (20N 46E, 20N 47E, 19N 47E, and 19N 46E), one in the adjacent "triangle" defined by the surrounding tarmac roads (18N 45E), and three in the central plateau region (21N 44E, 22N 43E, and 23N 43E).
From the 18N 45E confluence point we drove into the town of Najrān where we pampered ourselves to a night's stay in the Holiday Inn Hotel. After seven days and six nights in the desert, the shower water had a distinct brown tinge to it.
The following morning, our first mission was to visit a supermarket to re-supply our food and beverages. Ice was also eventually located before we visited the King’s old palace. A "must do" for any boy visiting Najrān, is a visit to the Dagger Sūq (shops), where craftsmen toil at making traditional kanjars (daggers).
Having escaped the local market salesmen with only a few items of Yemeni jewellery, we left Najrān on the 400 km tarmac journey north to the town of Wādiy al-Dawasir. Once there, we fuelled up and struck north into the sand once again. We just managed to find a protective sand dune to camp near, before the sun slipped below the horizon for another glorious Arabian sunset.
We laboured through about 60 km of sand before reaching the ancient stone-dressed wells of Bi'r Zayn. The hills surrounding the wells were festooned with tumuli (bronze-age graves). The intriguing thing was that lines of rock ridges had been constructed down the hills from these graves. The hills looked as though they had been "gift wrapped" with string. They had no apparent use as a fortification, so we concluded that they were part of the burial constructions.
We climbed one hill to inspect the graves and were concerned to see that the intended Confluence seemed to be positioned amongst some in-penetrable hills. We were therefore expecting a lengthy walk to succeed. As luck would have it, we managed to locate a route through some wādiys (valleys), which took us to within 100 m of the point.
The actual confluence point was among the granite hills; a little way up the side of a hill. The view was quite good and this was definitely one of the more scenic Confluences that we have conquered in Saudi Arabia.
Continued at 22N 43E.