08-Apr-2005 -- Story starts from 14N 44E.
Yes, you have read it correctly: I missed the Confluence by 'only' 26 km. This is embarrassing indeed, but anyway, two days of investigations will never be forgotten. Here is the story:
This confluence is Ṣan`ā's (Yemen's capital) nearest confluence point. At the last day of my trip in Yemen I scheduled a visit to this point. In Ṣan`ā' city, the Confluence is in 45 km beeline distance to the southwest. A look in the map shows that there are two possible approaches to the point:
- Approach from the North: taking the Ṣan`ā'-al-Ḥudayda road to the village Sūq Bū`ān, which is still in 18 km distance to the CP. None of the Yemen maps shows anything between Sūq Bū`ān and the CP, only a big emptiness. All that I could tell is a height difference of ca. 1500 m between these two locations.
- The alternative option is the approach from the West: taking the Ṣan`ā'-`Adan road to the South, then taking tracks through Yemen's wilderness. One of these tracks was supposed to come as close as 8 km to the point. This option seemed more prospectus to me.
Now, what form of transport was appropriate? I saw three options here:
- Public transportation: take a bus on the main road to the intersection and then take shared taxies on the dirt roads. Problem: such taxies may not be available.
- Car rental: rent a 4-wheel car and drive as close to the point as possible. Problem: tourists are not allowed to drive themselves.
- So, why not hire a car with driver? This is exactly what I tried to do.
In order to hire a car, I had to approach one of these tour companies, that take tourists to 'all' places in Yemen. Unfortunately, it was Thursday afternoon and everybody already in week-end mood, which means lying on a bed, chewing khat and dreaming. The willingness to get into business is minimal at this time of the week. As I enter the agency, I could clearly see that I interrupted a khat-chewing session. However, I explained my case in English, which was spoken very well by the tour operator. Even so language was not the problem, there was no understanding to each other. The conversation was like this:
"Where do you want to go?" - "To a point 40 km south-west from here."
"What is the place called?" - "There is no name I can give you, but I can navigate the car to it."
"Kawkabān is very nice!" - "I have been to Kawkabān already, I want to go to the point I just mentioned."
"Have you been to `Amrān?" - "Yes, but..."
"Šibām?" - "Yes, but..."
"Manāka?" - "No, but..."
"Oh, you should go to Manāka then!" - "Listen, I don't want to go to any other place than the place I just mentioned!"
"What is the place called?" - "Here is the point!" (I mark the point at the map, but the agent is obviously not in a stage to read it)
"Have you been to Ma'rib?", he asks, bringing me just a step closer to desperation.
I leave the travel agency and enter the next one. The conversation turns out to be exactly the same. The only variation is that there is an unwilling overpriced offer to bring me to 'where ever I want', but only if it is absolutely necessary. I opted not to go for this.
In the evening, while walking through the streets of Ṣan`ā's old beautiful centre, I see a bike shop. That's it! I spontaneously decide to rent a bike. Even though we don't speak each other's language, we manage to clarify all issues. Finally, the owner hands the bike over to me without any deposit. It is a mountain bike, which has obviously seen better times. But it was still rideable and 3 gears could be reached by manually shifting the chain. I promised to bring back the bike 24 h later.
5 a.m.: I don't hear the alarm clock and continue sleeping.
6 a.m.: I wake up, get on the bike and head southwards on the main highway towards `Adan. The road is constantly going uphill, the bike is heavy and I'm not extremely fast, but I manage to get to the turn-off where the dirt road starts (at 15°11'30"N). From here, it is still another 30 km beeline to the point. The smooth travel seems to be over now.
After about 1 km staying on the dirt road, I came through the village Ruḥm al-`Ulyā. This is the last stop before I enter the area of 'nothingness' on my map. I buy 4 bottles of water and biscuits, since it is unclear what I will have to face next. Leaving the village, it becomes quite unclear which way I should go. Several tracks point in different directions. There are no signs and there is no one to ask (which place name could I ask for?). I try to take the tracks heading towards the Confluence, but I also try to choose those tracks, which look like they have been used more than the others.
The area becomes mountainous, the track steep and rough. I have to push the bike most of the time. Within half an hour, I can decrease the distance to my target by only 2 km (still 28 km to go). My slowness gives local people the opportunity to approach me and ask questions. Since I can't really explain what I'm doing, I try to minimize these conversations. In Yemen, you are never alone, and things are not to be done alone. The Yemenis have a historical tight bound to their tribe. As soon as one leaves the main highways, the tribal rule counts more than the government law.
Well, then there came this young man, who shouted from far behind. I slowly continued my way, although it was obvious, that he intended to call me back. He ran really fast towards me (I never had seen somebody ran before). I just had climbed a mountain and nobody else was around. Finally, he caught up with me, saying, that I shouldn't continue. I wasn't sure, what to do and asked for more explanation. He pointed to the mountain in front of me and then formed his arm to a gun, saying 'peng, peng!' Obviously, it was dangerous to continue, I thought and turned around with him, showing that I was willing to go back. But now, the situation changed totally: he even wouldn't let me go back! He got out his mobile, pointed to it, then formed his arm into a gun again and asked for 3000 Rial (= 12 €). This doesn't seem to be a lot, but can be a weeks' earnings. I had 5000 Rial with me, so I would be able to pay him, but what would happen, if I payd? And what would happen if I didn't? He suddenly became very serious and threatening, not letting me go any step further. What, if he really could call his friends and let them go after me? Probably, he was only bluffing. But what would happen if he didn't bluff? Anything was possible. Well, I kept calm and tried to be friendly. Only, he wasn't getting friendly. He definitely wanted my money. I showed to him my small bills, indicating that I didn't have a lot with me. But he insisted on meanwhile 4000 Rial.
Fortunately, a car loaded with people came along the track. When it passed us, I spontaneously handed my bike over to those people sitting on the roof and jumped on myself. The car continued, I was welcomed among the crowd sitting on the roof and felt safe again. All communication with the blackmailer was interrupted. I never saw him again.
Back in Ruḥm al-`Ulyā, I realized that I had previously taken the wrong way anyway. I wanted to give it another try. I followed that track another 4 km in the heat (meanwhile the sun was strong already). But my confidence was gone. My legs were still like jelly and a lot of time had been lost. The track wound its way up and down the mountains in difficult terrain. To diminish the distance from 30 km to 26 km had taken me an hour, projecting that clearly showed that I would miss my plane back home the next day, if I continued. What, if there was another blackmailer around the next corner? At this point, I took the pictures and made the wise decision to let somebody else be the first to visit this confluence point.
CP visit details:
- Time at turn-around: 10:00 a.m.
- Duration: 6 hours, 6:15-12:20 (until I was back to Ṣan`ā')
- Distance of turn-around: 26 km
- Description: In the highlands of Western Yemen. Half way up from Wādiy Rima`, almost at the largest distance from any road (on available maps).
- Given Name: The Blackmailer Confluence