20-Jul-2006 -- Our working week on the corporate farm on which we are employed ended at 4.00 pm on Thursday, 20 July, 2006. Within an hour, four of us, Frans Visser, Wil Lemmer, Greg Tully and Douglas Chapman were packed into two vehicles, one of which was a twenty-year-old green 4x4 Toyota Land-Cruiser nicknamed "Groenes". "Groenes" is Afrikaans wordplay for the term "greenhorn", since it usually gets allocated to the most recently arrived South African on the farm ("Groenes" also alludes to its sickly green paintwork). The second vehicle was a 2.7-l Toyota Hilux.
Since this journey was happening at a time of heightened tension in the Middle East, we were careful to conceal our GPS, especially as we had to go through a check point. We turned off the Jordan Road at the town of Bi'r Ibn Hirmās and headed west on the Maqna-Ḥaql road. On the outskirts of the town, we stopped to attach the GPS antennae to the roof of "Groenes" and off we went again. Some 25 km beyond Bi'r Ibn Hirmās, the arrow of the GPS swung to 90 degrees, indicating our off-road adventure was about to begin.
Rather than the expected dunes, however, we were confronted by some very rocky looking terrain. Standard practice is to deflate tyres to aid traction over the soft (and by late afternoon, hot) sand. Soft tyres become flat tyres if the rims are allowed to pinch the rubber against hard rock, so it was some time before we eventually decided to deflate our tyres. Once we did, the rocky ground soon started again, interspersed with dunes... then with more rocks and then more dunes again. With our deflated tyres, the rocky ground was traversed at snails' pace and the dunes at high speed. This practice led to more than one near mishap. Dune structure means that one side is nearly vertical while the other is gently tapered. On more than one occasion we would charge up the gently tapered side, only to have to put on brakes anyway when confronted by a 20 m drop on the other side. 20 m might not sound much, but a Toyota slipping or rolling down such a steep dune would not be good for much once it had reached the bottom.
It was overlooking one of these crests that we realized we were within sight of our goal. This particular dune was the highest we had been on and afforded us a clear view of a flat hard desert floor stretching for miles beyond us. Our GPS indicated that the target was just beyond a Bedouin settlement. A few kilometers to the Northeast of the Bedouin camp lay another settlement which we speculated was a water drilling operation. Note that this area is underlain by vast aquifers on which the local agriculture depends.
And so we made it down to the desert floor which was criss-crossed by several vehicle tracks (indicating an easier route out of the area). Just before sunset, we found the confluence point located on the desert floor, literally in the middle of nowhere. Our self-congratulations were short lived when we observed that an earlier visitor had built a little stone marker right on the Confluence (I'm not talking "Scott and Amundsen" here). Photos were duly taken and off we went to set up camp for the night.
We had the requisite "braai" that night, and bedded down underneath the famous Arabian night sky. As we were packing up the next morning, some "Bedouin" camel herders approached us and offered us some of their camel milk which they carried with them in animal skins. It would be difficult to describe the taste, perhaps normal milk with a slight taste of almonds. We offered them some local non-alcoholic beer in return. The herders turned out to be Sudanese. They communicated with a smattering of English against our smattering of Arabic.
We returned home via one of the well-used tracks mentioned earlier. The return trip would have been uneventful, except that "Groenes" started to belch clouds of black smoke all the way back home.