11-Oct-2007 -- After a year of trips to Egypt, I thought it was about time to try to get a 'Confluence first' there, and it looked like our `Īd journey from Aswān to Abū Simbil near the Sudanese border would be the perfect opportunity. Even better, a success at 24N 33E would be all the more sweet because it was such an unusual Confluence - one of only two incomplete reports in Egypt filed by the King of Egyptian Confluences, Dave Morrison. From his report it looked like he'd just been very unlucky: although an asphalt road passes within 150 m of the Confluence, he'd not managed to get onto it. A glance at the maps showed why - the relevant part of town is a mass of roads, dirt tracks and even a railway line.
Determined not to meet the same fate, I spent more time than I'd care to mention beavering away on Google Earth to make sure that we wouldn't end up driving on the railway line or the road out to the high dam, or worse... Feeling confident with all my waypoints pre-programmed in, Claire and I set off from the beautiful Old Cataract Hotel - where Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile - and trundled through the dusty streets of Aswān in a taxi we had flagged down at random. We'd done our best to explain to Muṣṭafā, our excellent and highly courteous driver, what we wanted to do, and he had been surprisingly nonchalant about it. After checking he had enough fuel for the journey, we set off.
First stop was the railway crossing (24°04'51.26"N 32°54'35.95"E), which we got to without much ado, and which we crossed over as per Dave Morrison's suggestion. Here we carried on south until the turn-off, which I'd pre-marked (24°03'04.55"N 32°55'14.62"E). The road then rapidly took us out of Aswān through black rocky desert. After a sharp bend in the road, the GPS counter moved down quickly. Occasional military sites were located on the left-hand side of the road. We knew that we would have to turn right at a fork in the road at 2.27 km from the target (junction located at 24°01'08.91"N 32°59'30.67"E) and - pleased that we'd got out of Aswān without any trouble, and were clearly on the right road - reasoned that the only thing that could stop us now would be a hostile military checkpoint at the junction. But surely there was no way that we'd be that unlucky?
At the hostile military checkpoint at the junction we were told in no uncertain terms to return to Aswān. I've spent a considerable amount of time in Yemen negotiating my way through checkpoints, but it was immediately obvious that we would have no luck here. So, at 2.27 km from 24N 33E, we'd failed. A photograph of the checkpoint (and thus our closest point to the Confluence) and/or the GPS would have been nice, but astonishingly unwise. So we stopped a few hundred metres north of it on our way back and took a shot of the rather dull desert instead.
However, we hadn't quite given up. The CO at the checkpoint had said that we could ask for permission at the military police (i.e. mukhabarāt) headquarters in Aswān. With Muṣṭafā's help, we gave it a go, and drove the 10-15 km back into town, then along the Corniche, and asked politely at the 'police station'. At first it looked like there wouldn't be a problem. We just wanted to go 2 km south of the checkpoint (locally called Nuqtat taftīši l-ḥudūd - the 'border checkpoint', despite being nowhere near an international border) along the road to al-`Ilāqiy/Barnīs, and - despite being an unusual request - the police didn't seem to think this was unreasonable. Unfortunately, we had to hand over our passports, which immediately gave us away as diplomats. And the fact that Claire is a Political Officer at the British Embassy in Cairo most certainly would not have helped... Thirty minutes (and no doubt numerous phone calls to Cairo by panicking Aswāniyy officers) later, we were told that, as diplomats, we'd need 'special' permission in writing from the Ministry of Defence (read Military Intelligence) in Cairo. The game was up, and we went off to look at the Pharaonic ruins at Philae instead.
Notes: Although it's hard to know for sure, I wouldn't be surprised if genuine tourists (i.e. those with a tourist visa in their passports) might find it a lot easier to get permission to cross the checkpoint. So this Confluence - which looks so easy in terms of terrain - may well not be out of bounds and anyone visiting Aswān should definitely give it a go. Muṣṭafā now knows the route, and can help with the police, and can be contacted on +20(0)104 389 440. He speaks no English, however, so getting an Arabic speaker to brief him on what you want at the beginning of the trip would be a good idea.