28-Dec-2001 -- Before we headed out to the Confluence 24N 55E, we already knew that the trip would require some sand driving. Therefore, we decided that we would need at least two 4-wheel drive cars, which later proved not to be enough. We also needed a least one sand driving expert. So the new confluence team was made up of the veteran 'Confluencists' Stefan and Ahmet and off-road racer and new 'Confluencist' Noel.
Our trip began with a long drive from Dubayy towards the outskirts of Abū Ẓaby. This first leg took over an hour and was extremely boring with fences blocking the view and the occasional petrol stations. Once we reached the al-Mafraq interchange close to the Abū Ẓaby International Airport we turned to our left and headed out into the desert on the al-`Ayn highway.
We had a decent map and the GPS was pointing in the right direction. So far, so good. Our most difficult task was to locate a small 'minor' road, which according to the map would take us to within a few kilometers of the Confluence. Unfortunately, in the UAE anything listed as a minor road could be tarmac, sabkha (compacted sand and gravel) or a sand track. Also, with hundreds of farms out in the dunes, the numerous tracks would make it difficult to spot.
After traveling down the al-`Ayn highway for a short while we located the turn for the smaller road that would lead us to the turn for the Confluence. We followed what we thought might be the track, but quickly realized that we were heading away from the turn, rather than towards it. As we agreed to perform a U-turn, we came across a party of about five four-wheel drive vehicles deflating their tyres in preparation for some serious dune driving. As we were now less than 15 kilometers away from the Confluence and in the middle of nowhere, we began to worry that they may be fellow confluence hunters and were heading to 24N 55E. Although we were happy for anyone to find the spot and add it to the database, we would have been disappointed to arrive there in second spot. Also, Stefan had already found evidence of another visitor at his previous Confluence visit at 25N 56E, although a report was never posted by the mysterious message maker.
We became even more determined to press on and decided to continue searching for the road close to the Confluence. After a great deal of driving back and forth, road map measuring and waving the GPS in the air, we finally located the correct track and made good time, albeit with some slight detours, towards the Confluence.
We soon came to a point where the roads and tracks had ended and the GPS was pointing straight ahead. It was time to off-road. We deflated our tyres to 17 psi to provide more 'bite' in the sand and set off into the dunes. After a few hundred meters it quickly became apparent that the dunes where very mountainous and the sand was not ideal. Whilst pondering our next move disaster struck! Ahmet became stuck in the soft sand and a hefty tug from Noel was required to move the stranded car. Then no sooner had we removed the first car, the second car also became stuck! The first had been fairly easy to remove, as the car was located on a slope. However the second car was in a far worse position, in the centre of a very shallow but soft bowl. A great deal of digging, pushing and towing was needed to free the second car, and we all became quite tired in the sun. All this effort had wasted almost two hours of our time and we were still a kilometer away from the confluence. We decided to walk the final leg as the sun was already low and we didn't want to risk another problem. As it turns out the decision was a wise one, as the dunes became even steeper and no other tracks were evident.
However, one must experience himself to understand how difficult it is to walk on the desert sand. It does not help at all, after 2 hours of shoveling and digging under the sun. We remembered and admired those adventurers who had the courage to cross the Empty Quarter on camels in the 1950's.
Around 40 minutes later we reached the Confluence (it takes a long time to walk 1 kilometer in the desert!) and we were happy to find no tracks, footprints or markings at the spot. We guess the people we had seen were just enjoying the desert. A small desert bush in the middle of a hilly area of sand marked the confluence point.
This Confluence is in the sand desert of the Emirate of Abū Ẓaby. It is on the borders of the Empty Quarter (Rub` al-Khāliy), the huge desert stretching between UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The Empty Quarter is mostly covered by sand, which can amount to towering sand dunes. In the UAE the sand desert is lined with strange 'valleys' stretching east-west for many kilometers. The valleys are about one to three kilometers wide. There are no sand dunes in these valleys, the ground is flat and sometimes covered by gravel. Very frequently these valleys are used of farming, with water that is pumped from the ground. Actually we had to cross two of these valleys to reach the confluence spot.
The spot was very desolate and we doubt that anyone had ever even passed close to it. We took some very tired but happy photographs and began the long walk back to the cars and the journey back to Dubayy. The return trip was happily uneventful, although the entire confluence visit had taken around nine hours to complete!