23-Dec-2004 -- The expressway leading east out of Jidda is always busy. It is the main route to the Holy City of Makka for the millions of Moslems who go there every year, and it is also the main road across the country to Riyāḍ and Dammām. In a few weeks it will be a chaotic mass, or mess, of traffic, as over 2 million people will visit it in the week of Ḥajj. After half an hour on the expressway, we reached the Makka gate and the police checkpoint where only Moslems are allowed to enter.
We turned off here onto the 'Christian bypass' that circumnavigates the Makka area and the road becomes rather more second class and bumpy with no fences, so that one has to keep an eye out for the wandering camel and sheep eating the fresh grass that was starting to sprout at the side of the road after recent thunderstorms.
After another half an hour we turned off onto a graded track that turned out to be a road to a construction camp. A new road heading where we wanted to go in a south-easterly direction was being formed and had just been paved - probably the day before. Further down the new road we caught up with the paving crew taking a tea break - a familiar sight worldwide. The next 15 km were also ready for paving, so we were able to make good time.
As we neared the jabals, the road finished and the tracks continued south - mainly over sandy plains with lots of acacia trees and shrubs because of the runoff when it does rain. We noted a small gas station with nothing else around where the new road will probably end its first stage a few km south. Further on, the track deteriorated into a corrugated sand track caused by the heavy water trucks going back to the camps, and then we slowed more as we went over a rocky saddle. On the other side as the dust settled, we noticed Saleem wasn't behind us, so we turned back. He had a puncture (flat tyre), and we had it quickly changed. Two local Bedouins in their beat-up Nissan and Toyota trucks stopped to see if we were ok - quite curious to see foreigners in their area.
The confluence point 21N 4E was just off the main track through the wādiy but into the jabals. As we got closer, we went over a small ridge, which had a few Bedouin camps, and could see that we were not going to reach the actual point, as it was very high up in the hills. We drove to the base and tried a few different directions to get as close as we could, and managed to get under 700 metres on the GPS. We could only see the first ridge from that close but had seen from further out that it was a very steep jabal.
We stopped and very quickly took photos in the different directions. As expected, within 2 minutes we had vehicles approaching from different directions. The locals as usual were rather questioning as to why we were there, and what we were doing. There is no way you can explain a confluence point to these folks, even if you spoke perfect Arabic. Our answer was that we were admiring the view and it was so nice to be out in the fresh air away from the big city of Jidda. This was true. It was a glorious winter's afternoon around 23°C. They looked a bit puzzled but understood, especially when we said, we were continuing down the wādiy towards al-Sa`diyya.
There were a lot of camps and the goats and sheep were looking healthy. A few hundred metres away from where we stopped, there were some well-constructed stone houses, which were occupied. This is very unusual, as the Bedouin prefer their tents and move around depending on the pasture. The huts must be financed by some government department, as later on we saw a lot more similar groups of 3 stone dwellings scattered around the great area. Most were not inhabited and maybe are only used when there are torrential thunderstorms, which happens a lot as this is near the foot of the 6,000 ft (1800 m) high jabals.
An old pickup was stopped in a sandy spot at the junction of a nearby smaller wādiy, so we crossed over to see if he was stuck and needed a tow. But they also had a flat tyre and were nearly finished changing it, but they appreciated that we had stopped. We went out of the small wādiy we had been in onto a higher ridge to get a good view back to where the confluence point would have been - pretty high up in the jabals probably near the peak. It was not wise to climb it from a safety point of view, let alone harassment from the locals.
The tracks continued down the wide wādiy which was most probably an old pilgrim route to Makka, as it would have had water, whereas the open Tihāma plains not far away to the west are very dry. It was a great afternoon and we enjoyed the view of the high jabals in the background and the variety of scenery of trees, sand, granite, and rocky outcrops. We turned eastwards and went through a narrow wādiy for 10 km before camping in a very nice secluded spot.
There was a clear sky with a full moon and a lovely warm night. The next day, we continued eastwards up Wādiy Sa`diyya where there are remains of a Turkish watchtower on a prominent ridge. We then went up the wide wādiy beds with many tall trees to Lamlam, a surprisingly big village, considering the long distance up the wādiy. It had 3 small gas stations and at least 3 tyre shops - the Indian calling out "puncture, puncture" as we went by. In the old days this was a Mīqāt mosque village where pilgrims entered the greater Makka area, declaring their intention to do the `Umra pilgrimage. It is rather difficult to find out the history and this we will work on. We asked two of the Asian expatriates working there who were on their way to the Friday mosque sermon, but they knew nothing. There must have been a trail down the 6,000 ft escarpment and then winding its way through the smaller jabals before reaching Lamlam, then to Makka, along the track we had just travelled from the confluence point.
We continued up the wādiy for another 20 km, and found it winding deep into the mountains. We turned around, leaving this exploration to find the pilgrims route to another weekend.