23-Jan-2009 -- The colour map of Confluence Arabica is a sea of red, and only few specks of black are visible… and these specks are getting much tougher to get to because of their remote locations. Our challenge was to visit a set of four confluences, 29N 39E, 31N 40E, 31N 39E and 32N 40E, still available in the northwest corner of Saudi Arabia during our normal weekend break. It had taken us months of planning to materialize this challenge in a single weekend.
After the successful visit to 31N 40E, we headed straight north to meet up with the great pipeline highway which runs from the eastern province to Jordan. The drive, in the twilight was really cool, you find yourself completely in a different world, especially as you see the darkness engulfing you. We found several suitable tracks heading north, and by the time we arrived at a highway service station it was already dark. After a hearty meal of BBQ chicken, chickpeas, and meat curry, we continued our quest for the third confluence. It was nearly 7:30 p.m. when we headed west on the highway for about 50 km before turning south once more.
The Google maps showed that this is a volcanic area with lava flows and volcanoes everywhere, hence we had spent a lot of time on mapping potential routes to the Confluence, this task was made difficult since we did not have detailed maps (Google & Nasa are not that detailed). We decided to drive at night to as far as we could, and the first few kilometers were easy as we followed some of the tracks we had mapped on our GPS.
However, after about 30 km we had to make a decision of either going around in a loop which was about 80 km to the Confluence, or a more direct approach of 36 km. We chose the later. The eye of joy struck! (This is a local Arabic saying). We were happily travelling when after 6 km our hopes were dashed with an appearance in front of us of a gate and a high wall made up of loose sand. There were no signs whatsoever. Checking our GPS, the tracks showed to be heading straight through towards the Confluence. Time check 9:00 p.m. We decided to go through the gate, but found our way blocked by small buildings which had lights on.
We tried to catch up with the lost track again but soon found that we were followed by two trucks. We were stopped and told to follow them back to the buildings. After the normal greetings and surprise looks, a lengthy discussion on what we were doing here ensued, we were told politely that this was restricted nature reserve, and that we were not allowed to be in the nature reserve without proper authorized letters. We were duly escorted out up to the gate we had come through. We retraced back to where we had made the decision, and decided to take the original looped track.
We drove on a good track for another 30 km to find that the same wall of sand blocked our way towards the Confluence. The Confluence was still 40 km away. Too tired to think straight, we hit the bed with the canopy of a billion stars above. It was again a freezing night. We woke up the next morning before sunrise, and decided to go for the Confluence by driving over the wall. We found some tracks here and there over black rocky terrain. About 5 km from the Confluence, we ran out of tracks and had to drive over the rocks with some trepidation. We eventually covered the distance with bone jarring slowness. The Confluence was in the middle of a black rocky hill, and in the northern distance we could see a lake with a small volcano cone. It was still cold, as we celebrated our success, and headed straight back out, retracing our tracks, climbing the wall again and almost expecting the guards waiting for us… Nothing of that sort happened!
We were back on the "outside" and headed north towards the highway and continued our quest for the forth confluence at 32N 40E.