25-Oct-2013 -- We had just completed, along with several other friends and colleagues, teaching two of three workshops in the United Arab Emirates. As the workshops focused on the use of geotechnologies in education, a confluence visit seemed like an especially appropriate way to take a short break and to see the landscape of this unique and beautiful country. Geotechnologies include Geographic Information Systems, a form of computer mapping, as well as remote sensing and Global Positioning Systems. Our focus of the workshops was to demonstrate how to enhance teaching and learning in mathematics, science, and geography using these technologies. Our audience was Grade 6 educators and education supervisors. I was thoroughly enjoying meeting and working with the wonderful diversity of educators in these workshops and finding out what teaching in schools here was really like.
One fine Friday morning, my friend and colleague Pakrad and I set out from Abū Ẓaby, stopping first to obtain fuel, snacks, and water. We had as our aim the closest confluence to Abū Ẓaby, 24 North 55 East. True, summer had long departed, but the temperatures were still 95° F (35° C) during the day, and the Arabian Desert was nothing to trifle with. It had to be taken seriously. Hence, provisions in vehicle, we set out.
After driving toward al-`Ayn on the main highway, we drove south on a paved road, and then southeast on a wide but sandy unpaved road. This road was very rutty and bumpy, and we made slow progress. Most of the road was like small undulating waves of hard-packed dirt, each valley was about a half meter wide, and we went up and down for what seemed like an eternity. In addition, we were a little worried about getting stuck despite the vehicle's 4-wheel drive capabilities, as occasionally the sand was deep. Despite these worries, it was fascinating to be out here in the desert. We passed no vehicles in either direction and no one passed us. There was some vegetation, some of it clearly planted, on both sides of the road, part of the government's forestry efforts. I thought about the hundreds of kilometers of sand dunes, plains, and rock stretching between us and the Red Sea far to the west. When we neared the 55th Meridian, we drove south along an even sandier road with no gravel underneath it. Pakrad safely negotiated a tough spot and we drove further. Next, we walked the last few hundred meters to the confluence point, reaching it in less than 15 minutes from the vehicle.
As the previous visitor noted, the confluence point lies on perfectly flat ground on a gravel plain. The temperature was only about 90° F (32° C), definitely cooler than Abū Ẓaby had been, and cooler than it had been in the past few days, but still plenty warm. I wondered what it would feel like here in July, and how long a person would be able to survive out here with or without water. A slight breeze was blowing but not a cloud was in the sky. In fact, I had been in the UAE for nearly a week and had only seen 1 solitary cloud. This was my first time on 24 North and also my first time on 55 East. I had no Confluences nearby for hundreds of kilometers; my nearest attempt was far away in Istanbul to the northwest. I was very glad to be here but we did not stay long. I felt a sense of jubilation as it was my first successful confluence visit in all of Asia, after an attempt in Turkey and another in Taiwan. But most importantly, it was great to be out here with a good friend and I enjoyed our conversations about GIS and education and life.
Back at the vehicle, we noticed a camel off to the northwest. Just before we reached the main road running northwest-southeast, a vehicle came moving along rapidly in front of us, driving in the same direction we intended to travel, sending up a huge cloud of dust. This gave us a clue that perhaps our method of driving on the road in a slow manner was not ideal. Despite my nervousness about it, Pakrad did his best to emulate what we had just seen, progressing along at a steady and fairly rapid pace. But, despite my gripping of the door handle, he was right: The tires rode over the top of the ruts instead of down and up each one, and we made infinitely better time on the way back. In fact, we reached the paved road in only 10 minutes.
The adventure was not quite over: Driving north on the paved road, we saw some amazing sights, including scenic vistas with the planted trees on both sides, and suddenly, a herd of camels to the right side. A man with a staff walked behind the herd. Next to him was what looked to be a 6-year old boy driving a Lexus. Very slowly, of course, but still driving. He could barely see over the dashboard! I hurriedly snapped as many photos as possible but missed the boy driver. Still, it made for good memories of our time in the desert. We reached Abū Ẓaby without incident. Now we looked forward to our third and final GIS training event in the western part of the country. We each returned to our work in preparation for our last workshop. It was a great day to get outside and experience the countryside in the UAE.
Continued at 24N 54E.