20-Nov-2007 -- We, Carlo Nicolai (artist and scientist), and Maurizio Santicola (adventurer and photographer), came across this Project by chance after an internet search on the Philaeni Brothers (see remark below). One of the internet search entries was an incomplete visit to 31N 17E where some of the remains of the monument built by the Italians in 1937 were shown.
We decided to follow the path of the Philaeni Brothers, sitting, however, comfortably in our Pajero 4WD. Our adventure was fully supported by our families, especially the wives, Elisa and Ivana, who for some reasons couldn't wait to get rid of us; maybe to see how good the sitting room looks without us sleeping on the sofa, with the TV on.
We carefully prepared the trip, satellite photos loaded on laptop, tracks on GPS, batteries, cameras, excessive food supplies, maps, and most importantly the journey plan to avoid night driving. It is always dangerous driving in this country because of bad habits and overconfidence of the local drivers (often untrained/unlicensed) coupled with the poor maintenance of the vehicles. We were also a bit worried by crossing military areas and therefore in an attempt to facilitate our trip we had the Confluence Presentation Letter translated into Arabic. A satellite phone is also highly recommended since there is no mobile coverage away from the coast.
We left Tripoli on the bright morning of 20 November 2007 at 07:50 a.m. Temperature was a promising 12 °C. The trip to Surt is long, the road is quite good and impressive construction works indicate that it will be even better in the near future. Between Miṣrāta and Surt we admired the sabkhas extending for kilometres between the road and the coastline. We reached Surt early in the afternoon after an impressive number of police check points. Some of them are normal, administrative boundaries between provinces, others, we wonder if related to tightened controls after the recent al-Qā`ida's threats against Libya.
Back to our trip, we left the main road some 20 km after Surt and followed a service road of a branch of the Great Man Made River, the gigantic system of aqueducts that brings water to the coastal Libya. Then we had to abandon the road to enter a rough desert area of low sand dunes and bushes covering more competent sand, eroded by a number of small wādiys. Occasionally the ground is strewn with small, sharp rocks. It took about an hour on this terrain to reach the Confluence where we arrived at about 16:30 hrs.
After the celebration (boiled eggs and processed cheese), the photos and all the rest, we checked the remaining time before sunset (around 18:00 hrs) and considered to set a tent for the night. But then we decided we would have had enough time to go back to Surt, to find a hotel and to enjoy the city nightlife. The only living creatures we met so far being camels and foxes.
In Surt we asked a police officer for direction to the hotel (Lonely Planet suggested Qasr Mutamarat as the best in town). We were kindly escorted by the police to the hotel. However all the 240 rooms were booked by a small group of UN people who, apparently, do not want neighbours; or alternatively the director didn't like our just-back-from-desert look. We were directed to Hotel Africa, downtown; decent clean rooms though it is better to bring own sheets and pillow cover. Here we met a couple of Italians who revealed us the secrets of automated cows milking.
For the following day we planned to change the route, to return to Tripoli from the hinterland, away from the coast, in order to visit the tardo-roman city of Ghírza (Qirda), 3rd century AD (30°56'49.0"N 14°33'03.5"E). No road to go there, the best option is to follow the GMMR. The place is open and unattended but in the precise moment we arrived, three teens in a pick-up showed up selling tickets. They were very aggressive (unlike other Libyans) and rude (we know enough Arabic to understand the equivalent of the f* word). We took their plate number and they immediately calmed down. Not a nice experience.
After the visit, the city is a dull pile of stones but the tombs are worthwhile, we continued our journey south until the intersection with another branch of the GMMR and then north to Tripoli via Baniy Walīd and Tarhūna crossing some spectacular and huge wādiys.
We arrived in Tripoli at 19:00 hrs, after 2 days and 1288 km, tired but happy; back to our welcoming families, sofas, and TVs.
Remark: The Philaeni Brothers myth is reported by Sallustius; the Phoenicians in Carthage and the Greeks in Cyrene had to set the boundary between the two provinces. The chosen champions had to run along the coast towards the rival city and the place of the meeting would have been the boundary. The Phoenician guys (the Philaeni) made an impressive run covering 2/3 of the distance, the Greeks accused them of cheating; they would have accepted the boundary only if the brothers were buried alive on the spot. The martyrdom of the Philaeni Brothers was then resurrected by the Italians who in 1937, during their occupation of Libya, built a commemorative monument, torn apart in 1973 by the Libyan authorities.