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Day 76: In Aménas

Michael Palin - SaharaWilly's life seesaws between down-to-earth domesticity and the almost recklessly exotic. He's been on rigs in the North Sea, Colombia, the Congo, China and Kazakhstan. Colombia was 'scary'. He was shot at and, as he put it, 'had to hide under the desk a few times'. Kazakhstan was the only place in the last nine years where he didn't need any guards with him. The other half of his life is back home in Scotland, with his wife, a son at Stirling University and a different set of drinking buddies, for whom Coca-Cola is no longer the strongest thing on offer.

He waves vigorously as a 50-tonne truck toils slowly by, the driver waving back from a cab high above our heads.

They've been on this site for sixty-two days. Working round the clock, it took them thirty-two of these days to drill over 8000 feet down into the desert. Gas was found but not at sufficient pressure to make production worthwhile. They're moving on to another site, identified for them by the geologists after a three-day seismic test in which 600 miles of the Sahara was wired up and an artificial earthquake created.

According to Willy, expenditure on the ultimately fruitless work has been augmented by certain below-the-line items.

'We had a visit from Glass Eye. Took 60,000 dollars' worth of surveying equipment.'

We drive back into In Aménas. A few huts and palm trees linger on the outskirts, a dusty hint of what the village must have been like before it was engulfed by the oil industry. Now it's dominated by compounds full of storage tanks and drilling equipment, watch-towered and double-fenced. The wind scythes across the desert, tearing at a foliage of plastic bags caught on the razor wire. A filthy sign welcomes us: 'Throw Your Litter Away For A Clean and Beautiful Village.'
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 76
  • Country/sea: Algeria
  • Place: In Aménas
  • Book page no: 208

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