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Day 76: In Aménas

Michael Palin - SaharaTonight the Brits working here have laid on a party for us. As Mike Batley, our portly, solicitous host, cooks sausages on the patio of a bungalow, we could almost be back in Maidenhead. Except that we are on the equivalent of an industrial estate, with the steel walls of a maintenance shed rearing up behind us.

Mike has worked abroad for much of his life and makes me feel like a novice at this travel thing. He, on the other hand, envies our freedom to move about Algeria. Oil workers are virtual prisoners in their camps, and he bemoans the fact that we have seen more of the country in seven days than he's seen in seven years.

Beers appear from the fridge, and a bottle or two of Algerian wine loosen tongues around the table. Everyone seems to like the desert. Mike notices how it sharpens the senses.

'We're spoilt for smell,' he says. 'Smell a rose in the desert and it's much more acute and intense.'

Sue, a drilling engineer from Aberdeen, finds the desert different, unusual, exotic, whilst John, a geologist from Holmfirth, is passionate about sand dunes. South of the site we visited today there are some of the biggest he's seen. Five hundred feet high.

When the conversation turns to the wider picture, the geo-politics of oil, the subject becomes murkier. Someone makes the point that the USA has vast petro-chemical reserves, but it knows that the longer it can keep them in the ground the better, so American foreign policy is led by the need to find cheap energy sources beyond its boundaries.

It all seems academic here, full of sausages and red wine, under a huge sky in the serene silence of the Sahara, but a few thousand miles away, in Afghanistan, another desert is being blasted by B-52s, and no-one knows what fury this might provoke.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 76
  • Country/sea: Algeria
  • Place: In Aménas
  • Book page no: 208

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