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Sahara

Day 73: Hassi-Messaoud

Michael Palin - SaharaNevertheless, French influence still clings to the place. The VIP dining room is called the Salle Bleue and is decorated with a nice touch of Gallic surrealism, featuring nets, fish tanks, underwater grottoes and other watery themes. At lunch, to which I'm entertained by the executives of Sonatrach, the Algerian state oil and gas company, French is spoken and there are many courses: salad, hard-boiled eggs with caviar, carrots, lettuce and tomato, grilled swordfish, lamb chops, omelette, lemon tart with cream, fruit and coffee.

'We eat well before Ramadan,' jokes one of my hosts.

The only thing missing is a bottle of Beaujolais, but the ban on alcohol is, I'm assured, a general rule in all drilling areas, anywhere in the world.

The Algerian executives seem comfortably westernised. The head of the base refers to his countrymen as 'Mediterranean people' and dinner-table conversation revolves around such bourgeois topics as children's education, keeping fit, summer holidays and life in Algiers, to which most of them return for three weeks' leave, every four weeks. I ask them the reasons for the high level of security at Hassi-Messaoud, the massive fences, the armed guards, the watchtowers. Do terrorists strike this far south?

A few swift glances are exchanged around the table, a wordless debate as to how much I should be told. Oilworkers were killed in 1992 but since then it's been safe. The boss man leans back, dabbing his mouth with a napkin. Apart, that is, from 'Glass Eye'.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 73
  • Country/sea: Algeria
  • Place: Hassi-Messaoud
  • Book page no: 203

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