I am sure this will become routine and old hat but I was a little excited for my first trip into the interior where the oil field and processing plant that I support is located. Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) charters about 8 flights a week into and out of the interior each week and booking is as simple as an email however it took me about a month to get all the necessary training to be allowed to go. My day started at with a 5:45 bus pickup that takes you to the airport from the camp. When you get to the airport you must pass through security before going into the ticketing counter. Then you check your bag and head to the second security screening. All the PDO flights are on 737s, though they used to use propeller driven planes but had to change because people would refuse to go in them as the air above the desert at low altitudes is very rough.
I landed in Marmul which is a 835 km drive from Muscat and got on another bus towards the plant, about another hour. On the way I saw camels and a date plantation. Turns out one of the economy diversification ideas for Oman is to plant lots of date trees. The plan is to plant one million trees. Not sure how many I saw but it was a lot.
The desert isn’t just sand dunes, near the plant where I work the desert is very rocky with large areas of wadi which are covered in smooth round stones that are light gray – very similar to Alberta Rose stones you can buy for your garden in Canada. A few years ago the night shift was marooned at the plant when the wadi around the plant filled with water and blocked all the roads. They ended up sleeping in a rig camp and eating everything that was available while they waited for the water to flow away. It took three days for the water to get low enough to relieve the crew and get food to them.
PDO has done a lot to make the camp comfortable for its workers. The streets are all lined with trees, there is a basketball court, games room, exercise room, mosque and a soccer field (football pitch?). It seems a little weird to see all this green in the middle of nowhere but it is pleasant to have a change of scenery from the brown of the desert. Each room in the camp is a half of a porta-cabin (Atco trailer) with a bed, desk, TV and bathroom. There aren’t new but they are generally clean and in good repair though as a transient you usually get assigned to some elses cabin which will have a few personal items in it. This time I had a novel and two dishdasha’s – but I didn’t try them on though I was tempted.
There is a mess hall where the food is generally indian, which means for lunch and dinner you have rice, naan and either fish, chicken or goat curry. It is good but I would get tired of it if I worked 2 weeks on and 2 weeks off like most of the Omanis or 4 and 4 like the expats. Our plant is very new, only about 5 years old, and when you walk through it feels more or less like a Canadian plant – I guess pipes, vessels and pumps look the same no matter where you are.
Our office is brand new and a great space to work in, it even has an Nespresso machine complete with “coffee boy” who will put the k-cups in for you and bring you a coffee. Two or three times a day the entire team will sit down to dates and coffee/tea and talk. The discussion is generally half Arabic and half English and half business and half non-business but it is fun to watch and listen plus the dates are great and the Omanis do make an effort to include me in the conversation. They are always curious about life at -40C which of course is completely foreign to them.
I stayed three nights and on the last night I walked down to the wadi across the highway from the camp to watch the sunset and take a few pictures. As it started to get dark I was a little worried about the wildlife as there are signs all over the place warning about camel spiders and snakes both of which are poisonous and nocturnal. In the end I chickened out and made it back to the road before the sun was fully set. The Omanis all laughed when I told them about my concern (fear) but that’s fine they are totally scared of bears in the woods so it’s all about the dangers you know I guess.
The trip was interesting and productive. I met some great people and got a good introduction to the plant, how it operates and some of the its challenges.