- Getting a Visa for Algeria takes time. Be Patient.
- The local GE office will want you to bring eight passport size photos and a high quality color copy of your engineering degree.
- I didn't find an ATM anywhere in country so bring cash. You can change money at the hotel desk, but you'll get a ten percent better rate by asking the Bellboy to change dollars or Euros for you. Whether or not this aids local terrorist networks, I know not.
- Everyone here speaks Arabic and French which has to be confusing as Arabic is so guttural and French is composed entirely of vowel sounds. Very few people speak passable English, but you're sure to find that Sonatrach (the national oil company) will have English speaking representatives to work with you.
- I had the benefit of a native Arabic speaking translator to guide me through the process of obtaining air transportation from Algiers to In-Amenas which was my final destination. Absent local language skills I'm not sure how you'll fare at the domestic terminal. Most of the airline agents at the International terminal speak some English so you shouldn't have any problems there. From the time I arrived in country to the time I left site I was accompanied by another GE controls engineer who is a native of Egypt.
- When you arrive in country you'll need to be specific on the customs forms about what you are bringing into the country. I know one guy who didn't claim his hand tools and had said hand tools "appropriated" by a customs agent when he departed Algeria.
- Security at the airport is a joke, just like everywhere else in the world.
- The hotel I stayed at wasn't cheap. The Mercure is the hotel preferred by the local GE office and it is adequate. There is a shuttle from the airport to the hotel and back which makes pick-ups and drop-offs at a point located between the international and domestic terminals. When you exit the international terminal make an immediate right and walk until you get to the barrier at the roadway's edge (approx. 20 meters). The shuttle runs every half hour or so. The hotel does take Visa.
- There are at least two GSM based cell phone providers in Algeria. In the north Dgyzzy is the way to go. International calls are fairly cheap and you can call the DialComm number for France to get a trans-atlantic line. At the compressor station I had to purchase a SIM card from a company named Mobilis. Mobilis charges an arm and a leg for international calls and doesn't allow calls to the French DialComm line. SIM cards are available for sale without any paperwork. It's as easy as buying a candy bar.
- Alcohol is unbelievably expensive as the government places a high tax on this 'sin'.
- When using domestic air transportation you must "claim" your checked luggage when boarding the plane. You'll board your plane on the tarmac. When you get there everyone's luggage will be on the tarmac. You must identify your luggage to the porters at this time, otherwise it won't be one the flight. I can't say what they'll do to it, but I'd guess that you'll never see it again.
- When you get to your destination airport you'll have to fill out arrival and departure cards again. I had the benefit of guidance through this part of the journey so I'm not sure of the details.
- The ride from In-Amenas to the compressor station I worked at was by taxi. The Army provided armed security for this leg of the trip in the form of an SUV leading the taxi. Inside the SUV were three men with AK-47s and sidearms.
- The Algerian countryside is a moon-like wasteland punctuated by surrealistic scenes of flared gas. I've not seen anything like it anywhere else.
- You will surrender your passport at the gate when you enter the plant. It will be returned when you depart.
- Only drink bottled water when you get to camp. They sell it at the canteen.
- Breakfast in Algeria is coffee and only coffee. On the bright side it's damn good coffee.
- Lunch is two and a half to three hours long. This allows everyone to nap during the heat of the day.
- If you want to bring back a souvenir for the wife or girlfriend ask to buy a "rose du saab" or "flor du saab". This is a piece of sandstone that "grows" in the desert. It's quite impressive and lasts much longer than real roses.
- The scorpians out here are quite impressive. You'll only see them at night, but then again it's too hot to stroll around the camp during the day.
A scorpian. For reference my folding knife is just under 6 inches long.
Some pictures of the station.
Pictures of the package. For the uninitiated this is a GE Frame 5 driving a two stage single case compressor.
Pictures of Libya.
Trees do grow in the desert.
A water fountain in camp. Wasteful.