Dust covers our tires as we shamble down the dirt road toward the rusting oil refinery that looms just out of sight. We follow the wire fence until our curiosity overcomes the “no trespassing” signs and we hop over the fence. One of our party can’t make the climb, so I continue alone into the refinery.
I walk across a large open space, fascinated by the rusting metropolis of winding metal looming in front of me. Everything is eerily silent, and I feel jumpy and alert to every noise. I pass decomposing sheds and cars rusting into the ground, and as I get closer, the metropolis looms taller until I am standing at its mouth.
The inside of the refinery confuses as much as it inspires. I know every pipe, gasket, lever, and strange piece of machinery must hold some integral place in the oil refining process, but I am at a loss to explain what that place might be. Parts of the apparatus seem so whimsical and idiosyncratic that they verge on the ridiculous. Nonsensical tangles of gauges grow in one corner, and rows upon rows of crooked pipe hang beneath a platform. One gets the sense that, when fully operational, they would swing back and forth like jointed metal elbows. If they serve an actual, practical purpose in this structure, than this refinery was designed by Tim Burton, Willie Wonka, or Steam Punk fans. If not, then engineers have a greater sense of humor and creative beauty than I previously gave them credit for.
In other places, nature has infiltrated the pipes and gaskets. The pooling trunks of palm trees spill over into the concrete and appear to hold up the metal structures they invade. Graffiti blends seamlessly into the rusted greens, oranges, and reds. Both feel so intentional that for a moment I wonder if these organic elements are essential to the same strange design. This refinery, built by the engineer, yielded to time, and invaded by the beautiful and organic, is now the stuff of fairy tales and imagination.