06.00 hours, Sahara Desert, August 1986, ten days short of my 40th birthday. I look a little grumpy, but I’d only had about three hours’ sleep on what would turn out to be a day of great significance, although I knew nothing of what was to come … the night before, our group of about fifteen had had a great time, fifty miles out into the Sahara, with some excellent hashish courtesy of Kadir, one of our Bedouin guides, and some fine Irish whiskey, supplied by yours truly.
I zonked out around midnight, then woke up again about 3 a.m., and couldn’t get back to sleep. Everyone else was out cold, so I decided to go for a walk. There was a full moon, and the desert landscape was brightly lit up, as if by a silver sun. I walked for about 20 minutes, then sat down to contemplate the beauty of the Universe. This was not the Sahara of rolling dunes we’ve seen countless images of. It was an endless flat plain, with dried-up river beds, with some hills sticking up incongruously.
At first, all I could hear was my own breathing. When that calmed down, I could hear the blood swishing through the veins in my ears. And then, silence like you could not imagine. Utter, complete, living silence.
After another half an hour, I started to hear tiny voices, coming from what seemed a long way off. Tiny, tiny voices … when I got back to our camp, everyone was just rising. I asked Kadir if he’d heard voices too. Yes, he said, there was another Bedouin camp ‘quite nearby’. How far away was it, I asked him. He said ten, maybe twelve kilometres. That’s how profound the silence was: we could hear human voices from six or seven miles away, rolling gently across the desert floor and into our ears.
And the day of great significance? I had already organised a dinner date for 9 o’clock that evening with Sarah, whom I’d known for about four years, but had never asked out. We fell in love, and were married eight months later. The person in this photo probably thought that his experience in the magic Sahara moonlight was quite enough for one 24-hour period. Little did he know …