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INSIDE SAHARA
In the distance, a complete skeleton of a camel sits in the vast emptiness, bleached white and shimmering in the midday sun. It is so perfectly preserved, with its skull resting comfortably on the sand, and its spine articulated so sharply against the ruler-straight horizon, that it could have been a sculpture placed there by design. My instinct says, stop the car and take the shot, you will never see a more perfect specimen, or a more potent symbol of flesh and blood beaten to submission by the great Sahara. But I keep silent and just let the silvery ghost etch itself onto my memory as the car hurries on. All the years of travelling with a film crew have taught me to sublimate those impulses. Not that it ever gets any easier or any less frustrating, but I have learned through previous journeys that this is a television series with a tight filming schedule, and the priority has to be getting from A to B and completing the required sequences. The director can stop the car, and the cameraman can stop if he sees something very special, but it is really not my place to hold up the convoy. Except perhaps for desperate bodily needs. The skeleton disappears into the dust cloud of our rear wheels. ‘There will be another one,’ I tell myself, ‘in better light. The light was real dirt-bag anyway…’

I crack open the window an inch to let in some air, only to be greeted by a blast of scalding wind. As on most of this journey so far, it is often a choice between roasting in the drowsy stifling heat with all the windows up, or being barbecued and sandblasted by letting the full fury of the 130sF desert in. A few miles further on, we see far in the distance that the camera car has stopped. As we get a little closer, we can just make out that it may be a flat tyre situation. I find myself cursing them for not getting the puncture earlier.

The driver is kicking all the tyres. Nigel is walking away from the car into the desert, in search of that elusive bit of privacy. Nigel, our ace cameraman, has worked on every one of Michael’s journeys. He is a gentle soul and a closet perfectionist; I see him as a kindred spirit and my hairy English brother. We started working together on Pole to Pole. During which, on one fateful night in Lusaka, Zambia, I gave him the nickname ‘Quasi’ – after Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame – when he destroyed a hotel elevator that was rude to him with a single kick. Unfortunately, the name stuck. And now, eleven years on, the name has evolved into a verb, ‘to quasi’, meaning any act of wanton violence against inanimate objects, and an association, in which his son Peter, our assistant cameraman, and I are currently trainee Quasies.
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Michael's introduction
About Basil Pao
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