Flying in the face of danger at African Cup of Nations
I am a big fan of the African Cup of Nations having been lucky enough to cover the tournament three times, in Mali in 2002, Tunisia in 2004 and Angola in 2010.
Of these, the most enjoyable was the first, and without question the most inaccessible place I have ever watched a football match was in the heart of the Sahara desert in western Mali in Kayes, a town of about 100,000 people.
According to my guidebook, Kayes was noteworthy for one thing; being Africa's hottest town. Kayes, more than 300 miles from our BBC base in the capital, Bamako, was not accessible by road at all.
Only a driver with an intimate knowledge of how to survive in the desert would attempt to cross all those miles of the Sahara in a vehicle, and even then it would take days.
No, the only realistic way to get in and out of Kayes was by plane.
It may not come as huge surprise to hear that Air Mali was not equipped with a large fleet of shiny jets. In fact Air Mali was not over- equipped with planes of any sort. They had one. Normally it did a shuttle from Bamako to Timbuktu for tourists, but during the tournament it was ferrying VIPs to matches and was out of bounds to us.
To make up for the lack of local planes, the organisers had borrowed a nice little jet and crew from South African Airways. Lovely, sleek design, air-conditioned and safe, it was an oasis of comfort. At least that's how it looked to us members of the BBC commentary team as the South African squad boarded it for their quarter-final against Mali in Kayes later that day.
The Africa Cup of Nations brings out the best of the colour and dance from the fans. Photo: Getty
Travelling with them was the huge figure of Emmanuel Maradas, one of the senior men in Africa's governing body for football, Caf.
We had a great view of them from our seats aboard the other plane which had been acquired for the duration of the tournament. This had been borrowed, along with a pilot, from Air Armenia.
It's fair to say that when you are contemplating a trip over some of Africa's least habitable terrain, you do not necessarily want to be making that trip in the plane which Air Armenia do not want, flown by the pilot they could most do without.
After a long wait for that pilot to arrive, he finally strolled aboard from the back of the plane (I think the handles on the doors at the front had long since fallen off). He lit up a cigarette and yawned. Clearly he had recently been awoken from a deep sleep.
Muttering some prayer under my breath, I decided I did not want to watch whatever was about to happen and pulled down the window cover, which came off in my hand.
Miraculously, our flight was trouble-free. About an hour-and-a-half later we landed on the new airstrip on the outskirts of Kayes, built just a mile or so from the new football stadium.
I can confirm that the guidebook was not kidding about Kayes being hot. As the South African team emerged from the dressing rooms for kick-off, at six in the evening local time, my colleague and producer Nick Bushell showed me his thermometer - it was a tad under 120 degrees, and we were in the shade of the only roof.
For 90 minutes the South Africans ran around like they had puddles of sweat in their boots, which they probably did, and lost to Mali 2-0.
Clutching our boarding passes for the return journey and looking forward to a drink or three in Bamako, we piled on to the bus bound for the airport.
Slowly a realisation dawned on us as we bounced across the baked red earth; on the way to the stadium this bus had been half-full, now it was packed.
Clearly, our friend from Air Armenia must have made the journey from Bamako more than once that day carrying press, photographers and officials to Kayes.
Now, with light failing, what were the chances of him doing more than one flight back to the capital? I reckoned none at all. Worse still, every single person had a boarding pass for the same plane.
Even if Air Armenia let you stand in the aisles for the flight, which they probably would, the plane could not hope to hold more than about 50 people - about half the number hoping to be on board. Nick quickly checked in the guidebook for advice on overnight stays in Kayes. It was a short chapter - "Don't."
Everyone had come to the same conclusion; one small plane, one large crowd, only one flight. It was getting tense as we got off the bus on to the side of the airstrip tarmac behind a barrier manned by armed police.
Air Armenia's finest appeared and taxied to within a hundred yards of our now desperate throng. The police then removed the barrier and everyone ran for the plane waving our useless boarding cards. This was going to be the flight of the fittest and I didn't fancy my chances of getting on the plane.
Suddenly, with the masses converging, the rear door opened and there, as if by magic, at the top of the stairs was Emmanuel Maradas in his Caf blazer.
"Stop!" he bellowed. "BBC ..... BBC!" I have no idea why, and I have no idea what everyone else made of it; but this sainted angel from on high was not going to let anyone on board until my colleagues and I had taken our places. Too grateful to be worried by the injustice of it, we clambered up the steps and sheepishly sat down.
That night as I settled down under my mosquito net in my ultra-modest hotel bedroom, I have never felt so lucky and so guilty. This, I thought, is luxury.