Saturday 4 August

Hopping around a bathroom with blood dripping from the sole of my foot was perhaps not an ideal way to begin a trip to Tanzania. This is after all an expedition to the highest point in Africa, at 5895 m also the highest (non-technical) trekking peak in the world. The bathroom in question belongs to the grandmother of my travelling companion, Rachel, and the blood making a bright red spot on Rachel’s grandmother’s pristine yellow carpet was the consequence of a plaster – unexpectedly well-attached to my foot – that I had just torn off. It had been intended to protect my foot after I removed a very small splinter just before leaving Nottingham but the blood now issuing forth was out of all proportion to the original injury.

Rachel’s grandmother was very gracious about the mess on her immaculate bathroom floor, and even more gracious in her insistence on driving us to Birmingham airport at the unearthly hour of half past three in the morning, something that I feel is well beyond the call of duty even for a grandmother.

So it is that Rachel and I find ourselves standing in the check-in queue for flight KL1420 at Birmingham International terminal two. I have already checked us in via the KLM web site and secured bulkhead seats 8A and 8B on the all-important long-haul part, but we still have the small matter of dropping off our luggage. It is a few minutes before I spot the small print underneath the business class sign that suggests that we might be able to skip the queue for regular check-in and deposit our bags there. And indeed we can. With only a slight feeling of smugness we leave the other queuing passengers behind and head to the departures lounge where we have nearly two and a half hours to kill.

Most of my recent holidays have been with ‘adventure’ tour companies, Explore, Exodus, and KE, but this year I am travelling with friends on an independent itinerary. Rachel Sinclair is with me for the whole trip. Rachel Leader will be joining us for the middle week when we plan to climb Kilimanjaro. The whole thing has a very different feel to it to previous trips and I’m nervously excited.

At Schipol Airport we have more than three hours to wait for our connecting flight to Kilimanjaro International Airport (incidentally the only mountain to have its own international airport) so we embark on a search for the ‘tired luggage’ sculpture. This is a humorous (and I think typically Dutch) sculpture that I remember seeing on a previous pass through the airport. We get as far as gates H but the sculpture is not to be found.

We depart on a MD-11, flight KL571. We’re right at the front of the economy section with extra legroom thanks to the Internet check-in, but the engine noise is rather loud. We cross the Alps, down over Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, and over the Adriatic Sea. On the other side of the Mediterranean the ground turns to desert. (Sadly no sign of the pyramids.)

Well, finally on the aircraft to Tanzania. Still hasn’t sunk in that when we disembark this plane I’ll be back in East Africa, the land that captivated me back in 1998. We are about two-thirds through and have seen some beautiful and amazing things from the window. The top of Egypt/Libya so dusty yellow in comparison to the blue of the Mediterranean Sea. The contrast of the two meeting is amazing.

It will be interesting to see the lush tropics of East Africa begin to creep in.

It is dark by the time we land at Kilimanjaro International, 8pm, so we don’t get to see the mountain. We are first off the plane and having obtained our visas in advance, are quickly through to the baggage reclaim carousel. I find myself the subject of an unexpected quiz from a customs official (why are you visiting, for how long, and where are you going?) and then we are outside where our driver, Nimrod, is waiting.

It’s thirty minutes to the Jacaranda Hotel on the outskirts of Arusha where we have a reservation. The room is quite nice but we are sharing a double bed. (I’m fairly sure that I asked for a twin room when I made the reservation.) Send a quick email to Rachel Leader to let her know that the flight went well and that we are looking forward to seeing her in a week.