Episode 16: That Time I Played Wacky Races In Mauritania

365 Dates of Travel Podcast

Transcript for Episode 16: That Time I Played Wacky Races In Mauritania

Welcome to this week’s podcast. Today I’m reading stories from the April chapter. So I have a story from Poland, a story from Norway and a story from Mauritania. 

The first story in Poland is my last day in Warsaw and heading to my next destination of a town name that I don’t know how to pronounce properly. So you might hear it sound slightly different a few times, because I have no idea how to say it, but it’s something along the lines of Kętrzyn. I’m sure all the Polish people out there are cringing at how I am saying the town name (sorry) but it was a great day with a mix of all sorts of things. And visiting the town itself the next day was absolutely fabulous. 

2nd April (2017) Kętrzyn, Poland

I got up at 8:25 am and checked out at 9:50 am. During that time I showered, without washing my hair; drank two cups of tea; ate breakfast; interacted on Facebook; and completed the final pack.

My afternoon train allowed time for sightseeing. I ventured out of the city by public transport. I had done earlier reconnaissance thus found my bus with ease. The bus had screens showing the stops, and I followed the journey on my phone. Lots of people alighted at my stop, so no issues with ringing the bell in time.

It was a glorious sunny Sunday, so people were everywhere. I followed the crowd as all heading to the same place. That made for a long ticket line.

It did not take long to explore Wilanów Palace. I read information from my pre-downloaded app, with the details in English. I surprised myself by looking at some paintings, as I’m not into art. But if the painting tells a historical story, then they can be interesting.

Being sunny, I wandered around the gardens then sat enjoying the sun on my face. A perfect day to be outside rather than in a museum.

I returned to the central station by 2:30 pm and ate lunch at a food outlet in the underpass. There was a paid toilet I could utilise. I had no issues paying for this toilet. I called it luxury in my journal. This was no dirty train station bathroom. A private company ran it with its own brand—2theloo. Their motto is “where needs-to-go becomes wants-to-go”. I love it. It was clean, had toilet paper, soap, working hand dryers and stylish decoration. Worth paying for. I would be on the lookout for these elsewhere.

I had a first-class ticket for my 3:55 pm train. I sat in a double seat with a table as no single seats. There was cart service with snacks and drinks. I had stocks from the supermarket so bought nothing. I am easily pleased with my diary stating:

Main thing a toilet. I’m happy.

My diary continues with discussing my luggage:

I definitely have way too much stuff. I’m disgusted with myself. It doesn’t help I don’t need any of the “warm gear” right now, but at some point I will have coats out, boots on, etc. I don’t know why it’s so bad. It’s particularly bad with boots and lots of food in small backpack. I won’t always have that. Must really pack less next time.

The train travelled through wooded areas visible on both sides of the train. It later became open countryside. Delightful scenery through the train window.

I changed trains with my luggage, but with the aid of others. The second train contained the dog-box six seater cabins. The only place for your luggage was on racks above the seats. There was a woman already seated. Between the two of us, we got my bag on the rack. A man joined us later. The woman was getting off before me. Knowing I didn’t speak Polish, she asked the man to help me with my luggage when I got off. That was kind of her. He was obliging, but I would rather be independent.

Once at Kętrzyn Station, I was relieved to find a taxi out the front. I showed him the hotel address on my phone. He did not recognise the address and asked to see my phone multiple times. I don’t blame him. It was in the middle of nowhere. It was after 8:00 pm and pitch black. We drove through back roads surrounded by woods without street lighting. The car’s headlights providing the only light. It gave a genuine feeling of “Where am I?” and “What am I doing here?”

We made it, though, and I gave the driver a generous tip. This resulted in him carrying my bag into reception and giving me his card to call him when leaving. I appreciated that. I think he was worried about me.

It was a weird place, more reminiscent of a university dorm than a hotel. There were no other options and located at the site I’d visit the next day. I think I was the only guest, being the off season. The room was small, sparse, and bland. Zero amenities. I opened the window to make it cold, and headed to bed early, sleeping well in the cooled room.

11,398 steps today.

This section of the trip is an example of how even well researched trips can go awry. Here’s an insight into my planning. In the beginning, I do a certain amount of research to figure out how many days I need for a trip. This dictates how much annual leave I apply for. To guarantee dates, I need to apply five or six months in advance. We can’t apply earlier than six months at my workplace. As I travel multiple times a year, there is often another trip beforehand needing planning and booking. So, I do preliminary research, apply for leave, buy flights once leave approved, and then put it on the back burner until other trips are completed. Then the nitty-gritty planning begins. Train tickets are booked, hotels chosen and booked, pre-booking of day tours or entry tickets and directions written as I write my trip specific travel bible.

This had worked until this trip. I figured out what I could do based on the train timetables available online. A few months down the track, when booking, a new train timetable had been released. They had reduced the frequency of one train altering the days it ran. My itinerary required re-arranging, thus changing the day I visited Kętrzyn. This resulted in another town being dropped. I learnt a big lesson. If you are doing research in the summer for a trip taking place in winter, then be wary of a winter timetable changing everything. My day in Kętrzyn was incredible. I’m glad I did not miss out on visiting there.

I would have an amazing twelve more days exploring Poland.

This next story has me in Norway in 1996. At the time I was living in Denmark, so I thought it was best to try and travel through the rest of Scandinavia while local. Obviously, I was working full time, which means I only had weekends or the odd long weekend and a bit of other days off here and there. But with Scandinavia being known as an expensive place, it was a little bit easier earning Danish kroner and paying in Norwegian kroner. But this was during my very money pinching days. So I was very tight with my budget and I didn’t pay for anything I didn’t have to. Basically trying to not spend any money at all.

5th April (1996) Bergen, Norway

One girl in my Oslo dorm room left at 4:15 am, waking me. With an early train myself, I was scared I wouldn’t wake up in time if I went back to sleep. I watched CNN in the lounge to fill in time. I’d catch up on sleep on the train.

I’d bought the Triangle Tour involving a train from Oslo to Bergen, which was today; followed by a boat from Bergen to Stavanger; and a train to Oslo. A circle tour with three points thus called a triangle. I had a 7:42 am departure.

The scenery was spectacular. I should have taken lots of photos, but I didn’t take any. I presumed I’d get the best photos when on the boat. The guy sitting next to me pointed out I wouldn’t see real fjords on the boat. Please don’t dampen my expectations. I doubted any Norwegian scenery could disappoint.

The town of Bergen is spread over multiple hills, which gives you an excellent view wherever you are. A bus from the train station took me up the hill to the youth hostel. The view out the back of the hostel was of woodlands and snow-capped mountains. What more could you want?

I know what you don’t want, a fee to use the hostel kitchen. I had never come across this before, or since. A kitchen use fee? Surely that’s included. The hostel was an official Hostelling International hostel, too. This was during my poor, money-pinching days, so no way I’d pay extra for kitchen use. I had a plug in heater coil you put into a cup to boil water. It was excruciatingly slow, but worked. I sat in the corridor and plugged my water boiler into a power point and waited for it to boil. In my diary I wrote:

A little embarrassing, but I didn’t end up paying for the electricity. I think that’s disgusting. Official hostels every night and I’ve heard kids. That’s not what you want.

School groups often frequented Norwegian youth hostels. I get it’s cheap accommodation, but they ran around screaming everywhere I stayed. Combined with paying to use the kitchen, and this hostel did not impress me. Except for the view.

Not sure what I did with my boiled water, as I mention no food regarding eating or buying.

The next is a story from the wonderful 1998 Africa trip. We’re in Mauritania and the day doesn’t start off great, but it ends up being a fabulous day and I absolutely loved it and the whole next few days afterwards. So definitely worth reading about this part of the Africa story. And you get a little bit of an insight into some of the group dynamics, particularly when we’re joining with other cars. Travelling in a group is definitely a lot harder than travelling on your own. 

27th April (1998) Crossing Mauritania

What a day. A lot of waiting around trying to sort everything out. Lucy and two other vehicles were broken into overnight and belongings stolen. Lucky for Stumpy, they lost nothing. They stole our cassette tapes, the small tent, Joe’s sleeping mat, Anna’s blanket, my Thermorest, Joe’s Walkman, guidebooks, water bottles and other bits and pieces. They almost got my runners, but we found them in the alley nearby. No idea if dropped on purpose, but I got them back. One of the other cars lost cameras, bikes, stereo and more.

Sarah lost nothing but upset about the small tent she and Anna had been sleeping in being taken. It was Joe’s tent. She’d have to share with the rest of us again.

The worst for me was losing the Thermorest. It wasn’t the £65 value. They stole my comfort, and you can’t put a price on that.

Losing the cassette tapes was annoying. We had a reputation as the music masters, but now only had what we’d taken inside the hostel with us. The main two I remember were Ray of Light, by Madonna and The Best of ABBA. Voulez-Vous takes me back to Africa instantly, to this day.

We waited for the police to look at everything. Then made a report at the Police Station. No one had insurance bar me, so everything completed under my name. I doubted I would get any money back, but worth getting the report.

The owner of the hostel was distraught and tried to make amends. He didn’t charge us for our accommodation. We just paid for breakfast. Nouadhibou was considered a frontier town and notorious for cars being broken into. We knew of this and chose a hostel with a locked car park and high walls. It had to be an organised theft involving multiple people with ladders. The first edition of the Sahara Overland book written in 2000 suggests you stay somewhere with a locked garage and a watchman.

We joked about taking mattresses from the hostel and putting them under the roof tarp. I had to get on the roof to find my insurance paperwork. Sarah said, “Look, Fran’s on the roof for the first time ever.” My reply, which I can’t repeat here, showed my non agreement with her statement. Sarah continued saying I was there because of the excitement of having mattresses there. Whatever.

We left around 2:30 pm with me snagging the middle seat; my favourite. I enjoyed seeing out the front window and created a buffer between Sarah and Anna. Though they just talked over me. With rough ground, we bounced all over the place, and each other.

We formed a mini convoy of three cars sharing one guide to lead us through the desert to Nouakchott. The Red Team, us in Lucy; the Orange Team, the Stumpy crew; and a third car, the Green Team. The Green Team comprised two French guys in a caravan and truck mash-up, called Florent and Tristan. Their truck cab was painted green, hence the Green Team.

We worked through multiple police checks, and then:

We were out by ourselves. Three cars playing Wacky Races in the desert. It was brilliant. We saw the three-kilometre train that’s free to ride on top. I’d like to do that one day. We were like kids, racing the cars, wheeling around, passing each other, playing chicken, driving in front of each other, etc. It was absolutely brilliant.

I enjoyed watching the Green Team because they always went their own way over harder bits and are really high for an even better feel. I commented to Sarah that I wanted to have a go in that and she said she could see my eyes light up every time I saw them.

Lucy overheated throughout the day again.

We drove until 7:00 pm. It was still daylight. Sarah and Anna explored. Keith and Alby followed them in Stumpy, where they picked Sarah up. Sarah held onto the back of Stumpy, on the outside, as they attempted to drive up a steep sand dune. They drove a fair way up, then changed their mind. I wouldn’t want to be on the back of a vehicle driving up a dune. Driving back, Sarah and Keith were on the roof and Anna was holding on backwards to the front of Stumpy. They were on an adrenaline high, saying they wanted to do more stunts in the dunes.

I was last to sit down at dinner and realised why there was a gap in the circle. It was the sand’s path with constant sand blowing at you. In your mouth. In your hair. I spilled my stew over myself, making sand stew to clean up. With plenty of food, I restocked my plate with clean stew and moved positions to get away from the sandblasting.

Vinnie and Joe headed to bed first around 9:30 pm. Vinnie was not feeling well suffering cold type symptoms. Sarah had just got over a cold. We were sharing everything.

I was dreading heading to bed without my Thermorest or any sleep mat. I was chatting with Emma from the Orange Team about it. Anna and Sarah said they planned to sleep outside and the same for Keith and Alby. Emma offered me the chance to sleep in Stumpy with her. Anna reacted weirdly to this, saying what if they needed to use Stumpy if became too sandy overnight? So, they didn’t want me to sleep in Stumpy IN CASE they needed it. Emma put her foot down, and I slept in Stumpy.

Anna and Sarah had sleeping mats and pillows. They could sleep anywhere in relative comfort. I thought my best option was to sleep on two pillows with my sleeping bag on top, and rolling my sleep sheet for a pillow.

In the end, Anna, Sarah, Keith, Alby, Florent and Tristan slept out under the stars. Emma and I were inside Stumpy. The whole back of Stumpy was a flat platform with a mattress on top. One enormous bed. Better than a Thermorest. Emma and I stayed up talking, not sleeping until late.

Wrap up

Well, that’s it for this week’s podcast. I hope you’ve enjoyed the fabulous April stories, or a handful of them anyway. Next week I will be going back into the publishing and writing side of things, talking about how some of the payments have come through from Amazon and Ingramspark and things like that. More of the background information about what’s going on when you self publish a book. 

Don’t forget that to read the full stories you can buy the book “365 Dates of Travel: The first six months” by Fran Heap. It’s available from direct links on my website at franheapwriter.com/books/ or you can go directly yourself to Amazon, Booktopia, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and all sorts of places. Particularly the ebook. I still don’t know everywhere my ebook is actually available to buy. So if it’s somewhere you can think of, you can probably buy the ebook there. 

There are lots of things on the website, so don’t forget to check that out. If you go to the basic franheapwriter.com, you can read about the upcoming book, “The SECOND six months”. Some of you might have heard something about a June release, which I apologise for, but it will now be coming out in July. The new announcement for the launch of “The SECOND six months” book will be on the 23rd of July. I’ve added little interactive things in the second book and just lots of extra bits and pieces. I needed more time to finalise all of that. But I think it will be worth the wait to get those extra things in there and eventually I will go back and add all the little details into the first book and make a second edition of “The first six months”. 

You can see pictures of the book cover either on my Instagram, Facebook and of course the website if you’d like to see the new cover. Otherwise, remember you’ve got the photos as well on the website. So you can see some of the photos of crossing Mauritania and Poland and Norway and all sorts of other places that I’ve been to. And of course you can listen to the podcast as you know. And the transcripts of the podcast can also be found on the website and lots of other social media bits and pieces on Instagram and Facebook as: Fran Heap Writer.

Thank you very much for listening today. I hope you found something interesting or something that made you smile or laugh. Like I said, please feel free to laugh at me. That’s absolutely what I’m here for. I would be devastated to think you didn’t laugh at me. Until next week. I wish for you an interesting day. 

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