Episode 18: That Time I Stared Into The Gates of Hell

365 Dates of Travel Podcast

Transcript for Episode 18: That Time I Stared Into The Gates of Hell

Hello, welcome to this week’s podcast. We are at the junction between The first six months book and The SECOND six months book. That’s a bit of a tongue twister. The 6th month second six month book. Okay, I hadn’t realised what a tongue twister that was until just this moment. Okay, we’ll move on from that. 

May is the end of The first six months book and the beginning of The SECOND six months book. So this week I will talk about some of the stories in the first book and some of the stories in the second book. A sneak peek into what will come in July when The SECOND six months comes out. There are only eight dates of May in the first book and I am basically on the same trip the whole time, which is a combination of Turkmenistan and Italy. And that all happened in 2016. 

Planning

The original trip was Uzbekistan. And when researching Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan came up, and I really wanted to go see the so called Gates of Hell, or Door to Hell or it has many different names, but basically it’s a crater that’s on fire. So I really wanted to add Turkmenistan to the trip. Unfortunately, the dates didn’t match up. The smallest gap I could get between the two tours was ten days. So ten days is a substantial amount of time, but also not enough time to do anything too major or full on. So I decided I wanted to go to the one place and not move around too much during that time. Tours can be quite fast paced and busy, and you start early every morning and you can’t choose to sleep in or you will miss the bus to the next destination and you would then miss everything else that happens after that. 

Deciding on Rome

So for the ten days, I wanted somewhere where I could just get to easily and then have enough to do and see in that time rather than moving every day or every second day or something along those lines. And so where would I like to spend ten days? Of course, Rome was like the perfect place for me to choose, seeing how I’ve travelled all around the world seeing parts of ancient Rome or influenced by ancient Rome, so how could I not need ten days in ancient Rome? Oh, sorry, in the real Rome, it’s not technically ancient anymore, but there’s a lot of parts that are still ancient with all the ruins and so perfect, and particularly because it was quite difficult with all the flights as well. 

Flights

A lot of places like Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, part of Central Asia, didn’t have great connections from Australia. But you could get to Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan quite easily from Istanbul and via Turkish Airlines. So it made sense to buy a return ticket from Melbourne to Istanbul, and then I bought three more return tickets. So one to Turkmenistan and back and one to Uzbekistan and back. And of course, from Turkey I could get anywhere in Europe quite cheaply and easily and in a few hours be anywhere in Europe. So perfect to fly directly to Rome and back. So I had lots of individual tickets, which in the end proved useful. 

Turkmenistan

So I started off with Turkmenistan directly from Melbourne and that all went perfectly well. No problems. I got my visa as I arrived and I joined my tour, which by surprise, there were five of us on this tour. It was the perfect amount. Luckily, for the most part, we got along. There were a few bits of friction. It was an Australian couple and two other single women from Australia as well. So five Australians and I intimate in the book that there were some interesting topics of conversations on our last dinner and opinions were not agreed on and we could barely even agree to disagree. It was definitely an interesting conversation we had on our last dinner and it was almost like a boxing match, trying to keep people in their corners and try and not get too blown up. We were talking about life adversities really, and the difference it could make and what it can, or how it can affect your life, or should it affect your life. And yes, everyone had different experiences that were highly emotional and it made for a very interesting conversation. It made a very memorable last dinner, I can tell you now. 

The Gates to Hell

But like I previously said, the main reason I wanted to go to Turkmenistan was after discovering the Gates to Hell. I’ll call it the Gates to Hell because I like that. Door to Hell, Gates to Hell, whatever. So basically, it is a crater in the middle of the desert that is on fire. You cannot go into the crater without dying, you will be burnt to a crisp. And it’s just an underground gas source that was lit by the good old Russians. Thinking they just lit it on fire and the gas would burn away and it would be the end of it. And unfortunately, over 40 years later, it is still burning, and it has created a unique tourist option. And people have likened it with what they would imagine it would be to look into hell like the fire, burning flames and just death and destruction. And so I really wanted to see that and I’m glad I’ve seen that because even our guide, who’s been guiding this tour for a few years, just in her life experience, the amount of fire has dwindled. It’s not as strong as it used to be. 

They’ve discovered a way to divert the gas away from the crater, which is good. I’m assuming that means they can actually utilise the gas. It does seem a bit of a waste just to have it all on fire in theory, particularly with gas prices in Australia as they are at the moment, and the whole issue with cheap and affordable ways of heating our houses. So with diverting the gas, of course, the flames will start to die down. And it is not a site that will exist in the future. At some point, it will just be a hole in the ground, which may be interesting, but nowhere near as interesting as a fire in the hole. 

And it is in the middle of nowhere. There is nothing there. Like I say in the book, there’s not even an enterprising local who’s set up a water stand to sell water bottles. You are in the desert. It is hot. There is nothing, not even a rubbish bin, nothing. You take everything in with you and take everything out with you. 

Part of our tour was to camp there for the night. We had tents and camping gear, a cook with a kitchen, who gave us dinner and breakfast and all things like that. But we had everything with us and we took it all away. And besides our little group, there was only one other person who slept there that night. It was a woman who I still follow on Instagram, but she was basically travelling around the world on one big solo trip. She was trying to visit every country and Turkmenistan was one, but she had a guide with her. So it was her and her guide. And yes, she was the only other person, her and her guide, who were also camping overnight. 

As the evening went on, people did come. There’s quite a bit of day tourist, or like evening tourist visiting, I guess you’d call it, where they literally came, played around for an hour and then drove back somewhere. I’m not sure where it was. I feel like they might have crossed a border somewhere there. And so it was quite weird because, to start with, we had it all to ourselves. Then we met this other girl and then all of a sudden, as it got darker, there were people everywhere and I have to admit, it definitely looks better in the dark. Obviously, the flames take on a whole new meaning, but it was nice to actually see it during the daylight and experience it change, as the light and the darkness of the sky changed over time. So I’m glad I got the full experience of seeing it in daytime and night-time, but I guess a lot of people wouldn’t be disappointed if they just saw it for an hour and disappeared back to wherever they were staying. 

But, hey, what’s a night of camping. Particularly because it was just one night of camping on this tour. And we didn’t have to do anything. We each had our own private tent because there weren’t that many of us, and somebody else put the tents up and packed the tents down and did all the cooking. There was absolutely nothing wrong with one night camping in the desert in Turkmenistan at a place called the Darvaza Crater. That’s its official name. The Darvaza Crater. Not actually the Gates to Hell or Doors to Hell, that’s just what people have likened it to. But it is an amazing, individual, unique site. So if you do get a chance, do go. But it will not be around in a few years’ time, so don’t wait too long before you go see it. 

On the whole of Turkmenistan, I think our tour was eight days, so it’s not a long destination. You can see all the highlights in a few days quite easily. And it is a unique place. I believe it has changed based on what I’ve seen online since we were there, but there is nothing quite like it out there. I think in the book, it’s described as a mix of North Korea and Las Vegas. So try and picture that in your head and you get a bit of idea, particularly of what the capital, Ashgabat, looks like. It’s definitely a unique, memorable place to visit. 

Rome

At the end of the tour, I headed to Italy, well, Rome. But it was absolutely a magical dream come true. Ten whole days where I just spent every day doing something ancient Rome, which you can imagine was Cheshire cat grin producing many times. I will admit, this is the first time I built in a rest day or a catch up day, just in case I hadn’t allowed enough time to do all the things that I needed to do or wanted to do. I did have a day where I didn’t quite have anything specifically planned, or just a couple of suggestions of things planned, allowing time to do other things if need be. And it was actually quite nice having a little off day and just recuperate. And I did a couple of things that I otherwise wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t have had that day. They weren’t necessary things, but it was nice to get them done because I could. 

A day off

I was staying for such a long time. That’s not what a lot of people do. Ten days in the one hotel is not what the average tourist does. And so the hotel was quite excited by that, that I was staying with them for so long. So they gave me special access to their rooftop terrace. And if I hadn’t have had that built in rest day, I most likely wouldn’t have utilised that at all. And it was a very nice thing to have access to. But my days were so busy, I just didn’t have time, except on this one little built in day. 

Walking tour

But when I arrived in Rome, I hit the ground running, planning a walking tour that first night. And the walking tour was great. It was interesting and it was a lovely overall introduction to Rome. But I had it to myself, which I don’t like. I just find it really weird and awkward when it’s just one on one with me and a guide. I feel pressure to ask questions and react in certain ways and I just feel more obvious taking photos, whereas in a group, you can get away with saying nothing because there’s always somebody else who’s going to ask 10,000 million questions or take all the guides time, basically, because that’s just the type of person that they are. And that’s fine. I’m happy just to bounce off everything that everyone else is doing. I just want to see the places, get some information and know that I can ask a question, obviously, if I want to, and just be comfortable surrounded by other people who are also taking lots of photos. So I barely took any photos while I was with the guide. We just sort of got off track in some sections and then thankfully we finished early because we didn’t have as many questions asked and things like that along the way. 

Getting lost

But then I got completely lost on the way home. It really wasn’t supposed to be a difficult walk home and one slight turn because I couldn’t cross the road, just ruined everything. And when you look on the map, it was like I had no idea the road took such an angled route. And literally, every step was going in the opposite direction from what I needed. But there just was no physical way of crossing this road with, I think, five lanes on each side of traffic and there was no crossing place. There was no traffic light, pedestrian lights, nothing where you could actually get across. Now, I know I should have just gone around back to where I should have been and found the crossing, but I never would have imagined that I added 2 hours or something ridiculous onto my so called 20 minutes walk. I think it was meant to be. I had an unplanned night tour of Rome and saw all sorts of things that I didn’t actually expect to see, but it was a bit brutal on my poor feet, considering I was going to be doing a lot more walking over the next few days. But it was an interesting first evening in Rome. 

*Slight spoiler alert and sad story*

So I’m just going to do it’s a little bit of a spoiler alert of the very final paragraph, basically, of The first six months book. So if you don’t want to hear this, just turn off for a few minutes or fast forward for a few minutes, however it works. So, the night before my last full day in Rome, I got a phone call from my sister telling me that my dad had been in a car accident and was currently unresponsive and the hospital was telling her she had to come. It was a minor car accident. It was my dad at the age of 80 versus two parked cars, so there were no other injuries and he only sustained mild cuts and bruises, but it looks like he was having mini strokes, which was what led to the actual car accident. And so, even though it appeared he was okay, he later had a much bigger stroke after they found a blockage in an artery. So he ended up being rushed into surgery when technically he was just kept in hospital as observation, but ended up being rushed into emergency surgery and then he died on the table. Well, he became unresponsive on the table and was put on life support. And my sister, being the main contact, was called to say, you need to come in. So she rang me as she was driving to the hospital. The hospital was about an hour-and-a-half away from where she was living at the time and so she didn’t have a lot of information. 

I was heading to bed. And so it was a very weird way, obviously, to go to bed. It’s very tricky when you’re miles away. I’m not actually particularly close to my father, but it is still a very weird situation. So I don’t go into any detail other than that my father died in the book, but it definitely made the last day in Rome quite difficult. And the poor tour guide. So I’d booked a day tour to two sites on a big bus with lots of people, a group tour. My sister took my dad off life support. She pulled the plug, as they always portray in the movies. So she’d done that. 

Apparently, all the men in my family die on Fridays in May. So my dad’s life support was turned off on Thursday and he managed to continue to breathe on his own without the ventilator until it reached Friday. And then on Friday, the 13th of May, my dad slipped away. 

I knew that the life support had been turned off. I didn’t necessarily know or believe in this whole dying on Fridays in May business because I couldn’t check it while I was in Italy. And so I was literally then waiting for the phone call to say that he had passed. So the night had gone on and I was on the day tour and I wanted my phone with me. As I was getting off the bus at one of the stops, I forgot my hat. I had my phone in my hand. So I put the phone down, reached back to get my hat, and then forgot to pick up my phone. And I didn’t realise until after the bus had driven off. And so I was in panic mode. 

I went to the guide saying I’d left my phone on the bus. I needed my phone. And she was thinking I was being a bit of a drama queen and she’s like, “Okay, we’re not going to be here that long and the bus is just going to be over there. It’ll be okay. It’s safe on the bus.”

I said, “No. I need my phone.”

I was very insistent, and she thought I was overreacting and was trying to say, no, you really don’t need your phone. You’re going to be fine, you silly girl. And then so, like, I had been crying on and off on the bus the whole day and no one seemed to really notice. I sat in the back row so that I could hide away. So she obviously hadn’t noticed that my eyes were red from crying and that I could break out in tears at any moment and I had to give her the full story and say, “No, I am waiting for the phone call to tell me my father has died. I need my phone.” The look on her face was priceless. She just thought I was being a drama queen and oh my God, I can’t be without my phone for like an hour or less. And when I said that, her face just dropped, and she was instantly on her phone. She rang the driver, and the driver said, yes, I’m still here. The bus is open. She can come back and pick up her phone. So I had to run across the car park, got my phone and went back and joined the tour and saw some more ancient sites, which just obviously they just weren’t the same that day. 

It was really hard. I decided to continue the tour because, well, what else was I was going to do? I was just going to be sitting in the hotel room waiting, or I guess I could have been sitting on my rooftop terrace waiting for the phone call. I thought it was better to at least be out and about and hope that it would help occupy my brain. But it definitely was hard to enjoy the ruins that were before me. So luckily I’d seen all my most favourite ruins anyway, so what do I say? It was a very, very weird situation and I could have done without my phone. The phone call did not come in while I was at that particular site, but of course the phone call did come in to say that he had passed. But being stubborn, he did wait till that Friday in May until he took his last breath. 

It was a very weird ending to my time in Rome and of course then I had to work out what I was going to do and when was the funeral and what do I do now? I was about to fly to Uzbekistan and start a twelve day tour there. So this is where it became easy to have all my individual flights rather than all booked on the same ticket. I ignored my flight to Uzbekistan and only had to change my flight from Istanbul back to Melbourne, and I returned home. 

Tour cancellation/travel insurance

I contacted the tour company, cancelled the tour and contacted my insurance company. I was very glad I’d bought insurance that time and they did a very good job. They gave me back the money for my flight to Uzbekistan and my full tour cost. So in the end I had to pay like $250 to change my flight back to Australia and one night in Istanbul just to make the connection because it didn’t quite match up. But that was it. I had no further costs, and I got my future travels refunded. So that was very nice of Southern Cross Travel Insurance (SCTI). They have my loyalty for life because they made the process very easy and efficient and I have absolutely no complaints with how they dealt with the situation which at a time like that you just want everything to be easy and simple because even the simplest task feels enormous and impossible. 

Uzbekistan

But it was quite funny that I didn’t make it to Uzbekistan. The pre-planning stages were an absolute nightmare. The visa situation was so complicated. And this is when I learned that different tours companies make a difference when it comes to visas in the more far-reaching countries. So my visa to Turkmenistan was organised through the tour company and so they gave me all the correct paperwork. They told me exactly what I had to do, and it was easy. Whereas the company I went with for Uzbekistan, I had to do everything on my own. They told me I had to get a visa. Here’s a couple of references you might need to read to find out some information, but you are on your own, so that was frustrating. If I’d gone with the first company, the process would have been easier.  

I ended up having to pay a visa company in the UK to get the visa for me. If I’d been coming directly from Australia, the process would have been easier. But because Uzbekistan was the end of the trip, I was technically coming from Italy, which meant I was meant to get my visa in Italy, but I wasn’t in Italy long enough to apply for the visa once arrived. It was an extremely convoluted process. But eventually I found a company in England who could do everything for me, but I had to send my passport and collect all the evidence and everything myself and send everything to the UK. 

I’m not a huge fan of posting my passport places. I would much rather go to the embassy myself and hand it in, knowing that it’s made it and it’s not going to get lost somewhere along the way. If the passport got lost, I wouldn’t have had enough time necessarily to get a new passport for the trip and potentially have to reapply for the Turkmenistan visa, because everything was done under the old passport number and it was stressful. I had to make multiple phone calls. There was an Australian contact, but they had to refer everything back to the UK contact. So timelines and everything was just complicated and convoluted and took longer than you would expect. 

It just felt like this is all too difficult. I’m not sure I’m meant to be going. And I remember finally I was going to post the passport. I had it as registered mail so it could be tracked and tried to make everything as safe as it could be. And I could not put this little parcel in the postbox. Like multiple times I had tried and I just couldn’t let go and I’d walk away saying I’ll do it tomorrow. It was the weirdest thing. I said I hate posting my passport, but obviously I have had to do it over the years. But this particular time, everything just felt so weird, and it was like all this extra money and stress and it just felt like something was wrong. It was just weird. 

Eventually, I did post the passport, but no, actually I didn’t. I got a friend to post it for me. I knew I was catching up with a friend and I’m like, I’m going to make her make me post it. But in the end, I said, could you please do it? And so she posted it for me. I was struggling. If she hadn’t have posted it, I don’t know if I actually would have. Which in the end would have been a good thing because, yes, well, I didn’t end up going to Uzbekistan. And I think the visa rules changed as well. Like, literally the day after I posted it, because there was for some reason, I was able to cancel it and I didn’t need it. And I tried to get it back, and I never got a refund or anything for the fact that I never got my visa, but my passport never made it to the UK. It only made it to the Sydney office. I think that was the original place I was sending it to, and part of my fee was them sending it on to the UK, so it never left the country, which was good. So it never went too far. I could always have driven to Sydney to pick it up if need be. And I would if that was to make it safe. 

And the refund, I made hundreds of phone calls trying to get a refund. I’ve got three and four in my head, but it might have actually been $430 Australian. And technically, I should have got all of that back, according to the guy in Sydney, minus, I think it was about $9 or $10 for the registered mail, which is fine. But I’m just so mad that I literally posted it after struggling for so long. And then in the end, of course, I never made it because my father died. And so I must have known something as it never felt real that I was going to make it to Uzbekistan, but how could I have even possibly predicted something like my father dying as being the reason? But it’s funny when you look back and you realise all these little things and it’s like, well, somewhere deep down inside, I must have known that something was going to happen. So it’s all a bit weird when that happens. 

I’ll never forget that holiday and the planning for that holiday and the lead up for that holiday, and obviously the aftermath of that holiday and the week or two after that holiday for the rest of my life because of everything that happened. But that’s all a bit sad to talk about and that’s not what this podcast is meant to be. So I do apologise if that was a bit sadder than you were expecting from my so-called smile and laugh podcast. 

The SECOND six months

But that brings us to the end of The first six months book and to the beginning of The SECOND six months book which will be coming out on the 23rd of July. So this is a little sneak peek into what’s coming. You can get a full sneak peek into the May chapter if you sign up to my newsletter on my website. Signing up will get you a link to the first chapter of the second book and it will also get you a link to the first chapter of the first book if you are yet to read that. So whenever you sign up to the newsletter, you get access to any freebies that came before you signed up and after you signed up. The link will be the same to everything that’s added over time, so sign up for that if you haven’t if you want to read the stories for The SECOND six months first chapter, which is May and what we’re talking about today. 

Lottie

So this is a nice fun topic to talk about, particularly after the last sad one. This is when I introduce you to the wonderful Lottie. I love and miss Lottie very much. Now, Lottie is a car. She was a Toyota Arkana, which is an unusual model, and even a lot of people I know in the four-wheel-drive world don’t even or never heard of the model Arkana. But it was a wonderful car. And you’ll read maybe three or four stories about Lottie in The SECOND six months

Your first introduction to Lottie is in May, when I am driving her from Perth to Melbourne. I bought her from a dealer in Perth because Western Australia, due to their size and their terrain, has a lot more four-wheel drives available secondhand. So the car I found that I wanted ended up being in Perth. I had previously flown over and seen it and got friends in Perth to check it out for me before I flew over and so forth. So all the transactions had been done. I’d arranged for her to go off to the mechanics and have a full engine overhaul. So everything under the hood was supposed to be spick and span and I got to pick her up and, of course, I had to drive her back to Melbourne to get her home. 

I only had a week off work and it’s over 3000 km to drive from Perth to Melbourne. I had five days to make the drive home before due back at work. I had a very quick catch up with friends in Perth, which is always fun. I love my Perth friends. And then Lottie and I, she didn’t have the name Lottie at the time, so she’s just called the Toyota Arkana at the first story in the book, but later she gets the name Lottie and she was such an amazing car. 

The plan was to finish my unfinished Africa business. And I decided if you’ve read the first book, you know all about Lucy, the red LandRover who was always getting into trouble, hence why she was called Lucy, as in red headed Lucille Ball who was always getting into trouble. And so we had a tour of African mechanics, thanks to Lucy. On that trip, I trusted somebody else to get the vehicle and next time I was not going to trust anyone but myself to get the vehicle. And I’d done a lot of research, read a lot of books and worked out what I wanted, what I needed, and Lottie was the best I could come up with to meet what I wanted. 

She had 10 forward facing seats in the back, which the plan was to take out and turn her into a camper. So obviously this was the first time I’d driven her, the first time I was taking her home and so she had all the seats for the first drive home. So there’s not a lot of usable space when there’s that many seats, but the back row covered the whole width and I was the exact size of the width of the car when lying down. So the back row formed a great place for a bed for the initial trip. I didn’t have everything as flown over. I bought a few bits and pieces in Perth to drive back. But it was me in this new car, big four-wheel drive, manual, which I hadn’t driven for a while, and crossing from Perth to Melbourne alone. 

Nullarbor Plain

The Nullarbor Plain, which Australians will know. Maybe not everyone overseas will know it, but it is the longest stretch of straight road in the world and it’s in the middle of nowhere. It’s in the middle of nowhere where there is nothing. So Nullarbor as in “no trees” in Latin. And because there is nothing, there is nothing on the horizon, they’re the odd little spiky scrub or a kangaroo now and then and that is it.

The Great Australian Bight

But you do have on one side of you the Great Australian Bight. As in B-I-T-E Oops. No, that is not the official spelling, but it has been in advertising campaigns as the great Australian bite because it does look like a big giant’s come along and taken a giant bite out of the coast. But that’s not actually how it’s spelled. So it’s a pretty amazing trip. Me, this big four-wheel-drive car and I’m driving over 3000 km by myself, a single driver all the way back to Melbourne. It’s a nice story to have all in one. So you’ve got five days of the whole story on the drive back and, like I said, just an introduction to the wonderful little Lottie. 

May

Many amazing things happen in May. May is a very good travel month. So the first story is actually in New Zealand where I’ve gone to a work conference and that was in 2019. So there’s a tiny little bit about New Zealand and then there’s Lottie and then actually the same year as the New Zealand conference, literally like a week or so later, I head off to America and go storm chasing. 

Storm chasing

I love wild weather and I had wanted to do a storm chasing tour forever. And so, funnily enough, it was the couple on the Turkmenistan trip who after coming up in conversation that I’ve always wanted to go storm chasing and being well travelled, they had already been storm chasing and they recommended the company that they went with, which was Cloud 9 Tours. So I looked them up after Turkmenistan, kept them in mind and I booked for the 2019 tornado season. We had two full weeks traversing Tornado Alley, which goes all the way from Texas in the south to Montana in the north, and we would just go without an itinerary wherever the weather was sending us. 

It’s quite a unique trip when you have no idea where you’re going to be from one night to the next. You don’t necessarily even know when we get up in the morning, where we’re going to sleep that night, or even sometimes at four in the afternoon, we don’t know where we’re sleeping that night. And there was an issue with overbooking, so we ended up with more participants than expected. There was no issue with single rooms, so most people on the tour had rooms to themselves. So we were looking at last minute bookings for about 20 rooms, which is quite difficult, and not many hotels have that many rooms available at the last minute, but I didn’t have to worry about that. That was all organised by the tour leaders and it was a great trip. 

I hope you enjoy reading about that as one of the best things I ever did and I’m so glad I got it done because obviously 2019, that was the last season, 2020 season and 2021 were cancelled because of COVID. In 2022, they did come back for a last hurrah and then the guy who has run it since the mid 1990s, decided to retire. So the tour company doesn’t exactly exist properly at the moment. There was a last minute bid to buy out the company, but I haven’t been able to find any official evidence that it is going to continue. The original website is still there, but it hasn’t been updated, so I’m not sure what is happening.

There are some other companies around, they just haven’t run for as long. But it’s quite a small community, the storm chasing, the official, the real serious professional storm chasing world. So they all know each other and know what each other offers and so there are other tour companies that I would happily use knowing that all the connections are there. So that’s a bit of fun. Read up all about my storm chasing in the May chapter. 

Name changes

I will say that I have changed the names for all the people that I mentioned in the storm chasing tours. All the names that I have mentioned up till now and apart from the storm chasing have been people’s real names. I haven’t changed anybody; I haven’t hidden anybody away or anything along those lines, but I guess it might come across as slightly mean to one person on the tour or just not necessarily make favourable comments. But you kind of need this person included as part of the story. So I have changed everybody’s name involved with that tour so that nobody from the outside would know who I’m talking about. But yes, that’s the only story I have changed the names of, but I’ve notated it in the book: A little star and said names changed. 

Timbuktu

And there’s also a few dates from the 1998 Africa trip in this chapter, and one of them is when I make it to Timbuktu. And I still love the fact I have been to Timbuktu, so that’s very exciting. For those who don’t think it’s real, it is a real place; it does exist, but the streets are definitely not paved with gold like some of the myths say. It’s a unique place. Unfortunately, it’s been taken over by bandits and been ransacked by ISIS and all sorts of things since my visit, so it was pretty run down when I was there, and it’s probably become even worse and definitely been a no-go zone for a long time and maybe a no-go zone for a long time in the future, so it may almost seem mythical in the end just because it’s be so difficult to get to. So I’m ever so grateful for the privilege that I have made it there, and it was one of the top things that I had to do on my big overland Africa adventure. 

So you’ll read a lot more about that over time. I will write that whole trip up as a book on its own because it really was a spectacular, amazing trip that was definitely life changing. And also there’s a story in there that is my biggest travel regret. So it has a bit of everything that trip, but May is the exciting month where I get to Timbuktu. So have a little read about that. I think I’ll be reading part of the Timbuktu story as part of my read for the next podcast too, so you can get a little sneak peek. 

An interactive experience

So that pretty much brings us to the end of the month of May. There’s a lot more I could talk about, but obviously I want you to read the book as well. So have a read of the book and then come back and listen to this, or listen to this and read the book or whichever way it works out. But you can have them all in tandem. So don’t forget you can have the photos on your phone while you’re reading the paperback or the ebook on your Kindle, so you can follow along with the photos that match the stories. And you can get extra information here on the podcast or just by reading the transcripts that are on the blog page on the website. So there are lots of ways to be interactive with the book. 

The second book will have lots of little features to help you get the extra experiences from the interactivity that this book actually involves with everything else that is available, rather than just the physical book or the words themselves. 

Next week

So next week’s episode will be a reading episode. I will read three stories from the May chapter, all from The SECOND six months. So everything that I read will be currently not available unless you’ve signed up to the newsletter and got the May chapter sneak peek. But otherwise there’s no other way at the moment to get these stories. But don’t forget to read The first six months. Hurry up and read before the next book comes out. So you’re up to date.

But the whole book idea is to read it however you. So there will be instructions and, like I said, interactive ways of reading the book that will be integrated into The SECOND six months, including lists of, or links to, varying indexes. So if you want to read from start to finish in chronological order, I will list all the trips in chronological order so you can flip backwards and forwards from the first book, the second book, beginning at the end, the middle, and read in chronological order if that is what you prefer. Some people have suggested they wish the stories were in chronological order. Obviously I couldn’t do that date wise, as in one story for every date of the year, but there’s no reason why you can’t skip backwards and forwards. So I’ll have everything listed in chronological form. So if that’s how you’d prefer to read the stories, you can read like that. And there’ll be other themed indexes as well, depending on what you might be interested in or what you’re not interested in. 

Launching The SECOND six months

So look out for The SECOND six months book. Like I said, it’s coming out on the 23rd of July and you can read The first six months book now while you’re waiting. And it’s an ebook and paperbacks and I am working on the audio. I do believe everything seems to be coming together to make that a little bit easier, so I’ll give you some updates on the potential audiobook soon. It’s definitely been on my mind the whole time. It will happen at some point. Hopefully, it will happen not that long after the second six months is out, and potentially I’ll have both ebooks sort of come out at a similar time after that, but my main focus at the moment is obviously finishing The SECOND six months, which is coming along nicely. It’s all edited, the cover is done. I’m just finalising things like the blurb and all the indexing and incorporating all the interactivity parts that weren’t in The first six months

Wrap up

So don’t forget to check out the website, franheapwriter.com. There you can find the photos, the podcasts, the transcripts, more about me, and some photos of me, updates on what’s happening with the new book, where you can sign up for the newsletter, where you get even better updates and insider stories. And Fran Heap Writer is also my Facebook and Instagram handle or page or whatever you want to call it. So if you put in Fran Heap Writer, you’ll find all sorts of things in Google. So I hope I’ve talked about something interesting today. Sorry for a little bit of a downer in the middle, but I hope I’ve still said something to make you smile or laugh or wonder or be curious about and go out and want to discover more. So thank you for listening today and I will speak to you next week and wish for you an interesting day.

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