It all started at the Adventure Travel Show at Olympia in London, January 2007. The challenge was to find something different………something off the beaten track………to find us an adventure.
What a challenge! I was there looking around and Yvonne was at the other end of the phone directing me to different countries. Nothing really grabbed my imagination, and then the phone rang again and an excited Yvonne babbled “there’s a Mongolian stall, go and get some information..”. The poster on display caught my attention immediately, wide open countryside, big blue skies, mountains….. I spent the next hour or so spellbound, chatting to the guy who was only too happy to answer all my questions. How I had missed this stall I don’t know, but I’m glad we’d found it because this is where our big adventure all started.
The response of most people was “where is Mongolia, what do you do there”, “oh, it’s an ex-Communist country, that can’t be interesting” or “of all the places on earth…why Mongolia”. We wouldn’t be put off though; we knew it would be an adventure, so we booked the trip without knowing much about the country and even less about each other.
It was February and we’d booked to go in September, well in advance and enough to make the excitement unbearable at times. The first few months were spent researching and wondering what we got ourselves into, followed by the realisation that it is a rather vast country, and finally coming to the conclusion that we had definitely made the right choice. Little did we know what an experience we were really going to have.
Arriving in Ulaanbataar we were met by Amara who was to be our guide. We transferred to our 5* hotel we were able to ease in to the beginning of our adventure nicely, especially after the 10 hours travelling. The next day we found Ulaanbataar is a typical Asian city, you immediately have the feeling you are stepping into another decade as well as into another country. Considering that this country was still under the influence of the old communist regime, it had been thrown into the deep end of the concept of a market economy; the place seemed to be lively, buzzing with plenty of opportunities in the future.
We were introduced to Ogi and Gerle, our driver and cook, who were to prove to be two amazing people and great travelling companions. Gerle was able to practice her English and by the end of 5 weeks was far more proficient than we were with learning Mongolian.
Once we had left the city boundaries of UB, we were immediately greeted with the outstanding beauty of the countryside and the vast open space which filled our eyes. This is what we had come here for, we had needed to get away from the hustle and bustle of London and find the inner peace we didn’t have time for at home. Mongolia was going to give us that peace and much more.
We were wild camping for the first time, pulling off the dirt road and driving until there was somewhere to put the tents up. The places we camped were in the middle of nowhere, very tranquil, you could hear yourself think, you could hear the nearby animals, and you could unwind at a pace to suit yourself. There was no pressure to be on time for anything; in fact Mongolian time should be adopted in more countries!
We travelled in a trusty van that took us to the nooks and crannies of the hillside, showing us the most glorious views backed by a blue sky dotted with cotton wool clouds. The scenery changed again and again, each hill and bend gave us a different feast for our eyes. This was a magnificent country that would stir all our senses.
If you’re not cut out to do without home comforts – washing, proper toilets, bed, heat – then this is not the trip for you. Part of what we wanted to experience was a complete break from our daily routine and to test our ability to deal with different privations. The most difficult adjustment was probably wild toileting but even this became easy after the first day. It really is the only way to travel, the freedom you feel, the complete change of lifestyle, the generosity of the people were all contributing to making this a magical journey.
Our journey took us on a circular route anti clockwise from UB, we saw: lakes, hills, volcanoes, sand dunes, mountains, glaciers, Bronze Age ruins. We slept in tents, gers, on the floor with local families and in 5* hotels. We breathed clean crisp mountain air, congested town fumes and pit latrines. We touched Mongolian dogs, taught English at a local school, held an eagle on our arm, rode camels bareback, rode Mongolian horses with a traditional wooden saddle, made dung fires and milked goats. We herded the sheep and goats back home for the night and lassoed horses to ride, we saw sheep slaughtered and dissected as we ate breakfast and adopted a kitten. We ate some wonderful food; a real Mongolian barbeque, fresh noodle soup, Mongolian bread, wild marmot, pine nuts, sheep nose, cheek, ear, intestines and tail. At times we suffered flies by the million, mosquitoes, bumpy roads, freezing cold, and flat tyres. We enjoyed the freedom of the country, blancmange with cream in the Gobi desert, fresh air, early nights, peace and quiet, the companionship of each other, and the company of local people.
In Mongolia you should travel with an open mind and an open heart, you will be repaid with the most amazing experience. Amara, Ogi and Gerle were superb hosts all the way around and the care WAM(Zendmen Travel) took to plan and this trip was excellent. Nothing was too much trouble, and their knowledge of their country’s history, nature, people and life allowed us to be educated in a way that was second to none.
We will return to this magnificent country, there is still so much to see.
Maybe you too will change your lives a little and take an ‘off the beaten track’ trip of a lifetime with WAM(Zendmen Travel), and experience for yourselves something entirely different that will become a memory for a lifetime.
Yvonne & Jurgen