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Travel to Mongolia - Pin Me

It’s the third time you’ve woken up, squirming uncomfortably in your budget economy class seat. Curious, you pull up the window shade, still nothing but ice and snow below you. Unwilling to look at the clock you doze back off only to have the process repeat itself moments later.

Groggy and foggy headed you march off the plane and head to your next gate. You don’t even know what day it is, nor does it really matter, you aren’t there yet. You’re thirsty and the airport is vacant so you put some foreign currency into a vending machine, pick a picture that looks “appetizing” and cross your fingers. Whatever it is, it’ll do for the time being. Before you can finish you hear roughly in English what should be your gate. It’s not too hard to guess correctly, it’s the only plane in the terminal at this hour.

Unable to sleep through yet another flight you succumb to watching the sunrise. As the light brightens and rewards you with what might be the most stunning view you’ve ever seen: the sun rising along the Great Wall of China, from the air. You smile, it’s kind of funny flying over the Great Wall, gliding over one of the great wonders of the world only to arrive in the land of the people it was built to keep out.

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Wandering the Buddhist monastery of Karakorum – the capital of Mongolia in the 1200s.

Before you know it you’ve hit the ground on what is one of two paved runways in the country’s international airport. Disembarking from the plane you look around. A tightness starts to form in your chest as you grab your bags off the dilapidated carousel. A mangy, underfed dog is lazily walking on the thing sniffing bags. Suddenly your mind is racing as you go through a single customs line where the agents declare something in their mother tongue loudly as they stamp your passport. When you finally step out into the open and feel your feet beneath the dirt parking lot that’s when your heart starts skipping beats and it all comes to a head.

What the hell am I doing here?  Welcome to Mongolia.

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Early morning at the gers.

 

The other day I purchased travel insurance for a helicopter evacuation at 18,000′ for my upcoming trip to Nepal. It is hard for me not to reflect on Mongolia. I know a lot of my friends are reading this rolling their eyes thinking oh no, here goes Fox again talking about Mongolia. You can’t have a blog called Adventures of Fox in the title and not reflect on Mongolia. It was a life changing experience and a magical place, but not for the feint of heart. When I think about spending 3 weeks trekking up peaks and the remote villages of the Himalaya I can relate it to being a similar (but hopefully different – sorry I can’t help the pun here) experience.

Mongolia is not for everyone. I’m not going to sugar coat the place. I almost died here. I’m not talking figuratively. I’m talking I’m fading in and out of consciousness; my veins collapsed; I can’t feel my face, hands or legs; holy shit the driver is driving on the sidewalk to get me to a hospital kind of sick. You know it’s never good when you finally come to and the doctor says you were lucky to be close to the capital (there are 2 western hospitals in the entire country). It would have been too late if you were still out on the steppe, unless we could have arranged a helicopter.

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It’s easy to feel free in the world’s least densely populated country

Travel is slow and difficult and distances are vast. It’s the least densely populated nation on this planet. The language barrier is very real. Good luck speaking a historically script-based language that the Russians forced a Cyrillic alphabet on. The food is, well, not all that great unless your into gristly pieces of mystery meat (I’m pretty sure I got sick on horse meat).

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Being a part of rural life as it has been for thousands of years.

But Mongolia isn’t about being sick, scared and dealing with crappy food. It’s a fascinating place. I’ve traveled to so many places and it’s the only place that I’ve been where I felt the entire experience was truly raw. I stayed in gers with local families, ate at roadside eateries, rode semi-wild horses with the most famed equestrian culture of all time, had staring contests with herds of camel, stood on the tops of drifted sand dunes from the Gobi, had a monk bless a token at a monastery, stopped and paid homage with locals at random oovos or Buddhist shrines all while seeing virtually no tourists.

There are no fences around land in Mongolia, it’s still a predominantly nomadic place where the horse is still the main mode of transportation. Technology and modern society is certainly creeping in (most have solar power and satellites to go with their nomadic gers), but for the most part it’s untouched and beautiful. Being on the roughly same latitude as Colorado it was easy to imagine that the Front Range once looked like Mongolia.

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Ger life, modernized by solar panels and satellite dishes

As I sit and reflect on my first experience in Asia (yes, I chose Mongolia) and I’m getting ready to set out for my 5th trip across the Pacific I hope that Nepal captures that feeling. You know the one I’m talking about. The feeling when you are so outside of yourself and what you know you discover a whole new person. Hopefully I won’t need to cash in on that chopper rescue.

Want to learn more about the nuts and bolts of what I did and where I went? Comment below! Don’t forget to subscribe, share, and follow my Facebook Page and Instagram.

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The world is out there.

Happy Adventuring!

Fox

 

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25 Thoughts on “Road Tripping the Mongolian Steppe – Travel to Mongolia”

  • Amazing writing! I have been wanting to go to Mongolia for a long time – hopefully will get there one day! Definitely want to read more about this experience!

    • Thank you! Mongolia is a very unique place. If you ever visit please feel free to drop me a line. The original reason I went was to meet up with a friend who was in the Peace Corps out there. Due to unforeseen circumstances she had to leave before I arrived, which is why I ended up their alone, but if you need help planning your trip I can definitely help you out!

  • Very dramatical, beautiful, exciting and inspiring post! To be honest, this is one of the very few posts I read about this fascinating country at all. And yes I have to say it sounds pretty much similar to the imagination that I have about this fascinating country. So as I see, you should definitely know beforehand about what might expect you there, before you decide to visit Mongolia. Was really an inspiration, thank you a lot for sharing, was truly nice to read. Cheers, Birdie & Hendrik

    • Thank you Hendrik and Birdie. I’m glad you enjoyed reading about my experiences in Mongolia. I do my best to be very honest about where I have been, there is always a good and a bad side to every place. Hope you’ll enjoy future posts.

  • Yeah, I can imagine it is not every one’s cup of tea to travel there. Still, it looks very intriguing almost like time stood still. You had an amazing adventure and thanks for sharing it with us.

  • That’s terrible that you fell so horribly sick in Mongolia.

    And when people say,”And there she goes again about Mongolia…” I’m sure you can go talking because having been there and pushing yourself beyond the limits, you have earned those rights

    Mongolia has always fascinated me for a very long time. And I’d love to ride a motorbike there for sure.

    Happy 2017

    • Hi Venkat – It was a life experience I will never forget. Thanks for your kinds words. Mongolia would be a wild place to ride a motorbike. Definitely an amazing adventure! If you go and do it please tell me about it. Thanks and happy 2017 to you too!

    • Thank you! The nurse kept telling me how brave I was when I was in the hospital, but I felt more foolish than anything. I think the strangest part was what your mentality does in a situation like that. Once you come to realize what is happening there is a definite crossroad. You can either choose to freak out or remain calm and do your best to help yourself in that situation. I wanted to freak out, but I knew that wouldn’t help the situation and only waste precious energy. I chose to be calm and I found it really helped. Due to my body shutting down I really didn’t realize how bad it was until after it happened. I honestly believe that had a lot to do with aiming my focus at remaining calm and staying conscious. I think traveling makes you stronger and that experience was no exception!

  • Your first ever trip to Asia and you chose Mangolia??? Wow!! You are indeed very adventurous… I found it difficult in the cities of China with the language barrier and to go to the roads less travelled, its really brave! Best wishes on your Nepal trip… Looking forward for your travelogue!!!

    • Haha yes, indeed I did. In hindsight it was a little nutty, but hey, I’m glad I went. I was supposed to carry on to China after Mongolia, but being in the hospital like that I couldn’t really stand up or be out and about for more than a couple of hours before I became too exhausted and needed rest so I booked a ticket home. I’m getting really excited for Nepal as I begin my final preparations and training for trekking. I’ll definitely be sharing a lot about my experience there. Thanks for visiting!

  • Very interesting take on Mongolia, i really enjoyed this post. For me this has always been one of those very intriguing places of the world that calls to adventurers to visit. I haven’t had the chance yet, but can’t wait to go there myself!

  • I think there are not so many travelers who have visited Mongolia. It seems it is not for everyone. Language problem seems to make it even more complicated. You must want to do very much. You must be proud that you have done that. Thanks for sharing! Happy New year!

  • Wow, Mongolia seems like the last frontier. I love your writing, you really captured the wilderness of the country, which is so appealing to me. I wish I made more of an effort to visit when I was living in Beijing – I only got to Inner Mongolia & loved it there, though it still seems very different from Mongolia proper. Hoping to take the Trans-Siberian & be in Ulaanbaata for Nadam in July

  • Wow!! Your descriptions are fantastic. It seems like you experienced the full spectrum of possible emotions during your time in Mongolia. It truly sounds amazing, but like you said, not for everyone. I am super curious and hope to visit someday.

  • Just stumbled across your blog today, and the Mongolian post grabbed my attention. I spent four months there in the summer of 2006, and your photos in Karakoram brought me right back. You’re definitely fortunate you got to medical attention in time; I had a friend break his arm playing basketball in Ulan Battor, and dealing with their health care system isn’t something I’d wish on my worst enemy. The people in the hospital were amazing; it was just the lack of resources and equipment that was bad. Have you ever considered going back?

    • Hi Henry,
      Wow – a broken arm sounds like no fun! I was there in 2010…the hospital was small, but well stocked with antibiotics thankfully. I’ve thought about going back a few times. Mongolia is an interesting place. It’s as if time forgot it, but not quite. Years from now I think I’d like to go back – just to see how much change that country will see in 20 maybe 30 years. Will they still be nomadic? Will the roads be paved? How will Ulan Bator cope with the massive influx of people or will you see a resurgence of folks returning to the steppe?

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