Out in the plains – Camping and Horse Riding in Mongolia

While my previous posts about my Mongolian adventure have covered the beauty of the place and its people, I wanted to dedicate one entire post to the actual logistics of our trip and the amazing team who turned it into an unforgettable experience.

So, initially, we started out in Hovd, a small town, the center of the Altai aimag. We had packed up all our luggage and gear in the little truck along with the tents and all the food for the next ten days. While we were horse riding during the days, accompanied by our guides Oyu and Zusee, the rest of our team, Scharka, the driver, Badmaa, our cook and her husband Pujee, along with their kids Zaya and Tuwschin, were making their way to the next camp in the truck.

If possible, camp was set up next to a little stream to allow for fresh water for cooking and washing. Sometimes, we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere, all alone, sometimes with millions of mosquitos as company, but sometimes, we also camped close to a nomad family who provided us with fresh milk for milk tea. Usually, by the time we arrived late in the afternoon, camp was already set up and we were greeted with a cup of apple juice or hot tea (depending of the altitude and temperature). Zusee tended to the horses himself, so in contrast to our habits, we were initially not at all involved in saddling the horses. As time passed, Zusee realized we were serious about helping and careful enough to respect the wild temperament of the horses, we finally joined in.

After tea and a few biscuits (…so much food…), we would set up our tents and have a quick “river shower” (a.k.a. funny acrobatics when trying to get a little cleaner in ice-cold and sometimes even a little muddy water). If everything failed, there was always the “tissue shower” in the tent. However, every tissue used was garbage produced that we had to carry along for the rest of the trip. We tried to bring along everything toilet paper, hygienic tissues, shampoo and shower gel as well as tooth paste in a bio-degradable form so we would leave the least ecologic impact possible. Without any toilet or shower for ten days straight, this was not easy but we tried our best to leave as little remnants as possible so that our successor may enjoy the places as much as we did.

Once everyone had set up their tents and changed into warmer and/or mosquito-proof clothes, we would all have dinner together, sing a few songs (be prepared, we ended up singing German christmas carols) and play card games together. We played Uno, Wizard and a few Mongolian card games. Thanks to Oyu, who translated for us, we were able to learn a lot about Mongolian traditions, learn about the lives of all our crew members and laugh a lot together.

After night fall, usually by 8 p.m., we did not last very long. Being outside horse riding the whole day makes surprisingly tired. By 9 p.m. I was usually fast asleep. So, alas, no pictures of the milky way….I tried, one time towards the end of our trip, to set up the camera in the middle of the night, but I was eaten up by mosquitos ¬†within minutes so I quickly retreated to my tent. Next time, friends.

Speaking of mosquitos, there were only two camp sites and two days riding when we really suffered from the mosquito plague but we suffered big time (e.g. 40 bites on each thigh, both arms and a swollen face) and the memory of constantly hitting yourself trying to kill the mosquitos, your clothes blood-stained, has not faded yet. We should have taken the note in the travel guide “a village close to Hovd gets evacuated every summer due to a plague with black mosquitos” more serious.

Travel planning

My favorite Mongolian food – a sort of dumpling, either steamed or fried, with hot sauce. I was amazed how varied the food on our trip was. When you read the food section in the travel guide (usually my favorite part), you might get a little sad when you learn that Mongolian food mostly revolves around cooked meat, not seasoned, supposedly really boring food.

However, Badmaa made such an effort to provide fresh and nutritious dishes throughout the trip, often based on noodles, rice or potato (or all of the above) with carrots, tomato, leek and garlic (read: a lot of garlic) but we also got french fries and even sushi. There were stews and soups, the dumplings, she made her own bread in a pan on the fire, we had salads and sometimes even some water melon. In a country with basically no agriculture, I thought this was varied enough.

 

Talk about a view – one of the best camping spots. Just us. No sign of civilisation in sight.

 

Presents – we had brought little gifts, mostly wooden toys, color pencils and water colors for the kids as well as jewelry for the women when we were invited for tea in a ger. We also brought a few sweets, however, since all sweets are wrapped in plastic, we had mixed feelings about that, since stray plastic on the ground announces a settlement way earlier than the smoke from a ger’s chimney. Unfortunately, the Mongolians do not have the same environmental conscience yet, so better bring as little plastic as possible, and carry everything back to town with you.

Perfect sunset views. Our horses in the front, some yaks in the back, a few gers on the horizon, dramatic clouds.

 

On the trail….

 

At the top….

The team

Thank you, Mongolia, thank you Oyu, Zusee, Badmaa, Pujee, Zaya, Tuwshin and Scharka for this unforgettable experience!

 

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