The trip to Mongolia was pretty uneventful although really long and the girl on the plane next to me threw up. It's been a long time since I've been on a plane for that long and I can honestly say I didn't miss it.
I arrived in Ulaanbaatar at 2 AM and got picked up by my hotel driver. Within five minutes of leaving the airport I spot two guys horseback moving a herd of cows through downtown, high rise, big city Ulaanbaatar. My mind was blown. I arrived to my hotel to find out that there was no hot water in my room and that to shower I would need a key to a different room. ??? Welcome to Mongolia, where randomness is the name of the game, everyone is always laughing, and you aren't sure what the food is (unless it's mutton and then you're sure. You're very sure.)
The next day I met with everyone who would be in our group, along for the ride. Our fearless leader and founder of the Children of the Peak Sanctuary, Julie Veloo had everything in order. I quickly found out that everyone on the trip is just as crazy as me and that I would definitely make some life long friends. Hailing from the US, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Switzerland, Saudi, and Singapore there was a good mix of cultures, senses of humor, and levels of insanity. Ha Ha.
Steve arrived the following evening and it was so so so good to see my old friend. Nothing between us has changed despite the fact that we live on opposite ends of the earth and the years between visits. As usual, we picked up right where we left off. It's sure a blessing to have a friend like that.
The city was crazy big. High-rises everywhere although most of them unfinished or in various states of disrepair. The city seems to spread on forever with the high rise district being surrounded on all sides by the "ger district" which is full of impoverished people living in various states of squalor. The kindergarten is right in the middle of this district. More about the kindergarten and the children in an upcoming post.
After visiting the kindergarten we headed out to the country side. Buildings and gers quickly became more sparse. We eventually landed at Baggi and Saraa's ger camp in the most lovely river valley I have maybe ever seen. Cows, yaks, camels, goats, sheep, and of course horses dotted the landscape. An immediate sense of welcome and serenity approached us all. We were shown to our gers, four people to each.
We then headed out for our first ride in Mongolia. I felt a little out of place in my chinks and cowboy hat as all the other riders were in breeches and half chaps and the Mongolians I'm sure were smiling at me either in awe or amusement (the latter being more likely). We took a short ride for evaluation. I was given my beautiful grey horse this day and I would do most of the trek with him.
Later we were welcomed with a feast of sheep filled dumplings, fry bread, milk tea, and really good vodka. We were given saddle bags inscribed with our initials and the Gobi Gallop logo. We were also given handmade Mongolian deels which are beautiful robes made for riding. I would do most of the trip wearing my deel. A culture that has been riding for thousands and thousands of years has got a few things figured out.
And we got to meet our Mongolian guides. There was never any lack of laughter and joking around. Lots of toasts and vodka.
The next morning we would head out. 17 riders including guides and Buchin, our youngest guide at 10 years old. As well as 4 support vehicles, each with their own driver and with 4 cooks in tow. We also had one extra horse for each rider and our mascot camp dog, Ayuma.
It was a strange feeling heading out of that camp knowing what lie ahead of us. It was excitement and trepidation and butterflies and nerves and happiness. One group photo and a few splashes of vodka on us as we left to bless our journey and we were off.
The following 11 days were each more fantastic than the one before. There were tears and sweat and blood and shits in the open air and endless hunger and constant fatigue of both body and mind. Rashes on asses and bruises in places they don't belong and muscles found that we didn't know we had (and sometimes wished we didn't). There were falls and spooked horses and injured horses and riders alike and endless mine fields of gopher holes. There was heat and cold and burning sun and pouring rain and whipping wind. There was broken gear and 70 kilometers a day to make. Sometimes there was a missing camp or a camp that came to us as if given by the gods, a few kilometers earlier than expected. There was vodka and wine and whiskey and rum. There were cigarettes shared while riding knee to knee with a singing Mongolian. There were bucking horses and tired horses and horses that just didn't know how to quit. There were entire families riding up on a motor bike out of no where (the whole family on ONE motorbike). There were random singing locals that appeared to us as if an apparition at a sparkling water hole surrounded by alien like goats and sheep. And little smiling fat cheeked Mongolian girls with yo-yos and fake pearl bracelets to cheer us on after an 85 kilometer day. There was mutton and more mutton and just when you thought it was over, MORE mutton. There was trail mix, lots of trail mix and chocolate. There were hours of laughter with an old friend in the evening when you were hysterical from exhaustion. There were new friends made and life stories (and scandals) shared. There were entire conversations had without words being understood. There was miles and miles of country to cover. There was everything and there was nothing.
I can't explain how I felt during or after this experience. I wrote in my journal at the completion of our journey, "How does one feel after 700km on horseback in Mongolia? Everything. One feels everything. I can't even begin to explain it. I feel full and empty all at once. Crazy. 700 km."
It was an experience like I've never had and am likely to never have again. I learned so much about myself and the world and people and horses. I learned that two cultures can be so similar and yet so far removed from each other that it's hard to wrap your mind around. I learned that it's a privilege to live where I live and have been given the lifestyle I have been given.
I have so much more to share with you about this adventure. I plan to do posts specifically about the school and the kids, about the amazing horses, and about the amazing people. And I'll have to throw a funny one in there to detail all the crazy things we had to deal with that maybe we didn't consider before we left.
Thanks so much from the bottom of my heart and from the hearts of the Children of the Peak for helping make dreams come true. The support of all of you guys has been overwhelming and has really made a difference.
There is still time to donate if you like. Please visit www.veloofoundation.com and go to where it says US Donors. Click the donate one time button and in the subject box put my name (Alix Pearson) and "Gobi Gallop".
Here are a few photos to give you an idea of what it was like.