Have you ever dreamed about visiting a place that seemed so remote, so intangible, so impossible you never thought it could actually happen? You know, for real.
Maybe it’s a photo from National Geographic you saved when you were a kid. Perhaps you saw a documentary about it on PBS. Or maybe you’ve had it pinned on your “Dream Trip” wall on Pinterest for years. Or is that just me?
Antarctica. Siberia. Easter Island. The Congo. Mongolia.
A child born with an urge for adventure since the day she could walk, I have been visiting these far-away lands through books, media, and in my head for years, but never in person. Why?
I think I believed I could never visit them myself, either for being too remote and inaccessible for an independent traveler like me, or whether or not they could live up to expectation, I am not sure. For whatever reason, I have not yet visited any of these places I’ve always dreamed about.
To Mongolia I go!
Specifically this August with Zavkhan Trekking for 17 days. More specifically, you can come with me on this adventure. But more on that in a minute. Back to Mongolia.
You see, lately I’ve been feeling a bit complacent with my travels. Living in New Zealand is relatively easy and comfortable, especially as an English speaker, the past few months I realized it has been years since I have taken a trip to a truly challenging destination.
That needs to change. I miss the chaos and uncertainty of getting far off the beaten path, and I’ve had this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that in order to take the next step in my own personal journey in life, I need to step up my travels a notch and actually challenge myself again.
Almost as soon as I discovered Zavkhan Trekking, I knew this was the trip for me. It was one of those serendipitous moments where all your travel values and goals aligned perfectly, affirming that this was the right decision.
Forget a cookie cutter tour group, you guys all know those kinds of trips aren’t for me. I need something more. I need to feel challenged again. I want to feel uncomfortable on the road and get out of my cozy little travel box of boutique hotels and rental cars. I want to immerse myself completely in a totally foreign culture.
I need something different. Horses are different.
Oh and the best way to see Mongolia? On horseback and your own two feet of course.
Forget tour buses and cars, the Altai Expedition is back to the basics heading to one of the most remote parts of western Mongolia, to Altai Tavan Bogd National Park on the border with China where foreigners don’t generally get to visit, with a combination of horseback riding and hiking to get us where we need to go.
Exploring the land of snow leopards and Genghis Khan, under sweeping skies and vast plains, along snow-capped mountains and alpine meadows, I hope for the chance to truly reconnect with nature again.
Traveling with a flexible itinerary in a small group on the edge of the world is just what I have been looking for. Combined with cold showers and tents beneath the vast Mongolian sky, and I think we have a recipe for adventure.
Bring on the yurts and fermented mare’s milk.
Lately I have been dying to get to some of the most remote, unspoiled areas of the world, to places where tourism doesn’t even exist, cough cough, places without phone service or 3G.
The past few months I have realized one giant, gaping problem about myself. I am absolutely addicted to my iPhone. Remember that one time I lost my phone in Iceland and almost died? Yeah, I need to get over that. Stat.
Bit by bit here in New Zealand I have been going offline on purpose (and sometimes not on purpose) in an effort to learn to disconnect from virtuality and reconnect with reality. And the effects have been glorious.
But now for the ultimate test – Mongolia. Pretty much 17 days disconnected from the world. Can I do it?
I think I much more worried about not being able to Tweet than riding horses for 3 weeks across the mountains, which, let’s be honest here, I should be MORE concerned about considering what happened the last time I rode something with a mind of its own.
Lucky for me, you don’t have to be an experienced rider to join in on an Zavkhan adventure PLUS have you seen Mongolian horses? They are all my size! That means I am so much closer to the ground if or when I fall! Upside people!
To be perfectly honest, I am a bit nervous. Do birthday pony rides count as riding experience?
This is something I haven’t done before, especially on this scale, but I am determined to go through with it knowing it will be good for me in the long run and make me happy. This is not a trip for only Bear Grylls-type adventurers, it’s for people like you an me, who want to try something new, have a truly once-in-a-lifetime trip and really be able to sink your fingers into an experiential kind of trip. We all need this.
At the end of the day, no matter how challenging something is, the difference and ability to succeed doesn’t usually reside in strength or endurance, it’s in your head; it’s in your attitude.
But what am I most excited about? The people.
Over the years I have become more and more interest in cultural travel, educational travel if you will. For me, just doing something isn’t enough, I need to have a reason behind it or be able to take away some valuable lesson in the end.
And I really really love learning about other cultures and countries, however you interpret that. While I have no pretensions of leaving Mongolia an expert, if I take away some insights into the way of life of the people there, make a few people smile and have some wonderful memories, I will count that a success.
Because Zavkhan is a Mongolian – New Zealand partnership, we will be visiting the homes and familiar haunts of the locals who will be accompanying us. I couldn’t think of a better way to get to know a country than traveling like this.
Oh, and did I mention the eagles?
2 months ago I shared an incredible BBC article about a 13 year old eagle huntress in the Altai in Mongolia – go click on it right now. I had no idea this would be where I am headed in August. Will I get the chance to meet this incredible girl? Probably not. Will that deter me from printing out her photo and asking the locals about her? Definitely not.
Even if I don’t get to meet this girl who probably has no idea she was trending in the western world for a few days, I am excited to explore the area that birthed her, along with many great traditional eagle hunters.
For me, those imagines are the ones I’ve held tucked away in the back of my mind for years, and ones that I hope will come true on this trip. Do you dream of this too?
And the best part? There are a few spots left open on this trip and they are filling up fast! I am hoping some of you guys can come along and join me in Mongolia. After all, I will need some friendly faces to cheer me on, and I am sure many of you (especially my trolls) would love to see me fall off a horse.
After all, if I can do it, any of you can do it.
The Altai Expedition leaves on August 19th and runs through September 4th. If you decide you want to come, and to make my offer more palatable, Zavkhan will kindly give you a 20% discount if you mention me. That’s a big discount. Just email John at firstname.lastname@example.org or me (and I can pass you along or answer questions) at email@example.com to book.
So if you dream of riding on the open plains and sleeping beneath stars so bright and unaffected by urban light pollution, this is the trip for you. If you are looking for a challenge and a hands-on experience you will remember forever, this is the trip for you. If you are looking for a real vacation and an respite from this “barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity” (Wes Anderson quote), ok I exaggerate, an escape from the interwebs, then this is the trip for you. So come join me in Mongolia!
Is Mongolia on your bucketlist? Does this trip sound appealing to you? Do you ever feel the need to disconnect or truly travel yourself on the road?
*All images courtesy of Zavkhan Trekking