I needed Mongolia bad.
I don’t think it will be a surprise to anyone who knows me if I preface this post by admitting that it’s like Clapham Junction train station inside my head. I have a thousand London trains criss-crossing my brain on a daily basis, which obviously makes for hilarity and all the good times. (Except not so much.)
In the weeks leading up to my trip to the other side of the world last year it got a whole lot worse.
I was struggling to finish the next draft of my book, work was stress city, I’d handed in my notice at said workplace which had unleashed in me an avalanche of self-doubt, I’d been prescribed medication by a GP for my hypothyrodism, I was struggling with no energy (thank you adrenal fatigue) and I had to pack up the contents of my flat into storage and break lease days before I flew out.
By the time I got on that plane I was like an old-fashioned kettle on the stove that had just started whistling.
[Side note: I was talking to friends in California recently about how stuff shows up in our lives to teach us shit when we need it the most. The woman who pushes in front of you in the supermarket, the guy who messes with your feelings, the flat tyre when you were hanging on by a thread, a certain politician who is forcing people to get woke. You could, if you were so inclined, think of these people/things/experiences as mini-gurus, put in your path to teach you something.]
My particular guru arrived in the shape of a small Mongolian horse.
Luigi Bonaparte reminded me just how much of my life is out of my control. No matter how much I push and force and stomp my feet.
“We can’t control the world. We can only control how we react to the world,” said someone really wise once.
Horse trekking for days across 250 odd kilometres of unknown lands makes this abundantly clear.
You can hold on to the reins and attempt to steer your horse and make him stop and get him to canter and cry and beg him not to gallop but really at the end of the day you’re just a passenger.
Horse riding in Mongolia was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done in my life.
Not only did I learn to let go of the proverbial reins, but riding a horse every day was like one long meditation.
Wake up, eat, ride, eat, ride, eat, sleep. Repeat.
All that muddy mindfulness quietened the bees buzzing in my head.
There were no three ways about it. Unplugging from the Matrix was good for my soul. Horse hair in my mouth was good for my soul. So was the fact that our meals were largely comprised of a dead sheep that was carried around in a cardboard box in a truck for the entirety of the trip.
The unspoiled beauty of the landscape is like no-where I’ve ever been. These days people have a boner for places that are still relatively undiscovered and as much as I hate to admit this Mongolia, or at least Zavkhan Province, is one of those places. But don’t all go there at once and stuff it up for everyone else, please.
There’s nothing quite like “steering” your horse through a river or pretending you’re a founding member of your very own Pony Club or cantering across the steppe to make you feel like a proper badass.
And lucky for me our group was lovely. I’ve done enough group travel to know that sometimes you’re going to get stuck with assholes. Thankfully this wasn’t one of those times, and I’m not just saying that because some of them might be reading this post. (Hello Ginny.)
The experience wasn’t without its discomfort.
Shitting into a hole in the ground, dealing with sore knees from hours in the saddle, enjoying the occasional bout of diarrhoea, almost freezing to death at night in my tent and thinking I was going to get blown down a mountain during a snow blizzard did push me. But it also added to the adventure.
And now this where I try to be helpful (and no, I won’t receive any mula for the below recommendations):
- I’m all about the solo travel, but this time I did the trip with my friend Little Sarah, which made the experience that much richer for being able to share it with someone. (Even though poor Sarah had to put up with her Grumpy Pants Friend before she chilled out after getting some dirt rubbed into her bones. Thank you Sarah!)
- Unless you’re already a pro, sign up for horse lessons before you go. I was way more confident because of the lessons I took in the lead up to the trip. Especially after I fell off for the first time, which I thought was cause for celebration. Because falling off your horse means you’re getting better, right? RIGHT?
- Take wet-wipes! This trip was what we call in the biz ‘roughing it’. Some of the more hygienic people on the tour insisted on washing themselves in the streams we camped nearby but the water was too cold for me, so I just wet-wiped like a boss. Remember to take everything with you. Don’t be polluting the beauty of nature with your used wet-wipes.
- I would definitely recommend Zavkhan Trekking. I don’t even know if there is another company that you’d be able to use to do something like this. And unless your first name is Genghis and your second name is Khan you’re probably better off in a tour than trying to do it yourself. During the trek there was no phone signal, there were no shops and there were hardly even any people. I found Zavkhan Trekking through The Young Adventuress in case you’re looking for more information about a similar trip from a proper travel blogger.
- Buy travel insurance! I always use World Nomads. However this is the 90’s so there are heaps of companies out there to choose from. No excuses.
If anyone wants to know anything about planning a trip like this or needs any particular advice let me know. I’m not the best at writing posts that are useful, but happy to help where I can. (My talents lie instead in telling the world what’s going on inside my head. As always, you’re welcome.)
Yours in horse riding,