28.06.2015 - 08.07.2015 35 °C
I've just spent the last 10 days on the remote Mongolian steppe...talk about going back in time from the previous fortnight in futuristic south Korea. As the title also suggests I've been on a horse too...fair play to good old Genghis, any one that can take over half of the world and put up with the feared saddle sores at the same time deserves a bit of recognition. What better way to see the country I thought...having completed my expedition I can now recommend motorbike, car, pogo stick....
Back to the start of the Mongolian adventure, and I landed at the aptly named Genghis Khan airport. Everything here is named after him, probably as the only other famous Mongolian (who I saw a statue of) was his mum...and she's only famous for popping him out, a proud day in the khan household and little did they know a day with implications for half of the populated world. My chauffeur then whisked me off to where I was to start my horse trek across the Mongolian steppe the following day, a ger camp on the outskirts of Ulan Bator.
After arriving at the camp and telling the hosts I was a complete novice, apart from an hour clinging to a horse for dear life in Europe a few years back, they said I really should take a day to practice (once the look of shock had left their faces). I'll admit to being a bit nervous especially after being told the horses are half wild so a bit kicky and bitey....great news...news that made me sleep really well that night... The morning came and the days practice went surprisingly well...maybe due to me being given the horse next in line for the glue factory, let's just say speed wasn't its greatest asset. This was also the first time I got to properly see the vast openness of the steppe, which would be my home for the next week and the first chance to meet my fellow riders who would be joining me 'Genghis' Hutchings in my riding posse...a Frenchman who was allergic to horses 'Stuffy Nose' Farid and a 17 year old American 'Field Trip' David fresh out of Santa Monica California on his first trip away from home alone. The young American was only joining us for the first two days as he was going 'solo' riding, which basically means heading out with no guide and all of your luggage on a pack horse.....in the middle of a drought, in a country where no one speaks English and the only McDonalds are a family of ex pat Scots making a living selling knock off Mongolian whiskey....time to see how this one pans out.
The John Wayne Diaries
The intrepid horsemen head out with their guide Mick the Mongolian and support car driven by a former wrestling champ, Conan the Mongolian. Day ones itinery is to head out on the steppe and reach the local Bogdkhan national park by sundown.
(*the names along with the vast majority of words are unpronounceable over here unless you have an inhuman amount of saliva in your mouth, to save people spitting as they read certain names and places may have been changed for the sake of cleanliness)
What have I got myself into, 10 minutes into the ride and my horse bolted at the sight of an orange tent. I just about managed to hang on.
Incredible scenery out here, some of the most dramatic on my trip to date.
Had to cook dinner after the guide said all he knew about cooking was how to chop stuff. Is that part of a finger in the bowl?
Got grabbed by some locals and had an amazing evening singing songs, sinking beers and a bit of local vodka. Also learned that it is disrespectful to step over a bucket of meat to get a beer and slapping a big bald man on the head in the case of a misunderstanding is potentially life shortening - fortunately he couldn't handle his pop and passed out.
Backside redness colour rating - Salmon Pink
Sacrebleu I knew I should av taken those anti-istamines earlier.
Man this is so cool, I feel just like Will Smith in the Wild Wild West. Two days time and its just me and my two horses, yee haw.
The cool English guy went for drinks with the dangerous looking Mongolians. I asked the guide if it was safe for me to go too, he didn't look so sure but said if I held his hand and agreed to leave on his code words 'bareback riding' he thought I'd be OK.
These locals sure are crazy, giving me vodka and I'm not even 21....my head feels funny. I sure hope mom and dad don't hear about this.
The team head further north into the hills, across vast open countryside in search of good times and a cure for 'Field Trips' sore head.
Day two in the saddle and more incredible scenery. Hard to put into words the vast openness and emptiness of the place.
I've decided to call the horse 'Pritt Stick'...Red Rum this horse isn't.
Went on an unsuccesful hunt for water...this place is bone dry, I think the guide needs to watch a few survival programmes or invest in some divining rods.
Support car following like the tour de France/ the Top Gear challenge alternative vehicle...although in this case I'd rather be in the alternative...I'm a bit on the sore side.
Backside redness colour rating - Red Carpet Rouge
Damn, I av been taking anti malarials instead of my istamines. Ah well zer is so merch horse poop ere I don't want to smell it anyway.
So this is what a hangover is...cool.
Stupid packhorse is slowing me down, ah well at least tomorrow I'll be at the national park and all set to go it alone.
I sure do miss pancakes.
After leaving the safety of their hilltop camp, the brave trio set out further into the wilderness - their destination, Terelj national park.
Finally figured out how to make my horse run, a good old slap on the backside...whatever turns you on I guess. Great fun until Clint Eastwood Jr looses control and careers into you...
Set up camp on the steppe and left the young American to look after things as a test. Got to go to an old soviet town...always an interesting experience and sample a local delicacy, deep fried dumplings containing a beef burger... watch out burger king, the Mongolians are coming.
Made it to the national park....by car. The guides tom tom must have been on the blink and old Tonto didn't know any better, we ended up about 20kms in the wrong direction.
Saw a huge Trojan horse style statue of Genghis.... London history museum take note, if you get a large present in the post.....you all know the ending.
Backside redness colour rating - Maroon
I av finally taken my pills and it iz not the orse making my eyes water. It iz seeing zeez men cook...a crime against cuisine. Ziz food is more for ze Michelin man zan ze Michelin star.
I went really fast on my horse today, it was awesome. I lost control though and ran into the cool English guys horse. I hope he isn't mad.
I put my own tent up today and cooked some noodles. If only mom and dad could see me now.
It sure is lonely out here, its not like being with my buddies on Santa Monica beach.
I sure do miss deep pan pizza.
After 3 days in the wild the team were looking rough...a shave and a bath were in order
After a tough night on the steppe 'Field Trip' has decided to stay with the posse and ride out of the steppe into civilisation in 2 days. Between now and then, two days gruelling ride to base camp through more incredible scenery await...
Big festival coming up where all the locals compete in horse racing, bird handling and topless wrestling.... sounds like the running order for a night out in Yorkshire.
Plenty of kids training for the horse racing, basically tied on to the back of a horse..no saddle, no helmet and a car with a bloke shouting at the horse to make it go faster...I don't think the health and safety brigade have made it out this far...
Made it to camp by a river and played Mongolian Olympics consisting of three events....skimming stones, throwing stones in the water to see who can make the smallest splash - a kind of Tom Daley style stone diving where little Tom is played by the smoothest stone you can find and the final event, lasso the unsuspecting tourist.
After collecting my gold in stone skimming and silver in the stone diving, ate dinner whilst watching the sunset over the steppe.
Backside redness colour rating - Black and Blue
I won ze gold in zer stupid Mongolian Olympic lasso competion and zey didn't even play ze French anthem. Sacrilege.
This horse riding isn't like the movies. I've seen Django Unchained and they made this look far more fun.
I've spoke to mom and dad and my dog buster and they all agree I should hang out with the cool English guy and the sniffy French one. Probably for the best, I'd hate to get lost out here, I never did get round to watching Into the Wild....
I sure do miss cheeseburgers.
The final day in the saddle for the intrepid trio. The promise of the ranch with its home comforts and all important ice cold beer awaited.
Last day on the steppe and last day in this incredible heat, over 35 again..not much cover out here other than the Mongolian cover music I can hear from the drivers car.
After a hard ride made it to a traditional ger...our reward, fermented horse milk and horse cheese...these guys best never see a cookery show, it would blow their mind. Horse milk by the way is the single most disgusting thing I've ever tried, no wonder these guys get angry in a wrestling match, so would I if my corner man in the ring gave me a bottle of this stuff.
Saw a horse getting milked....really wish the ability to unsee things existed.
Made it back to camp, Genghis khan beer never tasted so good....maybe the people who gave it an award had also just been strapped to the back of a horse for a week.
Backside redness colour rating - Anything below the waste is a figment of my imagination
Finallee I av commandeered ze kitchen, time for some proper cuisine. What no garlic....zat iz it, get me out of ziz place
Oh man I can almost taste that fried chicken.
Trek complete we returned to the base camp. There was still no love lost between rider and steed.
'Come on Pritt Stick, smile for the camera....no....true to form until the bitter end'
I spent one further night at the camp before heading to the capital city Ulan Bator for my last three days in the country. The contrast between the city and the countryside was huge. After a 10 minute drive you go from people hearding sheep for a living and drinking horse milk sold from a tent, to high rise buildings, western restaurants and drinking milk from a carton... its just not the same. Ulan Bator was one of the strangest cities I have visited on my travels, an extreme mix of wealth from the recent mining boom and poverty as a result of a very harsh winter which forced millions of nomadic families to the city in search of work but unable to leave their way of life behind....the sea of ger tents on the outskirts of the city stretching as far as the eye can see...a Mongolian Glastonbury if you will, less the music and hippie ideals.
I spent my three days seeing what little sights the city had to offer and doing my best to avoid the horse milk based local diet. After a trip to the local history museum, where surprise surprise Mr Khan filled all but one of the exhibit halls, a trip to Genghis Khan square, visiting the local dinosaur museum ( a lot of fossils are found in this place...not all of them related to Genghis... Unfortunately it would seem that most of them are in museums around the world, as this place consisted of a single room with two skeletons in it...even less than in Jimmy Savilles closet) and finally watching a mans trousers spontaneously combust it was time to leave. Time to board another flight...I really should have collected those air miles. The next stop, back where it all began....Berlin!
Welcome to Ulan Bator, where anything goes.