Mongolia was an unexplored faraway land that I dreamt about one day visiting.
Sometimes dreams turn reality, and I found myself in a small, rattling propeller plane on my way to Ulaanbaatar.
The thing about Mongolia is that it’s unlike any other place in the world. Once you get out of the capital, you feel like an explorer. Sure, travelers have left routes to be followed, but there’s a looming sense of adventure and discovery in every step you take.
Phil, my travel partner, and I found ourselves in the West, deciding to go on a week-long independent trek in the Altai Mountains, which are also shared by Russia and Kazakstan.
Those seven days were an emotional rollercoaster. I experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.
There were days when I was seeing things that I only saw on National Geographic- camels carrying gers as nomads moved, daily life completely unaffected by tourism, complete cultural isolation… Every new sight filled me with a childlike wonder and I was curious about what else was yet to be discovered.
For every high, there was a low. Frigid nights, hailstorms, getting lost. Sore knees, winds that would sting your face, waist-deep river crossings that left very little dry. Every day we walked, a new challenge would be presented. I’d go to bed exhausted. I complained and I cried, but underneath all of that, I was elated.
It’s a strange feeling to be both happy and miserable. There’s a complexity within that emotion that I still don’t understand. To be honest, I’m not sure that I need to understand it.
Mongolia is a place unlike any other. It’s a country so rooted in its culture. It’s a land with so much natural beauty that you’ll never be able to experience the entirety of it. It’s a place that challenges you, then rewards you.
We took a wrong turn after a mountain pass, which led to aching joints and shivering bodies. We only realized we took the wrong turn after we ended up on a cliff’s edge. As frustrating as that was, we were met with the best view of the mountains and lakes below us. I’ve never been happier to be miserable.
It’s almost like you have to go through the difficult and uncomfortable things in order to get the most out of the great things. The lowest lows bring the highest highs.
Yeah, I remember the mosquito swarms, the blisters, and constant feeling of having wet socks and trainers. I also remember the friendly Mongolians, the sun warming us up after rainstorms, and the sense of adventure I felt so strongly.
When we got to our pick-up location, I was ready to leave. I couldn’t wait to take a hot shower and to be warm. I couldn’t wait to eat something other than lentils and rice. Simultaneously, I didn’t want to leave the untouched beauty of the mountains; I didn’t want to go back to seeing other tourists exploring the same sights; I didn’t want to drive away from such an isolated place.
Travel isn’t always the picture-perfect moments we see on Instagram. Our trek in Mongolia wasn’t sunshine and rainbows, but it was so real. It was honestly the best adventure I could have asked for.
Would I go again? Even with all of the bug bites, shivering, and spiders?
Definitely. Bring ’em on.
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