Get your self a cup of tea and immerse yourself in this wonderful submission by the talented Jamie Cooper. Jamie reached out to us with this long-form piece about her travels in Mongolia and we just had to share it with you, accompanying her piece are some stunning images shot with her Uncle’s 45 year old Nikon, how freakin’ cool. Please enjoy and let it inspire you.
It started with the desire to be in the middle of nowhere. To be free of cars, roads, people, noise. To hear nothing. The quest for stillness. To be somewhere only I knew. Before leaving on this trip I had multiple people ask me “Why Mongolia?” The answer I gave was a simple “I don’t know, I have just always wanted to go”, the truth was I wanted to escape it all, especially the questions.
Traveling has always been a relief to the stresses of young adulthood. At home I find myself constantly thinking, uber-aware of all around me, often anxious. Avoiding the responsibility of adulthood and decision making masked as an adventure? Probably. Whatever the motivation may have been to pack up my 65L bag and hit to road for a few months, I feel confidence in myself while traveling. My life has been relatively fluid for the last 8 years, jumping from one edge of the Canada to another, to swimming on Asian beaches, solo-road trips through the Highlands of Scotland and reaching high altitudes in South America. Mongolia has always been the epitome of a remote, nomadic lifestyle. Living in a tent with all of your belongings with the view of open fields for miles is alluring. Considering myself nomadic because I don’t sit still for too long, seems disengaged from the true meaning of being nomadic. So when the opportunity came up that I could go to Mongolia to experience the genuineness of the word ‘nomad’, I without hesitation went for it.
Trains, visas, planes and tours- booked. It was time. If the 27-hour eerily empty train from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar was the introduction to Mongolia’s vast quietness, then the two days spent in Beijing before was the prologue. Nothing like the intense, mass consumerist, Mao-worshipping, censorship-accepting city to set the stage for a week of simplicity and peace. It wasn’t until the early hours of the morning that we reached the border of Mongolia. I woke up at 4 am and peeked my head out the window to see sand, nothing but sand and the sun starting its fierce rise above the horizon. The views gradually changed from white sand to brown, to green grass, to rolling hills, speckled with deer, horses, camels and goats. There were young men leaning on motorcycles while watching their herds graze. One of a few images of modern technology we would see during our time to come.
We started our 7-day tour through the Southern Gobi desert the following morning. Loaded into a Russian made van with 3 others, we got to know each other slowly as the paved road dragged on. Then we turned and held on to any handle we could find. From here on out most of the roads we were on were paved only by previous cars. We bounced around over dips, small hills and uneven engravings made by tires into the soft dirt. The jostling of these Mongolian roadways broke down the walls built up when you first meet people; soon we were no longer strangers.
Arriving at our first family Ger was humbling to see three tents standing in a flat dirt field with no one else insight. Well, that is not entirely true, we saw the goats, hundreds of goats. Each family’s wealth can be determined by the size of their herd, selling sheep and goat wool once a year. Goat’s are also the main source of protein in Mongolian cuisine.
But here I was, simplicity and quiet. The only noises to be heard were the harsh winds, there wasn’t even a scent in the air** (unless you were close to the goats then you got a whiff of something that can only be described as pungent). And the sky. Whoa. The blue heightened by the contrast of the white clouds, you can feel the circular shape of the Earth while looking upwards. This is it, this is what I had been dreaming of. And it was not disappointing.
As the tour continued on we moved from family to family, seeing the different components that make the Gobi desert diverse. We saw fossilized hills left over from when this land was under the ocean leaving the landscape looking painted with streaks of red and orange. We explored iced over river canyons surrounded by rocky mountain slopes. Visited sand dunes that cut a large valley between two mountain ranges in half, extending 100 km long. Deep red dirt that was home to some of the largest dinosaur discovery in the country. Watching the lightening flash angrily in the distances, enclosing our camp as if we were in the eye of the storm. Big, green pastures flowing down from the mountain side. Riding horseback on Mongolian horses through wide, open spaces. The night sky never fully black, always illuminated by the moon and stars. Everywhere we traveled to created a new sensation in me and all the landscapes accomplished my mission of forgetting the issues, thoughts and anxieties from home. The emptiness and piercing quiet permeated through my mind as if the very air I was breathing cleansed my brain, heart and soul.
One cannot disassociate the people from the land here. The hospitality of the family mirrors the welcoming feeling the landscape gives you. Their profound respect for where they live is entrenched in their lifestyle. All members of the family work tirelessly to keep their herds and families alive and well. This dedication to their livelihood is extended out to all visitors. Offerings of traditional milk tea, donuts and the cheerful saying “Sainbaino” as you enter the family Ger. Endless smiles, children playing jubilantly, warm hand shakes from the adults, the international language of happiness is beaming.
Each day I would take some space for myself. I would walk to an open area and stop to take a deep breath. I would look around me and see no other man-made forms, hear nothing, smell nothing, but feel so much. I did it; I found somewhere only I knew.
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