Poor internet at the time prevented us posting to the website but did allow us to update our facebook followers. So you can better track our progress here's where we were at on the 9th of July:
We are camped on the edge of the tiny windswept village of Naranbulag, Uvs aymag. Perched high and looking back over the endless desert landscape we have just crossed seems like a good time to reflect on the progress we have made to date. I was hoping to write a more detailed blog update during our two days stay here but the realities of getting the horses sorted and preparing for our next leg have meant otherwise. As it turns out there isn't enough of an internet signal anyway.
We set out from Ulgii, on Tuesday 16 of May confident that a year's planning and preparation would see us face off any challenge we might expect ahead of us in our crossing of Mongolia on the horses we now sat astride. The realities of horseback travel have since delivered a stinging rebuke. Challenging at the best of times, it could be said that we might have been best first to tackle a more temperate, more populated, pastured country where water was more reliably available. But here we are.
At a quick pace it takes us just under 4 hours from waking up to being ready to ride. Our days start before 6am and rarely wrap up before 11pm. For this we are rewarded with about 15 - 20km. Taking care of four horses is (and should be) a never ending saga and trust me when I say that they require constant attention even overnight when we are regularly up to check that they haven't wrapped a rope or simply been stolen (horse theft in Mongolia is no myth). Pasture and water have been an ever present concern for us since departing across some of the most arid land Mongolia has to offer. We did though soon discover why the few remote hashas (mud brick compounds) we came across looking for company were deserted. Insects. Mosquitos/flies/march flies and the dreaded sandfly in biblical proportions are one of the predominate reasons why Kazakh and Mongol nomads for want of a better description simply head for the hills during the months we here find ourselves in. Occasionally our journey has seen us touch on these more mountainous summer camps but for the most part our course has necessitated a more direct path through the currently deserted lowlands (average still 1,500m!). It is hugely disheartening to witness not only the physical result but the severe irritation the insects cause to our horses, the situation made worse by what we are asking of them. BUT they are prevailing and we are happy to report that our caravan is likely looking better than when we first took hold of them some four weeks and 250km ago. I like to think that our careful course planning, requiring constant manual calculation of water sources and sight scanning of potential pasture is playing a part but then again luck has so often been our friend.
And we are prevailing. Despite the hardship, the heat, the cold, the severe wind, the afternoon storms, the lack of food and water we ARE making progress and ever slowly pushing ahead towards the horizon. From where I sit now that goal lies almost inconceivably beyond a distant vista as far as I can see around a saltwater lake shimmering beside a heat hazed desert. But things do seem to be getting easier and to be honest we wouldn't have things any other way. Our slow progress across an otherwise unforgiving landscape has at any rate rewarded us dearly with mesmerising beauty, spectacular geography, jaw dropping scenery and perhaps a rare insight into one of the world's few remaining truly nomadic cultures. Where we have been welcomed into the famed gers of Mongolia, we have also met with the legendary hospitality for which the end of a hard day(s) ride means so much. Like end of canyon camp, two days out from Ulgii, sitting around a small table, the freshly slain goat laid out before us and nothing going to waste. Bloke on one side carving up lung, bloke other side cutting up heart and grandma sitting opposite happily picking out brains, nothing going to waste, chai all round. Or the recent lay over in the town of Omnigov highlighted the open hospitality of Mongol nomads. We arranged two nights care for our horses and expedition sponsor Nomadic Journeys sent a translator, driver and community leader for a high altitude rendezvous with the Myangad nomads of Altan (Mount) Khokhiy to take drone footage and film cultural occasions few foreigners are fortunate enough to be privy too.
The best part of a week across remote territory east of Omnigov and here we are. Tomorrow we head off across what could be some of the most challenging terrain yet. Although we seem to have put the worst of the insect problems behind us (though as I write I see a mist of mosquitos hovering above each horse) we have just packed food for 15 days and plotted a course across a barren schedule of small springs and remote wells (some of which so far haven't always had water). Our destination Songino.
You'll never see the end of the road while traveling with us...