Weekend Ride

Tim and I headed out of Ulaanbaatar the weekend before the one just passed and went for a few hours of horse riding.  We stayed in a ger at a camp near the Tuul River.  It was a 2 hour drive away and our driver was….. well very Mongolian in his driving.  That means he overtook whether it was safe or not, used his horn regularly and took a ‘short cut’ that involved leaving the tarmac road and maneuvering his car over a muddy, rutted dirt track only to re-join the tarmac road.

We took a brief detour to the very large Genggis Khan statue and then a few minutes later we left the tarmac road again and head across the plains to the ger camp that was to be our home for the weekend.

Saraa and Baggi who run the camp are friendly and clearly treat their animals well.  The dogs were well fed, friendly and din’t shy at humans.  The horses were in great shape considering they had just come through a Mongolian winter.  It turns out Baggi cuts hay and feeds his horses throughout the winter, which is rare in Mongolia although there are various people trying to get this practice started.

At their camp there were wooden stables, which is a rare sight in Mongolia.  These housed the horses when they were being used, otherwise they were let out to roam free at night and there were two calves which stayed in.  The cows were also left to roam freely.

Tim and I had a lunch of grated carrot and garlic salad and homemade бууз (meat dumplings).  We went on a lovely three hour ride Saturday to a nearby hill which we rode up and had a fantastic view across the land.  We returned around 6.30pm in time for our 7pm dinner of fried rice.  We rode again Sunday, this time in the other direction and cantered up many hills.  The funniest sight we saw was a car driving up a large hill, horn beeping away trying to get our guide’s attention.  Turned out it was a friend of the family.  This hill had no road/track so it was like someone driving up one of the foothills in the Lake District!

We packed up and left the camp at 2pm and once home and unpacked we headed out for a Korean meal at Gyong Bok Gung which came recommend via this interesting website http://english.esdalanzurgaa.mn/2011/07/04/guide-to-ub-late-night-eateries-and-food/

We both ordered a Bibimbap – a signature Korean dish.  The word literally means “mixed rice”.  Bibimbap is served as a bowl of warm white rice topped with namul (sautéed and seasoned vegetables) and gochujang (a chilli paste).   This was topped with a fried egg and also had some minced beef in it.  Thankfully for me the beef was easily removed with a spoon and transferred to Tim’s bowl.

In addition to this 12 small plates of accompaniments were brought out; kimchi, garlic/chilli cucumber, beansprouts, seaweed etc.


Around Town

I was asked last week how close the Mongolian Steppe is to Ulaanbaatar. We can see the steppe and surrounding mountains from our kitchen, sitting room and the bedroom.  When one looks down most of the main roads one can see a mountain at the end.

Moнгол Xэл – Mongolian Language

No change vis-à-vis the visa situation but we are still working on it.

We visited a husband and wife team who set up and run http://www.nomadstours.com/nuur/ yesterday.  They employ people as well as offering volunteer positions here in Mongolia.  Tim and I spent a hour and a half with a very interesting couple who have been living out here since the 1990’s and both speak Mongolian.  They gave us lots of ideas to think about.

We met last week with the Resident Director of the American Centre for Mongolian Studies and he is exploring some avenues on our behalf.

I sent my CV to http://www.mongoliatalentnetwork.com/ not sure anything will come of it but what have we got to loose?

The weather here is warming up.  Last week we had two days so warm we wore t-shirts but awoke on day three to find 6″ of snow on the ground.   The temperature is forecast to get up to a high of 17C by the weekend and we may even have rain. All around the city there are workers painting, building and fixing things now the worst of the cold weather has passed.

монгол хэл хичээл – Mongolian Language Lessons

We are fast progressing with our Mongolian.  We know around 1000 words but recalling them is the hard part.  Recent lessons learnt below.

1) Tim said he could eat a person rather than food.  Person хүн.  Food хоол хүнс.

2) When learning the past tenses I said I didn’t kill last year.  I meant to say I didn’t walk last year.  To kill алах.  To walk алхах.

3) Apparently the extremely changeable nature of the weather during the Mongolian spring makes people grumpy for no reason, which explains everything.  Not sure I can justify why I am grumpy in the summer 🙂

4) Words for days of the week were changed during the communist era and have become super functional; Monday нэг дэх өдөр.  Translated as Day 1.  Tuesday хоёр  дэх өдөр.  Day 2 etc.

Saturday & Sunday are different in that Saturday is хагас сайн өдөр.  Half a good day and Sunday is бүтэн сайн өдөр.  Whole good day.

5) Happy is баяртай which is also used to say goodbye.  It means “Stay happy until we next meet.”  I think this is a lovely sentiment.

6) Tim and I celebrated our 7th Wedding Anniversary on Monday and on that day I learnt how to nag in Mongolian.  Our lesson covered how to say you need to make someone do something.  E.g.  I need to make Tim clean the house.

монголыг судлал – Mongolian Studies

1) The traditional Mongolian alphabet was adopted in 1208 based on an earlier script and remained in use until 1931 when it was replaced by a version of the Latin alphabet.

2) The Latin alphabet was replaced by a Cyrillic script in 1937.

3) Today the Mongolian language uses a Cyrillic alphabet, similar but not identical to the Russian one.  It has 35 letters and text is written from left to right – handy as it is same as English.  Tim and I are slightly better at reading than we are at speaking.

4) I mentioned the vowel harmony on one of the first blog entries when I had very little understanding of what it all meant.  Mongolian vowels are divided into two groups: front vowels, pronounced with the front of the mouth and back vowels, pronounced with the back of the mouth.

For example, there are two “o.”  First of all, “o” said like the English “o” in the word “pot.”  If you say this word you will notice the “o” sounds resonates around the centre of the mouth.   This is a back vowel.

The other “ө” is pronounced in the same way as in the “ou” in the English word “should”.  If you say this word you will notice that the “ou” resonates at the front of the mouth.  This is a front vowel.

If the first syllable of a word contains a front vowel all the remaining vowels in that word must also be front vowels.  Likewise, words with back vowels in their first syllable will also have back vowels in the rest of their syllables.

The Mongolian language has both long vowel sounds and short vowel sounds.  If you apply a long vowel to a word that has a short vowel chances are you will change the meaning   For example, Sam (Comb), Saam (Mare’s milk).

For language learning tips this site is great  www.fluentin3months.com/blog

The guy who writes it, Benny, smashes through all the normal excuses people give for not learning a new language.  It helps me when I feel like I am not progressing and want to give up.

Size Is Important

Mongolia – One Month Anniversary

We have now been in Mongolia for one whole month and we are coming up to our 7th wedding anniversary in a few days.  One thing I can state with confidence is that our married life has never been ‘settled’ or in any way shape or form dull.  We started married life travelling for two years when we left the UK the day after our wedding and we haven’t stopped having adventures.

The visa situation is much the same.  I thought I was out of ideas until I read this website http://www.mongoliacenter.org/

I decided to email them last week and heard back from Mark Tasse, the Resident Director, very quickly.  I have arranged a meeting with him for tomorrow morning to see if anything can be done to help us conduct our research and to get us back in the saddle out in the Mongolian countryside.

At the same time Tim found this online article


We read it and were amazed at how much we related to it so we contacted the author and she not only replied, but has very kindly offered to accompany us to one of the Mongolian Universities she used to be on the board with to see if she can help pull any strings for us.

This is a good place for us to thank all of you who have sent us words of encouragement and support and to say that doors are opening for us even if they weren’t the doors we originally thought we were knocking on!

Two other exciting things have come our way this week.  One is a lady called Robyn Hepburn.  She is a British long rider and lives with her husband in Mongolia. http://www.mongolianmumbles.com/

Robyn is part of the Expat Equestrian Riding Club and has put me in touch with Baggi and Saraa who run this company and have extremely good prices for riding. http://www.horsetrekmongolia.com/

I am calling them this week to arrange a weekend of horse riding and a night in a Ger.  We can at least get some fun out of this trip.

The second exciting thing to happen, was I received an email yesterday from Toril Strooper who runs http://rockymountainhorses.nl/?lang=en
saying she was interested in our profile & asking if we would be interested in visiting/working with her….errr yes!  Tim and I hope to visit before we return to the UK.

Talking of fun, we luckily don’t have much time to dwell on our visa woes because the majority of our time is taken up with Mongolian language lessons, homework and walking to and from school.  Our teachers follow the death-squad school of language teaching, with a sort of “you will learn or else” attitude to the whole thing.  They seem to think that the human brain can be terrified into language learning; beaten into submission with the present continuous then force-fed vocabulary.  Both of us seem to have picked up a surprising amount of Mongolian during our month here and will no doubt charm and delight you with a demonstration when we return to the UK. Someone remarked that it sounds like two cats having a fight but this really misses many of it’s subtleties of tone and timbre.  Admittedly, there is more hissing and phlegm production than with most languages but really, this just adds to it’s singular charm.

Apart from all the language learning our life mainly consists of watching the National Geographic channel; it’s all about fish and reptiles, and trying to construct vegetarian meals from cabbage, carrots & noodles.  We occasionally go out for a pint of Chinggis at the Grand Khaan Irish Pub.

Better to have tried and failed than to have never tried. Really?

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”

I remember reading the above quote and being inspired by it.  It is easy to feel inspiration when things are going the way one planned but so much harder when life throws a challenge or two your way.

I have been mulling over the saying “Better to have tried and failed than to have never tried” and finding it difficult to relate to.  We could have stayed in the UK and wondered about this trip but that was not enough for either of us, hence this attempt.  Failing (the visa situation has not changed and looks very unlikely to) feels….. well like failing.

I felt this long ride would open new doors, offer me opportunities I would not have had otherwise.  The reality is that by trying we have opened new doors, we will have to look for new opportunities and we did get off the sofa and give it a damn good shot!


Tim and I started back at school last Wednesday and we are learning Mongolian with some hilarious results.  Here are some of our observations and tales about the Mongolian language and the city Mongolians.

1) If you say someone is “windy” in Mongolian it means they are running around/being busy.  One of our teachers, Altaa told us Odnoo was “windy” to our great amusement and hers once I explained the English meaning.

2) Tim asked in a shop “Can I count?”

3) I have introduced Tim as my dog on too many occasions.
Husband = нөхөр Dog = нохой

4) The following words are extremely similar in spelling and pronunciation as Tim found out when he called a wall a princess.
Wall = хана (you don’t say the last a) Princess = хан King = хаан

5) When giving an example of the verbs “to fight” and “to beat” our teacher explained the difference being “to fight” is when two/more people engage in a fist fight and “to beat” as when one gets a stick and hits a dog. Hmmmm some cultural differences there I feel.

6) On Sunday Odnoo ended the lesson saying “Sam, your brain is demented so I think we must stop.”  I hope it’s a translation problem.

7) We have observed that Mongolians are not fond of holding doors open for others, waiting in a line (say for the ATM), waiting until another has passed through an entrance and waiting at traffic lights/pedestrian crossings etc.  They will slowly but surely push into queues, run pedestrians over, crash into each other’s cars or anything else that happens to be in the way; pedestrians, restaurants, sign posts etc.  We have seen around five crashes since coming here.  Our favourite is the lady in a 4×4 who very slowly but without hesitation reversed into a shop.  She broke the glass in the front door, moved the car forward and then rolled back again.  All very slowly.

April Fool’s Day

On Monday – April Fool’s Day – we had a second meeting at the school. We were told that the school manager had asked her boss if the school could extend our visa to let us travel to the countryside after our studies.  The answer “It is impossible.”

Now this is not true.  It is possible but they will not do it.  We asked what would happen if we wanted to leave the country and were told that our exit visa would need to be arranged and for this to happen we have to pay 70% of our unused lessons = $945!

Big sigh.  We asked for an extra day to think about this new information and on Tuesday Tim and I went to the British Embassy and had an hour’s appointment with Consular Services.

We now know the following
1. We can do what we like until 1st June – we do not have to study at the school but if we did not turn up/pay then we would have problems from them getting our exit visa.

2. We have to have an exit visa from the school to leave the country or a letter from them releasing us from their responsibility.

3. To stay we need a new sponsor to extend our visa from 1st June.  This is easier said then done!

The current plan is to canvas tour operators and guesthouses to see if anyone will help.  We don’t just need the extension we also need drivers and train tickets so we do want to use their services.

Jan Wigsten of Nomadic Journeys is arriving in Mongolia next week and we plan to meet to discuss our possible options.


I have been in email contact with Jan for months now and he has been extremely supportive and is full of local knowledge.  It is also through Yan that I found out about a husband and wife horse training team who have a solid reputation.  I have spoken with the wife, Densmaa, but right now we are in limbo so I cannot take this relationship further.

Tim and I discussed options again last night if we have to leave at the end of May.  We wondered if we could lay low in South East Asia, living cheaply, maybe studying another martial art, until next spring.  We would then attempt to get back into Mongolia on a three month tourist visa or find a sponsor.

Yesterday we headed back to school to finish our Mongolian language studies; five days a week, three hours a day.  Doing this buys us another seven weeks to research our choices.

One thing is for sure, we will not give up on our dream to become long riders and I will not give up on my dream of becoming a true adventurer.