Four days ago we left Beijing in our truck vehicle called Archie and drove, bounced and bumped along a scenic overlanding route to Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar. Even though we’ve only touched the surface of what is the world’s least densely populated country on the planet, it’s so far been incredibly spectacular.
It’s a landscape so vast it looks like it never ends, where the dusty orange desert sands peak through a blanket of green bushes and plants. It’s a canvas of untouched beauty capped by a sky so blue that pollution isn’t even a word that exists here.
Passing only wild horses, herds of cattle, a rare isolated gurt in the distance and the odd truck also on it’s way to the city, life here is at its most simple and beautiful. Overlanding through it rather than flying or taking the train is one of the best decisions I have ever made.
It may be a longer journey this way but you can never beat getting off the beaten track. I never stop staring out the window thinking “I’m finally here” – in the country I’ve had an obsesion about for quite some time without ever knowing why. Maybe it’s because for the first time in a long time I feel so content, so happy, so in awe of simplicity, so free. I’m a full time traveller and my new life is just beginning. Maybe Mongolia was calling for me all along.
We left behind crazy Beijing at 6am to begin an estimated 16 hour drive through Inner Mongolia in order to reach the border town of Erenhot. During that time (which actually took us 12 hours) we passed beautiful untouched landscape, before hitting the new build high-rise town of Jingin (where we stocked up on two days worth of food supplies for the wild living which was about to commence) on the way to arriving into Erenhot and camping in a field full of huge metal dinosaurs.
As with a lot of South Mongolia and nearby regions, a lot of dinosaur remains were found here. It was fun to wake up in Jurassic Park!
After spending four hours getting to and crossing the border the next morning our camping spots for the next two nights were in the Mongolian areas of Sainshand and Choir. We really were the only ones out there, or so it felt that way.
The Overland Truck
The Dragoman overland truck is what we call home, except we don’t sleep on it overnight. Instead we’ve been wild camping (and there are not a lot of obvious bushes out there to hide behind) every night all the way to Ulaanbaatar where we now have a hotel for two nights before going back to the isolated desert lands.
The outside of the truck has lots of compartments – storage for our luggage and tents as well as a clean water supply, meal time equipment and food supplies. It’s a travelling transformer and everyone has to lend a hand setting up and packing down for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
If you have no sense of camaraderie or hate getting dirty (all over) then this isn’t the kind of adventure trip for you. Personally, I’ve embraced it and loved every minute of ‘roughing it’.
23 seats, a fridge, a safe, a book shelf, big speakers and a place to recharge equipment (cue blogger happiness) and decorated with a heap of flags and travel quotes, this is where we spend hours at a time, or what can actually be an entire day, traversing the landscape. All the while we fill it with our belongings like a messy bedroom and make it cosy.
Along the Way…
We’ve got two guys who run this truck – the ‘tour leaders’ – except they are just two cool guys I prefer to call my mates and have a real good laugh with. The alcohol drinking, smutty chats, sarcastic banter and general piss taking are already in full swing four days in. Just how I like it!
Importantly, they are the drivers, the mechanics, the navigators and the trouble shooters. Everything about the truck from where it goes and how it gets there hangs on their crafty decision making.
Along the way they jump out to check the road, walking far ahead to determine the best track to take or to check water logged areas (and by that I mean getting in the water) to limit the chances of the truck getting bogged. They also stop to help locals whose cars are stuck, knowing that one day the karma will need to be returned.
We’ve got two Mongolian guides with us also – expert knowledge and the ability to call on locals for help within this isolated landscape is priceless.
Altogether, it’s a perfect mix for a grand adventure. And it’s only just begun.
To Be Continued…
You won’t be hearing from me now for three weeks as we travel around Mongolia for more wild camping, living with locals and extreme off the beaten track adventures. I’ll see you at the other end.