I realized I never wrote the “Breaking-my-back-in-Mongolia” story for theperfectstrugglersdotcom. So here it is: my ‘How did I break my back memoires’ in Mongolia during our Mongolia horse trek. Sometimes struggles and traveling the world combine perfectly well.
In 2014 we decided to go for it. Chase the dream and live the consequences. Which meant quitting the 9-till-5 and selling the house. And go on a long wished for world trip. Via Berlin, Moscow and the Trans Siberian express we ended up in Mongolia. We had 19 days to travel Mongolia. Which is a very short time. But back than we traveled with a high pace. So 19 days felt like eternity. So what do you do when you have all the time in the world and you are in Mongolia? Yes, you book a Mongolia horse trek.
Horses in Mongolia are wild and unpredictable. Just what we needed. A little bit of adventure on four furry legs.
Mongolia and some quick facts
- Mongolia is a unitary sovereign state
- The Capital is Ulaanbaatar
- Mongolia’s population is around 3 million
- Mongolia is landlocked by China and Russia
- Religions are buddhism (53%), Non religious (second biggest group), Islam, Shamanism, Christianity
- Mongolia is the most sparsely populated country in the world
- Approximately 30% is nomadic or semi nomadic
- Genghis Khan founded the Mongol empire – he was the first man who connected the nomadic tribes and formed an empire
- The Mongolian currency is the tugrik
- Nomadic Mongolian people live in a ger
Travel wild Mongolia
Are you going to do some horseback riding in Mongolia (somewhere in your life)? You will not get disappointed. The landscape is vast, pristine and tough. When it is hot it is HOT and when it is cold it is COLD. Nomadic people in Mongolia live in very hard weather conditions. Their faces are weathered because of those extreme weather variations. The same counts for the landscapes. Everything suffers from the harsh living conditions. The result of that is beautiful.
Nomadic people in Mongolia need horses. They move around with the seasons and elements. It is their transportation in wild rural environments. Horses in Mongolia are known for their flexibility, unpredictability and wildness. Imagine yourself on the back of a horse and gradually you see the surroundings change in front of you. Vast plateaus change into greenish mountains and suddenly a lake pops up and you have the best sunset ever.
So if you dare; try a Mongolia horse trek adventure. It will be a fantastic part of your trip and of 1 of the best experiences in your life.
What do you think of the scenery?
Book your Mongolia horse trek in capital city Ulaanbaatar
Your starting point for your Mongolian horse trek will be Ulaanbaatar. This is a city where you are because you need to arrange a tour. And because it is probably your first place of arrival in Mongolia. Two or three days are more than enough. The city is grey, polluted and noisy. Not a place to be too long.
The horse trek tour supply is huge and the prices differ a lot. So the best thing you can do is to shop around. Ask what they do. Where they go. Whether you need to bring your own sleeping back or not. Your own food or not? With how many people do you go, does the guide speaks English? etc.
Reminder: “If you use a sleeping bag of a tour operator? Other people slept in those sleeping bags too… ;)”
Don’t forget to bargain a bit. Prices are high. You pay per day between the 50 and 80 USD. All depends on how many people join your tour as well.
We booked a horse trek tour in Central Mongolia via Golden Gobi Tours & Guesthouse. We wanted to book as cheap as possible so we got a stripped off version of a normal tour. Four days on a horse. 1 guide. Only dinner and breakfast, no lunch. It was just us two in the group. The guide spoke only Mongolian and 1 or 2 words of English. The deal was good but less convenient. Less convenient but more adventurous and interesting. We had to arrange our transportation ourselves as well. Which meant a 10 hour bus drive with local drunks just in front of us.
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Accommodation in Ulaanbaatar
Accommodation in Mongolia and Ulaanbaatar is not cheap as you would expect. In 2015, when we did our trip in Mongolia, the double rooms started at 20 USD and that was a real good bargain. We stayed at Mongolian vision tours guesthouse. I can imagine prices rose a bit in the last two years.
The start of our Mongolia Horse Trek Adventure
We departed from the big Market. We got navigated by a employee of the Golden Gobi. The only thing we needed to do was follow that fellow. If you go to Ulaanbaatar the market is an excellent place to spend a morning or afternoon. It is crowded and chaotic. Bring your camera with you. Shoot some nice pics and get yourself a souvenir.
We were dropped at a bus but obviously we didn’t know when the bus would actually leave. Within the hour we noticed some movement within the waiting crowd and before we knew it we were squeezed into locals and on our way. Out of Ulaanbaatar the scenery changed rapidly. Sloping green landscapes replaced the concrete buildings. Hello new world. A drunken Mongolian man fell asleep on my shoulder. Eagles circled and observed their chosen pray and the road bumped us to our meeting point.
Arrival was at 0100 am. A guy with a friendly smile and a driver were waiting for us. From the bus we stepped in the jeep. Under a sky full of stars, their light beaming on the road, we continued our journey to our ger. We tried to communicate but it was difficult. We didn’t speak any Mongolian words and the guide didn’t master English. Lost in translation we bumbed forward.
At 0230 we arrived at the ger. I smoked a cigarette. We hugged each other in silence and we stared at the sky. Off the world this would be the start of a beautiful adventure.
Mongolia Horse Trek Adventure – #day 1
We chose to have a day of nothing after our arrival. What would happen to us when there is no entertainment? No other tourists. Only nature, wind, horses, a Mongolian family and a dog. This day slipped by in a very gentle pace. We red a bit. Walked to the nearby river. Met the horses and ate delicious Mongolian cuisine: greasy goat meat. We hanged around our ger and went to bed early because tomorrow would be our first horse trek day.
Mongolia Horse Trek Adventure – #day 2
Fresh and excited we woke up. Mongoh, that’s the guide’s name, instructed us what to do. His hands were very clear. We were packed and saddled. With the three of us we took off. It was hot that day. We stepped in the wind, which was very strong. So we discovered within 30 minutes the hard weather conditions in Mongolia. Living is tough here I said to myself. Half way it was time for lunch. We took many eggs with us. Since we couldn’t communicate in words I broke a boiled egg on my forehead. This is always a good trick to connect if you don’t speak a language. Humor or a smile is everywhere the same. And it worked. I got the name ekmek. Which we transformed in eggmek. “Ekmek” means ‘egg’ in Mongolian.
Every day we arrived at 1630 pm at another family where we would spend the night. We slept in a ger. It is a circular tent with a stove in the middle to heat things up. The heating part was necessary because the nights were in September already pretty cold. Our toilet was 100 meters walking from the front door, outside. I had to shit with Yaks 2 meters separated from me. It was dark. I didn’t have a light. My only compass were my ears. And It felt strange to feel big animals so close and not able to see where they were. I survived it and got to bed.
Mongolia Horse Trek Adventure – #day 3
The night was okay. Cold but bearable. After breakfast it was time to move on. It was mountain time. The real horse back riding challenge. The landscapes were still beautiful. It gently changed into a forest full of pine trees. Big rocks popped up and we had a nice meeting with a Mongolian family on the move. They were relocating for the coming winter. All their bags were piled up on big yaks. They moved in slow motion and looked like science fiction creatures. Really impressive. But the most important thing was – the horses were under control.
Ascending was easy and descending was pretty easy as well. And just at the moment we reached flat level again I had a misunderstanding with my horse. I pushed to hard. Tried to keep up with the guide who maneuvered as an elegant deer through the very rocky environment.
So a concatenation of fragments not to pleasant for me followed. The horse tripped forward and I ended up in his neck. Obviously this scared him and the big furry fellow jumped up. Which situated me at his left side, a little bit below his belly. This made him kick towards me and in a split second he took off. The nasty part was I was stuck in the stirrup.
After the thought ‘this is the end’ a couple of seconds later I was on the ground. Marleen witnessed me bouncing as a doll behind the strong fellow. I wanted to get up but was in shock and stayed at the ground for 20 minutes.
What were my horse trek options?
When I stood up again I realised we had a situation going on. My back hurt and we were in the middle of nothing. We could continue. Or choose to go back. Third option was to ring in a helicopter to get me, because no cars could enter where we were.
What would you do?
I Thought I bruised my tailbone and figured “let’s move on and wait what happens to me overnight”.
The only thing I had to do was get on that horse again. We were surrounded by moisty swampy grounds so to get up was my only option. I can tell you it is not a lot of fun to mount a horse again with severe pain in your ass… The good thing was we were almost there. So I mounted the horse and continued our adventure.
Mongolia Horse Trek Adventure – #day 4
You can imagine my night was not the best night I ever had. The only thing I could do was laying on my left or right side. A little bit sore on both sides I woke up. I had high hopes my pain had reduced overnight. But this remained hopes. I tried to mount the horse to go for a trek around the beautiful lake in front of us. Our arrival the day before felt like a fairy tale. It was beautiful there. Unfortunately my body quickly after mounting told me “NO”. So I stayed at the ger.
Marleen did a round and when they came back we had to pack and move on. The way back meant ascending and descending again. I developed a technique I could work around the pressure on my back, which meant less pain. It went smooth. Eat. Sleep and what happens tomorrow?
Mongolia Horse Trek Adventure – #day 5
Today it is the last day of our trek. Our Mongolian horse trek adventure didn’t work out as planned. Just as with many things in life. Adapt and move on.
After breakfast we were preparing our bags on the horses. When we were done it was time to saddle up. Mongho hold the horse steady as I jumped on. But when I moved myself up Mongho pulled me down at the same time. It was a macho man joke. The pain in my back was intense. I could kill that man. My eyes erupted hostile and unfortunately I couldn’t sit anymore. I was banned to walking. My last day on the horse was between the 50 and 100 meters behind Marleen and Mongho on my feet.
Drunken bride dancing in central Mongolia
The next day we were invited for Monghos brothers wedding. It was the third time he got married. Along with us other tourists were invited as well. The main idea of participating a wedding in Mongolia is to sit and drink fermented yak vodka. So for the short term it was the best medicine I could wish for. At the wedding we met Fabian and Claudia. A German couple. We are still friends today. And we probably will meet them at their wedding this year so we are already rehearsing some nice Mongolian wedding anecdotes.
It is a tradition to sing a song on a wedding for the newly weds. We both are not the most talented singers. And we were a little bit too much intoxicated by the fermented alcohol. That is why we couldn’t come up with something better than – ‘de meeste dromen zijn bedrog’ – which translates to; ‘most of your dreams are a deception or an betrayal’. Luckily for us nobody spoke Dutch because more irony we couldn’t probably bring in.
After a lot of drinking and singing, yes also after some throat singing (wait for about 30 seconds), we were ordered to go outside. It was party time. In the headlights of 1 jeep we danced. I danced with my sore back with the bride and witnessed undiscovered talents in our German friend. He pulled off some genuine robot dancing and I forgot my pain and danced further in the dark.
On our way back to Ulaanbataar
After our drunken Mongolian dancing wedding we had another day of rest. We got out for a stroll and ended up in helping nomads push their goats over the river. I even threw a goat. I was so enthusiastic I forgot my pain instantly but I got reminded fast enough when I put my foot at a wrong spot. Lightning went up from ass to eye and I was forced to pace myself.
The day after we started our 12 hour drive back to lovely UlaanBaatar. Gradually I got a bit worried that my tailbone wasn’t bruised but broken. I chose not to think too much about it but I had printed it in my head so it wasn’t gone for long. The way back was long, bumpy and hard. I was squeezed again between passengers. This time it was for the good. Because the squeeze pressure kept me in one place so it reduced the pain.
Hospitalised in Ulaanbaatar
We returned on a Saturday. Six days after my accident. Sunday morning we were via Golden Gobi on our way to the hospital. My Google answers didn’t convince me my hurting wasn’t severe.
I had to lay down on a table. The doctor listened patiently to my story. The drunken wedding dancing and the goat throwing part I skipped. I felt he wouldn’t appreciate this irresponsible behavior. The next thing that happened was that I had to turn around. So the doctor could put pressure on my vertebrae. That was the only way pinpoint where the problem was located.
So from my neck gradually he worked down the vertebrae till he reached the problem. Lightning again through the body. And a big silent F@#%K. He stopped and told me I needed an MRI. A what? Does my insurance company cover this? Well what needs to be done needs to be done. After two hours the verdict was there. I didn’t bruise my tailbone. Instead I had a broken sacred bone. That’s is the lowest vertebra in your back. And yes nerves also go through it. It was a clean fracture. No fragmentation of the bone and my soft tissue was not damaged too bad. Officially I was the luckiest man out there.
Our journey continues
My next 4 weeks existed of therapy in the hospital and laying in bed in Ulaanbaatar. The good thing was that the hospital restaurant had barista coffee. So that was my daily treat.
The shitty part of it all was that we had left The Netherlands only 5 weeks ago. Was this the end of our world trip? Afterwards Marleen told me she worried that we had to fly back. Somehow I never felt my accident was a game changer for us. After 4 weeks of rest and therapy we continued our world trip. We rescheduled our train trip to Beijing, packed our bags and followed our dreams again.
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