Think back to that time your Mum accidentally left you in the washing machine. Or perhaps back in Year 7, when the high school bully put you into a trash can and rolled you down a hill. Now close your eyes, hold in your breakfast, and follow me on a journey through the steppes of Central Mongolia.
Hills undulating as the landscape changes as fast as my girlfriend’s mood: icy, dry, rainy, and then scorching hot. Our battered soviet van—or fridge if you like—dodges, weaves, rolls over the incongruent terrain. The UAZ-452 Bukhanka—literally “Breadloaf”—is the favoured vehicle for off-road Mongolia, chosen for it’s simple design that allows for easy maintenance and repairs. And repair we did, as we drove from the capital up to the border of Russia and back. But that is the only way to see Mongolia. Upon leaving the capital city, paved roads quickly disappear, and then roads altogether. In a land suited for horseback, direction is based on which way has NOT been flooded, and the only landmarks for navigation are mountains ranges.
Bogged again. Two weeks of this. Driving anywhere from a third to half the day, every day; holding on for our dear lives as the ‘Breadloaf’ attempts to eject us out it’s windows. Two toilet stops and three breakdowns later, we arrive at our destination for the day. Our accommodation awaits us by a frozen lake: a white tent, or ‘Ger’, with better insulation than my house back in Melbourne. Land, as far as the eye can see, our tour group sailing in an ocean of grass. The smell of dinner wafts through the air, and with all due respect, it isn’t much to look forward to. The absence of permanent settlements rules out homegrown vegetables, so it’s whatever can be bought and easily stored from the market. Nomads eat as a necessity, not a luxury; taste and variation aren’t important to them. Rather than complain, I tried to be grateful for what I was given. I tried my best to appreciate that luxuries were exactly that: luxuries. Hey, at least I tried.
The first few days off the grid were difficult. Hand jitters from Instagram withdrawals and a strange craving for Kentucky Fried Chicken were among the first few symptoms of isolation. But as minutes melted into hours, and hours into days, I began to attune to my inner self. Light meant wake; dark meant sleep. Time was defined as food time, or sleep time, or ‘quality time with friends’ time. Suddenly the structure of modern society was lifted, and for the first time in a long time, I stopped. Completely stopped.
Showers, Wi-Fi, cinnamon scrolls. All the things I had to give up for two weeks, to see the breathtaking landscape that was Mongolia. A small price to pay—less the Cinnabon—to trek far enough from civilisation to see the Milky Way with impeccable clarity. To ride horses on the same path as Chinggis Khan. To swim in the purest lake in the world*.
Homo sapiens have never been particularly good at living in synergy with nature. But to me, this is as close as it gets. And not until you experience the nomadic lifestyle for yourself, can you truly define over-consumption and understand the exaggeration of what we accept as social convention.
*Second most pure, after a lake in Antarctica, but Antarctica doesn’t count haha.
Watch our full Mongolia trip on our YouTube channel. Here is the first episode for your convenience.