So much has happened since I’ve been able to make a post last. The Internet is very seldom here, let alone a wifi connection, ha! Plus, we have been so completely engrossed in the present moment, dealing with naughty horses and crazily challenging situations, that even writing a blog post has been the last thing on my mind.
Where to even begin….okay, so basically, here’s an incredibly stunted download of what we’ve been working with for the past three weeks. We got to Arvaikheer (200km west of UB), where Tamir’s nomad connection people’s picked us up in a big ole truck and took us deep into the rural steppe. This was further away from civilization than I have ever been in my life. We set up our tipi bell tent and didn’t take it down for a solid ten days. In this location, we were close to our nomad friend, named Buch, who we bought horses from and he also arranged for other nomads to bring their horses by to see if we wanted to buy them. We ended up with 13 horses. 10 personal riding horses, one for each of us, and 3 pack horses.
These ten days were some of the most trying days of my life thus far. Emotionally, mentally, physically, every way! Some things I personally dealt with during this time were my own fear of horses that I didn’t even know that I had until facing these wild horses (which was fleeting and I now feel great with them), having a saddle that just simply did not fit without major reconstructive surgery, and a raging alcoholic (whom we lived with and traveled with for another week after) who found it appropriate to personally threaten to kill me because I stated my dislike towards overt drunkenness.
I had visions of a very shanti style horse caravan, where we circle together for vegetarian meals, sing and encourage and empower each other with our horse training and riding skills, and just all around care for one another like a family. Myself and a few others were shocked to find out that this would not be the reality of this Mongolian horse caravan. Rowdy, drunken vodka nights almost every night, out right racism (from Mongolians to some of our caravaners), animals being slaughtered and cooked in the vegetarian pot, meals without circling, violent communication between caravan members, people pushing each other beyond limits and boundary testing, horses escaping, people being thrown off and badly injured, nomads pressuring us to buy horses and get out of their turf asap, saddle malfunctions, down pours of rain and none of us had remember to secure our horses AND collect enough dry dung for cooking fires, causing shortages of food, these things were all very prominent on a daily basis. In a few short words: every moment was a high pressure moment. It was indeed a shit show. There’s no sugar coating this one, folks!
*EQUIPMENT ADVICE* All western style girths are way too big. All of us needed to make girths and double girths. Some saddles don’t have connection points for a double girth, which is absolutely essential if you plan on staying on your horse, so if you’re planning to caravan, figure out how to attach a double girth. What we did was buy some seatbelt like material in the black market, also some wool belts they use as girths. The wool belts are about 2cm wide so we bought two and sewed them right next to each other and then sewed this to the seatbelt material. We put the wool side against the horses skin, and use the buckles for attaching. But the buckles that come on these Mongolian wool girth belts are absolute shit. You need to buy nicer buckles that have the little silver rolling part so it’s easier to pull the girths up to tighten. It’s recommened to do this for both front and back girths.
Packing saddles, we also made the same girths for the pack saddles. Front and back girths. Also, all of the saddles require a dick strap. Which is our official name for basically a piece of rope tying the front and back girth together to prevent the back girth from slipping down their belly towards their penises. Which believe me, makes these pleasant(ish) ponies turn into buck wild stallions! Not pretty.
Alas, somehow we finally made it out of there. Well, not somehow exactly, but with the help of Buch and his Russian military jeep. We needed to leave the land and get on our way, we knew that this wasn’t our seed camp place. So we loaded Buch’s jeep full of all of our shit, saddled up our ponies and set out on a very hot, long ride. The goal, which I completely disagreed with, was to travel 55km to set up seed camp near a town where we could have seed camp. This sounded ridiculous to me, because last year some people told me they would travel 20-25km a day. And this was our very first day! Anyways, we set out on our journey, everyone on horseback and leading our barren backed pack horses. (The pack horses were just not ready to be packed. This takes very calm horses and lots of energy into accustoms T them to these weird, scary, lumpy, annoying, alarming bags upon this backs. We had a pack horse fiasco where we lost Split Ear aka Kasha aka Cinnamon and couldn’t find him for a whole day after he got super spooked and went crazy while trying to pack him with some empty saddlebags. Choose pack horses wisely, folks!)
The ride was largely anti-climactic. Very beautiful arid landscapes, descending down steep mountains and winding through valleys. As the day wore on, we were riding directly into the blazing high elevation sun. We were continually told to pick up the pace because we needed to make it so far and we had only riden so little. The jeep was following us, meeting up with us periodically. Sera was in the jeep with our stuff and Buch because she was thrown off her horse Polvo on her first ride with him, and has something like a torn rotator cuff. After 4ish hours of non-stop riding, I realized that I was the only one without a hat and I really wasn’t doing well anymore. I wanted to take a break to rest some, but some people in the group didn’t mind that heat stroke was setting in for me and decided that traveling on was more important. Eventually, I became faint so I got off of my horse, River, and hopped in the Jeep for the duration of the ride. Needless to say, we did not make it the intended 55km. We probably made it about 30km until the sun sank into the sky and it was clear that no matter how badly some of the people wanted to reach this goal, it just wasn’t happening.
The place that we got to was incredibly luscious and beautiful! Literally a breath of fresh air. Everyone was excited to be in such a beautiful spot. The earth was a carpet of wild flowers and deliciously thick grass for our horses, mountains and interesting geological rock formations, a pure clean flowing river was right below our camp. We all wanted to stay for awhile and have our seed camp here.
That night, I went to sleep with a bad case of heat exhaustion. I was feverish and hot to the touch but shivering with chills. Nausea, dizziness, fatigue, no appetite for food or water. I woke up at 1am and vomited laboriously into the moonflowers until the sun came up, where in which I promptly fell asleep completely exhausted on my sleeping pad outside the tent.
At 7am, I was awoken and told that we were moving camp because Buch was willing to take our stuff further for us. This was completely unnecessary. We were right beside a road with semi-frequent traffic which we could get to town for a food run for, town was 20km away. We didn’t need to leave. Our horses and humans were exhausted from such a stressful and long first day of riding. I personally was very ill from the sun poisoning and there was no way I could ride, let alone sit up and have an intelligible conversation with someone. Anyways, they decided to leave and ride 25 more I’m further. Delirious off of 2 hours of sleep and a wrecked body, I dragged myself to a nice hole in some rocks and filled it with diarrhea instead of sticking around for the debate on what to do that day. Over the hours of trying to get our shit together to pile into the truck to leave, it became apparent that my condition was quickly worsening, unable to keep liquids inside of me. The sun grew higher in the sky and began scorching out whatever life I had left inside of me. I laid in the meter of shade next to the jeep and waited for everyone to pile our stuff in the jeep. Saya so sweetly volunteered to come with me, and Buch, Saya and I were off on a very cramped, bumpy 2 hour ride to the hospital.
It was the hottest part of the day and the truck ride without windows that open brought me into dehydrated hallucinations. I barely remember the ride there, all I do remember was thinking last loving thoughts to my parents and friends, and drifting in and out of consciousness where everything turns white and you melt a little deeper into dream like states. On the way, we passed a Buddhist Ovoo, a pile of stones which one walks clockwise around in contemplative prayer and leaves an offering of a stone. Buch stopped the jeep and got out and walked around the Ovoo. He told me that he prayed for me. This gesture was so pure, so kind, it brought tears to my eyes. I felt spiritually cared for, which felt just as needed as being physically cared for. Saya was by my side the entire time too, caring for me as a comforting beam of hopeful light cares for scared ones.
We arrived to this rural towns hospital, somehow made it up the stairs and pantomimed to the Mongolian nurses my symptoms. I was laid shivering on an examination table, using some random person jacket as a pillow while four or five nurses swarmed around discussing treatments. My body was burning up even though I was wrapped in sweaters and a ski coat, three pairs of leggings and tall boots, and incredible cold, my whole body tremoring and chattering. They moved me to a room with two beds. An elderly Mongolian woman is the other bed peeped up to watch as they brought in this grave looking incredibly dirty foreigner. (I hadn’t seen a shower in weeks since UB, haha!) They piled blankets upon filthy dirty blankets upon me, Saya brought my sleeping bag. I tried to ask what they were going to do but before any real concise communication could be had, an IV was already in my hand and I was fast asleep. They woke me up to change my IV bag and pump some more liters of fluids and who knows what else into me. Finally a few hours later, they removed my IV and let me rest while I came to my senses. My body felt so much more hydrated, although I was incredibly disoriented. Saya was there and we went to a “hotel” together. This hotel didn’t even have a place to wash ones hands, and the toilet was the most filthy hole in the earth I had ever seen. You would have thought that Mongolians only eat explosives by the way this shitter looked. Through the night I developed a high fever and Saya nursed me back to health with bread, pickles, apple juice and crackers. Saya is an angel, I don’t even know how to repay her for her kindness. Yasashi!!!
The next day, although very weak, I was tons and tons and tons better. Buch picked us up and we went to a Mongolian family’s ger where the group had crashed for the night. Apparently they weren’t able to make it the 25 km that day either and were left wandering aimlessly in the darkness until these nomads took them in at midnight and served them some hot food, laid all 8 of them on the group and threw a big rug over them. Buch didn’t know where they were and he had all their belongings in the jeep so they had nothing. Sera, somehow didn’t even have a pair of pants, haha!
Anyways, we found a spot about 10km away from that town and we have been here ever since. About 10 days now I think since we’ve been here. So much healing has happened here, so much horse training. Our pack horses are underway, we’re going on individual journeys to various location, giving our horses plenty of exercise combined with rest and training. Marshall, John and Ishtars horses all have various levels of wounds from riding for three days straight. Johns is the most serious. Grandpa (his horse) has a large abscess on his spine where the saddle doesn’t fit him properly, also chased from bouncing while trotting. The wound has opened and has been spilling pus. He’s doing our best to keep it clean and using the sound spray. Indre, Ishtar and I packed it with a tumeric poultice to help draw infection out and reduce inflammation, then the three of us stood around Grandpa and gave him a session of Reiki. I’m praying for a speedy recovery.
Ishtar, Indre and Alan have taken to themselves to go on a 50km away journey to the lakes. Our group has talked about splitting up, since it seems that some want to go on long, hard rides, working the horses and covering much landscape and some want to go much slower, moving less frequently and having a more relaxed pace journey. At this point, we don’t have plans of splitting up, and we plan to meet up with the other 3 soon. For now, we’re left with the pack horses and all of the groups equipment to figure out how to make it all become a movable unit. I’ve been enjoying my days more and more now that there isn’t so much pressure to move move move!
This is seed camp. We’re all learning so much. Enduring so much. Being strengthened through the challenges. At moments, I question myself, we all do, and why we’re putting ourselves through such a rigorous mission. In other moments, I look to the setting sun, blazing the indigos together with the oranges, with the waxing gibbous moon hanging delicately above the blue gray gradient of distant misty like mountains,…with our horses grazing on tall grasses in the foreground and I remember why it is worth it.
Umi and River