“The Journey” by Thomas Corlett
Recipient of the David Hollier Award 2016
This was a month long expedition through Mongolia by West Lancashire County Explorer Scouts and Leaders. The aim of the expedition was to develop as a group of young people. This involved a large amount of training before the expedition to ensure that we were physically fit and able to undergo an expedition through a remote region and also to ensure that we would work as a team.
The whole experience was amazing and the training paid off as we had a wonderful adventure and all worked well together. The trekking in Mongolia was hard, however it was worth it and we all enjoyed time as tourists in Beijing (China) on our way home.
Mongolia is vast Country, south of Russia and west of China with huge areas of remote rugged countryside.
Days 1 – 3 were spent in Ulaanbaatar (the capital city Of Mongolia) where most of the population lives. This time was essential getting used to Mongolia and preparing for the 2 week expedition using Mongolian horses, inflatable canoes and hiking. This included buying the food which sounded very expensive because £10 is equal to 28,000 Tögrög. However this was not an easy task.
First we needed to travel to the State department store, using taxis (in Mongolia anyone who drives can operate a taxi service and it is only £8 to get a driving licence, luckily the licences are not valid outside the country). Chris, the English contact out there said that people drive their cars like they ride their horses i.e. go at any time at a junction and just follow the car in front. We had a Mongolian translator and she helped us get the taxi fare to a reasonable price. I was pleased about this because I had the responsibility for the taxi money.
Once at the store we had to change the pounds into Tögrög, then find the food (which looked similar to English food) and would keep for 3 weeks as we were not setting off immediately. My team chose foods like pasta, rice, tinned meats and vegetable crackers with a type of salami. We also had the biscuits and pot noodle some of us brought with us from England.
During our time in Ulaanbaatar we were also adjusting to the altitude as we landed at the height of Ben Nevis compared to Ormskirk, where I live, which is only 55m above sea level.
Early on the fourth day we drove to a children’s centre outside Ulaanbaatar for the practice Mongolian Jamboree. It was very hot at the Jamboree so we constructed a sun shelter and also a shower (the only one on site). The Mongolians were very impressed with this and they persuaded us to leave it up after we had gone for the remainder of the Jamboree and we were only able to stay for 3 days. The Jamboree was quite relaxed but there were activities for us to do e.g. a talk about messages of peace and that as Scouts we are all messengers of peace, a strange dance and also going to see a therapist. There was also a Brownsea Island course where the Scouts learnt about water filtration, building a shelter, playing a game with flour and the history of Mongolian Scouting which has only been going for 25 years.
We performed “Singing in the Rain” to the Scouts and they enjoyed this. Also we prepared games for the Mongolians to play i.e. duck, duck, goose (this was very funny because they were playing it on a slope, so some slipped over as they were running around the circle: ladders and the Hokey Cokey.
On the 4th day of the Jamboree we woke up at 5am to take the tents down and leave for what was going to be a 17 hour bus journey to the north of Mongolia where the expedition was to take place.
When we arrived at the Ger camp at 11.30pm we decided to have a rest day, at Hadgal the north of the country by the big lake.
The next day we sorted our kit into one barrel bag between 2 people and our food into another between 2. We had bought horse riding boots in the black market in Ulaanbaatar. Some of the horses had escaped and only arrived later that day. This gave us extra time to go to the small village and the last food shop which included fresh bread and fizzy drinks.
The next few days we spent horse trekking, getting up at 6am to set off at 9am on the horses.
The start of the horse trek the next day saw a delay because the wranglers (horse men) had to “dial a horse” because of the amount of kit to carry. This was despite us leaving most of it at the Ger camp. The horses finally set off at 12.00 but there was another surprise in store. When we had been riding for about 2 hours we decided to stop for lunch. But there was no lunch. The pack horses had gone ahead as planned but one horse carrying food, water and waterproofs was meant to stay with us. The packs had got mixed up and there was only water. When we got to camp (in a national park) at 5pm we could have our lunch but first we had to filter water and dig the toilet.
We finally reached the bigger mountains. We learnt that the mountain range was called Monkh Saridag and only the highest mountain had the same name. Also that the Mongolians do not climb mountains as they do not see the point. At about 11am we set out to climb the mountain that the wranglers (all but one did not climb) had chosen for us. The wranglers, without water or anything for that matter, climbed at the head of the group and ran the last 200m up the mountain. I thought this was phenomenal.
The ones that wanted a harder climb like me climbed an adjoining mountain that was 2800m, we started at 2000m. Looking out from the summit, all we could see were mountains and no civilisation. It really opened my eyes and helped me to understand how most of the world actually is.
Unfortunately most of the people who took the longer route were ill, so the next day was cut short and we were able to rest. The rest of the group looked after us and let us sleep whilst they did all the work. At this point I realised how important teamwork really is in a remote location.
When we got back to the Ger camp we had literally hours to sort through our kit and pack into barrel bags what we needed for the canoeing trip and the rest of the food into big plastic boxes. The next day we walked down to the lake to start the canoe half of the expedition.
Whilst on the lake it was hard to get the canoe to move in a straight line but once we got to the Eg Gol river it performed better as it was able to manoeuvre around obstacles. We covered about 40km a day over 4 days, well over 100 miles! However we split this in half because in the middle we stopped with a nomadic family. I really enjoyed this as I got to milk a yak by hand. They are like cows but can handle the altitude better but only give 2 litres of milk a day compared to cows which give about 25 litres per day. We have a herd of 200 dairy cows at home.
We also played card games with a family and gave them some food as a thank you. They were very open about their way of life and wanted us to try everything they made, mainly out of milk but also jams made from wild berries.
The next day they butchered the oldest sheep for us and from eating its last meal to being cooked it took 2 men less than 25 minutes. We were able to eat off the bone and it was very good and very juicy.
The next morning we woke up early to pack up and be back on the river by 8am to finish the expedition. This was through the narrowest part of the river being less than 2 metres wide. It felt like we were canoeing down a smaller version of the Amazon.
When we finished the canoeing we had a day in the town of Mörön then back to Ulaanbaatar. visited the Genghis Khan complex (known locally as Chinggis Khan). There was a statue of him on his horse 40 metres tall with 9 Generals that were average size. I had read about Genghis Khan during the preparation for the expedition and I understood that he created the largest land empire in human history. It was fascinating to think that he once ruled over the whole of Mongolia, large parts of Asia and Europe. I think it was fitting that his rule has been marked by such a grand monument and I feel privileged to have seen it.
We had 2 days in Ulaanbaatar to recover after the expedition and do some souvenir shopping. We left at 5pm the second day in a sleeper train, crossing the Gobi desert to the Mongolia/ China border. During the journey we met some Russian youths and because they could speak basic English we were able to socialise and play games with them. For example War which is a word game which is a game where you ‘fight’ against another player with your cards to get rid of them. We also played brain ‘teaser’ games.
The next morning we had to get off the train as quickly as possible because it only stopped for a short amount of time. Then we had to find the bus that would take us across the border but we had to get off every 5 minutes to go through bag scan after bag scan. Overall it took us 3 hours to travel 5 km across the border. We were dropped off at a bus station to try and find the sleeper bus that would deliver us to Beijing. We had a few hours to kill so we spent this time recovering.
The sleeper bus departed at 5.00am. There were 36 beds altogether with 2 rows down the sides and one down the middle. They were very small but I could get to sleep in them because of my short stature. We arrived in Beijing at 2.00am but they let everyone sleep until 5.00am when we walked to the metro and to the hotel we were going to stay.
The activities and sightseeing in China was crammed in. We ate a buffet of Duck then went to the Summer Palace and the Olympic Park. We were told there would be a short time for photographs. I was totally surprised that this time was for the Chinese to take photographs of us, not the Stadium!
Next we went to the Great Wall of China. We walked 7km on the wall and went through 26 towers. The view from some of the towers was amazing but from others it was just the main road. Also I learnt that the wall was being built for 300 years and at first the walls were around cities to protect them against the Mongolians.
Then we watched a Kung Fu Show where a man lay on razor sharp knives then had a board of needle placed on top of him then another man on top of that then a slab of stone on top of him and a sledge hammer broke the stone. It was awesome and mind-blowing.
On the final day we went to the Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven. Then we left the East behind. Mongolia is such an eye-opener and really makes me think about how lucky I am to live in England and have the experience of a lifetime to go to the isolated and unknown country of Mongolia. Thank you again and I hope the YET keeps on supporting expeditions because they are very worthwhile.
Highlights of the expedition include meeting and making friends with the Mongolian Scouts at the Jamboree and also meeting and playing games with the Russians on the train. All the people we met will have fond memories of us. Overall I will remember this expedition forever, especially the vast scale of the world as I sat on top of the peak and looked out across the wilderness with no people, houses, cars or roads as far as I could see. Also I now realise that the title of the expedition “Mongolia The Journey”, not only referred to our travel but also to the personal development for each and every one of us and to us as a team. We all had responsibilities for ourselves and to each other and being part of this wonderful team of people has boosted my confidence to an all time high. I will continue to promote Scouting and encourage other young people to travel and develop as Scouts.
Bubble Factor Explorer Unit, Ormksirk District Scout Group, West Lancashire County Scouts