The fickleness of the not-so-hardcore traveler

After 4 hrs of waiting to be collected, two breakfasts but no lunch, we left the city of Ulaanbaatar for the Terelj National Park.  Our driver and his wife stopped for meat, potatoes and a large crate of vodka. Entering the national park, we passed people selling fresh milk in coke bottles, and freshly skinned sheep skins, out the front of the family ger.    We drove past all the tourist camps,  past where the bitumen turned to gravel.  This is beautiful, I said, I’m so glad we didn’t go with some organised tour group.

We ate, and slept. Our first night in a ger…

Baby Boy woke soon after 6. It was bitterly cold. He ran about on the wet grass oblivious. After 10 minutes we could all be found sitting on our beds wrapped in blankets trying to stop shivering. The roof of the ger was open, it was no warmer inside than out, the fire had gone out hours earlier. We already had all our clothes on.

Thats it! I said, we are going back to the city now . This is ridiculous. How can we be expected to move our fingers in this weather. I need a cup of tea!

By 10 am the sun was out and it was glorious. The scene was full of bright colours and clean air. The gers are white with pretty blue patterns around the base, the doors are painted orange.

Everything is so green.  We walked to the river and Sparky did lots of racing through streams in her chariot.

‘That will be cool footage’, said Chris, ‘Film me while I do it again going the other way!’

Some of our kids swam with the local kids, the water was so icy Chris took Sparky in but they only got up to their ankles.  We walked back for lunch, and ate hot soup and stale bread in the bright sun. We made the children nap out of the sun as they were all burnt.

That’s it, I said to myself. We’ll buy a big Russian 4WD truck with a heater and big tanks, and drive all over Mongolia and Russia and Europe. We’ll fry our own bread and buy sacks of potatoes and fresh milk by the road. We’ll navigate by GPS and the stars and learn enough of each language to stop and chat. We’ll buy half a sheep at at time, and strap it to the bull bar to keep cool, and hack bits off when we need them.

The sun went down and we got super cold, even with all our layers on. We lit the fire and warmed the ger, but decided we must be stupid. How could we both shut the roof, and have the chimney going out? We tried removing the chimney and simply covering the hole with a tuna tin. The ger filled with smoke. We tried putting the chimney back, and closing the roof as close as we could, but then freaked out that the heat of the chimney would set fire to the cloth. Besides the rain still came in. Eventually we just let the fire die, and trapped in what heat we could. We retreated to our sleeping bags.

Thats it! I said to myself, I’m gonna be one of the those travelers who chase summer around the globe, and never wear more than a t-shirt, and never see the cold…and Mongolian summers clearly don’t count! This is ridiculous. Even with the two small boys in my bed, and even as we warmed each other, it was a long cold night.

Chris, Tintin and Meena went horse riding the next day. I stood in the rain long enough to take this picture of them getting ready, but not long enough to get the camera wet and capture them riding off.

When they returned, two hours later, I instantly treated them for hyperthermia, stripping off wet things, toweling them down, putting them in dry things and straight into their sleeping bags, with a warm sweet drink.  They couldn’t move their fingers.

Finally our hosts fixed the roof. Turns out we weren’t stupid, there was a piece of the ger missing. They nailed it on in 5 minutes. I got the fire blazing and started to dry the clothes. We were toasty warm that night.


Thats it! I said, we can do this! No worries.

The next day, the outlook was for days more rain. Sparky’s blender battery was flat and we had only a day’s worth of blended food. I was out of milk, and couldn’t face coffee without it. There were cows every where, but nobody seems to drink the milk ! Our devices were flat, dying with them all the e-books we would have otherwise happily read aloud, as we sat in the warm ger listening to the wind and rain and galloping.

That’s it, I said, we are going back to Ulaanbaatar a day early.



Fast forward a week later. We’ve been on a horse ranch for five days. I had a two hour ride the second day, but as Baby Boy was on my back, we only walked slowly. It took three days for my sore butt to recover. Far out! My whole body ached the next day, from riding stiffness, from sleeping on the rock hard ‘bed’, from the cold.  I’m feeling old. Pathetic.

Plus, we had low expectations for the Monglian food, and they’re rarely been exceeded. Today was a low point. We had these stodgy tasteless dumplings full of gristle, in thick floury milky warm-ish soup.  I didn’t eat mine.

“Just eat what you’re given Mum, it’s food’ said Meena.

Thats it! I said, I’m never saying anything to my kids I wouldn’t like them to say to me! I asked for bread and jam like a spoiled three year old.

Tintin and Meena have been riding daily, galloping out over the steppe, rounding up cows and milking them by hand. Yesterday it was my turn. I was given the oldest slowest horse, for which I was secretly pleased.

I spend half an hour saying ‘choo, choo’ kicking, and wacking him on the back with the straps. He would not move passed a very slow walk, and kept stopping to eat grass. He knew I had not a clue. Eventually the horse guy with us chased him and got him to trot, then canter.

I freaked out. I mean, it was just too fast, and I had misgivings about my centre of gravity. I honestly felt like I was going to go flying off.  Plus he was going the wrong way. ‘Drrrrrrr’ I said, and brought him to a stop.

That’s it! I said. I’m just not a horse rider. Maybe there’s something wrong with me.

‘Tintin!! Meena!  Come back here!’

I handed my horse to Tintin, who’d been double banking on Meena’s horse. Of course he made it take off straight away. Amazing.

I slowly walked back to the ranch, while two of my big kids rode off together, feeling no fear.

Thats it! I said, I am reconciled to being one of those passive mums, who looks on from the sidelines.  For the first time in my life, two of my kids have expertise that I don’t have. They just love the riding and they can do it well. Turns out Mummy is scared of riding horses.


We’ve been six days on the ranch without a shower, except the freezing rain. Its been wet cold, and with insufficient palatable food, I’m ready to go back.  There’s something about breasteeding with freezing grubby baby hands grabbing my poor exposed torso….


And I just found out we ate tripe yesterday. That explains the gagging.

Two of my children love it and want to move here. Turns out I’m not so hardcore….





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15 Responses to The fickleness of the not-so-hardcore traveler

  1. Vicki September 16, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

    I take my cappuccino machine with us when we go camping so don’t be so hard on yourself – I think you are AMAZING!!!

  2. Travel with Bender (Erin) September 16, 2012 at 6:53 pm #

    Oh wow, you are hardcore, I wouldn’t even contemplate it, let alone do it. You guys are amazing!

  3. Joanne September 16, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

    I laughed and appreciated you’re humanness….you still rock as the one of the most hardcore mums I know (cyber style)! Thanks for the sharing.

  4. Kathryn September 16, 2012 at 8:06 pm #

    I would love to think that I could ride a horse well but I too am more than a little freaked out by anything bigger than a shetland pony. And those ones can be grumpy and bite. Steer well clear (they can smell fear!) and enjoy as much bread and jam as you can get your hands on :)
    You may feel fickle (I think human), but you are still travelling and getting out there a whole lot more than most of us (read: we are inspired by your adventures!)

  5. Jennifer Pearce September 16, 2012 at 10:09 pm #

    I definitely get the feeling that Emily and Marie would be right there with Meena and Tintin enjoying the horse riding if we were there with you. :)

    • cindy September 16, 2012 at 10:33 pm #

      I LOVE the photo of you breastfeeding in the field!

  6. Laurel September 16, 2012 at 10:10 pm #

    I truly enjoyed reading your post. This is the first I’ve read of yours and I’m looking forward to many more! Beautiful. That last photo is stunning.

  7. Julie Sparrow September 17, 2012 at 10:52 am #

    I love it. Thanks for sharing; gave me my first good laugh today. I hate being cold, hope you get to warm up soon xxx Julie

  8. Aunty deb September 17, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

    Wow. I say it again, wow! You guys are either crazy or the most fearless I know. So glad Meena and Tintin loved the riding. Wish I could send you some “warm” love A Deb

  9. Granny September 17, 2012 at 9:31 pm #

    So loved your constant ingenuity.Tuna fish cans can have great uses. Your journaling is really inspirational, Gill! Love you all, Granny xxx

  10. Margaret Hogan September 26, 2012 at 6:56 am #

    Great post Jill. So relatable. Don’t you hate it when your kids start to get the edge 😉
    Margaret Hogan recently posted..Another confession … you know how I said I was going to the gym this morning …My Profile

  11. Maria October 20, 2012 at 9:29 pm #

    Wow. Kudos to Tintin and Meena for galloping like that! And kudos to you for trying!
    Maria recently posted..New Clothes, New Friends, and New ShoesMy Profile

  12. Rachel January 25, 2013 at 1:49 am #

    Your blog posts make me smile and make me think. Please keep writing — I am soaking it in!

  13. Uwe January 26, 2014 at 11:57 pm #

    Is there any effective baby carriers for twins? I can picture a man walking with their child strapped to the front, and one to the backside.

    I dont think its a very comfy configuration.
    Uwe recently posted..UweMy Profile


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