October 10

Mongolia: The People We Met


mon13_1080Our favorite thing about Mongolia was the people we met.  There are plenty of travelers that make their way through Mongolia, but the wonderful thing is that it doesn’t feel touristy.  Mongolia is not really on many people’s radars and we found that because of that, we ended up meeting very adventurous and interesting people along our journey.

Here is a little snippet about the people we encountered and shared experiences with in this amazing country:


Linda & Judy


These adventurous ladies from California have known each other for almost 20 years and have discovered over the years that they make fantastic travel buddies.  They met through a mutual love of mountaineering.  They’ve hiked some of America’s and the worlds highest mountains including Mount Kilimanjaro, Everest base camp, and the Annapurna circuit in Nepal.  Needless to say, they hiked up the terrain of the Gobi much faster than us!

Proudly in their 60s, they prove that it’s never too late to travel, stay in hostels, and “rough it” in the name of adventure and exploring new places.

Linda worked in Antarctica a couple times for the “summer months” there in HR.  Hearing that gave Jan some ideas 😉

My favorite quote from Judy in response to if the cot she slept on one night was comfortable, “If you want comfortable, stay home!”  Wise words to keep in mind for the rest of our trip!




Pascale is Belgian and actually spent the first 5 years of her life in the Belgian Congo.  She has spent the last 10 years in Canada as a Physical Therapist.  Pascale is also quite a hiker having done many of the same treks Linda and Judy have done.

She took the trip to Mongolia for 4 weeks and China for a week after to soak in some sun before she takes on the Arctic Circle for the next year or so.  She’ll be moving along the Hudson Bay in Canada after she returns from this trip.  We’ll be sending her warm thoughts and maybe even Nutella (her favorite!) during the dark days of Winter up there!


Munkhzul (Zola) & Togookhuu (Togoo)


This husband and wife duo have been in the tour industry for 7 and 9 years respectively.  They don’t always get paired up to do tours together, so this was like a little vacation together for them.  Zola majored in English at University and is an English teacher when she’s not giving tours.  We were very impressed by Togoo’s navigation skills because pretty much the entire tour was not on paved roads,  yet he knew how to get there without the help of GPS or even a compass.  It’s an amazing skill Mongolians have!

They have a 2 year old son.  They live about 30 KMs outside of Ulaanbaatar for their son because the air pollution, especially in the winter with everyone burning coal to heat their homes gets really bad.




Olga is from Tyumen, Russia (north of central Kazakhstan) and has been traveling alone by motorcycle around Lake Bikal in Russia and down through Mongolia since the end of July.  We were thoroughly impressed by this feat because the roads in Mongolia are very rough and she mentioned that she can’t lift her bike by herself if it were to fall and she isn’t very proficient in fixing her bike.  But she’s still rides on and isn’t paralyzed by that fear.

My favorite quote from her was in response to the question where she’s going next and she shrugged and said, “I just want to see something beautiful.”  I love how simple and lovely that statement is.





Alexis is also from California (there must be something in the water there!).  She spent a couple nights with the same nomadic family as us.  She arrived in Mongolia in the beginning of August and reached her goal of meeting the Tsaagan (Reindeer) people in Northern Mongolia.  We really wanted to meet them, but they were very far north by the time we arrived in Mongolia – you had to ride by horse 2 days each way, which we decided against.

She is traveling long-term as well.  She was going to return to the States in December, but she’s thinking she will extend her trip through the spring and possibly work for short stints in the US between her travels.

Alexis was a huge help with communicating with the Mongolian families since she knew a bit more Mongolian than we did.  Unfortunately, she fell off a horse while we were on a ride one day and hurt her hand, so she had to go into the city to get it checked out.  We were sad to see her leave, but thankfully we ended up seeing her back in UB at a Cultural song and dance show!

By chance, she mentioned she knew someone in Chicago and we decided to give the name game a shot and it turns out that we know him!  Talk about a small world!


Two Korean Couples


Another example of what a small world it is – we met these couples at the first nomadic family we stayed with and it turns out one of the couples’ sons worked for Accenture in Chicago.  They got a kick that I also worked there for 7 years.  Furthermore, they are professors and missionaries at a hospital in Ulaanbaatar named after Severance Hall in Cleveland, where I grew up.


Enkbayr (Enke) & Munkgaral


This couple was our first nomadic hosts that had a ger located with an amazing view of Lake Khuvsgul and the snow capped mountains.  They have 12 horses and about 20 yaks.

Enke is 30 and Munkgaral is 28 and they have an eight year old son who was in school while we were there.  Children of nomadic families are now required to attend school in the nearest town and stay in dormitories during the school year.  They can return to their families on school breaks.  Luckily, Enke’s mother lives in Hatgal where their son goes to school so he can stay with her.


Munkdalai & Dabadorj


Munkdalai (aka Ocean since her name means forever Ocean) is Munkgaral’s younger sister who is married to Dabadorj.  This affectionate, newlywed couple lives across a river from Enke and Munkgaral at the Ancient Ocean Resort where Dabadorj drives a boat and is also a teacher.

They took us on an ox cart ride and we bonded over music together.  Mongolians are very into singing and have many beautiful, traditional songs.  They wanted us to sing so we broke out Jan’s phone with some music and sang along to their favorite hits that included Single Ladies, Pokerface, and Yeah by Usher.


Hadbaatar & Doljin-suren



Hadbaatar is Enke’s older brother who is 42.  Hadbaatar and Doljin own about 300 sheep and goats as well as some yaks.  We stayed with them for the second half of the trip.




Tuvshinbayar is Hadbataar and Doljin’s 5 year old son.  He recently turned 5 and in Mongolia when boys turn 3 or 5 they have a haircutting ceremony where they save the boys head except for a little bit at the nape.  They also do this for girls at age 2 or 4.

Living in a ger in Mongolia must be a little boys’ dream.  You can get as dirty as you want, run around hills and streams, and play with livestock.  This precocious little boy was into everything and anything we did fascinated him.  It was fun to teach him a bit of English and learn Mongolian from him.




Ligild is Doljin’s father.  He is 80 and unfortunately hurt is hip (or that’s what we assume because he couldn’t move by himself and they pointed to his hip.  He used to be a wrestler, which explains his fancy boots.

He was mostly quiet, but he really had a fantastic smile when it did appear on occassion.  My biggest accomplishment while staying with the families was getting him to laugh and clap at my performance of Single Ladies when asked to sing in the ger on the last night.




Oroyk is Munkgoral’s and Ocean’s mother.  She was a floater and stayed with Enke, Hadbaatar, and Ocean’s gers during the week we were there.  One of the most wonderful observations at the nomadic community is how collaborative they all are with the work that needs to be done – whether it’s cooking, cleaning, herding, etc. They help each other out wherever they can regardless of if there is a blood relation or not.

She was adorable and gave us huge hugs and kisses when we saw her last, which we found was not very common in Mongolia.  She was just so full of love!



Carmel & Shawn


We met these fellow career breakers via Twitter and caught up with them for dinner and drinks at a pub in UB.  They are from Portland, OR and just so happened to be starting their Round the World trip in Mongolia as well.  Shawn was in the Peace Corps 12 years ago in Northern Mongolia for two years.  Carmel wanted to see with her own eyes the craziness of Mongolia!

They are headed to Seoul, Korea and the Philippines next, which we are jealous of since those destinations were on our list, but unfortunately didn’t make the cut for our 3.5 months in Asia.  To follow along their adventures visit their blog at The Journey Itself or their Facebook page.



Ger to Ger, Gobi, Mongolia, People

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  1. Thanks for the mention! It was so nice meeting you both. What a small world it is that you met your friend at the cultural show. You would be amazed at how bad the pollution is already getting. It’s been pretty dang cold. Hope the rest of your travels are as special as the first few weeks. Look forward to seeing what else you’re up to!

    1. Oh wow – I’m surprised the air pollution is already bad, but I suppose it did snow the day before we left. It’s hard to remember how cold it was after a few weeks in 90 degree weather! Enjoy your time in Korea, the Philippines and wherever else the wind takes you 🙂 Looking forward to hearing about your adventures!

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