I don’t particularly believe in luck. I believe in being prepared for any circumstance and trusting your gut along the way. But when you’re dealing with as many miles, border crossings, languages, and currencies as I am now, it’s inevitable that things will not go as planned and you won’t know what to do. That is where you meet the Ding’s of the world. Ding is a businessman we met on our drive from Urumqi to Beitun, China. See, after 5 days of chilling in Almaty, Kazakhstan we decided to avoid the Siberian winter and head east into China instead. But I knew getting to the Mongolian border was going to be tricky as there is no easy public transport. So we found a minibus heading north to Beitun and that is where we met Ding. Spending nearly four days in China we met only one person who could speak English and that was at our hostel in Urumqi. So we always had to make do with hand gestures and the priceless mobile app called Google Translate. Ding is the only local anywhere we’ve met that had a translate app as well so not only could we talk to him, he could talk to us. He went out of his way to get us a hotel room and arranged a bus for us the next day and called a friend to make sure we got across the border ok. All while expecting nothing from us, just to be able to tell his family that he helped two Americans while on a trip. It’s these people that we have met along the way and that I have met during all my travels, they renew your faith in humanity. They see a lost stranger and without a second thought decide to help them on their way by not just pointing in the right direction but by making sure we get to the destination we want without issue. Thrilled just to see foreigners in their land they ask for nothing in return. It’s these people that make the countries enjoyable. We have always been running into people like Ding throughout this trip and they will always be there to help the next traveler along. It certainly influences you to do the same whenever you see a traveler in need.
So after more long drives, we made it into Mongolia. To give you an idea as to why Mongolia is such a fascinating country to me here are some statistics. Mongolia is the 18th Largest country in the world with a population less than the city of Los Angeles. With a large amount of them still nomadic, and most make their living with livestock breeding, the sheep and goat population outnumber people 5 to 1. That’s something you won’t find anywhere else in the world. So as we made our way across the massive Mongolian steppe. In what will go down as our harshest and scariest drives of the trip. Crammed in a minibus that the driver could barely keep running drove 14 hours all off road in the middle of the night with temperatures dropping below 0. We made it to Altai by 6 am, got 3 hours of sleep before hopping on a bus and spending 22 hours that was by Mongolian standards luxury transport. You may be wondering why all this time driving and not seeing anything. Well, to put it simply, there is nothing to see. 1,300 miles of steppe, just barren land covered with a foot of snow. It was certainly picturesque but not something you need to walk around in when it’s below freezing. We would stop every 6 hours or so and eat a traditional meal in some family’s Ger, then move on. By 10 am Thanksgiving day we made it to Ulaanbaatar! Exhausted and feeling filthy, we found a hostel and decided we needed to have some resemblance of a Thanksgiving feast. So we found a KFC and bought every type of side they had and lots of chicken (can’t believe they didn’t have any turkey). Then found a bakery and got some apple pie. Now I’m relaxing in a warm bed, with a full stomach. Wishing I was with my family having a proper feast that for them won’t be until tomorrow as I’m 16 hours ahead. But I am beyond thrilled that I have finally made it to my destination of Ulaanbaatar.