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Our Mongolian Trip – Part 1: Pre-Mongolia

Mongolia has been a year in the planning. Some may wonder why we’re going to Mongolia of all places and I may say, reflecting upon it now, that it was pre-destined for us to visit Mongolia. I can’t tell how or why, but I believe whilst it’s happening in my life-time, it was meant to happen for a reason only known to God.

After this, comes the simpler answer I’ve been telling most people, which is, “I’m doing a wildlife expedition with my girlfriend”, which sadly fails to explain my reasons behind it unless one is curios enough to dig some more, which normally would results to this:

During the summer of 2014, whilst constantly being inspired by National Geographic photographers, (which for a long time made me wonder how to become an Expedition or National Geographic photographer), I became increasingly interested of the probability of becoming an expedition photographer.

Research and the usual frequent visits to the NG careers page became a norm to me.

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It was during this time that I discovered being a photographer for NG wasn’t as simple as possibly imagined. I came to realize most NG photographers were already established in the photographic, scientific and archaeological industry or at least, majority were older and quite comfortable in life. They had generally, most of the time, accomplished a lot in their lives and could afford to do it.

Reading articles like these brought the reality of things into perspective. It made me question a few other things upon consideration, such as, “would I want to be away from my family for periods of time if I were given the opportunity?

As interesting as it all seemed to me, I ended up concluding that No was the most suitable answer to my question.

I couldn’t imagine myself leaving my family, let alone if I were to start a family myself. To leave my wife and children for months on expeditions wouldn’t be ideal and would bring complications. Other factors such as sustaining myself and my family became another reason reclining back from my new dreams of wanting to travel the world and photographing animals and nature resulted to a No.

Having realized this however, I got to the stage where friends had become aware of my interest in wanting to do this and a few brought me to the realization of “volunteering” with charities and or NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organizations).

What they hadn’t researched before passing this exciting knowledge to me, was the fact most charities and NGO’s, being what they are, don’t or most times can’t pay for volunteers to go on expeditions, as much as they’d like the help and support from ordinary people like myself.

This reality became apparent after coming across this great website linking and giving names of all NGO’s in every part of the world.

Having come across and emailed a few NGO’s, who’s ethos were working to save the climate and animals, I received several emails from Earthwatch and Fauna & Flora welcoming my email and interest in wanting to volunteer with them.

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Earthwatch was clear and straight to the point, linking me to pages on their website and giving me information on how to participate as a volunteer, whereas correspondence with F&F (Fauna & Flora) faded and failed to proceed to a progressive stage.

Having been directed to the right sources by representatives at Earthwatch as well as via email, I took to viewing the many varied expeditions Earthwatch had to offer. Expeditions ranging by continents and by type.

Asia became the continent of choice. Not having ever visited, it seemed an ideal place for exploration and adventure! This aspect of things made the Mongolian Expedition much appealing. The activities, archeological and scientific tasks, as well as the location of its happening pulled my interest like a magnetic field.

It seemed to fit what I’d always wanted to do with National Geographic except this was going to be quiet an expensive trip, but for all the good reasons – actually helping endangered animals in the semi desert steps of Mongolia!

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Having decided to pursue this expedition, Kim (girlfriend) and I  enrolled as two out of the 6 volunteers to go on this trip a year later (Sep 18th – October 5th, 2015).

Kim, I failed to mention earlier, was another source of inspiration for this trip happening. She’s always adored and supported animals in need through charity and had always wanted to first-hand experience supporting animals in need on a one-to-one level. Getting to actually put herself into the environment and situations to better understand the dangers and how relevant helping endangered animals truly takes.

Following the succession of enrolling and paying our deposit fees, we were left with a year’s deadline to put together our pennies to pay the individual large sums it took to take part in expeditions like this.

With this in mind, and to recommendation of friends and Earthwatch, Kim and I decided to create crowd-funding pages on gofundme.com.

The setup of these pages was to help us raise not all of the money needed to go on this trip, but to raise awareness to our circle of friends who would find it interesting enough to voluntarily help us with minor donations.

Few months in, after setting up our funding pages and with constant nagging to friends and family to support us, we (by generosity of friends and family) raised about 2% of our funding target to which we are very appreciative of! We became increasingly uncomfortable reminding friends and family to donate to your expedition and thus Kim and I decided to stop promoting our crowd funding pages all entirely.

Not having ever been to Asia, and especially to Mongolia, I became increasingly curios as to how locals would react to a black person like myself. This lead to mixed information via the Internet on how blacks were perceived or received in Mongolia.

I ended up stumbling on Marika Nixon’s blog about this exact topic. A very useful and clear blog, which lead to email correspondences with the author herself.

Having read and done some more research, it became increasingly known that Mongolians are very friendly and welcoming.

It became obvious that being black in a country where you stand out would always raise people’s curiosity.

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Although everything I’ve read and been told about Mongolia eases anxiety, I would like the chance to write my own conclusions after our trip. Please read my successive blog posts at a later date as I evaluate my personal experiences on the trip.

Fast forward to nine months before travel day (January 2015), we book our Mongolian flights and accommodation to Ulaanbaatar.

We will be flying almost four hours from London Heathrow to Moscow, then transiting a mere six hours to Ulaanbaatar Chinggis Khaan International Airport.

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On arrival, we will spend about two days in Ulaanbaatar before meeting the rest of our expedition team, then travel seven hours by train to the semi desert, and then hop on an hour and half drive to our final destination at the Ikh Nart Nature Reserve. Completely isolated from the rest of the world at a place tourist don’t often get to see or visit.

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Northern Little Owl habitat

Parts of Our camp!

Our flight to Mongolia, for anyone that might want to know, was booked with travel agent Wexas Travel by recommendation of Earthwatch, whilst our accommodation during the first and last few days in Ulaanbaatar (pre-and post the semi Gobi desert) was booked with Zaya’s guesthouse in the centre of Ulaanbaatar.

With flights sorted in January, we fast forward roughly three months to the current time of writing this, (before the actual trip) organisation and shopping has kicked in! You suddenly see yourself reading as much as possible to prepare yourself. Here are some books I’ve been reading to prepare myself for the unknown. bradt-mongolia_edition_3

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Essentials for trekking and camping are the shopping itenary. As a general note to anyone thinking of travelling to Mongolia, one doesn’t need a visa to Mongolia as of the current travel status on European passport holders, however a visa is needed to transit via Moscow if your transiting flight is on a different boarding platform to the one of entry.

At the time of writing this blog, we are four days away from our trip. Vaccines have taken place, shopping complete and packing underway!

The level of excitement and anxiety kicks in by the day but then I ask myself, “what is life, if one doesn’t challenge their comfort zone?”

Travel brings growth, knowledge, friendship and appreciation of the world around us and what we have as individuals. I say bring on the challenge, which will be a difficult and strenuous one but it will all be worth it, and for a good cause also.

What am I looking forward to on this trip?

Well, what’s really exciting about it is that Kim and I are doing something we’ve always wanted to do, and it’s a great opportunity to do our part in giving back to animals in extinction who through selfish ways of mankind have almost disappeared from the face of the planet.

Another thing I’m looking forward to is learning new things and gaining life experiences. I’ve come to learn in life that life isn’t about money. It boils down to being happy with ones self and making lives of other people comfortable or easier by any tiny gesture you can do or give. ‘Giving’ and not expecting back is one of the best ways to live.

If you question what the meaning of life is, and or why we’re here on earth and what our purpose in life is, it really doesn’t revolve around money, but rather making a positive impact, being kind, loving and giving abundantly. Material things are left behind when our time comes to leave this world. Our soul moves on to the unknown. A satisfied and happy soul leaves feeling accomplished.

If I died happy today, I would want people who I got the chance to know in life, to celebrate my life than be sad about my loss because I would have done a bit of my part in life.

Thank you for reading.

Do visit our blog to check up on how our trip went and all it’s adventurous stories! You may also want to follow us on Facebook for some casual photo updates along the way, providing we come across the internet!

This blog was written by Kofi

All images used in this blog are not ours. All rights belong to the owners, publishers and websites to which we got them from.

Apologies for all non-avoidable grammar mistakes and arrangement in this post. We would appreciate letting us know about any mistakes you come across to better the ease of reading of this post.

Thank you.

Kim & Kofi

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