Its hard sometimes to know exactly how to begin blogging out a trip that was so amazing and formative. You think you know all there is about travel, even when you have been all over the world. You think you know all about photography, but the good photographers know there will always be so much more to learn. You think you know about people, even for someone who has made people’s stories his career, you interact with people worldwide and openly embrace every culture, but then you get totally blown away by how fantastic new people are to meet when you meet them.
Such was my trip to Mongolia.
I accepted the role for the summer as a trip guide and international photographer for Rustic Pathways, an Ohio-based adventure and tourism based company focused on providing high school and gap year students amazing opportunities to explore one of 21 (so far) countries and integrate with the culture and grow as am internationally expanded human being. Through adventuring (mountain climbing, horseback riding, skydiving, surfing, etc) or service work (teach English, agriculture, elephant and turtle conservation, building dorms and plumbing systems) or simply touring, Rustic Pathways provides a tremendous amount once in a lifetime opportunities for kids to become well rounded, future ready leaders.
My first adventure was simply packing for the bloody trip! And that was probably the hardest part of it all! What do you bring on a three month trek that involves multi-in-country flights, tiny Russian vans and Camels? Lets start with that.
I took the advice of Rustic and my country leader Gaia and splurged on an Osprey Meridian 28 inch wheeled bag with a detachable daybed (which was invaluable!) and was mighty glad I made that purchase. Mind you, it wasn’t the awe inspiring miracle steamer trunk Joe Banks bought in Joe vs. the Volcano, but it was damn close!
For my camera bag, I personally owned a huge Lowepro bag far bigger than I needed, and small Cliq bag I used to mountain bike with my camera, but nothing really suited for such an odyssey, so I borrowed a friend’s ThinkTank Streetwalker for my two Canon 5D Mk II & III bodies, lenses and strobes. I am thankful for the bag, Anthony, but in the end, the bag’s setup and style wasn’t for me, I wish I had splurged on a good slide-a-round that has rear and front access to equipment, but that would have saved me having to drop my bag down constantly to get at gear at times I needed to pack them away. For most of my shooting, I just used the bag as a staging point for getting from campsite A to B and on day trips just shoved lenses in my Osprey day bag and used a Black Rapid harness system to balance out my hikes.
Along with a sleeping bag and sleeping pad (another valuable commodity on the trip, thanks for insisting on that, Gaia!), that was the extent of my baggage for the tip. In retrospect, I really wish I had brought my trusty Lowepro camping backpack to stuff my sleeping bag and pad in, since it would have been much easier to pack into everywhere we went, and of course stuff full of all the cool stuff I was planning to bring back!
Power was an issue for this trip, as I was facing up to two weeks or more without power to tap into. When you have hungry digital cameras, a computer to edit with, and music and digital books to pass the time, you really need to economize your usage choices, and bring enough batteries and powered chargers to carry you through.
Mongolia is almost two and a half times larger than Texas, and the weather can range wildly. From sweltering deserts to driving snowstorms, Khan-land has it all. So I ruled out the cotton clothes, except for a pair of jeans for UB,(that’s the hipster name for Ulaanbataar) and relied on good multi layer synthetics that can be worn ALOT between washings (cuz there were going to be loooong periods sautéing in my own raunch) and transition from hot to cold…and hold off festering clouds of DEET-proof mosquitoes! REI was sure loving me! A compressible puff jacket (borrowed from a friend and enjoyed an adventure of its own), wool sweater, rain-proof jacket, I was covered pretty well. I wish I brought more t-shirts, and less shoes. Exofficio undies? Best choice for a long trip!
speaking of less shoes, you really have to put a priority on good shoes. I didn’t, and that sucked for me. I bought bargain Keen hikers that warped, broke eyelets, and basically were crap. I wanted some Salomons and so wish I got them. I’ll know better next time.
next up: first impressions are everything!