The World Nomads Podcast: Mongolia

The best treks - the art of throat singing - why Ulaanbaatar is one of the most polluted cities in the world and the dangers of accepting drinks from strangers.

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Mongolia

Mongolia is sandwiched between China to the south and Russia to the north and is known for nomads, Gers, and protein-rich food.

Want to know more about Mongolia? Head to our Stories section to delve a little deeper.

What's in the Episode

00:12 - Welcome

01:55 – Quiz Question

02.08 – Dimitri, spent 9 months in Mongolia which included time living with nomadic tribes.

12:26 – Genevieve used Facebook to find like-minded travelers to explore Mongolia with.

19.23 – Travel News

23:25 – Bloggers Goats On The Road

29:38 – Soulcatcher Expeditions

34:20 - Quiz Question Answer

34:30 – Bukhchuluun Ganburged (Bukhu) is a master student of the Music and Dance Conservatory of Ulaanbaatar

45:47 – What’s next in Episode 17

Who's on the Show?

Bloggers Goats on the Road take us through the rolling hills and rushing rivers of Mongolia's steppe.

Landscape and Travel Photographer Genevieve Tearle used Facebook to find like-minded travel partners to explore Mongolia with. Head to Resources and Links in the Shownotes for our latest article on Packing Hacks for Adventurous Women Travelers.

Dimitri Staszewski was the runner-up for the World Nomads Photography Scholarship in 2016 and spent nine months living and working in the Mongolian countryside.

Here’s a link to his Mongolian music archive too.

Lizabeth Meuse from Soulcatcher Expeditions discusses making Balsa Wood Surfboards in PNG.

Balsa Wood surfboards

Bukhchuluun Ganburged (Bukhu) with the World Nomads team after performing Camel song, a combination of folk and improvisation.

Bukhchuluun Ganburged (Bukhu) studied as a master student at the Music and Dance Conservatory of Ulaanbaatar and joins us live in the podcast studio to demonstrate the art of throat singing.

Keep an eye on his page for details of his latest album due out soon.

Resources & Links

Scholarships Newsletter: Sign up for scholarships news and see what opportunities are live here.

Heading off traveling on your own like Genevieve? Check out our article on Packing Hacks for Adventurous Women Travelers.

Follow World Nomads on Instagram for the latest stories, and #WorldNomads for your chance to be featured.

Want to Talk to us?

We want to hear from you! If you have any travel insurance questions to Ask Phil, want to give us feedback on the episode, or have suggestions for topics you'd like us to cover, email us at [email protected]

Sign up for Podcast News

Explore your boundaries and discover your next adventure with The World Nomads Podcast. Hosted by Podcast Producer Kim Napier and World Nomads Phil Sylvester, each episode will take you around the world with insights into destinations from travelers and experts. They’ll share the latest in travel news, answer your travel questions and fill you in on what World Nomads is up to, including the latest scholarships and guides. The World Nomads Podcast is not your usual travel Podcast. It’s everything for the adventurous, independent traveler. Don’t miss out. Subscribe today.

Speaker 1: Welcome to the World Nomads podcast delivered by World Nomads, the travel, lifestyle, and insurance brand. It's not your usual travel podcast. It's everything for the adventurous, independent traveler.

Kim: Thanks for joining us for Episode 17 of the podcast in which we head to Mongolia, and I'm so excited about this episode.

Phil:  Yeah, me too. Mongolia is a landlocked sovereign state in East Asia. It's sandwiched between China to the south and Russia to the north, and it's the 18th largest and most sparsely populated sovereign state in the world. It's known for nomads, gers or yurts, and very protein-rich food.

Kim: Vodka obviously with Russia being there.

Phil: Yup, Russian connection.

Kim: Well, we will hear about the diet in our chats coming up. Now why I'm so excited about this episode is Bukhu. He or Bukhu, he studied as a master student at the Music and Dance Conservatory of Ulaanbaatar. Am I right there, Phil? You don't know.

Phil: Sure.

Kim: You're sure, yeah.

Phil: Beautiful.

Kim: He will join us live in the podcast studio to demonstrate the art of throat singing-

Phil: I know.

Kim: ... by performing The Camel Song.

Phil: The Camel Song, okay, can't wait.

Kim:  Bloggers, Goats on the Road, take us through their trek in Mongolia describing it as "one big campsite". Landscape and travel photographer, Genevieve Tearle, who used Facebook to find like-minded travelers to explore Mongolia with her. But she got there first and then used Facebook to find people to travel with. While there is no surfing in Mongolia, we do catch up with Liz from Soulcatcher Expeditions, who wanted to share the work she's doing with locals in PNG after hearing our podcast on Peru. There kind of is a little bit of a segue because Soulcatchers is planning to do something in Mongolia, so she touches on that as well, so plenty to come.

Phil: Was it the world landlocked that gave you the clue there was no surfing?

Kim: Yeah, I'm not really bright.

Phil: You're [inaudible 00:01:51].

Kim: Plenty to come. Let's get the episode underway though with your quiz question.

Phil: All right, recently, we've all seen those amazing pictures of the Kilauea volcano erupting in Hawaii. This is an easy one for U.S. listeners. How many islands are there in the Hawaiian group in the state of Hawaii? How many islands?

Kim: Answer at the end of the episode.

Kim: Phil, this man was the runner-up for the World Nomads photography scholarship in 2016. He spent nine months living and working in the Mongolian countryside. Would you like to introduce him?

Phil: Dimitri Staszewski.

Kim: Did we get it right, Dimitri?

Dimitri S.: Staszewski.

Phil: Oh, no!

Kim: We are quite hopeless.

Phil: Hopeless.

Kim: Now I'm fearing-

Dimitri S.: Don't worry.

Kim: I'm not fearing. I'm feeling that we could roam far and wide with this chat. As we've been communicating, you've got video recordings of music, Mongolian music. But you're also able to chat about LGBTQ culture and the pollution problem.

Phil: Can I ask the first question? Why did you decide to go to Mongolia?

Dimitri S.: Yeah, great first question. I did a lot of backpacking and camping growing up in a ... outside of ... I grew up in San Francisco. There's just a lot of great outdoors near there, and so I just always loved backpacking and became pretty interested in nomadic cultures when I was in college kind of through just backpacking.  It was very serendipitous, but I was watching a few different documentaries that all happened to do with Mongolia, and then kind of just like, "Aw, I would love to go to Mongolia, but I'll probably never get to go." I looked up "Study Abroad Programs Mongolia" on Google, and the very first one that came up was this perfect program.

I thought it was a scam at first, but it turned out to be a great program. It was like you're going to stay with a nomadic family, and you're going to work in the city, and then you get to do an independent project. It seemed too good to be true.

Kim: What's it like living with a nomadic family?

Dimitri S.: Basically, their whole day revolves around the schedule of their animals. You have to wake up really early to ... It's also very seasonal. [inaudible 00:04:02] time in the spring is doing the ... Babies are being born. A regular spring morning, you wake up very early, kind of wake up animals in a really calm way. Once they're awake, you start feeding the babies and then separate the babies from the adults, and go about your day making sure everyone, all the animals are fed. Again, it's just like life completely revolves animals and making sure that all the animals are doing well.

Kim: We'll share your page in our show notes, but it's titled "Young Mongols: A 10-Part Video Series Updating Foreign Perceptions of Mongolia," and you served as the primary videographer for the series. What do you mean about updating foreign perceptions of Mongolia?

Dimitri S.: Obviously, what we're first talking about is my work with traditional music and nomadic herding culture. But I got the impression that outside of Mongolia, people only ... That's pretty much all they know is about nomadic herding, Genghis Khan, the Mongolian Empire, those are the things that people know about. But, of course, Mongolia is a place that exists today in 2018. Ulaanbaatar, the capital, is actually a pretty modern city. There's certainly ... It's certainly developing. It's in a state of development, so there are certain things that you wouldn't see in another city, but it's just a contemporary city like anywhere else. We just wanted to show some of those ... Some of what young people are doing.

I worked with my producer, Aubrey Menarndt, who is a great friend of mine. She coordinated a ton of interviews, so we were filming everything from talking about the LGBTQ community to the media climate or food culture in Ulaanbaatar so really a wide range of subject matter.

Kim: Tell us about the LGBTQ community in Mongolia.

Dimitri S.: I think it's pretty much like an LGBTQ community anywhere else. But I think that Mongolian culture, not so different from American culture at least from my own culture, people have a hard time coming to terms with queer identities. We worked with some people who worked for the LGBT Center in Ulaanbaatar. What is really exciting there is how much impact that one NGO has had. They've really been able to enact some legal changes very quickly.

Kim: Moving on to the web package that you did exploring the pollution, which was multi-award-winning by the way.

Phil: Well done.

Kim: Tell us about that, The City of Smoke.

Dimitri S.: Yeah, thanks. That was ... I was working with a friend, Peter Bittner, and it was his master's thesis project for his program at Berkeley in California. Ulaanbaatar has some of the worst pollution in the world. During the winter on a really bad day, the pollution levels can reach four to six times as bad as Beijing.

Phil: Whoa.

Dimitri S.: That's incredibly bad. What we learned is that when you have those levels of pollution, there are huge health implications to young children, old people, and men. To babies, and depending on where the winter falls during a pregnancy, they can have different problems, whether it's ... Yeah, I forget which it is. But if the winter is early in the pregnancy, they can have brain damage. If it's late in the pregnancy, they would have bone damage like structural damage to their bodies.

Kim: What's causing it? What-

Phil: Where does the pollution come from?

Dimitri S.: Yeah, okay. Yeah, sorry, let me back up. Ulaanbaatar is a unique city in that there's this constitutional right that every Mongolian has to a certain sized plot of land. What has happened is that people will claim those plots, and over the past about two decades, the city has exploded.

Dimitri S.: Mongolia has a little over three million people, and almost half of those people all live ... or half of them all live in Ulaanbaatar. Because there was no infrastructure created for those homes, they're burning coal in these traditional gers, which is a Mongolian version of a yurt.

Dimitri S.: In the countryside, they would burn the dried dung of their animals which has almost ... You're just burning grass basically, but in the city obviously they don't have access to that, so they're burning raw coal. A family could burn between one and two tons of coal per winter, and so there are about 300,000 homes like that. You're talking about 300,000 tons of raw coal in the air.

Kim: That's amazing. Just in my mind, just doesn't sit against all this ... The nomadic herders throughout Mongolia and the music that you're talking about. It's almost like two different versions of the country.

Phil: Yeah.

Dimitri S.: Yeah, I think that's a really good way of putting it.

Kim: Now on your website too, you've got a Mongol music archive, but later in this episode, we are going to have a performance by Bukhu who is a Mongolian throat singer.

Dimitri S.: Amazing.

Kim: He's going to be live in the studio, so-

Phil: I'm so eager to hear him. I've never-

Dimitri S.: That's awesome.

Phil: ... seen it live, and I just ... It's going to be great.

Kim: He was a massive deal on the music scene in Mongolia, so you obviously love the music as well.

Dimitri S.: Yes, of course. I was in Mongolia for nine months on a Fulbright Scholarship, and my project there was recording traditional music performed by nomadic herders. The distinction that I made was that you have these nomadic herders who use music as a part of their daily lives. As traditional music has become more popularized and become more of a formal training practiced by professional musicians, these performances by nomadic musicians, who might not always be as technically skilled but are definitely skilled in other ways, are becoming devalued. My idea was just to capture examples of these recordings in the environment.

Kim: I like the guy with the eagle on his shoulder.

Dimitri S.: Yeah, yeah. The eagle hunters are ethnically Kazakh, and they live in Western Mongolia. I loved working with them because they really took ahold of preserving their ethnic identity. Partially, because they've seen how much foreigners have gravitated to it. To a certain extent, they've been able to capitalize on these aspects of their ethnic identity. These traditions that they have. The amount of eagle hunters has rapidly increased because it's become this much more popularized icon because of tourism.

Phil: Let's face it having an eagle on your shoulder looks bloody good.

Dimitri S.: Yeah, it's pretty awesome. Well, it's cool, because at the end of the day, training one of these eagles is a ton of work. I've just heard some criticism of like, "Oh the tourist culture is the only thing propelling these eagle hunters." It's like if you have one of these people explain to you just how much work it is to catch and train an eagle, it's not something that they're really profiting off of, you know what I mean? Yeah, it's really, really cool.

Kim: Well, I knew we'd venture far and wide in this chat, Dimitri. Thank you so much.

Dimitri S.: Yeah, of course. Thank you guys for having me. I really appreciate being on the show.

Phil: Landscape and travel photograph, Genevieve Tearle, used Facebook to find travelers to explore Mongolia with her. But what drew her to Mongolia as a solo traveler?

Genevieve T.: I left my job and decided that it was time to take a career break. First, I went with my family to [inaudible 00:12:34] on holiday. Then I came back, and I was thinking about where I was going to go on my own, and I came across a Lonely Planet for Mongolia that we'd bought about 10 years ago when we were thinking of doing a cross-country trip from Europe back to New Zealand which we never ended up doing. But we still had the Lonely Planet from it. And so I thought, "Actually, that's a really great idea. Now, I can go on my own and make the most of it."

The next day, I actually booked the flight to Mongolia, and I left three weeks later. I think I spent the next three weeks going, "What have you done?" Doing absolutely no planning whatsoever, and so I arrived in Mongolia with a 10-year-old Lonely Planet and no plan whatsoever and a couple of Facebook groups that I'd found of other travelers looking for people to join up with them, and the first night's accommodation, and it's ... Yeah, that was pretty much how I started my trip to Mongolia.

Kim: After that first night, what happened, and where did you go?

Genevieve T.: I had shortlisted down to two people that I thought looked interesting to contact. One of them was heading off for six days around Central Mongolia. I thought it was a Finnish couple, so I thought that sounded safe. I contacted them, and it turned out to be a 33-year-old Finnish guy and a 22-year-old German guy and not a Finnish couple after all. I headed off to central Mongolia with them and two other girls.

Yeah, despite the rather large age difference between the 22-year-old German and I, we decided to do a second trip together across Mongolia. He wanted to go to the Potanin Glacier which is on the border of China and Russia, and said, "Do you want to come with me?" "Sure, okay. Sure, why not?"

We had similar times that we were leaving the country and everything to organize still, so we arranged a trip with the same people who had taken us on that first six days. It was basically just a driver and his van. We didn't take a guide with us on the second time. I did all the cooking. We picked up a 70-year-old British guy to come with us through one of those Facebook Groups. We headed off, yeah, across Mongolia actually.

Kim: What a story. You stayed during your time in Mongolia with local families. What's that like? Paint a picture.

Genevieve T.: Yeah, so, actually, twice we ended up staying with the family of our driver, so once with his sister and the other time with his sister-in-law. His sister's place is in a small village. There were maybe a couple of hundred people who live in that village, wasn't much bigger than that. I can't tell you where it was, because it was literally in the middle of nowhere as we did our cross-country trip. We camped out in her backyard.

First of all, we were invited into their house with sweets and milky tea. Well, I guess the meal finished with vodka which was also just as compulsory as the milky tea. In between, she made us this most amazing dinner where she had a sheep that had recently been killed, and she took the bones of the sheep and put it into this huge kind of like a wok over a fire that was in her kitchen, and she made us soup from that.

And then, actually, the husband made these massive noodles that are kind of ... To describe them like, making a big pizza base in terms of size, and then was spread over the whole top of the wok, and they steamed rather than really set in the water.

Kim: Wow.

Genevieve T.: We had ... There are very few vegetables that we had in the whole time I was there. I think I ate potatoes, carrots, turnips, cabbage, and, occasionally, tomatoes and capsicum. Quite a heavy diet, but there were ... We were cutting the ... We had a little knife each and cut the meat off the bone and had that with these amazing noodles which was ... and soup-

Kim: Yum.

Genevieve T.: ... and finished it with vodka.

Kim: How did the soup, the milky tea, and the vodka all work in your tummy overnight?

Genevieve T.: Not so well for my traveling partner, but I think I've got quite a good constitution after living in India, so I don't tend to have too many problems in stomachs.

Kim: How would you describe Mongolian people?

Genevieve T.: Super-friendly and interested in you and in meeting new people. The guide that we had on the first six-day trip was a young girl in her early 20s who we befriended. I'm still connected to her on Facebook and still chat to her on Facebook sometimes.

She took us out both, in Ulaanbaatar, both times that we went back to the city. We took her and one of her friends out even so that he could practice his English, so very welcoming, very hospitable, "Come into our home." We had that quite a lot in quite a few different places as we traveled around.

Kim: What kind of traveler does this destination appeal to?

Genevieve T.:  Definitely those who want to get off the beaten track. Depending on where you go, more or less so, especially, when we went to western Mongolia. We were in the car for five days getting to the Altai Mountains, in the first place. Some of the roads are ... At one stage, we were following a Google Maps track that looked more like a horse track with a motorbike going alongside us.

We went around [inaudible 00:18:34] of stops to have a vodka as a snack on the way. Definitely, ones who are quite comfortable with letting go, because somebody else is driving for you, is comfortable with roads that are really not really roads. And is open for ... What is truly an adventurous destination, but one that hasn't changed all that much yet. If I look to ... I went to Cambodia back in 2002 and how much Angkor Wat has changed between then and now. Mongolia is still a place that you can get a quite authentic experience relative to a lot of other destinations actually.

Kim: Links to Genevieve's amazing photography including Mongolia in our show notes. But Phil, what's happening in travel news?

Phil: Okay. Look, I promise I'll get to some fun news in a moment, but first, a couple of stories that serve as a bit of a warning. It's quite sad, very, very sad. A British woman has been sexually assaulted by multiple staff members at an Italian resort after having her drink spiked. Five men have been arrested by police in Sorrento down on the Amalfi Coast for their part in the attack which happened back in October 2016. It's taken that long to make an arrest. The woman says she was drugged by a drink handed to her by two of the barmen.

Never accept opened drinks or drinks that you haven't witnessed being poured yourself. You've got to try and avoid this horrible plague of drink spiking. Never leave your drinks unattended. The first signs of trouble, you'll start to feel unusually intoxicated for the amount of alcohol that you've had. Get to your friends or get out of there and get to somewhere safe, because it probably means you've had your drink spiked. Shocking stuff.

The second terrible story, and because we support adventurous travel this is very worrying. Two European men both traveling the world by bicycle have been murdered in southern Mexico. Their bodies were found at the bottom of a cliff in the state of Chiapas.

At first, police dismissed their deaths as an accident on the winding mountain road, but protests by other cyclists and travelers in the nearby towns led them to investigate further. The men were robbed, murdered, and their bodies thrown from the road. The men had been in the town of San Cristobal de las Casas and were cycling to some Mayan ruins about 130 kilometers away. This is a really popular backpacking route there to go and have a look at those ruins.

I've got to say not everywhere in Mexico is dangerous, although there are some states which it's best to avoid because of drug gang violence. Chiapas is not one of them but could be soon because of a series of robberies on that highway leading to the Mayan ruins. Police have stepped up patrols on the highway, but they can't be everywhere at the same time.

Kim: True.

Phil: A Boston-based tour appraiser which organizes safari tours to the Serengeti in Tanzania, has been accused of complicity in a scheme to drive traditional Maasai from their lands to make way for more tourism. Thomson Safaris has strenuously denied the allegations, and there's a lot of evidence that they've invested in infrastructure in the region there. I think they're being the pawns in the game of this one.

Kim: Wow.

Phil: But a second company based in the UAE organizes hunting trips, actual shoot-to-kill hunting trips, for members of the royal family. They're also accused [inaudible 00:21:51] implication in this as well.

Kim: Its trophy hunting kind of stuff.

Phil: Trophy hunting stuff.

Kim: Gee, this has been depressing.

Phil: I am sorry. Okay. All right. Well, anyway, this California ... This is really interesting though because this California think-tank which has raised these things. They fight for social justice, and they say they've been ... The Maasai have been run off their lands, and people are using the excuse of, "We need to do it for wildlife conservation." When in actual fact what they're doing is colonizing the land, so that they then can then on-sell it for tourism purposes.

Phil: It raises the question, if you're going to go on something like that ... If you're going to go on a safari like that on traditional lands, you've got to make sure of the credentials of the company that you're going with.

Kim: That it's ethical.

Phil: That it's ethical. It's a really tough one there.

Kim: That is ... I thought you said you were going to get to some fun stuff.

Phil: Kind of ... Did you see ... Speaking of safaris ... I'm sorry, it is a bit depressing, isn't it? Did you see the video of the family who got out of their car-

Kim: I did.

Phil: ... in a Dutch drive-through safari park to take photos of the cheetahs? Did you see that?

Kim: I did. I did.

Phil: The cheetahs start stalking them, because not only are there two adults there, but they're carrying their baby.

Kim: I didn't know they had their baby.

Phil: Yes, they had a babe in arms.

Kim: You serious?

Phil: Yeah.

Kim: That's even crazier.

Phil: I know. It's like ... What's that? The Darwin Awards, it's like self-selecting.

Kim: You did finish on something fun. Thank you. Although that is ...

Phil: It is pretty serious as well.

Kim: It is pretty serious.

Phil: I'm sorry. I'll have more fun next time.

Kim: Cheers for that. Back to Mongolia and bloggers Dariece and Nick, otherwise known as "Goats on the Road". Why do you think they call their blog "Goats on the Road"?

Phil: No idea.

Kim: Because everywhere they travel, there are goats on the road.

Phil: Oh, okay.

Kim: They take us through a trek they undertook in Mongolia. Just a heads up, there was a little bit of interruption to the Skype call as we kicked it off.

Nick: This trip to Mongolia, we knew we wanted to do some epic treks. The country is just wild and raw.

Dariece: Basically, a big campground.

Nick: Yeah, yeah, exactly. It's one big campsite. We wanted to go and figure out how to get out there. We just looked on Google Maps actually. We didn't read any blogs or see anything on any website before. We just went on Google Maps and found a river that went between two villages that we knew ... That had a hotel at the village at the start, and a hotel at the village at the end, and there was a river connecting the two. We zoomed in with satellite imagery-

Dariece: It sounds very-

Nick: ... to see the river and how ... That there's a path. There's no path, but that we could follow the river along the way. Just from our ... Just basically from Google Maps, we decided, "Yeah, this is doable." Luckily, when we got to the village that we planned to start from, there was a guy who owned a little guest house there, and he was like, "Oh, I never heard of anyone doing it, but for sure it's doable."

Dariece: Mm-hmm.

Nick: He put us in contact with some people that helped us to plan the routing, totally get started on the trek which was incredible.

Dariece: I think there's ... There's not really any space. It's completely ... There's Ulaanbaatar, and then the rest are called "sums", so the little villages dotted throughout. But the entire country is just empty. You'll see rolling hills, rolling steppe, and then in the west, you'll see jagged mountains and stuff. You're allowed to camp anywhere that you want. Locals do it. They're nomadic, and they move around with their gers, which are like yurts, and then a lot of tourists do it as well.

Nick: Yeah, like in Canada, we would call it Crown Land. It's not privatized. No one really owns much land throughout Mongolia. The only land that's really owned is in certain parts of the cities, and then when you leave the cities, it just seems like it's open for everybody.

Nick: The people own the land, so you're allowed to camp. You're allowed to fish in most cases, although you do have to get permits. But you can pretty much set up your camp anywhere like the locals do.

Kim: We head earlier from Genevieve that a trip to Mongolia is not for the luxurious traveler.

Dariece: I would agree with that statement absolutely.

Nick: Yeah, I would add to it that it's also a place that a foodie traveler probably wouldn't want to go.

Dariece: [inaudible 00:25:49] or like a vegan especially would really struggle. They eat a lot of meat and dairy. That's the staples in their diet. I don't even think we saw a vegetable-

Nick: Not-

Dariece: ... maybe a potato.

Nick: Yeah, in Ulaanbaatar you see some, but no.

Dariece: Outside of the city.

Nick: For luxury travelers, you'd be missing ... As soon as you leave Ulaanbaatar, you'd be missing pretty much every "luxury" that you would want to see. When you get out to the countryside, it's not luxury at all. It's all about the adventure and the beauty of the nature and just interacting with the local people, who are really friendly and welcoming and hospitable.

Nick: Yeah, the food is not ... It's not a foodie destination, because like Dariece said, it's all meat and dairy. There's not herbs in the steppe. When you go down to the Gobi Desert, it's a desert, right? They don't have any imports, so there's no herbs not a lot of seasoning. Very basic food and very basic accommodation, but that's what makes it adventurous and fun.

Kim: There was nothing luxurious about the way you guys did it. I think you boiled water for freeze-dried meals each morning.

Dariece: Yeah, exactly. When we did this trek for that eight days, that's all we had were those freeze-dried meals like you said, we just added hot water. I think a luxury we had was we had some of those instant hot chocolates, and we added a little bit of hot water, and that was our luxury on the steppe.

Dariece: But apart from that we slept in a tent just on the ground, on a ground mat with sleeping bag. Trekked on foot. Carried everything, and Nick did some fishing. We ended up catching a couple fish which was a great bit of protein to add to our meals.

Nick: The cool thing is, is that when you land in Ulaanbaatar, or you arrive there by train like a lot of people do, is there's a lot of things that you can get in a main city there. You would start your adventures from there as kind of a base. There's outdoor stores, and things that you can buy, freeze-dried meals, small, little, compact stoves, gas, all the stuff you'll need. Sleeping bags which you can also rent and not buy. But you can do everything and set up your whole kit there, while you're in Ulaanbaatar, and then adventure out from there which is really cool.

Kim: Give us an idea of some of the tricks that you'd recommend.

Dariece: In Mongolia, there are ... You mean in Mongolia, obviously ... There's a few different areas that you can go to. The Altais in the west that's more for the intense traveler to do a lot of mountaineering, expeditions. You have to be really physically fit for stuff like that high altitude, snowy mountains that kind of thing. If you're into that definitely you want to head west.

Dariece: If you're into more kind of what we did which was through the steppe and near lakes and rivers and more adventurous and beautiful but for a medium, I guess, intermediate-

Nick: Mm-hmm, difficulty.

Dariece: ... hiker. Yeah. Probably Central Mongolia and Lake Khövsgöl is a good area as well.

Nick: Lake Khövsgöl is to the north along the border with Russia.

Nick: Yeah, and then, also, a mere ... just 37 kilometers outside of Ulaanbaatar is, is that Terelj National Park?

Dariece: Yeah-

Nick: Terelj National Park has a bunch of easy day hikes, and you can just stay in like a tourist or a local ger inside the National Park, and then they have a bunch of beautiful day hikes around. You can trek for three hours, one hour, go for a four-hour, there's even multiday treks within the park.

Nick: That's a good one for if you're just starting out, or you don't know exactly what to do. If you want to follow a kind of a marked trail, then that's the best place.

Dariece: Yeah, there's so many areas literally. Mongolia-

Nick: Yeah, so many.

Dariece: ... is a trekker's paradise.

Nick: The whole thing is a trek. Also down in the Gobi, when you do a ... Most people do a Gobi Desert tour, where they hop on a van or some kind of SUV kind of thing from Ulaanbaatar, and they travel down to the Gobi for a few days. There's a bunch of day hikes that you do while you're on the Gobi trek, or, if you want to, while you're doing that Gobi tour, you can do day hikes around, or whatever, on the way.

Dariece: Yeah, I think multi-day trips is probably central, western, and northern probably.

Nick: Totally.

Kim: Phil, we've heard about Mongolia's landscape, the people, the music, and one thing is certain, it's not a surfing destination.

Phil: No, it's not, but after our episode on Peru, where we talked about the surf culture with Amy from Unleash Surf, we got an email that read, "Check out our surf trip. We're going to Papua New Guinea and build balsa wood boards with the locals."

Phil: I have admittedly gone, "What the," about that one. Let's get this person on. Welcome to the podcast, Elizabeth [Mews 00:30:07].

Elizabeth M.: Yeah, welcome to Soulcatcher Expeditions.

Phil: Yes. This is part of your ... You organize these very responsible, ethical trips to do these amazing things. That's what Soulcatcher does, right?

Elizabeth M.: That is correct. We like to think of our trips as beyond the average experience. A lot of travel these days, it's focused on having ... This idea of experiential travel is really big obviously around the world, and there's a lot of companies doing it, but we take it to the next level.

Phil: You're in the right place here with World Nomads, because that's exactly what we believe as well. It's all about the experience that you have and the way that you travel as well. There's a great synergy between the two there.

Phil: But come on, just tell me, balsa wood boards in PNG ... You saw some local material over there, and it's a community project, how does it work?

Elizabeth M.: Yeah, actually, we sourced a board maker from Australia.

Phil: Of course.

Elizabeth M.: Yours truly, and he's been doing this for quite a few years. He started in Ecuador, sourcing balsa wood, and then found out that PNG had actually better and more sustainable methods and a stronger timber, so they started doing this program. We sourced the program from them to turn it into a surf trip, and we're marketing it to surf companies here in San Francisco and as well out of Australia.

Elizabeth M.: It employs locals in PNG. A lot of their economics are not like the rest of the world, not even like Australia. They're very close to you, but their economics are very different there. One of the things that Soulcatcher stands for is that every tourist is a humanitarian. That's in our ethos and our thinking in how we build trips. The reason behind our trips are not just to provide a cool trip. It's to change someone else's life also.

A lot of people go on these trips to have this life-changing experience, and I think that the conversation around tourism has shifted. We're working on a trip in Mongolia right now where we had to push really hard to even get into this area, where there have been adverse effects based on tourism. We just took a little bit different approach, and we're going in on their terms instead of our terms.

Phil: Quickly, what sort of problems in the area had tourism brought to that Mongolian area? What sort of stuff?

Elizabeth M.: Well, just stories that had been relayed to us about helicopters coming in and visiting tribes. That's what I'm referring to. Those types of trips that aren't really sustainable-

Phil: Yeah, yeah.

Elizabeth M.:  ... in any way.

Phil: You've mentioned Papua New Guinea. You've mentioned Mongolia, and I know you have had or are planning some other trips as well. What sort of places do you go to?

Elizabeth M.: We are focused on quite a few trips in Africa right now. Without giving too much away, there will be a few equestrian trips. We have a client that we're working with to go see gorillas, and that's another environmental-focused trip. An interesting endeavor involving farms, so food farms and chocolate, and so that's another theme out there that we're working on. I guess, in closing, I would say another one involving tree houses.

Phil: Oh, okay.

Elizabeth M.: We've got horses, gorillas, chocolate, and tree houses coming up for the year.

Kim: We'll have a link to Soulcatcher Expeditions and a peek at the beautiful boards in show notes. Now, Phil, let's get the answer to your quiz question now, before we introduce our studio guest to wrap up the show.

Phil: Okay. How many islands in the Hawaiian chain, the state of Hawaii? There are eight.

Kim: Phil, this is the most exciting part, I believe, of this episode, the podcast on Mongolia. Bukhu studied as a master student at the Music and Dance Conservatory of Ulaanba-

Phil: Ulaanbaatar.

Kim: Ulaanbaatar. I've been practicing that.

Bukhu G.: Ulaanbaatar.

Kim: Ulaanbaatar. Thank you. He's live in the podcast studio, as you just heard to chat about his life, and he's also going to be demonstrating the art of throat singing and playing for us, so welcome.

Bukhu G.: Thank you.

Kim: You've corrected us on the name of the city. What is your full name?

Bukhu G.: My full name is Bukhchuluun Ganburged.

Kim: Bukhu is-

Bukhu G.: Bukhu is my short name.

Kim: Yeah, yeah. The easy one.

Phil: When you're in trouble, does your mother use the full length of your name?

Kim: No?

Bukhu G.: Yes, actually.

Kim: Yeah. Okay, so tell us, how then did you arrive in Australia? Which is where we found you here in Sydney at World Nomads headquarters. How did you come from Mongolia to Sydney?

Bukhu G.: You mean on the plane or ...

Kim: No, not on the plane.

Phil: No, no, no, no. Did you-

Bukhu G.: Sorry.

Phil: ... have to ... You've immigrated here. But why did you pick ... Why did you come to Australia? Was it to study or ...

Bukhu G.: Yeah, it was actually my wife's decision [inaudible 00:35:46].

Phil: Sensible man, well done.

Bukhu G.: She wanted to learn English, speak English, and then she decided, "Yeah, we should go." I said, "Oh, no, I have work here. I'm teaching and playing at the Philharmonic of Mongolia. Why I need to go and learn new language and start from the beginning?" She said, "Oh, it's very important for us, especially, for you, because you're a musician definitely." I said, "Yeah, okay. Okay, let's do it," and then we came to Australia 2009. Yeah, then studied for a year for English course, and then my wife studied, finished the course, and then she went to uni for accounting. She's an accountant now.

Kim: It was opportunity, but was there a big ... You were playing at a philharmonic level. What happened when you arrived here? Because I've heard that you started busking in one of the Sydney suburbs.

Bukhu G.: Yeah, it's very ... home a lot. I'm just playing music. I had no idea what am I going to do. I was thinking ... My teacher actually told me, "If you play your music anywhere, everywhere, you have food."

Phil: Yup.

Bukhu G.: It stuck in my mind. That's actually ... Yeah, I could play street. And then I find a spot in Newtown, it's very noisy. But the first time people hear Mongolian music, they're really interested. Every people just stopping, listening, asking so many questions. Then I really don't understand what they're talking about. I just-

Kim: Just smile.

Bukhu G.: ... just smile, and then what should I say now? Yes or no, yes or no, maybe yes. And then, yeah. Just really, really hard.

Kim: Is a big part of your culture music?

Bukhu G.: Yeah.

Kim: Give us a taste of the history.

Bukhu G.: Because in Mongolia there is lots of different ethnic groups. All ethnic groups have beautiful melodies. The main instrument in Mongolia is called the morin khuur. Morin mean horse. Khuur mean fiddle. Horse fiddle or horsehead fiddle or horse head fiddle, because the two strings made up from horse tail.

Phil: Oh, okay.

Bukhu G.: And then bow is horsetail which mean play it with both, with horsetail with horsetail only one instrument in the world. There are lots of singing different types of different ethnic groups singing styles. Also, throat singing is one of the biggest thing in Mongolia.

Kim: Do you train to be a throat singer, or is it some ... Phil, can you sing? Not throat sing, but can you sing generally?

Phil: Yes, but my children tell me to shut up all the time, because I sound terrible at it.

Kim: Yeah, so I'm totally tone-deaf. Is it the case that you are naturally able to use your throat to create music?

Bukhu G.: Yes. But you needed lots of, lots of practice from when you start learn throat singing.

Phil: Some of the songs, some of the throat singing goes on quite a long time, so obviously, it doesn't hurt then. There must be ... Is it a relaxing thing that you do rather than a tension?

Bukhu G.: Depends on the songs. But, mostly, it's very relaxing. But you have to balance every ... hold your body, lots of tightness, lots of blood pressure happening. I have to balance it, same time you control 10 things. And then you make it like two notes. You have to make it ... adjust these two chords.

Kim: That must be pretty exhausting.

Phil: Listening to it, it can be quite meditative. Is it meditative to the performer?

Bukhu G.: Yes, it's because there are all these throat singing styles. Mostly we, the nomads, the Mongolians, they brought from the nature all the styles from the waterhole or nice mountains or river sounds, all came from there. Most of the herders, when they're herding their animals, they heard lots of beautiful nature. It's a spiritual thing.

Kim: Well, you've been so kind enough to not only come and educate us on throat singing, but you're going to demonstrate it for us with your ... I call it a horsehead fiddle, and we'll be able to show a picture. It literally does have a horse head on it.

Phil: It does. It's beautiful. It's gorgeous.

Kim: What do you call it?

Bukhu G.: Morin khuur.

Phil: Morin khuur.

Bukhu G.: M-O-R-I-N, morin, K-H-U-U-R, khuur.

Kim: Yeah, best if I don't try it. All right, well, let's let you get your 10 steps together, and yeah, it would be thrilling to hear you perform for us.

Kim: Take it away. One, two, one, two, three. Go for it.

Bukhu G.: You ready?

Kim: Yes, absolutely, we're ready.

Team: [crosstalk 00:41:39].

Bukhu G.: (singing).

Kim: Wow.

Team: Whoo.

Phil: Oh, wow.

Team: That's amazing.

Kim: That was awesome. We will have links in our show notes. It wraps our episode highlighting Mongolia. Subscribe, rate, share on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and on iHeartRadio, and you can contact us by emailing [email protected]

Next episode, we're off to Argentina.

Phil: Okay, [inaudible 00:45:51].

Kim: No, see you.

Speaker 1: The World Nomads podcast, explore your boundaries.

 

 

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