The Wilds of Mongolia: A Personal and Physical Journey
The Wilds of Mongolia: A personal and physical journey
It’s a year since my Peru experience trekking the Inca Trail with Gulf 4 Good and now I am back out there training to take on the Wilds of Mongolia!
This time the challenge is to trek for two days, mountain biking for two and then horse riding for the final two days. It will be cold, there might be snow and we will be covering around 250km over the six days and sleeping in Yurts or Ger’s (tents) at night. The charity we are supporting this time (New Choice) is building a children’s centre for children who require long term medical treatment and care. The parents of these children can’t hold permanent employment because they are the primary care givers. The centre will also provide a learning and recreational environment to children with Down’s Syndrome and eventually for children with cancer.
An amazing AED 197,989.42 was raised by the challengers in Mongolia and will go to The New Choice Charity and the Cristina Noble Foundation in Mongolia
Here is a summary of what Gulf For Good do:
Lene and Laura, two friends who took on the challenge together
I’m Laura Hanna and I’m Studio Manager at Top Chef, age 40, originally French but been 18 years in Dubai, which I call home. Mum to 3 gorgeous daughters, ecstatic to have completed my 1st G4G challenge, after years of wishing I could join one.
Philosophy: live strong!
Fiona joined us from Kuwait and knew no one before the trip but now has 21 new friends!
I am Fiona Vaughan-Johnson and have spent my life living in different countries all around the world with professions as diverse as real estate to advertising to interior design. Now that my three children are older, Gulf4Good gave me the opportunity for an experience of a lifetime in a country I had always wanted to visit. From the raising of donations through to visiting The New Choice Centre in Mongolia and completing the challenge; all right out of my ‘comfort zone’, it has been phenomenal, something I would definitely like to experience again.
The End of the Journey…
So coming to the end of an amazing experience in Mongolia, I will remember the space, the beauty of the country and the people, the fresh clean air and my fellow challengers who were such a delight and inspiration to share this experience with. Gerry said when we had our reunion back in Dubai that he felt he left a little piece of himself in Mongolia, and Fiona whilst sharing a tent with Marina had said whilst there you don’t think of anything in that you are focusing on the exercise and getting through the challenge, keeping warm or cooling down it takes you away from everything else. I agree, I think being away from technology and the needs of others and the noise and demands of one’s everyday life is an incredibly liberating experience. I will not forget the quiet at night when lying in my tent but will also remember the cold.
The mighty challengers of Mongolia 2014
Back to reality at our reunion, the gang back together in Dubai
The Christina Noble Foundation
An added bonus is visiting the Christina Noble Foundation in Ulaanbator with Trisha and Anne from Gulf For Good. An unofficial trip but an amazing place helping homeless children by providing them with shelter in the Ger village. Some of the children have been abused, some are orphans and all of them are receiving love and support by the team here. The children love to create dances and perform and we were lucky watch some of their performances.
The New Choice Charity
We left the wilderness and returned to Ulaanbaatar and to visit the New Choice Charity and the building the challengers have helped fund via Gulf For Good. The building is to provide a center for children with special needs for recreation, creative and counselling purposes and is part of a development to eventually provide support for children who are suffering from cancer (sadly a large amount of children in this area due to the environmental issues the city faces).
The children we met were hearing impaired and very talented at drawing and we spent time exchanging art works.
From Gerry: “Well off course the main reason we do those challenges is for charity, and meeting the kids was great and very emotional, at least for me’.
From Martin and what he wrote to people to help raise funds:
“What I’m up to…
In October 2014 I will be travelling to Mongolia with a group of like- minded people to trek, horse ride and cycle 300km across its beautiful wilds, plains and mountain passes. With the help of UAE based charity Gulf4Good the sponsorship money raised from this challenge will allow a local Mongolian charity called New Choice to build a Children’s Centre 30kms outside of Ulaanbaatar. This new centre in Gachuurt Village will be for children who require long term medical treatment and care. The parents of these children can’t hold permanent employment because they are the primary care givers. The centre will also provide a great learning and recreational environment to children with Down’s Syndrome.
The not so small print…
Your sponsorship big or small will be massively appreciated. So, I want to challenge myself to help where possible. The challenge for me will be physical (for which I am training), mental and of course financial! You can in fact support me with all of these challenges, you’re all welcome to run/swim/cycle with me, become my mental coach and it would be really fantastic if you could sponsor me to help me achieve this goal! Your help, to help me achieve this goal would be gratefully appreciated by myself and the young Mongolians we are supporting!
Why I think I’m doing it…
I have been very fortunate in my 32 years (I think it was at the last count) to travel across a lot of the world. More recently and while spending time in Cambodia with Jilly it started to dawn on me that we spend good money to travel to these countries but there are a lot of people there that are way less fortunate than us. So maybe there is a way to help them, instead of just taking our travels there?! I am well aware that millions of people all over the world are in need of ‘charity’, from the starving child in Syria right down to the homeless guy in your own town. While I could go and volunteer in a soup kitchen to help the homeless guy I can’t directly help that child in Syria. Donations to big organisations like the Red Cross and such like are important to help that poor child, but the governments, politics and war are in the way of me ‘really’ helping [in my view]. However, Gulf4Good in the UAE only support charities that are going to use the sponsorship raised from trekking in their country to support a particular project, like building a children’s care centre. They support the project in its entirety and see it through to the end. Therefore the money we raise will directly help those children of Gachuurt Village and that really appeals to me.”
By the last day of horse riding and the final day of our challenge we were all really tired and weary. We dismounted our steeds and led the horses down a steep hill to the bottom and to our final camp. The last afternoon was absolutely stunning in terrain and the scenery we explored. My body was spent but we were rewarded by the sight of the ger camp where we were to sleep that night. Goodbye tents and hello warm gers and most importantly hot showers. We parted with our horses and said our goodbyes to the ground staff who had led us, fed us and watched our backs for the past six days. They were amazing and truly helped make the experience a memorable one.
See the film of us saying good bye…
The Last Two Days: Horse Riding
This was the part of the challenge I was looking forward to the most. I have always loved horses and rode as a child and sporadically through my adult years. It was on a snowy late afternoon after the last day of trekking when lying in the tent I heard the hooves and neighs as the Mongolian semi wild horses cantered into the coral steered by their owners and I leapt out to meet my new travel companions. Small in stature but strong in spirit the camp was giddy at the site of our new arrivals. That night after dinner we stepped out of the warmth of the mess tent to listen to our guides singing and to watch a lunar eclipse. The first time I have watched so clearly and the moon passing into the earth’s shadow but not surprised it should provide the evening backdrop to what by daylight is a stunning scene. A night and sight I will take with me and remember forever.
Psychologists say that holding onto our good memories, helps us to deal with unpleasant situations and retain a positive outlook on life. You can read more about this at
so it’s important to create new memories and store them for the future.
Well next morning it was time to meet my horse, learn about the Mongolian way of riding which involves saying shoo at the right pitch, no squeezing or kicking of the legs and a totally different saddle to what I have been used to. My horse was very pretty but didn’t really want to canter or set out on her own. She was happier being behind the other horses and was definitely a follower and not a leader. I was frustrated to begin with as I was looking forward to connecting with the horse and having a good ride out in the beautiful countryside but conceded in the end to being at the back and just taking in the sights. After lots of trotting and one good canter I walked the last couple of hours of the day to camp feeling the pain in my knees but loving the scenery and the vast open countryside.
That day we rode for three hours nonstop, broke for lunch and then again another three hours covering over 40km. An amazing day.
See us here horseback riding courtesy of our trusty guide our very own ‘Genghis” Aldra Suhee who made this film:
G4G Challengers Climbing Mt. Altan Ogii
Our adventurous guide Aldra Suhee shot this film of the G4G challengers Climbing Mt. Altan Ogii. Altan Olgii is a 8,713 ft / 2,656 m mountain peak in the Khentii mountain range in Mongolia and was on day 4 of our challenge.
The Next Two Days: Trekking
After two days of mountain biking many of us were feeling the effects of the saddle and the lotions and potions came out. Aloe vera gel and Vaseline helped with the tender areas. Other effects included a chesty cough from inhaling the cold air so Tiger Balm helped along with ‘Vicks’ to open up the air ways. More creams included sun tan lotion for the face and Voltarin for the knees. Some people took Ibuprofen each night to keep the pains at bay and keeping the lips moisturized was another issue. Chapped lips and hydration were a constant issue so again the Vaseline was helpful along with Sudocrem and lip balm then we were set for the next two days of trekking.
The first light day of trekking took us though beautiful countryside and weather to our camp. By now we were at the Siberia Tiaga, an area with forests and mountains and one of the ranges, the Khentii Mountain range in our sights. I didn’t sleep well that night as it was particularly cold. I woke up in the middle of the night to reach for my water to discover my water frozen in its bottle. I even found myself regulating my breathing so as to not get too anxious. Cold, silence, wilderness…a shivery combination. We awoke the next morning to snow and a walk through woods across rivers, icy ground and trees and shrubs to navigate and to the foot of the ‘daddy’…
Aldra, our guide
Mohammed and Polly
The First Two Days: Mountain Biking
So the first two days of the challenge saw the twenty one challengers ride over 50km of rough terrain on mountain bikes. It was exhilarating and thrilling, especially the 12km downhill over rocks and uneven ground. The highlight for me was cycling through a forest downhill over ice, bumps and crevices feeling like I was twelve again to be met at the bottom by wild Mongolian horses who ran with us for a while.
Cycling was always going to be my weak area and as it was the first part to the challenge it took a bit of time to get used to the gears and the bikes, inhaling the cold air and taking on some of the steep ascents, but it was a great way to cover the expansive terrain. My knees took a bit of a bashing bouncing down hill and there were a few tumbles from the team. We headed to camp and our first night at minus 10 degrees!
Nicki and Anne
Saturday 4th October
This is it heading out this morning for the first day of the challenge. It’s a clear blue sky morning around 2 degrees. Should warm up later. I will be offline for a few days. No signal where I’m going. I will check in when I can. Wish me luck!
Elias, Gerry and Fadi
Friday 3rd October
I arrived in Ulaanbaatar and had the first briefing. It’s cold but clear skies. I’ve been told it might get snow. 22 of us have met here all flying in via different routes. Mostly from the UAE and one from Kuwait.
Spirits are high though we are all a little nervous not knowing what to expect. We have been told to expect a drop of minus 20 degrees at night out in the wilderness. Making the most of the warmth in the hotel before setting off tomorrow.
We are all discussing what kit we have brought wondering if we have enough. The most random object is a travel plug via Trisha and a bit of luxury, Jo Malone spritz via Anne!
Ride Em Cowboy
Well we had a go in preparation for two days of riding 35K each day on the challenge. Here we are having a lesson at night at the polo ground. I used to ride years ago and was nice to be back in the saddle though sore the next day. Anne in the Gulf for Good T shirt is scared of horses but she faced her fear and did really well. Even had a trot!
4 days to go before we head off..time to finish packing!
Cycling with G4G
I used to love cycling but haven’t done it in a long time apart from in the gym. Just one of the training sessions organised each Friday by G4G. A beautiful doing the Cudro loop. I managed 30 k which was good for a first go on a borrowed bike. I must admit cycling is the activity I’m most worried about on this challenge. I have my padded shorts, helmut and gloves. It’s going to be.completely different cycling in Mongolia than the UAE desert!
Keep on running…
…Or in my case, walking, cycling and horse riding so here I am at Talise Fitness training in the low oxygen chamber to help work me a little harder through cardio one day and resistance training the next. Good for the heart and building muscle and strength. I need it but feeling good!
Chilling out at Cryo Health Again!
If you are training hard or have issues with arthritis or joint pain you could try this at Emirates Towers. As you can see you step into what looks similar to a tanning booth but the temperature is dropped to minus 20 for three minutes. I go three or four times a week and it helps with my recovery between training sessions and with knee pain and it is really helps your metabolism and although its not about promoting weight loss it can help burn up to 300 calories. I also like to have the cryo facial where cold air is blasted onto the face which helps oxygenate the skin so you look fresh and puts a bit of colour on the cheeks. Great for the wrinkles too!
For more information go to: www.cryo-health.com
What’s fueling me…
Where I might be lagging behind on training having started late with Summer heat and distractions I have made up for with my nutrition. Here is a sample of what I have been eating or juicing making sure I am eating clean and getting lots of nutrients inside me. Because of my knee injury I am taking the Glucosamine and Chrondroitin with calcium and vitamin D to help cartilage and joint health. As I step up training I will increase my protein intake with cottage cheese, spinach and chicken to help muscle growth and strength. Ive been advised to eat around six meals a day, small portions, to keep the metabolism working and oats in the morning which is good for lowering cholesterol and slow releasing energy which I will need as I take to Talise fitness everyday and the low oxygen chamber.
Tick Lists and Kit Pack-up Time…
Gulf For Good held their pre-Mongolia meeting at Adventure HQ and I headed there to meet some of my fellow challengers. A diverse bunch from all over the world who reside in the UAE it was nice to see some familiar faces from Peru as well as meet with new people doing a challenge for the first time. We were guided through the kit list and what our itinerary will be over the six day challenge.
The overriding message was cold (we are flying to the coldest capital city in the world) and that Mongolia is experiencing its coldest winter in 10 years even though you can still experience four seasons in a day! This does not deter me as I am prepared for all weathers with layers of clothes and the group I’m sure will help on morale. The one thing I do need to do is step up on training particularly cycling!
Quote of the day: ‘You will need patience, sense of humour, stamina. Be prepared to be challenged, to be changed.’
Feeling through the Feet
I decided to give the feet some TLC as I’m relying on them to get me through my Gulf 4 Good challenge across the wilds of Mongolia. I headed to the Medical Wellbeing Centre on Al Wasl Rd as I heard good things about Junalyn , one of the therapists. Now the wonder that is reflexology is that it is not just a foot massage but a way to help relax and balance the whole body and identify any ‘knots’ or sensitivity in the body’s organs.
Junalyn started by releasing water retention in my legs and ankles before applying pressure and massaging points along my toes, arch of my foot and along the top of my foot. Doing this she is massaging my internal organs. See the foot below and which points link directly to your heart, stomach, pancreas, kidneys etc.
Where I felt pain and discomfort in my foot indicates I have a tight lower back, some digestion issues and dehydration in the kidneys. Do your own research and decide for yourself but I enjoyed the experience. I had a little sleep whilst the treatment was going on and there were times when I found the pressure points uncomfortable but I felt relaxed and clear headed when I left and headed straight to the water cooler to hydrate. I think reflexology helps identify possible issues within the body as well as help release any blockages in the system.
Suzanne feeling footloose…
Getting Breathless and Mighty Stair Climbing with Gulf For Good
Hear how I got on climbing 60 floors, 2,480 steps of Al Mas Towers in JLT on a Friday morning and the things that go through your mind!
Before we set off…
Many companies in the UAE are taking on G4G challenges as seen here with a group here all kitted out for training to climb mountains.
I know sound out of breath, but I really like the stair climbing as an exercise. If you take your time, it helps focus, burn fat and take on ascent and descent of hills and mountains. I’m looking forward to the next one. And yes, I did complete the 60 floors and the view at the top was amazing!
Suzanne Gets Physical
My next training session with Gulf For Good was a 7am circuit training session in the open air just close to Sky Dive Dubai. It was pretty sticky before I started and even more so during and after. The sessions are ran by Bridget Nicholson who started us off with a warm-up and then lunges, and lots of them followed by running and climbing. I felt like a child again in the playground clambering up the climbing frames although I wish I was as light and flexible as I was then. We continued to work the whole body including sit-ups to work the core and although we had the added challenge of the humidity I felt really good afterwards. All are welcome to the training sessions whether you are doing one of the G4G challenges or not but just want to be active and meet new people. It was a really good workout but I realize I have a lot of work to do as I woke up the next day feeling so stiff. Well you know what they say, ‘no pain, no gain’. I think I’m quite well off!
For more info on events and the challenges for 2015 check out www.gulf4good.org.
Stretching Out The Legs
Sporting a knee injury its even more important to stretch and warm up before and after training. Such a nice feeling. The following day I headed to see Tamara Ghazi at the California Chiropractic Clinic at Dubai Healthcare City for a consultation and I left with a Trigger Point Therapy roller! More on that to follow.
First Day of Training
So, first day of training: A beach hike, 13km, the whole of Jumeirah Beach. With rising temperatures we met at 5.20am and it took three hours.