En route to the Tsaatans – Part 2 (on horseback)

Saturday 19/08           


The night was not good. The “top” of the yurt was not completely closed and Florence’s sleeping bag got wet by the rain. At 3am the whole family was awake, some of us wet, some hungry, some cold, some uncomfortable… And to think that we haven’t started the tough part of the trip to the Tsaatans yet… 


Jules found also “aventurist” the fact that we got waken up by the mooing of the cows right outside our yurt.


Rain is still going on…


We prepare our luggage for our trip to the Tsaatans (we put the stuff in bags instead of the kids trolleys, which are more difficult to fit on the horses…). We’ll come back here in 6 or 7days. 


We wait for the rain to stop. The cook prepares the picnic. Kids even do some homeschooling (conjugation) but are (much) distracted by the smell of the meat (see picture) and the number of flies.


We eventually leave at noon, on horseback. The Mongolian horses are rather small.


Altogether, our expedition is composed of 13 horses, our guide/interpreter (Natsca), 2 local guides (Ukna and Urti, or something like that) and the cook (Tsitse, or also something like that also…).


Beautiful vast empty steppes scenery. Not that many animals.


We stop for lunch in a house, which is a great idea since the rain has increased.


The sun slowly comes out, which makes the scenery grandiose. 


It is so beautiful that I want to take a picture. I ask Natsca to hold my horse so I can take a picture of our whole ‘squad’. This turned out to be a huge mistake. I don’t really know the reason (Natsca told me that the horses didn’t go well along together) but Natsca let my horse go. I was holding my camera with my 2 hands so I was totally unprepared to hold my horse. Before I could realize, he was galloping and I was not able to control him. I first tried to hold back the reins but with my camera in my hands it was not easy. With the speed, my camera eventually fell down heavily and I then tried to stop the horse but I did worse than good: while pulling the reins I was also shouting at the horse to stop but this apparently (I learnt it afterwards from the guides) only encouraged the horse to continue galloping… It was going so fast. I couldn’t stay on my saddle (I wanted to fall but I could see no way to do a controlled fall at this speed…). I eventually “managed” to get out of the horse but the worst happened: my right foot got stuck into the stirrup! The horse tried to get rid of me by turning. I was turning around him with my foot attached to the stirrup, my whole body (especially the back) hitting the ground heavily again and again. It was so painful… But then the horse fell… on my left leg, squashing my knee! But I took the opportunity, before the horse could get back on his legs, to untangle my foot. When he was back on his legs, the horse was hitting the ground heavily while neighing. I was afraid he would walk on me so I tried to protect my head. Then Ukna arrived. And then Isabelle and then the kids, the 3 of them crying heavily. They could witness the whole sight and were traumatized; they all thought that I was heavily injured. Fortunately, I apparently had nothing broken. I was just shocked (and a bit afraid of my horse to be honest).


It took me a half an hour to go back on my horse. After this event, I stayed near Ukna, one of the 2 guides, who was also holding my horse. It definitely reassured me. I was under shock. But I was also realizing that I had been so lucky! I could have been seriously injured, in such remote environment…


We stopped for the night, in a nice place, near a river. 


To try to cheer everybody up, Isabelle asked the cook to let her prepare our Barilla pasta with a nice sauce. Great idea!


I was very much afraid about the night I was going to spend (and about the state in which I would wake up tomorrow morning). The kids nicely gave me their camping mattress so I have 4 of them under me (+ the other small mattresses that each of us has).


I put one of Jules’ t-shirts, to enclose tightly my ribs, which hurt.


I took 2 pain killers.





Sunday 20/08


The night was surprisingly ok. Each change of position was very painful but I managed to sleep. 


When you are injured and hence not really mobile, you admire even more the stamina of the kids and the courage of Isabelle who has to take care of everything since I can barely take care of my most basic needs (put on my clothes is the only thing I can do and even that with great difficulty).


We have to decide what to do: continue our trip to the Tsaatans with a very minimal comfort or give up and go back to Moron (and then UB).


We don’t like to give up. Moreover I’m a bit better than yesterday night. We always learn that good things come when you go out of your comfort zone. But it’s so cold; we are at 2,250m. This is their summer!!! And my ribs are very sore, without talking about my knees and my left shoulder.


Decision is mine. I decide to tough my way through it and to continue our expedition. I was probably influenced (and impressed) by the fact that the kids seem to prefer to continue to the Tsaatans (I had no doubt for Jules and Florence who love horse riding and were looking forward to seeing reindeers) but I was surprised that Ludivine wanted to continue since she doesn’t enjoy horse riding as much as her sister and brother). I think even Isabelle is happy to continue (although it was more difficult to find out since she didn’t want to influence me in my decision).


Everything is so slow. 4 hours between wake-up and departure! And nothing much in between breakfast (i.e. the usual slice of bread with the usual jam) and packing of our stuff + loading of the horses. Moreover it’s cold and drizzling; and there’s no place to lay back comfortably (not a single chair). One fortunate event happened this morning though: 2 motorbikes came from nowhere, crossing the river, to sell us clothes made of yaks wool. Our usual reaction is to tell them not to unpack their stuff but then, seeing that the kids were so cold, we suddenly realized that pairs of gloves and hats would be great! It’s so cold! We all bought a pair of gloves and a woolly hat. 


We depart around noon.


Normal horse walk is ok for me. But I need to avoid trot at all costs. I stay besides the cook who also holds my horse. 


It’s rather cold. Ludivine is freezing. We are pleased with our purchases of this morning.


We stop half an hour for lunch: pasta with (little) meat and (a lot of) potatoes! “Light” as always… and some very dry biscuits as dessert. 


The trail of the rest of the afternoon was difficult: a lot of muddy and even swampy parts, difficult for the horses whose legs sink (sometimes fully) in these wetlands, and painful for me.


We did some 4 hours on horses today. More than enough for me. We decide to camp another night before reaching the Tsaatans. The place is rather exposed to wind; it’s very cold. We have seen the sun for 10’ only during the last 2 days. We set the tents and then wait for dinner.


This ‘out-of-time’ trip helps us, I think, to understand the meaning of ‘unplugging’.  We are totally cut out from any kind of communication and we are witnessing the tough daily live of the people we are traveling with. We are deeply impressed by the environment they live in; it is so harsh. They are real cowboys; we very often during the day have the impression to be in a comic book world (Blueberry, Yakari and the like). When we arrive at the camp, they still have to take care of the horses, find and cut wood for the fire… They also have to watch over the fire at night, to ward off wolves that are attracted by the horses.


Diner: soup with rice with the usual pieces of meat fat. Ludivine is the one having the biggest problem with this kind of food (not that we enjoy it but she really doesn’t eat much…). The good idea was to open a can of apple sauce, which we emptied in 2′.


We are cold in our tents tonight. I wear socks, gloves and my woolly hat to sleep + 4 layers of clothes. And they are saying that it will be colder at the Tsaatans camp tomorrow night (located at 2,500m)… Kids seem ok (they enthusiastically answered ‘yes’ from their tent when we asked them if everything was ok before sleeping…). They impress me! It’s not easy for them and certainly not easy for Isabelle who carries the weight of the whole family since I can’t do much to help her.





Monday 21/08 (1/2)


We had a very difficult night. It’s painful to sleep on the floor with sore ribs and very cold temperature + snoring from neighbors… 


It’s so cold that I don’t change clothes anymore. I have been wearing the same clothes for 3 days, day and night (Isabelle and the kids put their pj’s for the night)…


The wind is so cold; I’m wondering what we would have done without the gloves and hats… I think the agency should have warned us about the possibility of such cold weather. In the document received from the Belgian agency for the trip, it is just mentioned ‘temperatures will be around 25C during the day and can be around 10C during the night’… Maybe the temperatures that we are experiencing are exceptional for the season (between 0 and 3C for the night and around 15C during the day, although the “perceived” temperatures are much lower with such a wind) but their counterpart agency in UB could have advised us to buy warm clothes.


I wonder how the kids resist. I feel sorry to have brought them in such an adventure.


Ludivine said that she would never have thought that she would miss Jeddah’s weather… And Florence said that we should have taken hot water bottles for the night with us. She’s fully right!


We leave at 11am. The packing and the loading of the horses take each time 2 hours during which we don’t do much since it’s too cold to do anything else than trying to protect ourselves from the cold wind (especially me; Isabelle is much busy packing up everything). It’s frustrating.


The whole trail of this morning is through swamps; we cross many rivers. It’s quite painful for me. But it’s comforting to hear Jules and Florence commenting their experience and comparing their horse’s behavior with enthusiasm. Ludivine takes a lot ‘upon herself’. I admire the 3 of them. And Isabelle too, who is very cold today.


After 2 hours of difficult path, we arrive on a beautiful plateau where the first thing we see is a big herd of white and brown reindeers with, in the background, a community of around 25 tents (the Tsaatans teepees). It’s magic. The last 15′ to arrive in the village are nice. The feeling is great: we made it!!! I’m so proud of our family! It was an amazing feeling to be finally here in such complete remoteness.


But one thing spoils a bit this magical moment: there’s a drone filming our arrival! There are other tourists (!) filming the village and the surroundings.




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