Transmongolia – Part Four: Traversing the Steppe


Transmongolia: Part Four – Click above to watch video after the jump

*After an extended hiatus (we blame the whole getting lost in the desert thing) Transmongolia is back. Click here for our previous coverage of the 2011 Mongol Rally.

Other than a complete break down or having to wait days for a spare part to arrive, there are few things as disheartening on the Mongol Rally as driving in the completely wrong direction for hundreds of kilometers. After recovering from a near-disastrous rendezvous with the Chinese-Mongolia border, our humble ambulance regained its eventual path toward Ulaanbaatar.

With a scheduled welcome party arranged in Mongolia’s capital just a few days away, we hurried to get back on track as fast as possible; while gradually losing more members of our convoy with every deep pit and poorly spotted rock in the road.

The end was in sight, but the final sprint across the steppe would still test the endurance of our newly formed friendships and our overworked engine.


Transmongolia – Part Four: Traversing the Steppe

As we ventured out of the Gobi and into the Mongolian steppe, the landscape shifted to sloping grasslands and sizeable hills that seemed small in comparison to the Altai range that we had grown accustomed to.

The steppe signaled several things for our battered rally team: that our journey was nearing its end and that our contact with large towns became more and more frequent. We no longer were concerned with filling up our jerrycans with the maximum levels of fuel and stocking up on food, water, and other necessities at every establishment we crossed.

With the moderate temperatures of the steppe, and the knowledge that we had only a few more nights under the vivid stars of the Mongolian wilderness night sky, we slept out in the open – with only sleeping bags, neighing horses in the distance, and the constant wind whipping across the hills.

It was bittersweet to know that we’d be back in the familiar grasp of a rapidly modernizing city in just days – one that for me, would now be revisited with an entirely new perspective.

For more information about the Mongol Rally, including how to sign up for the 2012 rally or tips for entrants outside the EU, visit the Adventurist’s website – or view the Adventurists’ 2011 trailer here!

Transportation was made possible by the scholars & gentlemen at the Adventurists. No editorial content or opinions were guaranteed, and nor was anyone’s safety or hygiene.

Ten big travel adventures for 2012

Ten big travel adventures for 2012A new year always brings new possibilities, particularly in the realm of travel. With 2012 now officially underway, it is time to start plotting our adventures for the year ahead. This year, rather than share yet another top ten list of adventure travel destinations, we thought it would be fun to recommend some highly specific adventures instead. These are unique journeys that will take you to the very ends of the Earth and deliver a travel experience that simply can’t be easily found elsewhere.

Visit Yellowstone in Winter
Yellowstone National Park is one of the most breathtakingly scenic destinations in all of North America, and well worth a visit any time of the year. But in the heart of winter, it takes on a whole new level of beauty and wonder. With fewer than 100,000 visitors during the colder months, the park offers plenty of solitude as well, making it the perfect winter wonderland for those looking for a true wilderness adventure in the snow. Cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and wildlife spotting are amongst the best activities, and Austin Lehman Adventures offers fantastic itineraries that provide all of that and much more.

Explore Botswana’s Okavango Delta By Canoe
Botswana is home to the Okavango Delta, which is formed when waters from the Okavango River empty into the flat-lands near the base of the Kalahari Desert. The result is a fertile piece of swampland that attracts all manner of African wildlife, including elephants, zebras, giraffes, lions, and much more. The best way to explore that expanse of wetlands is in a traditional dugout canoe, which puts you in very close proximity with those amazing animals. National Geographic Expeditions has a unique itinerary that allows travelers to do just that, while learning to track game with the famed Kalahari Bushmen and wander the Makgadikgadi salt flats on horseback. This is truly an amazing, once in a lifetime, journey to the very heart of Africa.

Cycle The Silk Road
Stretching across Europe and Asia, the Silk Road was once one of the most important trading routes in the entire world. Today it serves as the dramatic and historic backdrop for one of the longest, and most epic, annual cycling trips that any adventure traveler could ever ask for. The Silk Route Tour, which is designed by the team behind the amazing Tour d’Afrique, stretches from Shanghai to Istanbul, covering a distance of more than 7450 miles and requiring 129 days to complete. This year’s route takes riders into Iran for the first time and will test their legs on Tajikistan’s Pamir Highway, which rises above 15,000 feet. Don’t have time to commit to the full tour? Then ride any combination of the individual legs instead.Ten big travel adventures for 2012Climb A Himalayan Peak
Standing 23,494 feet in height, Pumori is a Himalayan peak that often serves as a tune-up climb for mountaineers hoping to move on to bigger challenges such as Everest. Located in the Khumbu Region of Nepal, Pumori also happens to be a great challenge for those who want to experience a major alpine expedition in the most spectacular mountain chain on the planet. Peak Freaks, one of the top Himalayan guide services in world, offers an excellent, fully featured, 34-day climb up the mountains South Ridge, which requires no high altitude experience, although some technical skills with crampons and ice axes are a must.

Go Gorilla Spotting in Rwanda
The mountain gorilla is one of the most elusive and endangered animals on the planet, and because of this, their remote habitats have been designated as nature preserves and sanctuaries throughout Africa. One of the best places to spot them is in Rwanda, where adventure travel and eco-tourism have helped directly fund the preservation of these gentle creatures. Visitors to the Virunga Volcanoes National Park must hike for miles through dense forests just to catch a glimpse of the gorillas, but those who have made the journey report that it is a magical experience unlike any other. Adventure travel specialists Abercrombie & Kent can help make that experience a reality for wildlife lovers who want a very personal encounter with these amazing primates.

Trek The Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan
In the remote northeast corner of Afghanistan there is a narrow strip of land known as the Wakhan Corridor. The region once served as a buffer zone between the British and Russian Empires, but today it is a wilderness that rarely sees outside visitors. Trekking through that valley is akin to stepping back in time, as there are few modern amenities to be found. What is in abundance however are scenic mountain vistas, tiny villages populated by local herdsman, and rugged trekking routes that are amongst the most remote on the planet. Few travel companies organize expeditions to the region, although Wild Frontiers out of the U.K. does have plans to lead two excursions – one 20 days in length, the other 30 – into the Corridor this year.

Ten big travel adventures for 2012Hike and Bike Easter Island
Speaking of remote destinations, they don’t come much more remote than Easter Island. Famous for the mysterious moai statues that proliferate the landscape, the South Pacific island is an intriguing mix of history and outdoor adventure. For those looking to visit the place for themselves, G Adventures offers an affordable option that features full and half-day cycling excursions and day hikes to visit some of the more famous locations where the stone faces that Easter Island is known for are in abundance.

Dive The Maldives
For more than 45 years, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, or PADI, has been teaching travelers how to scuba dive. But the organization also offers a host of diving trips to some of the most exotic destinations on the planet. For example, the PADI itinerary to the Maldives take divers on a cruise through the beautiful island nation, where the waters offer visibility in excess of 100 feet and encounters with sharks, manta rays, sea turtles and scores of other marine animals.

Experience Mongolia’s Gobi Desert
Mongolia’s Gobi Desert has long held an undeniable allure to the adventure traveler, and what better way to take in its wonders than by traveling overland through those remote landscapes. Intrepid Travel has a new itinerary for 2012 that sends travelers on a three-week long odyssey over towering sand dunes, past ancient ruins, and through lush, open steppe lands. Accommodations range from traditional Mongolian Yurts to rugged bush camps. This is the ultimate road trip through a part of the world that few outsiders are lucky enough to ever see.

Ski To The South Pole
If you’re a well heeled adventure traveler looking for the ultimate escape, a last degree journey to the South Pole may just be fit the bill. The expedition begins in Antarctica at 89°S and covers the final 60 miles to the Pole on cross country skis. It isn’t an easy journey however, as you’ll be pulling your food and gear behind you in a sled, while battling fierce winds, subzero temperatures, and occasional whiteout conditions. If this sounds like your particular brand of suffering, than Adventure Consultants has a 17-day itinerary that you’ll probably love. Just don’t let the sticker shock scare you.

Good luck in your 2012 adventures, where ever they may take you.

[Photo credits: Pumori - Philip Ling; Easter Island - Aurbina both via WikiMedia]

“Food” preparation around the world: a video round-up

Every savvy traveler knows that meals that are considered taboo (pets), weird (ingredients that are still alive), or gross (insectia, specific animal innards) at home are likely what’s for dinner elsewhere in the world. Even if the food or dish isn’t unappetizing by our standards, its means of preparation is often spectacle-worthy.

Thus, the following collection of videos, all devoted to the creation of specific regional delicacies from around the globe. Check them out: next time you down a shot of mezcal or snack on some fried grasshoppers, you’ll understand that someone, somewhere, put a lot of hard work into their preparation. Bon appetit!

In Mongolia, where food and other resources are scarce, innovation is crucial:




Making noodles is an art form in many parts of the world, including Xian Province in northern China:

A boss iced tea vendor in Thailand:



Too tame? Witness a testicle (from unidentified animal species; most likely goat or sheep) cooking competition in Serbia:



The “Holy Grail for [beef] head tacos,” in Oaxaca…



Cooking up grasshopper in Zambia:



Preparing maguey (a species of agave, also known as “century plant”) for mezcal in Mexico:


Brace yourself for the most disturbing food prep yet, courtesy of the United States:

Transmongolia – Part Three: the Road to China

Transmongolia: Part Three – Click above to watch video after the jump

As soon as dawn broke, I could hear rustling coming from the other tents scattered around the convoy of rally cars. Bitter cold winds whipping across the open desert prevented me from moving or making any attempt to unzip my sleeping bag, but we needed to get moving in order to cover as much ground as possible.

The night before had been an impromptu birthday celebration for a rallyer named Andrew; now 25 years old. We sat around a campfire, listening to iPod playlists blasting from one car’s deceivingly powerful sound system, sipping on flasks of Russian-made vodka to keep warm. Under the most vivid blanket of stars I’ve seen in my life, I couldn’t help but smile at the fact that I was getting to celebrate a stranger’s birthday with a group of new friends, hours away from any familiar form of civilization.

As we set off, I began to accept and adapt to my new environment for the next week; the ambulance’s olive colored walls, coated with dust that seemed to stream in from all directions, shuddering relentlessly – it was everything I had ever hoped my Mongol Rally experience would be.


Transmongolia – Part Three: the Road to China

Climbing into higher elevation, our convoy’s engines struggled to climb up long sections of mountain switchbacks and cross picturesque streams. Apart from a few lone nomads on horses and the occasional yurt far in the distance, the only evident signs of life were the goats and yaks that grazed the open landscape.

After hours of forward progress, we came upon our first Mongolian prayer flag; a bright blue piece of cloth in the center of a pile of rocks. The Buddhist practice calls upon travelers to circle the rocks three times and add a stone to the pile; ensuring safe travels and good spirits to accompany those who trek that path.

For us, it was a welcome excuse to get out of the car and move before settling in for another hour of being tossed around, so we vowed to stop at every flag we saw – little did we know that their frequency would dramatically increase as we moved closer to Ulaanbaatar.

Riding in the back, staring out the small side window, I suddenly heard a loud gasp from up front. ‘Well look what we found!!” was all I could hear over Olive’s wheels striking rocks and shifting from side to side. Then, out of nowhere – silence. No vibration. Just silky smooth, freshly paved, blacker-than-the-night-sky asphalt (or ashphelt if you’re Australian, apparently).

We couldn’t believe it, but we were too eager to. Driving at an unbelievable speed of 80 km/h, we forged ahead in any direction that the magic strip of tar would take us. That is, until we started realizing that our compass needle wasn’t pointed in exactly the right direction and that there was an alarming amount of construction equipment with Chinese lettering on it.

Stopping to seek advice from several locals that communicated mostly via gestures and pointing to our worn-out map, we confirmed that we were heading toward the Chinese town of Altai rather than our intended destination of Altai in Mongolia. Just a couple of hours and we would have been face to face with some imaginably unimpressed Chinese officials.

Not only would we have to retrace hundreds of miles, but we’d have to abandon the beautiful asphalt road and forge a new, unknown path to try and cut some time off our overzealous mistake.

With no other option, we forged ahead – hoping we’d calculated our direction correctly this time, venturing further into the middle of nowhere.

For more information about the Mongol Rally, including how to sign up for the 2012 rally or tips for entrants outside the EU, visit the Adventurist’s website – or view the Adventurists’ 2011 trailer here!

Transportation was made possible by the scholars & gentlemen at the Adventurists. No editorial content or opinions were guaranteed, and nor was anyone’s safety or hygiene.

10 unique modes of transportation around the world

chicken busCars, trains, buses, and planes aren’t the only way to get around a country. From the Bamboo Train in Cambodia to the Rail Cart in the the Philippines to the Couch Bike in Canada, here are ten unique modes of transportation from around the world.

Chicken Bus
Guatemala, Central America

While variations of the chicken bus can be found in many different countries (this reminds me a lot of taking the tro-tro in Ghana, Africa), this vehicle is used not only to transport people but also livestock, hence the name. These U.S. school buses are very eye-catching as they are colorfully painted and decorated. When taking one expect cramped conditions, as chicken buses tend to be packed to capacity, and hectic driving at Nascar speeds.Sled Dogs
Alaska, USA

Sled dogs are highly trained dogs that are used to pull a dog sled, which is a vehicle without wheels that glides over snow and ice. If you need a mental image, think Santa being pulled by reindeer, only you’re not flying and there are dogs instead of deer. Endurance and speed are the two main qualities that sled dogs must possess, and this transportation type has become a popular winter sport in other countries around the world such as Japan and Germany.

human powered rickshawHuman Powered Rickshaws
Kyoto, Japan

While urbanization across Asia has mostly done away with this traditional form of transportation, you can still find them used in certain areas where cars are not accessible in Kyoto, Japan, as well as in some parts of India. According to Kelvin Lim of BootsnAll, many rickshaw “drivers” wear a special foot-glove that helps them travel through various types of terrain without slipping.

Elephant
India and Asia

In India and many places in South East Asia, an elephant is not only an animal but also a mode of transport. When I was Vietnam I actually went on an elephant ride with a local school owner named Roy who explained to me that “in many Asian countries we use animals to help with labor”. While once used to carry the wealthy around, today exploring a country on the back of an elephant is a big tourist attraction.

habal habal Habal Habal
Philippines, Asia

The Habal Habal is a unique motorcycle that can seat many people. The simpler versions seat 4-5 people, with a seat that extends over the back wheel, while the more complex type of Habal Habal can seat up to thirteen people and their luggage with the addition of wooden planks acting as benches.

Rail Cart
Philippines, Southeast Asia

The rail cart is most commonly found in the Philippines and is literally a cart that is pulled along rail tracks by a person, people, or a horse. The special wheels on the cart allow for quick transport but, unfortunately, are not always fast enough to get out of the way of the real trains that also use the tracks.

reed boatsReed Boat
Lake Titicana, Peru

Lake Titicana stretches across the countries of Peru and Bolivia and is home to many floating villages around Southern Peru. These villages are inhabited by the Uro people, who use natural resources, like reed, to construct homes and boats. The boats are light but resiliant and, built in the shape of a dragon, are said to have been used by the anicent Incas to ward off evil spirits.

Camel Back
Jordan, Middle East

While there are many places where camel rides are popular, one way to try out this transport option for yourself is by trekking through the beautiful rose colored deserts of Wadi Rum in Jordan. Cairo, Dubai, Mongolia, Morocco, and many deserts in India are also known for being camel riding hotspots.

couch bikeCouch Bike
Canada

When I found this highly unusual mode of transportation, I was kind of expecting it to be from America. The Couch Bike, which is literally a couch that you pedal like a bike, pokes fun at sedentary culture while providing an eco-friendly alternative to driving. Just make sure you know the traffic laws of the city you’ll be riding in, as the vehicle may not be legal to drive in all areas.

Monte Toboggan Ride
Madeira, Portugal

This unique transport mode is only for the adventureous. Once a popular mode of transport in the 1800′s-early 1900′s, it is a big tourist attraction today in Madeira. Passengers sit in a wicker or wooden tobaggan and ride down the mountain from Monte to Funchal. While an exhilerating experience, you don’t have to worry too much about crashing as there are two locals “steering” the vehicle from the outside. It’s kind of like being a kid again and having your parents pull you around in a sled, only your parents probably weren’t yanking you down a steep mountain with winding turns.