Transmongolia – Part One: USA to RPGs in 24 hours


“Traveling is for sissies, come and get stuck in a desert.” The moment I first read those words, I knew that the Mongol Rally was something that I needed to experience in my lifetime.

Imagine: a 10,000 mile adventure across some of the world’s most rugged terrain, in some of the most unsuitable vehicles imaginable; no GPS devices, no support crew, and no single set route from the starting line in Goodwood, England to the finish line in Mongolia’s capital city of Ulaanbaatar. In the words of the Adventurists (the group responsible for the rally), the Rally is simply: “10,000 miles of adventuring bliss through deserts, mountains, and steppe”.

So, when I got the opportunity to fly to Mongolia and join one of the 300 teams competing in the 2011 Mongol Rally, there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation. I needed to know what it was like to race across the steppe, fix major breakdowns with only duct tape, and meet the type of people that were capable of completing something so amazingly bizarre.

Transmongolia is an exclusive five part video series that documents my journey from the fringe of the Russia/Mongolia border to the finish line in Ulaanbaatar.

See what it’s like to get hopelessly lost in the Gobi desert, break down hundreds of miles from any sign of help, and discover the sheer beauty of the vast Mongolian countryside from the rear window of a dusty ambulance…


Transmongolia – Part One: USA to RPGs in 24 hours

For more information about the Mongol Rally, including how to sign up for the 2012 rally, visit the Adventurist’s website.

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.

The world’s top ten most desolate countries

most desolate


According to a Harvard study
, the earth’s population will hit seven billion humans in a few months. Earlier this summer, Gadling labs profiled the effects of increasing populations on finite land resources by showcasing the world’s most crowded islands. The earth is, in its own way, an island, and 21st century humanity will be presented with the challenge of adapting to rising population levels and static resources.

While countries like India have wrestled with the conundrum of feeding and housing booming population levels in Delhi, Kolkata, and Mumbai, the countries on this list bear no similarities to the billion strong Indian subcontinent. These countries are the ones with open space – lots of it. Countries like Greenland and Mongolia may someday be utilized for their vast expanses of open terrain, but today they are simply great places to go when you have tired of other human beings.

So while this extraordinarily hot summer may have included elbowing your way through thronged midtown Manhattan in 100 degree heat or hesitantly inhaling the stink rising off the sweaty crowd at Bonnaroo, this list is intended to take you way away from the crowds. From riding a horse through the empty steppes of Mongolia to exploring the glacial highlands of Iceland, each of these countries offers exercises in sweet sweet solitude. None of these countries have more than ten people per square mile.

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most desolate

10 Mauritania
Location: Northwest Africa
Population: 3,069,000
Population density: 8.2 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: Nouakchott International Airport
Primer: Mauritania is a sand swept country offering desolation and one of the lowest GDPs on the African continent. Even the well-traveled must consult an atlas to correctly place the country on their mental map. Heavily mined in the east with empty beaches in the West, the country is one of the least visited locations on the planet. Credit cards are not readily acceptable, rain is scarce, and desert covers over half of this one time French occupation. Throw in strained African/Arab relations and you get a very challenging country to visit.

most desolate

9 Suriname
Location: Northeast South America
Population: 491,989
Population density: 7.6 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: The Johan Adolf Pengel International Airport
Primer: Suriname is a whisper of a nation on South America‘s north-Atlantic coast. Most Surinamese call the coastal region home, and the interior of the country is an impenetrable rain-forest, inhabited by toucans, parrots, monkeys, deer, and the elusive cock-of-the-rock. 60% of Suriname residents speak Dutch with the rest speaking a collection of fourteen other languages, including Sranan Tongo – a creole dialect. Most tourists come to Suriname for the Amazonian rain-forest, though the northern beaches are surprisingly good — and empty.

most desolate

8 Iceland
Location: North Atlantic Ocean
Population: 318,452
Population density: 7.5 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: Keflavík International Airport
Primer: When multinational aluminum producer Alcoa decided to build a smelting plant in Iceland, they encountered an extraordinary problem. The Icelandic government required Alcoa to pay specialists to inspect and survey the proposed building site for elves, gnomes, trolls, and fairies – so called “hidden people.” The situation strained Alcoa’s management because paying specialists to search for “hidden people” seemed to be a bit of a boondoggle, especially from a shareholder point of view. But, Alcoa paid for the service. The intricate search process took six months. This is the type of place Iceland is – unique and folkloric, awkwardly straddling the modern and ancient worlds.

Iceland’s geographical diversity spans a wide range. From the fires of active volcanoes to glacial carved fjords, Iceland’s landscape provides a full suite of awe-inspiring natural features.

most desolate

7 Australia
Location: South Indian and Pacific Oceans
Population: 22,672,063
Population density: 7.3 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: Kingsford Smith Airport
Primer: Australia truly needs no introduction. Its inclusion on this list stems from the vast open quarter that consumes much of its central and western landmass. Roughly 80% of Australians live in the eastern states, and while Australia is one of the world’s largest countries geographically, the country’s entire population equals that of the Bangkok metropolitan area. This human sparseness is evident to those that venture into the country’s vast interior. As one of the most visited countries in the world, Australia boasts both open space and cosmopolitan metropolitan areas. Also: koala bears.

most desolate

6 Namibia
Location: Southern Africa
Population: 2,108,655
Population density: 6.6 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: Windhoek Hosea Kutako International Airport
Primer: Namibia is home to an abandoned German mining town, the world’s oldest desert, lots of big cats, and an underground lake thought to be the largest on earth. The dunes of the 80 million year old Namib desert rise off of the desert floor like mountains, and cheetahs prowl the nation’s back-country, competing with lions and leopards for bush snacks. Throw in penguins, a 50 ton meteorite, and Ovambo tribesmen that oddly cling to the Lutheran religion, and it is easy to appreciate Namibia’s diverse offerings.

most desolate

5 French Guiana (France)
Location: Northeast South America
Population: 217,000
People per square mile: 6.2 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: Cayenne – Rochambeau Airport
Primer: French Guiana is a throwback to the era of European imperialism. An overseas region of France, the country is the last South American country still considered to be part of Europe. It is almost entirely unsettled wilderness, and one of the most notorious prisons in the world was once located just offshore. The foreboding-sounding Devil’s Island housed a number of prisoners, including Clement Duval and Alfred Dreyfuss. Today, half of the population lives in the capital city of Cayenne, and many also live in the unlikely space-town of Kourou. The city of Kourou is the launch site for European Space Agency satellites. Space-related business accounts for 25% of French Guiana’s GDP and has been a boost to the local economy since Charles de Gaulle opened the space-travel base in 1964.

most desolate

4 Western Sahara
Location: Northwest Africa
Population: 513,000
People per square mile: 5 per square mile
Primary Airport: Hassan I Airport
Primer: Western Sahara, a disputed region in northern Africa, is perhaps the epitome of desolation. With a long coastline lacking credible beaches, a heavily mined military zone, and the topography of a vast arid desert, it is a moonish destination for sure. The temperatures soar during the day and plummet at night. Independent travel is commonly restricted in the region. Literacy is thought to be below 50%. Not exactly selling points, but for those with a taste for sandy adventure, a hatred of tourist hordes, or an interest in political conflict, Western Sahara may just be the country for you.

most desolate

3 Mongolia
Location: Central Asia
Population: 2,754,685
People per square mile: 4.56 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: Chinggis Khaan International Airport (Chinggis Khaan is the Mongolian name for Genghis Khan)
Primer: Mongolia is twice the size of Texas, but with less than three million humans and over sixty million heads of livestock. Nestled between Russia and China, Mongolia is an old kingdom of master horseman and nomadic tribes. The mongols first appear in written history as barbarians who invaded China and prompted the construction of the Great Wall. Today, Mongolians are a welcoming bunch, and the capital city of Ulaanbaatar is stationary – it used to move three times per year.

most desolate

2 Falkland Islands (U.K)
Location:
South Atlantic Ocean
Population: 3,140
People per square mile: .65 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: RAF Mount Pleasant
Primer: With 2,400 people and 700,000 sheep, the Falkland Islands boast a rather robust sheep to human ratio. A storied past includes the Falklands War between Argentina and the United Kingdom, as well as a series of various European occupations. Today, the sleepy chain of 200 islands is visited by expedition cruisers en route to Antarctica. The visitors to the remote island chain are able to observe five different species of penguin, as well as seals, whales, and a rare indigenous bird of prey – the Striated Caracara.

most desolate

1 Greenland (Denmark)
Location: North Atlantic
Population: 56,615
People per square mile: .069 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: Kangerlussuaq Airport
Primer: The Greenland misnomer hearkens back to the age of Erik the Red – a viking known for his issues with Norse law. Having been exiled from both Norway and Iceland, Erik came upon this hulking breast of an island further west. To entice future visitors, he coined the island Greenland, and it stuck. Many Nordic settlers moved to Greenland at his urging, probably stumped by its misleading name – 85% of Greenland is covered by a thick sheet of ice. Allegedly, the southern coastal region is actually very green, especially in the summer months. Last year, Gadling labs sent an explorer to the island to comment on its greenness. His findings? It is, in fact, quite green.

While the national dish of boiled seal meat may fail to conjure up a sudden urge to visit the Arctic island, the glacial cut fjords, polar bears, and colorful houses make visiting Greenland an extraordinary experience.

top flickr image via Atli Harðarson

Video of the Day – Sunsets around the world


Seeing the sun set over a foreign land can lead to some of the most memorable moments on any given trip. Even though it’s an event we witness every day of our lives, watching it dip over a new horizon always feels like a completely new experience. Today’s Video of the Day is a collection of one backpacker’s best sunsets from a 365 day trip around the world.

Romain Corraze decided to travel around the world for one year after finishing his studies in 2009. Starting in France, he managed to venture through the USA, India, Cambodia, Colombia, China, Russia, Thailand, Argentina, Chile, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Mexico, Hong-Kong, Australia, Vietnam, Guatemala, Belgium & France – and captured some of these sunsets along the way.

If you like it, then be sure to check out Romain’s full length documentary – “Backpacker, the movie“. The video was shot with a Sony HDR-SR11 and edited in Final Cut Pro – which just goes to show that anyone can create an inspiring video with today’s simple tools. If you have an inspiring piece to share, drop a comment below and it could be our next Photo/Video of the Day!

Mongol Derby is an adventure on horseback

This past Sunday, a group of 25 riders set out on a unique adventure across the Mongolian Steppe that will have them following in the ancient footsteps of Marco Polo and the fabled horsemen that roamed that region centuries ago, as they raise money for a variety of charities in the country.

The Mongol Derby is the latest idea from the same group that brought us the Mongol Rally. In this case, it pits the entrants on a long distance horse race through some of the most remote areas on the planet as they make the journey from Kharkhorin to Ulaanbaatar following a series of routes that were created as a postal system by Genghis Khan back in 1234 AD. The race directors caution that this isn’t about the speed of the horse however, but more of a test of the skill and stamina of the riders themselves.

Along the route, the riders will have to check into a series of horse stations called Urtuus, where they will be forced to change out their mounts for fresh ones. Veterinarians will also be on hand to ensure that the horses are being well cared for, and not pushed to their limits. The course designers have also taken great pains to design a route that will pass by multiple water sources, meaning the riders and horses won’t have to go far to find a drink.

The website will offer updates on the progress of the riders as well as live tracking of their current locations. There is also a long FAQ that answers a lot of questions about the event as well. So if driving to Mongolia by a very slow car isn’t your cup of tea, perhaps you’d prefer to explore it via horseback instead, either way, the Adventurists have you covered.

Gadlinks for Wednesday 8.12.09

I don’t know about you guys, but I needed this past weekend to get some R&R that Monday came and went without sending my usual Gadlinks. I’m happy to report that Malibu is alive and well and the surf was, well, crowded — but good this weekend. And here are some other reports around the travel blogosphere.

‘Til tomorrow, have a great evening!

More Gadlinks HERE.