Tour Cycling in Mongolia- Unexpected Friendliness

Tour Cycling in Mongolia- Unexpected Friendliness

Tour Cycling In Mongolia- Unexpected Friendliness

Written by George Balarezo, Intrepid Global Citizen

The long and winding road never seemed to end. Mountains soared above us in the distance along every direction, creating a panorama of green fields as it seemed we were in the center of mother nature’s canyon. Yurts dotted the grassy plains to the left of us. Signs of life. People looked like small ants running back and forth, from one small house to another. There was one person riding a bicycle in circles along the grassy fields, rounding up cattle and going on a joy ride.

The sun was about to set and my tour cycling mate Josh and I decided it was time to look for a place to crash for the night. It was our first evening on the other side of the Western Mongolian border. We heard all the stories about the rugged locals and were quite apprehensive about what would happen to us during the night. Rumor has it that no matter where you set up camp, the Mongols know everything that is happening on their terrain and will come ride up to you on their horses and perhaps try to open up your bag looking for booze and money. To avoid a confrontation or potential robbery, we decided it was best to go and introduce ourselves to some locals and ask them to camp by their home. We were both nervous about their reaction to two guys with big bags on their bicycles. There were so many homes and several people roaming around to choose from. One teenager was wobbling back and forth on his bike, chasing around goats that were breaking the steppe silence with their grunts. “That is the guy we need to talk to,” we agreed since he was already on his bicycle. We thought the commonality would help us break the ice and persuade the locals to offer us some hospitality.

Riding on Another Mongolian Highway

Lets do it. We steered our bicycles off the main road in the directions of the yurts. “Oh my god. This is so adventurous!” we said to ourselves. As soon as we traveled a few meters in the direction of the yurt, children gathered together to form a big mob and started running towards us. We kept our fingers crossed and hoped they would not be hostile toward the big Caucasian men heading in their direction.

A few kilometers down the road and one hour before approaching the bicycle riding teenager, a group of children stood blocking my path. I kept going straight at full speed in their direction yelling “move! move!” in English. Even though I am sure they had no clue what “move” means, I assumed they would understand what I meant by the tone of my voice and by the fact that I kept pedaling faster in their direction. Obviously their parents did not teach them to respect tourists, so I took their education into my own hands. As I moved faster and faster in their direction, they held their bodies steady, creating a barricade in the road. I suddenly found myself in a game of chicken with the kids and was not going to back down. At the very last instant they must have realized I was not going to stop and I zoomed by them. Two of the kids grabbed my bags but the momentum of a loaded up bike and an 80 kilogram man was too much for those small hands. The boldness of those children shocked me as I nearly knocked two of them down to the ground. I can play naughty too. Sometimes children need to learn the hard way. Luckily nobody got injured.

Would these children gang up on us and create a big rumble on the steppe? Images of me body slamming kids on the grass flashed through my head. The Mongolians are known for wrestling, but surely I could take out these kids one by one if necessary. What would happen if one of their parents caught us in a scuffle with their children? Perhaps they would skin Josh and I and have us for dinner alongside their roasted beavers and steppe critters. This would be a welcome change to their diet of lamb meat and noodles.

The kids sprinted towards us and the ring leader was on his bicycle in front of them. The scene reminded me of a modern day Genghis Khan and his troops approaching an enemy, but this time on a bicycle instead of horse. “Sem ben oo,” I said. Greeting others in the local language always creates rapport right off the bat and signals that I respect the local culture.

The ring leader smiled at us as Josh and I attempted to explain ourselves using body language and simple English words. “Bike. Sleep. England. United States,” we said. Much to our surprise, the teenage cyclist started speaking to us in clear English. “Sure. You can put your tent by my house,” he said smiling. “My sister speaks English well and will be happy to talk to you,” he continued.

What a relief. After so much anticipation, we finally were able to relax and let our guard down. The tension faded in an instant as the children led us to their yard. The kids helped Josh and I set up our tents and invited us into their home to share a meal. Noodles and lamb meat were on the menu and we enjoyed every last bite.

That evening, we swapped bikes and road back and forth in the endless grassy field outside of their home. The kid got to test drive mountain and touring bikes and looked so happy to be riding our solid pieces of machinery. It was obvious that our teenage friend would never forget sharing tea with us and doing a bike swap and neither would we. What started out as a bold move by two risk takers ended up being a cultural exchange that none of us will ever forget. We heard plenty of shady stories about the lawless Mongolian steppe but became the victims of vicious hospitality and friendliness.  

Happy to Finally Find a Paved Road
Looking for Yak Fur to Keep Me Warm At Night

This Post Has 29 Comments

  1. What a interesting experience!! You surely spent great time with your Mongolian friends~~ First reading your artile, I was worried. But after knowing the Mongolian little friends are kind, I was relieved. It’s like drama!! Your articles make me want to travel to other contries. I want to hear more about your traveling storeis.

    1. Thank you for your comments and I hope you can travel one day!

  2. I really enjoyed your story based on cycle trips. And also, Your travel record made me that I want to go on a trip right now.
    By the way, to me, ‘Tour Cycling in Mongolia’ is most impressive than other articles.
    Through this article, I once again felt that it was very important to respect the local culture of the place where I traveled.
    Actually, i have a friend from Mongolia. Through the boy in the picture, my Mongolian friend came to my mind:)
    So i called my friend and started to read articles and saw pictures together. She told me “Because of the pictures on the article, I miss my hometown.”
    “Unexpected friendliness” and “Cultural exchange”, Both of them recalled me the first meeting with her.

    1. It is nice that you have a Mongolian friend and I hope you can go there and experience Mongolian culture one day.

  3. It must have been a really fun experience. I envy you!!
    I’ll take care of it when I travel later.

  4. I think you and teenage were made a good relationship each other. Traveling to mongol is not an easy decision, but it looks very great experience. After read your article, I think I want to go travel and enjoy other culture’s experience.

  5. It’s wonderful trip. Your trip gives me passions for new starts. Thank you!

  6. It is a wonderful trip. Your trip gives me passions for new starts. Thankyou

  7. This article make me to remind the travel to Jinan. There are not many foreigners living in Jinan, and I felt really nervous. On the way of Confucius cemetery, our family lost way. That time an old farmer helped us and we could find our way. He explained by using Chinese and body language, and gave us two cucumbers for present.
    Traveling is challenging and sometimes really dangerous. But unexpected friendliness always motivate us to go travel.

  8. Your trip story makes me excite!!! I like your travel plan. I think you like to act extempore. Some people can think acting extempore makes me dangerous. And you put on the spot in mongol. However, we can earn other memory by solving embrassing situation. I love this happening. So, if we travel together, this trip may be good trip.

  9. I read your bicycle to Mongolia well. Communication with a Mongolian child was impressive. And it was good to see cultural exchange with many people.

  10. It is wonderful to come across a new culture while traveling in a unique place. I think it’s a good experience to say hello in their local language and to share a meal at people’s home you met there. I learned that it is a great idea to experience different cultures and traditions with respect and curiosity.

  11. It is wonderful to come across a new culture while traveling in a unique place. I think it’s a good experience to say hello in their local language and to share a meal at people’s home you met there. I learned that it is a great idea to experience different cultures and traditions with respect and curiosity.

  12. It’s wonderful to come across a new culture while traveling around a unique place. I think it is a good experience to say hello in their local language and to share a meal at people’s home you met there. I learned that it is great idea to enjoy different cultures and traditions with respect and curiosity.

  13. I really enjoyed your article. After reading this article, I could feel the fun and joy of being friends with people in the area during trip, and I felt that professor was really great. I also thought that if I had a chance, I would like to go on a trip and have an experience of being friends with locals.

  14. After reading this article, I kept wanting to travel. I felt that I shouldn’t have a preconceived opinion when I was worried about the rumor, because it’s usually okay to face it.
    And you have kindly approached the residents with courage. The point is highly respectable.

  15. i don’t entirely understand article but i think that it is impressive article

  16. I realized that a petty attitude of respect could have a great impact on the opponent. I also felt that I should be a person who can understand other cultures well and give little consideration to them.

  17. reading about the travel mongolia by using bycycle with his friends josh. because i’m planned to travel mongolia to see stars of sky, i feel suspense to when i read the article. so when he is met the bycycle boy who is fluent at english i also realived

  18. I haven’t heard of lawless Mongolians and I found your story interesting. What a relief. What do you think about this experience? Do you think it was a luck or it was your bias? Whatever you think, I know you had no tension after their friendliness for sure!

    1. Good question Ms. Jang! There were so many nice people in Mongolia. Traveling there by bicycle broke my stereotypes.

  19. The story was just intriguing to read as I’ve never been to Mongolia or any other countries near it. Yet, it also made me feel warmth some part deep inside my heart. While reading your story, I had a few questions: Mongolia is known for their sense of belonging taking such a big role in their lives, maintaining and staying in a group of nomads. However, the kids kindly let you, a stranger, into their group and territory with no hesitation. Why do you think that the kids have invited you in? Would you say that it is possibly from their pure benevolence or the shift of mind and culture as millennials?

    1. Hello Mr. Woo! That is a great question. There are people all over the world who do the same things as those kids. Age, race, religion don’t matter when it comes to hospitality. There are so many pure and innocent people out there who are anxious to share their kindness. Unfortunately we do not hear about this on the news so that is why it is important to share stories on this blog.

  20. I am envious of you because I want to travel somewhere special. and I think you had a very precious experience like speaking with unfamiliar other country’s people. If I had a chance to travel somewhere like you, I would want to feel that feelings even if it will be hard.

  21. I read your story and it is impressive! Wow!!
    some day I hope to visit Mongolia too~

  22. Breaking a prejudice against Mongolians was the most impressive scene I read. This kind of postive aspect must be one of the great advantages of traveling. On the other hand, scene of rushing into children by bicycle made me quite nervous, and it was relieve that nobody got injured. It was really interesting story!

    1. Hello Mr. Yang. I am glad you enjoyed the story!

  23. It looks like a special experience! I had traveled to Mongolia and I also had a similar experience too so this story is more interesting to me

  24. I think you are great at managing situations. Especially,when you talk local people with body languages and local languages, i was surprised at your act. I also want to develop my alacrity like you. After I read this, I think I want to read more articles.

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