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On foot through Mongolia: “Wide can feel oppressive”

Franziska Bär (26) wandered through the Mongolian wilderness with her partner. Now a book worth reading has appeared about her adventure far away from civilization. In the interview she describes the charm of the void and explains how to prepare for a journey for which there is no information.

WRF: 300 kilometers on foot through one of the most remote corners of Mongolia: Which ingredients need a real adventure for you?

Franziska Bär: Of course, it does not always have to be soooooo extreme that it feels like an adventure. Spontaneously, I would say that for me, adventure is a mixture of discovery and being outside – along with the fact that not everything can be planned that will happen. And you can experience that everywhere! In the Alps as well as in the Altai.

It is noticeable that you have just chosen louder examples in which other people do not play a major role. Is there a real adventure away from civilization?

No. Also on our doorstep great adventures are waiting – and most of us seldom really empty. For me, personally, the adventure factor is already a little bit bigger, the wilder the stuff around, the farther civilization is gone. If you can not get back to the next place or train station right away, then the basic feeling is completely different. You are almost at the mercy of yourself and the wild – this can be quite scary and incredibly beautiful at the same time.

During your trek through Mongolia you did not meet other people for days. How did you handle the loneliness on the way?

Mostly we enjoyed them! Loneliness was one of the main reasons why we chose Mongolia. We really wanted to find out how pure loneliness feels. Being alone and not knowing when we will meet other people again. Of course, there were still moments when it just narrowed us down. As paradoxical as it may sound – width can sometimes feel quite oppressive. At such moments, we appreciated the most that we have a partner on the side.

Adventurer and author Franziska Bär walking through Mongolia.

If you have met somebody, there were always massive language problems. Is a cultural understanding even possible?

In many encounters in very different countries, we have learned that a cultural understanding is not necessarily dependent on being able to communicate properly with the locals. Or in other words, just because you speak a language does not mean that you will build an understanding of the foreign culture. Many situations would have been easier if we could have talked to the Mongols. And of course we always had a thousand questions! Nevertheless, we had incredibly beautiful encounters with nomads even without words – and sometimes spent a whole day with them, without speaking a word. So we are pretty deeply immersed in their everyday lives.

Mongolia is considered one of the most hospitable countries in the world. But in your book, that’s exactly what you’re questioning. How so?

I would say that I less question the hospitality itself, but rather consider whether sometimes it is not something enforced. It is an unwritten rule that nomads in the steppe invite anyone passing by their yurt. That does not happen too often, after all. In this way, magically beautiful encounters have come into being with us, but also those who have seemed forced. As if the nomads only ask us in, because that’s what they do. And not because they want.

Why actually Mongolia?

Mongolia was a longtime dream of Felix. Because there are no longer many countries that are so little developed, so endless, so mysterious. There are not many pictures about Mongolia, you do not read many stories. That immediately aroused our spirit of discovery.

Encounters with other people are rare in western Mongolia.

300 kilometer on foot with about 20 kilos of luggage are no pappenstiehl. How did you prepare for the hike and how fit should you be before?

In any case, we have prepared much, much more for Mongolia than on all previous trips. Mainly in theory. Wochenland we studied topographic lines and satellite imagery on Google Earth. Have set coordinates and measured distances. When we thought we could not prepare better, we even did a test march in Munich along the Isar – to test everything we had worked for. As far as fitness is concerned, it certainly helped us that we have always been out and about in the mountains and enjoy doing sports. Nevertheless, such a week long hike with a lot of luggage is something else again. But you realize that every day is a workout, and the body learns to handle the strain.

No information can be found in the book on the cost of travel? How expensive was your adventure?

The biggest hole has torn the equipment into our travel fund. Because we had never been self-catering in the middle of nowhere, we had a lot of work to do. For example, a stove that can cook with gasoline and diesel because there are no gas cartridges in Mongolia. Or the thick sleeping bags and the GPS device. The flight was also quite expensive. All in all, I appreciate that this adventure cost us around 2500 Euro per person. But the equipment was a purchase for life.

Your book received many good reviews. Are there plans for more adventures and books?

I am so happy to receive positive feedback for the book. Or generally for what we do. Every single time – honest! Quite apart from that, I love what I do. Traveling, discovering. Storytelling. That’s why we always have plenty of ideas for next adventures and make plans. In the summer we wander through the Caucasus mountains, let’s see what comes afterwards. Whether a next book arises, will show. Of course I already write in my mind.

The arduous journey has made the young couple even closer together.

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