LOST IN MONGOLIA

By Jason Vincent

I speak absolutely zero Mongolian. The armed Mongol agent standing over me spoke almost zero English, but it was enough that I could understand his thick-accented order: “You sign document you broke law bringing bullets to Mongolia,” he said as he passed me something handwritten in Cyrillic.

Absolutely not happening.

I’m not the smartest guy in the world but I’m smart enough not  to sign a document I can’t read—especially when it’s handed to me by a military officer, or a police officer, or a customs agent or whatever he was. Especially when it’s written in Russian script when I’m in a country sandwiched between China and … Russia.

The next agent I spoke to had only mastered approximately 2 percent more of the English language, but he was able to explain that I’d brought five cartridges too many into his country. He also understood me when I told him I wasn’t signing any document unless I could read it, and that I would write down what happened in English and sign my own letter if I had to.

Shockingly, that worked.

Phone calls were made, suspicious looks were shot my way, but in the end I was stripped of five rounds and directed to the exit of the airport’s basement.

As I walked out of the airport two vehicles were waiting along with my companions Don and Donnie Trump, Wiley Watson and a Turk named Ali. I was peppered with another round of questions as I loaded my gear into a minivan, but my response was simple: I’ll tell you on the road. Let’s get the hell out of here.

We had a six-hour road trip to get to our hunting camp in the desert, and I was actually looking forward to it. Long rides in strange lands are almost always a good time. I split up from Don and Donnie on purpose so I could get to know the other guys on the trip before we started hunting ibex and argali in the Mongolian mountains. I’d only spoken with Wiley on the phone and I could already tell this Ali guy had a big personality—but he had no gun, said he wasn’t a hunter and I just couldn’t figure out why he was on our trip. I didn’t care.

An hour later we were fighting traffic in the capital of Ulaanbaatar. I expected us to be cut off by people riding short horses with eagles on their shoulders; instead we were being honked at by Mercedes G-Wagons, Lexus SUVs and Ford Raptors. Odd. Why is everyone here so rich? It was a question to which I’d never get an answer.

Sixteen hours later we were still on our six-hour road trip. We’d been lost in the desert for a few hours, but even so I was more concerned about our guide who was still holding his ribs. He’d suffered two horrific falls from a very angry camel he tried to ride earlier in the day. When he made an audible thud at contact with the ground the first time, Donnie immediately looked at me in an attempt to keep himself from laughing. When he made a louder slap sound in the sand the second time me and the boy both lost our restraint. Couldn’t help it. It was like trying not to laugh in church.

But now I was a little worried about him. Was this the guy we’d be following on long hikes in steep terrain? Did he have a broken rib that could puncture a lung? Are we even going to find our camp?

“If we don’t figure out where we’re going soon, I’m going to go fucking insane,” Ali muttered. Only a few of us understood him. “Jesus Christ.” Wiley said underneath his breath for the 15th time. I’d already made friends with these guys, but it was their first international hunting trip, and I tried to explain how things turning sideways on a hunt was very normal and if we suffered long enough something fun would happen.

An hour later Don and I laughed at our situation as we pushed the back of the minivan. We’d gotten stuck at a river crossing that our driver should have never attempted in such a vehicle. Don just laughed as he shook his head and said, “What the fuck.”

An hour later we finally walked into our yurt where we all passed out on our cots. Donnie who’d slept through the entire road trip was still able to sleep thanks to the sounds of dried horse shit crackling in the flames of our stove.

Just three hours later the sun started to come up. I quietly exited through the yurt’s flap as I tried not to wake Don and Donnie. After a short hike I was standing atop a ridge looking over the vastest desert I’d ever seen. An eagle flew just overhead. I finally felt like I was in Mongolia. I must’ve sat there for 20 minutes before I finally turned to walk back to camp. When I did, I realized Don was already halfway to the ridge wearing only a t-shirt, some boxers and a pair of white crocs. “Isn’t this incredible?” he shouted as he got closer.

By sunset that same evening we’d hiked several miles in the mountains. Don had fired one long-range bullet into a now-dead ibex. I swam in an ice-cold river as the sun dropped below the horizon. We had vehicles en-route to meet us to take us back to camp. Donnie was punching me and his dad in our arms in a fit of playful testing that every boy his age goes through. Wiley and Ali seemed to really be enjoying themselves.

Another local guide pulled up in his old Russian jeep to lead us back to our camp and within minutes we were lost again. Somehow the distance covered in a day’s hike turned into three hours of vehicle circles in the dark as we tried to find the high-altitude valley with our yurts hidden within. Ali seemed to be losing patience with these car rides and Wiley just said, “Jesus Christ”.

But who cares how long you’re lost when you’re in a place where time doesn’t really exist? It’s just light or dark. As long as you finish the hunt by the time the sun goes down on the last day, you should look at each hour as its own separate experience in a place this rich.

A quick camp meal of rice and some unknown meat was brought to our yurt when we made it back. Nobody knew what we were eating or what it was called. We just knew it was good. Another shovel of horse shit into the hot stove and we were asleep with our sleeping bags unzipped.

The sun came up, then went down again. We covered miles between light and dark and repeated the sequence twice more.

One morning Don and I had a chat about our hunt. He was really there to hunt argali. I was there to hunt ibex, but I explained that taking one had never been some major bucket list item for me. Experiencing Mongolia was. In my own mind I’d already decided not to kill anything on this trip, opting instead for hiking and observing without being distracted by that tunnel vision focus that often comes with hunting. I’d already experienced his ibex hunt without it costing me the price of a relatively well appointed used pickup truck. When I told Don, he understood completely. We both hunt experiences more than anything else.

We had a long drive that day to reach an area where argali had been spotted by scouts. I decided to ride with the local in the Russian jeep. I tried one of his Mongolian cigarettes as we violently bounced his 4×4 over the top of a mountain. Getting on that angry camel would’ve been safer and more comfortable.

By the time the sun went down that evening we were eating argali. An old one. After flights, eons in the back of a minivan, mountains hiked, rivers crossed and bearings lost, the hunt was over with only two reports of Don’s rifle. We’d encountered shaman game wardens, weasels, marmots, wolves, foxes, wild horses, mountain goats and the coveted curled horned sheep we were there to find. Donnie was another experience closer to becoming a man. Still none of us understood why Ali was on the trip, but nobody ever asked.

The next day, after getting lost the second time on the long ride back to Ulaanbaatar, Wiley refrained from using the Lord’s name and instead just laughed. When we pulled over our driver and Ali got into a roadside wrestling match. Nobody won. When we finally hit the city, everyone flew home except for Wiley and I. We hung out for another few days checking out the country and the Genghis Khan shrines and museums. We attempted to line up a day of dirtbiking, but the plan fell through. The next day we said goodbye to one another in South Korea and parted ways.




From the FE Films Archive


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