Showing posts with label Horse. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Horse. Show all posts

Video: Tusker Trail's Mongolia Trek - Episode 1

If you've been reading my stories about my recent trip through remote Mongolia on horseback this video will especially be of interest. But even if you haven't read a single word of that series of posts, you're sure to find something to love here. This is the first of a three part series that Tusker Trail produced to promote their Mongolian adventure. It takes us to the vary places I visited while in that country, and gives a visual context to the various people and places I've been describing in those articles. If reading my words hasn't inspired you to want to make this journey yourself, this series of videos certainly will. Part 1 is posted below and I'll share the other two installments over the next couple of days. After that, you'll more than likely want to see the Altai Mountains for yourself.

Mongolia by Horseback Part 5: The End of the Trail

This is the fifth – and final – installment of a series of posts I've been writing about my recent travels through Mongolia with my friends from Tusker Trail. If you haven't read the first four parts of the series, I suggest you do so before proceeding onward. They'll help to put the story into context, and give you a better sense of the entire trip. Here are the links to those earlier posts: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4. And as always, thanks for reading!

When we last left off on our tale of Mongolian adventures my traveling companions and I had just cleared a high mountain pass on horseback and had descended into a pristine valley populated by the nomadic Tuvan people. As with the other nomads we had seen on our journey, these herders travel across the steppe four times a year, moving their campsite for spring, summer, fall, and winter. With few exceptions, their lives have remained mostly unchanged for centuries, and their white yurts dotted the landscape throughout the remainder of our ride.

After descending from the mountain pass, we spent a soggy night huddled in our tents as the rain fell outside. It made for a good excuse to climb into our sleeping bags and relax after a long day on the trail. The next morning we rose to find the ground saturated, and dark gray clouds hanging overhead, but thankfully no rain coming down. Temperatures had dropped noticeably however, so we all bundled up for our day in the saddle.

Getting our day started quickly, we continued our ride down the valley, stopping to visit one of the local Tuvan families as we went. As usual, they welcomed us into their home with traditional Mongolian hospitality, offering fried breads, milk tea, and various other snacks. Later, they would show us a number of craft goods that were made right there in their own homes, which several members of the group gobbled up quickly for souvenirs to take home to friends and family. The colorful handbags and stuffed camels were particularly popular.

Back in the saddle, we all watched the skies overhead warily. At times it looked like the clouds would part and we'd have another glorious day in the Altai. Minutes later it would appear that rain was imminent. By the time was stopped for lunch we could look back up the valley to where we had camped the night before and see that the rain was falling in bucket loads. Thankfully, we had avoided it so far, but it seemed only a matter of time before our luck ran out.

In the meantime, our lunch spot for the day turned out to be one of the true highlights of entire trip. As we rested atop a small hill, we could spot numerous rock formations dotting the slopes around us. This particular place featured a number of spectacular petroglyphs – ancient carvings of humans and animals – on the rocks, and we all had a great time wandering about finding various displays of this unique artwork. The images includes ibex, goats, sheep, and other creatures, as well as images of early man who lived in this region over the course of thousands of years.

After scrambling through the rocks for a time, we hastily had lunch and got back on our horses. By then, it was clear that rain was imminent, and we wouldn't be able to avoid it for long. Sure enough, within a half hour of leaving the petroglyphs behind it began to pour, and I soon regretted leaving my rain pants in my duffle bag that day. While I had a great shell jacket on to keep my warm and dry, my pants were soon soaked through as the cold rain continued to fall. It made for an uncomfortable ride to say the least, and a learned a valuable lesson about the importance of packing the right gear in my saddlebags before I left camp each morning.

Fortunately the rain didn't last too long, and after clearing a couple of mountain ridges, it was soon behind us. The sun even popped out to warm us up and dry off our clothes and bodies. It was a welcome relief for sure, especially as our afternoon ride wore on. That day we were descending to a campsite in the Tsagaan River valley, which would be our home for two nights. To say that everyone was looking forward to a brief break from moving about every day was an understatement, so we were all eager to get to our next stop.

The trail took us down a couple of steep descents and over some small, but rapidly moving, rivers. But the Tsagaan itself was far too high and dangerous to cross on foot or horseback, so we had to ride an extra mile or two to reach a wooden bridge that would allow us to safely pass. After that, it was a short ride to the campsite, were we all quickly settled in for dinner, great conversation, card games, and a good night's sleep beside the glacially fed waterway.

The next day was listed as a "rest day" on our schedule, but for most of us that just meant that we didn't have to pack up and hit the trail right away. We didn't sit idly in camp however, as after breakfast we took a nice long walk up a nearby trail to reach a beautiful mountain lake. The hike not only gave us a good excuse to stretch our legs, but it allowed us to climb up to an elevation that provided outstanding views of not only where we had been and were currently camping, but where we would be headed the next day as well. In the distance we could see sweeping glaciers coming down from the mountains, creating an enticing preview of things to come.

The morning hike took several hours to complete going round trip, with the group returning to our campsite in time for a late lunch. After that we were expecting a local Naadam Festival to take place, in which the locals would once again put on a display of their riding abilities. We were also hoping to see a demonstration of their wrestling skills as well, which is a popular sport in Mongolia. Unfortunately, the threat of poor weather loomed over the valley throughout most of the afternoon, so the Naadam ended up being cancelled. That led to a leisurely day around camp as we prepared to hit the trail once again the following day.

Back in the saddle on day 12 of our journey we left the river valley behind and began climbing back up into the mountains. The route began easily enough as we passed through mountain meadows on clearly marked trails. The mountains loomed ever closer however, and those sweeping glaciers that we had seen at a distance just the day before, began to grow much closer.

As the day went on, the trail wound its way into an area filled with large rocks and plenty of loose scree, all of which was deposited there over many centuries by the movements of those ice flows. Our mounts carefully made their way through this treacherous section, and I was once again glad that these sure-footed ponies were accustomed to this type of terrain.

After riding about 15 km (9 miles) that day, climbing steadily as we went, the group reached what would ultimately be our final campsite. Perched alongside the glacier at roughly 10,000 feet (3048 meters) we had clear views of Khuiten Peak, the tallest point in the country at 4373 meters (14,350 ft). We could also spot nearby Nairamdal Peak as well, which marks the exact location where China, Russia, and Mongolia come together.

Spirits were high in the group that evening as we all knew we were closing in on the end of the ride. It was a bittersweet feeling however, as the scenery and hospitality that we had been shown was second to none, and all of us travelers had built a bond with one another throughout the journey. While we were all starting to look forward to starting our return trips home, we all knew that it would be difficult to say goodbye too. That is always the toughest part of seeing an adventure come to an end.

In typical Tusker fashion, we celebrated our final night in the Altai Mountains in fine fashion. Prior to the start of dinner, our wonderful guides broke out some unexpected luxuries for us to enjoy. Those included tasty smoked salmon, caviar, and vodka. They even mixed up some fine dirty martinis to enjoy with the spectacular backdrop of glaciers and mountains that surrounded us. It is nice touches like these that helps to set Tusker apart from the crowd, and elevates them above any other adventure travel company I've ever traveled with.

The following morning we were eager to get underway once again, and hit the trail about as early as we had the entire trip. Breaking camp went very quickly, and before we knew it we were already on the road to toward the finish line. We weren't the only ones eager to complete the last stage of the ride, as our horses clearly knew that it was the final day too. Turning down hill at last, they trotted along very quickly, occasionally breaking into a run as we neared the local ranger station that would be our exit point.

The final ride was only about a half-day in length, but it didn't disappoint. Once again, the scenery was spectacular as we rode through valleys with snowcapped peaks towering above us. For the most part, it was a very easy trail to the station, with one significant river crossing and mostly rolling hills. My horse, obviously ready to be rid of me, even broke into a solid gallup from time to time, which left me hanging on for dear life a couple of times. But eventually I learned to let him go, and simply enjoyed the final stages of the trip.

Once we reached the ranger station, we collected our gear, organized our packs, enjoyed a quick lunch, and said goodbye to the talented horsemen that had seen us through the journey. They took their herd of horses and camels and soon departed, beginning their own journey back home. It would take them a couple of days to get back to where we started, and they would arrive there even as the rest of us were leaving Mongolia behind as well.

The adventure wasn't quite over, as we still had a couple of long trips by 4x4 vehicle before we reached the relatively modern comforts of Ulaanbaatar, the capital city where our adventure had begun. That started with a six hour drive across rugged dirt roads just to reach the town of Ulgii where we once again stayed in a ger camp for the night. The following day we had to do a similar trip to another nearby city to catch a flight back to UB. All of the aircraft leaving for the capital from Ulgii were completely sold out, so we were forced to get a little creative along the way.

A short three-hour flight later however, and we arrived in Ulaanbaatar where a hot shower and a comfortable bed were most welcome. While we all enjoyed our travels through the Altai, I think everyone was certainly happy to have a few modern conveniences once again. The following day, we would all slowly, one-by-one, make our way to the airport and the long flights back home, bringing a close to our Mongolian adventure at long last.

To say that this was a thoroughly rewarding travel experience would not do the trip justice. Mongolia is a place that has to be seen to be believed, and its friendly, happy, and outgoing people are a big reason to go there. Yes, the scenery is unbelievable, and the opportunities for adventure are boundless. But it is the people that I met along the way that helped to make the journey such a special one. And if at some point in the future you happen to find yourself there, I think you'll probably agree. Mongol hospitality is second to none.

I'd like to thank Tusker for hosting me on this adventure and reminding me once again what a first class adventure travel company they truly are. Guides Andrew and Mel were exceptional, as were the the entire crew that we traveled with there. It was a true privilege to meet and get to know the entire group, including each of my travel companions too. It was a wonderful experience from start to finish, and one that I'd highly recommend to anyone looking for a truly unique experience in this beautiful country.

The best part is, you can actually do this exact trip yourself. Find out more at and checkout the entire Mongolian itinerary for yourself. And if you have any questions about Tusker in general, or this trip specifically, don't hesitate to ask me. I can be reached at [email protected].

Thanks for reading!

Mongolia on Horseback Part 4: Into the Altai Mountains

This is the fourth installment of a series of posts that I'm writing on my recent travels in remote regions of Mongolia. If you haven't read the first three parts yet, I suggest you do so before reading this one. It'll help to put the entire trip in context and will give you a better understanding of the entire journey. Click on the corresponding post to read more. Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3.

After spending the first couple of days traveling with Tusker Trail through Altai Tavn Bogd National Park getting acquainted with our horses and settling into a routine of making and breaking camp each day, it was time to truly get our adventure started. During the early days of the trip we had been camping along Khoton Nuur, a beautifully scenic lake overlooked by the numerous gers of the nomadic families that call this region home. But over the course of the next few days we'd leave that section of the ride behind and wander into even more remote areas in the Altai Mountains. In fact, once we changed course we wouldn't see any yurts at all for a few days, and our encounters with other people from outside our group would become next to nothing.

Up until that point, the trail had been mostly flat and the riding very easy. This allowed each of us to get use to long days in the saddle and learn to trust our horses to find a safe and easy route for us to ride. But all of that was about to change as we moved away from the shores of the lake, crossed the Tsagaan Gol River, and moved into the steep gorge of Yak Milk Valley.

The valley marked a definite change in scenery for our team. Prior to entering it the landscapes had been mostly wide open, with plenty of rolling grasslands and gentle hills to ride through. Sure, we were surrounded by high peaks at all times, but those mountains were off in the distance, and didn't seem quite so imposing. But once we rode into the valley that all changed. The walls of those mountains began to close in, the riding became a bit more technical, and the hills that we were forced to climb, both on foot and horseback, grew much steeper.

That said, the scenery remained utterly spectacular. Now we were moving into the heart of the mountains themselves, and Yak Milk Valley – so named for the milk-white water that flowed through the glacially fed river at its bottom – was our gateway to this new landscape.

On our fourth day of riding the morning started like most of the others. We broke camp and hit the trail, which was still mostly flat and easy. But within a couple of hours we crossed a rushing river and entered the valley itself, which was punctuated with rocky ridges, narrow trails, and steep climbs and descents. This was certainly a change of pace from what we had encountered up to that point, keeping both riders and mounts alert at all times.

As usual, the sturdy Mongolian ponies did a great job of finding their way through what could have been a treacherous trail. At times, the best path wasn't always clear, nor was it easy to scamper up and over some of the larger rocks that cluttered the route. But the horses have traveled this way before and they all knew how to proceed, constantly maintaining a steady pace while navigating in and out of trees, around boulders, across rivers and streams, and even through the sometimes-marshy valley floor. And other than an occasional stumble here and there, they did so with remarkable agility and strength, making it easy for even the most inexperienced riders in our group to feel at ease.

After a long day in the saddle, we made camp that night alongside the Tsagaan River in a spot that provided not only spectacular views of where we had come from, but an enticing look at where we were going too. Up the valley we could see taller mountains peeking through the clouds, their snow-topped summits glistening in snow. We all knew the next day in particular would be a challenging one, as we would ascend to one of the highest altitudes of the entire trip while crossing through a mountain pass that has been used by travelers in this region for centuries. It would be a test for both the riders and trekkers, and one that we were all eager to see for ourselves.

That night we all enjoyed another fine Tusker meal, and curled up comfortably in our sleeping bags. It had been the most demanding day yet, but we knew that tomorrow would be even more challenging. It would involve more than 3000 feet (915 meters) of vertical gain, which always makes for a big day in the mountains. But, we also knew that once we cleared the pass, there was a dramatic descent on the other side. One so steep that everyone would have to walk it, not just those who had elected to hike the route. What that might look like remained a mystery, but we were all eager to find out.

The following morning continued our string of great weather, with more sunshine and blue skies overhead. Temperatures had dropped somewhat when we entered Yak Milk Valley as well, which meant it should be a pleasant day to ride and hike in the Altai.

When looking at the itinerary for the trip I had always circled this day as one that I wanted to hike. I thought by now (rightfully so!) that I might want a break from the saddle, and I truly enjoy a good walk in the mountains. There was even a part of me that was looking forward to the challenge of ascending out of the valley, walking across the mountain pass, and descending down the other side. So, on that beautiful morning I joined our intrepid group of trekkers for what promised to be a nice long walk. I was not disappointed.

Not long after we hit the trail we began moving upwards. With so much altitude to gain that was to be expected of course, and it wasn't long before we were huffing and puffing as we dragged ourselves up the flanks of the mountains. Our companions on horseback soon passed us by and were definitely enjoying the views while their mounts did most of the work. In the early stages of the walk I envied them to a degree, as it was much easier to ride than to hike. But eventually we climbed over a ridge and the trail changed from a steep climb to a more even-paced, slow but steady, ascent. And by the time we broke for lunch in the bowl of a mountain vale, our trek had become a very pleasant stroll indeed.

After lunch the walk shifted into an aerobic workout once again however, as we scrambled onto the dusty, rocky trail that would take us the rest of the way up to the pass. That route proved to be a challenge not only for us hikers, but our camel train as well. Loaded down with equipment and supplies, the camels were working hard too. As a result, they slowed greatly as our guides gave them time to catch their breath and crest the hill at their own pace.

My fellow trekkers and I took this as an opportunity to slip past the animals and make our way to the top. Our mounted companions found themselves stuck – and waiting not-so-patiently – behind the camels, so it turned out that we were the first to reach the mountain pass and begin crossing over to the other side. We wouldn't stay out in front for long however, as the camels eventually topped out as well, and the travelers on horseback soon over took us in the wide saddle of the pass that slipped seamlessly between two mountain peaks.

Once we crossed over the pass we learned why even those who had elected to ride would have to walk down the other side. The steep descent featured numerous switchbacks along a dusty trail that featured loose scree that made keeping your footing a completely different kind of challenge. The camels and horses slowly crept down the other side without any problems of course, but doing so with a rider in the saddle seemed like an unnecessary risk.

Descending to the valley below took nearly as much time as climbing up from the other side. The route was slick enough in spots that you had to slowly in order to avoid falling unceremoniously on your backside. I was glad I had elected to bring a set of trekking poles for the hiking portions of the trip, as without them it would have been even more of treacherous descent. But eventually we all made it down, and the riders were allowed to return to their steeds to continue the final portion of the day. I rejoined my fellow trekkers as we hit the trail once again, knowing that our campsite for the night wasn't especially far off at that point.

Despite our optimism, we still had a couple of hours of hiking yet to go, although by this time the route was mostly down hill. We did stop at the top of a steep cliff to marvel at the unbelievable view of the valley below as however, as it was simply too gorgeous for words. At that overlook we could see for miles as a classically U-shaped valley – the tell-tale signs of being carved by a glacier – stretched out before us. It was one of those places where you simply wanted to sit down and take in the view for as long as you possibly could. It was definitely one of the highlights of an already amazing trip, and one of those "Kodak moments" that don't come along very often.

Eventually we did have to continue our descent however, and after walking for another hour or so, we reached our campsite for the evening in the Sheveed Uul Gorge. The area had clearly gotten quite a bit of rain recently as the small river that ran through our camp was rushing at a high speed and the ground was saturated, making it a very wet spot to camp. We made the best of the situation however, and soon got as comfortable as we could.

That particular campsite proved to be a memorable one for a number of reasons. In addition to being a bit like camping in a bog, we also found ourselves just across the river from a ger – the first we had seen in a couple of days. The family that lived there had a rather large herd of goats and sheep that were grazing on the hills above our camp as well, and that evening as we started to get settled into our tents, the entire herd descended upon us. We had a mini-stampede of tiny hooves go running through the camp, and I opened the door to my tent to find it completely surrounded by the animals. It was quite a sight to see indeed, and although they passed through very quickly, the managed to pass with only a bit of minor damage to a couple of the tents.

That evening also marked the end of our string of good weather. Shortly after dinner heavy rains moved in, sending all of us travelers scrambling to our tents for shelter. It was early yet, so we weren't necessarily ready to call it an evening, so my tent-mate and I set up an impromptu home theater system using my iPad as our movie screen and propping our duffle bags behind our sleeping pads to create stadium seating. It ended up being a pleasant way to spend the evening as we whiled away the hours watching a Lord of the Rings film.

At this point we were about halfway through the journey, with plenty of riding and great scenery yet to come. For me, the trip was already everything that I had hoped for, but it wasn't over yet. The was plenty more adventures on the horizon, which I'll share in another installment or two in the days ahead.

Mongolia on Horseback Part 3: Riding and Trekking in the Altai Tavn Bogd National Park

This is part 3 of an ongoing series that I am writing about my recent travels through Mongolia. If you haven't read part 1 and part 2 yet, I'd recommend going back catching up before proceeding. It'll help put the trip in context and give you a better frame of reference for the entire experience.

After spending two days in Mongolia's capital city of Ulaanbaatar, then the better part of a day traveling to the remote town of Ulgii, followed by another full day in SUV's driving dirt roads just to reach the start of our journey, I think it was safe to say that my companions and I were ready to truly get our adventure started. We had all come to Mongolia to go horseback riding through the Altai Tavn Bogd National Park with Tusker Trail, one of the best adventure travel outfitters in the entire world. But, we had no idea how much of an adventure we would have before even climbing into the saddle for the first time. It was all part of the plan – and part of the fun – of course, but after camping for two nights on the edge of the spectacularly beautiful Khoton Nuur lake, it was time to get riding at long last.

After a hardy breakfast, we broke camp and began preparing for the day ahead. Our first full day in the saddle would be roughly 5-6 hours in length, and cover 22 km (13 miles). Not a bad start to the trip, giving all of us a chance to get comfortable on horseback before pushing into the longer days that would lie ahead.

One of the best parts of Tusker's Mongolia itinerary is that you can choose to either ride the trails, hike the route, or mix it up and do both. Most of travelers had come to ride – after all we were exploring the home of arguably the greatest horsemen that have ever lived. But some felt more comfortable on their own two feet, and each day they would head out with a trekking guide just ahead of those who were on horseback. I personally wanted to experience both riding and hiking, so I alternated my time in the saddle and on foot for parts of the journey. Ultimately, I would end up riding much more than hiking, but for the most part I was glad to get the chance to see this beautiful country in either fashion.

On our first day of riding there was a nervous anticipation in the air. Everyone was eager to get started, but most of us had never spent a full day on horseback before, and some had never ridden at all. This brought a sense of uncertainty about what to expect, as a horse certainly has a mind of its own and can do unpredictable things at times. This happened more than once throughout the trip, with our mounts occasionally stumbling, getting spooked and acting erratically, or being stubborn enough to do what they wanted, despite the best efforts of their riders. In my case, I even had my horse decide to lay down in the grass while I was still in the saddle. Fortunately I was able to dismount without a significant loss to my dignity, but as a somewhat inexperienced rider myself, it was a lesson learned to be sure.

For the most part though, the horses were well behaved, extremely sure-footed, and easy to ride. After a day or two most of the riders became comfortable with their mounts, and the trust grew between both the animal and the person on its back. In fact, anyone who joins this Tusker excursion will most certainly come home a better rider, and by the end of the trip we were all doing things in the saddle that would have seemed unlikely at the beginning.

Setting out from our camp at Khoton Nuur we were soon ambling along at a steady pace with the warm sun overhead, the placid waters on our right, and the snowcapped peaks looming in the distance. While we rode, conversations waxed as waned as the riders were sometimes outgoing and gregarious, and other times were lost in their own thoughts. The mood was light, the weather was wonderful, and the views were amazing. It was everything you could ask for in an adventure, and more.

While our travels were conducted both on foot and horseback, the logistics of moving our camp from one location to another was handled by camel train. The two-humped Bacterian camels that are common in Mongolia seem well suited for life on the Steppe, and served as incredibly strong pack animals for our expedition into the Altai Mountains. Each day, our team would load a wide variety of bags, packs, and containers onto the backs of the camels, and off they'd go to our next destination. Often times they would pass us on the trail each day while we were enjoying lunch in some idyllic setting. More often then not, they would arrive at the new campsite well before we did, and we'd find our tents awaiting us. On occasion, the travelers themselves would be a bit quicker, and we'd all lend a hand in helping set up camp that evening. The entire operation, while time consuming, ran very smoothly, and was a testament to how well staffed and organized Tusker truly is. It isn't easy shepherding 13 clients around the wilds of Mongolia, let alone keeping them well fed, protected from the elements, and comfortable along the way too.

Our days out on the trail generally passed in this fashion. We'd break camp and begin riding (or trekking!) by mid-morning, stopping for breaks on occasion to allow the horses to rest and the riders to stretch their legs. Around noon or 1:00 PM each day, we'd find a comfortable, and usually very beautiful, place to stop for lunch, which was always simple, but very tasty affair, catered by the Tusker guides and delivered by a lone camel charged with sticking with the travelers throughout the course of the day. In the afternoon, we'd tend to press on a bit longer in the saddle, reaching our next campsite by early evening where we would enjoy a little reprieve from the trail, swap stories of previous adventures, and relax in the spacious dining tents. Snacks, drinks, and dinner were always a very communal affair, with the entire group laughing, getting to know one another, and developing deep bonds that would forever link them to one another. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging experience.

The first couple of days of riding were relatively easy, with trails that were clearly marked and free from any serious obstacles. On those days, the riding was straight forward and only helped to reinforce the connections between the horse and rider. In the days that followed, things would get a bit trickier, especially as we moved up into the mountains where the air thinned, the paths narrowed, and a bit more skill and attention was required. I'll have more to say about those experiences in a future post, but at the onset of the trip, it was very easy to get comfortable with the ride.

Within a day or two we fell into a good rhythm on the trail. The days were filled by riding and trekking in one of Mongolia's most spectacular outdoor playground, while the nights began with increasing camaraderie amongst the travelers, and ended with by crawling into a warm sleeping bag to get a good night's sleep in a quiet, peaceful setting. It was a wonderful was to explore a place that few foreign visitors get the chance to ever see. A place were nomads still roam as they have done for generations, and horses outnumber people by a considerable margin. There aren't many other places on Earth like that anymore, which is just one of the many reasons this trip was so special.

More to come in the next installment.

Mongolia on Horseback Part 2: Dirt Roads, Mongolian Hospitality, and the Ride Begins

If you read part 1 of my series on my recent travels in Mongolia you already know that I arrived in Ulaanbaatar to discover a thoroughly modern, well kept, and orderly city that served as the perfect place to rest and recover before actually launching into the meat of this adventure. I had traveled halfway round the world to join a group of like minded adventurers taking part in a fantastic itinerary that is offered by my friends at Tusker Trail each year. And while I certainly enjoyed my time in UB, after a day or two of recouping from the long flights, I was more than ready to see what Mongolia had to offer us.

On our third day in country we caught an early afternoon flight for the town of Ulgii, which is the capital of the Bayan-Ölgii Aimag province. The city is home to about 28,000 people, and would serve as the true launching point of our journey, which would eventually take us into the heart of the remote and spectacular Altai Tavn Bogd National Park that falls on the border with China and Russia.

When we arrived in Ulaanbaatar, my fellow travelers and I were warned about something called the "Genghis Factor." Much like when you visit Africa and everything runs on "Africa Time," there are often factors that are beyond your control that can keep everything from running on a tight, efficient schedule. That means that when a flight is scheduled to leave at 2:00 PM in the afternoon, don't be too concerned if it doesn't actually begin an hour or more later. That's just the way things roll sometimes in Mongolia, and the Genghis Factor isn't just confined to flights. It can impact all kinds of other things as well, and it is best to just accept it, be patient, and roll with it while you're there.

That happened to be the case with our flight to Ulgii, which was about three hours in length with a brief stop over to pick up fuel and passengers at an intermediate point along the way. Ulgii was starkly different than Ulaanbaatar in that it was much more quiet and relaxed. The rural town has plenty of restaurants, markets, and shops for visitors, but it is definitely far from the hustle and bustle of the capital.

Our accommodations for our night Ulgii were at a local Ger camp, where we stayed in the traditional yurts that are common amongst the nomadic people that inhabit the remote regions of Mongolia. The gers found there were basic and comfortable, but would seem like palaces once we struck out for the Altai Mountains. We enjoyed one last night's sleep in a bed before we'd be relegated to tents and sleeping bags for the majority of the trip.

After an overnight in Ulgii it was time at last to hit the road. The entire group was eager to strike out for the backcountry, and we knew we had a long journey ahead. Outside of the major cities in Mongolia, most of the roads aren't paved. That means we had to take Toyota Land Cruisers on seldom traveled jeep routes just to reach the starting point of our trip. That would prove to be quite an adventure in and of itself.

We made severals stops while en route to our first campsite, including visiting a Mongolian army base where we all checked in with the local authorities. But the most interesting stop was early on in the journey, when we met one of the legendary eagle hunters that call the region home. These hardy men use specially trained eagles to hunt down foxes that are found in the countryside. That activity typically takes place in the winter, and since we were visiting in the summer no one was heading out on a hunt. Still, were were able to not only get to see one of the hunters in his traditional gear, but also meet one of the enormous birds he uses for this task.

Our destination for the first day in the wild was a lake called Khoton Nuur. We would camp along the banks of that body of water for two days, allowing us to get accustomed to life in pastoral Mongolia while also meeting the horses (and horsemen!) who would see us through this adventure. But reaching Khoton Nuur would not be easy. It involved navigating narrow dirt roads for hours on end with only our guides' knowledge of the way to get us there safely. Along the way we would cross through rivers that were swollen with the summer melt-off following a snow winter and rainy spring. At one point, one of the vehicles even got bogged down in the middle of the water and had to be pulled out by another Land Cruiser. But eventually, after about six or seven hours of driving, we reached our destination, and it certainly did not disappoint.

Camping along the banks of the lake we could spot the Altai Mountains off int he distance. Snow glistened from their high peaks, while the tranquil waters of Khoton Nuur lapped lazily at the shore. The campsite sat on a wide open grassland, while the ger of a local family sat on a hill overlooking the proceedings. We all agreed that the site would be an amazing place to spend the first few nights in the field, and was an amazing scenic way to begin the first stage or our expedition into the mountains.

After getting settled into our tents and making ourselves at home, the entire group gathered in the two dining tents that Tusker has erected for us. These large, spacious, and comfortable shelters would become a refuge for all of us travelers in the days ahead, giving us a communal place to share stories, talk about the days events, and generally enjoy one another's company. They would also give us a warm place out of the elements where we could enjoy our meals too. Having climbed Kilimanjaro with Tusker last year, I knew that we could expect some exceptional food on the trip, especially considering our remote locations. Tusker cooks receive training from the Culinary Institute of America, and as a result they are often able to delight their guests with some delicious entrees that you would normally think would be possible so far from a "real" kitchen. Such was the case on this Mongolia trip as well, as Alex – one of Tusker's top cooks from Tanzania – was flown in just to ensure we had great meals each day. He achieved that mission throughout the journey.

After a good night's sleep along the banks of Khoton Nuur, we were all eager to get started the next day. Tusker's Mongolia itinerary is mainly aimed at exploring the Altai Tavn Bogd National Park by horseback, although clients can elect to hike the route as well. Most would choose one or the other over the course of the two-week trip, but a few of us mixed things up, sometimes riding and sometimes trekking depending on how we felt on any given day. This flexibility was nice as well, as not everyone was completely comfortable on a horse, much preferring to cover the distance under their own power instead.

On our second day along the lake we were introduced to the mounts that would be our companions throughout the trip. The family ger that overlooked our campsite was home to a group of exceptional horsemen who have carved out a living on the steppe for generations. They also happen to have a large herd of horses that have been born and bred to deal with the challenges that are found there. On that morning, they brought those horses to our camp, were we discovered that each of us had been assigned a mount that was suited for our physical stature and personality. My particular horse was a strong, sturdy, and sure-footed animal who tended to start out slow in the morning, lagging behind the group, but would have a little extra skip in his step later in the day. That suited me just fine, because I often feel about the same.

That morning we had a nice orientation ride with our horses, taking them out on an easy trail that allowed us to get comfortable with one another. It didn't take long to discover that these creatures knew their way around quite nicely, and were adept at carrying their riders safely from one destination to the next. When paired with a comfortable Australian-style saddle, it took only minutes for me to feel at home on the back of my steed, and as the days past my skill and confidence only grew as well.

After riding for a couple of hours we found ourselves approaching the family ger. The lead horseman – a large good natured man by the name of Karbi – invited us all to dismount and come inside their home. It was our first opportunity to see the traditional yurt as an actual nomadic family lived in it, and it was one of the early highlights of the trip. Inside, we found snacks that included fried bread, local cheeses, and various other snacks. We were also offered milk-tea, which was graciously accepted.

As you can imagine, the nomadic Mongols live a simple life free from lots of material goods. Still, there home was decorated with a variety of tapestries, photos, and other items, and their sturdy furniture was comfortable and accommodating. The ger was warmed by a single cookstove that used yak dung for fuel, and there was plenty of room – and food – for all of the guests inside.

Mongol tradition says that the nomads won't turn away even strangers when they show up at their door. Their sense of hospitality is such that they will extend every courtesy to anyone that approaches. We saw that first-hand with the wonderful way the welcomed our group into the ger, offering food, conversation, and entertainment. At one point, Karbi pulled out a traditional stringed instrument from the steppe and proceeded to play and sing several songs. It was one of those priceless moments that only comes through travel when you find yourself at the perfect spot, at the perfect time.

After spending an hour or so enjoying the company of our new Mongol friends, we remounted our horses and made the brief ride back to our campsite. That would be all for the day, but we would be setting out early the next morning for our next destination, and on the first actual horse ride of the trip. While we had gotten acquainted with our mounts, and gotten to know the horsemen who would guide us some, the following day would be very different. It was time to begin the real trip, and I for one couldn't wait.

We camped one more night on the shores of Khoton Nuur, dreaming about the adventures to come. It had already been an amazing experience in Mongolia, and the real journey was only just about to get underway.

Stay tuned for more soon.

Mongolia by Horseback Part 1: Ulaanbaatar, Genghis Kahn, and the Start of an Amazing Adventure

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you probably noticed a distinct lack of posts over the course of a couple of weeks earlier in the month. That's because I left the friendly and comfortable confines of my home to fly halfway round the world to take part in a fantastic adventure in the wilds of Mongolia. A few months back, I received an invite from my good friends at Tusker Trail – an adventure travel company without peer – to join them on a once-a-year outing into the Altai Mountains of Mongolia. The trip is a combination of trekking and horseback riding in a part of the world that is seldom visited by outsiders they said, which was about all I needed to hear to convince me to join in on the fun.

Located in Central Asia, Mongolia is a completely landlocked nation that shares borders with both Russia and China. It is home to approximately 3.1 million people, of which about a third live in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar. Outside that city there are a number of other smaller urban settings, but for the most part the country is punctuated with wide-open landscapes, snow-capped peaks, and the sweeping vistas of the Gobi Desert. In short, it is an adventure traveler's dream destination, with plenty to see and do. The fact that the country also has a rich culture, and a deep history only adds to the allure.

They say that when setting out on any great adventure, the journey is half the fun. In this case, that means flying to Ulaanbaatar – often referred to simply as UB. Getting to UB isn't particularly difficult, although it does require flying through either Beijing, China or Seoul, South Korea.  In my case that meant hopping a short 1.5 hour flight to Chicago's O'Hare Airport, where I would then load onto a larger plane that would travel 12.5 hours to Beijing. None of that is particularly challenging for an experienced traveler who has done this many times before, but the 8+ hour layover in China on the other end was on the grueling side. Particularly so since I arrived in the afternoon, and had to wait until nearly 2 AM to catch my next flight, which would ultimately take me to Ulaanbaatar. I whiled away the time as best I could, and eventually I found myself on yet another aircraft, this time bound for my final destination.

The flight to UB from Beijing was approximately three hours in length, which meant I arrived in Mongolia early in the morning and desperate for some sleep. Still, I was intrigued with the setting and eager to see more of the place which I had heard so much about but had never experienced for myself. What I discovered was a surprisingly modern city that was neat, clean, and orderly. Sure, there was plenty of traffic, and the sidewalks were filled with pedestrians hustling too and fro, but Ulaanbaatar had a nice sense of calm about it that came in striking contrast to a place like Kathmandu for instance, where chaos, noise, and the constant threat of rolling blackouts are the norm. The Toyota Prius also seems to be the vehicle of choice for those living in UB as well, as there were an inordinate number of the cars choking the streets of the capital.

Over the course of the next couple of days, I'd get a chance to explore UB a lot further, taking in its unique architecture (Soviet style buildings blend with thoroughly modern structures), meeting some of its people, and visiting a number of cultural centers, including the National Museum and Ganging monastery, a Buddhist temple that should not be missed. I also had the opportunity to attend a performance of local dancers and musicians that featured traditional instruments, demonstrations of the legendary Mongol throat singing, and a colorful display of costumes. The highlight of the show for me was its closing act, which included the 60+ piece Mongolian State Orchestra playing classical music from the country's long historical past.

Speaking of history, it is impossible to ignore the influence that Mongol legend Genghis Kahn still has on the country. The image of the man who established the once massive and powerful Mongol Empire more than eight centuries ago can be seen just about everywhere. Not only is he on the local currency, there are statues of him at the main government building, and banners commemorating his deeds handing in the Ulaandbaatar international airport, which also happens to bear his name. There is even a massive sculpture of the Great Kahn on horseback that stands 40 meters (131 ft) in height that is found nearby.

For Mongolia, Genghis is the equivalent of George Washington, which is to say the man who founded what would become a modern nation. In the 13th century he created the building blocks for the largest geographical empire in human history, which is why he still revered there today. Some of his sons and grandsons (most notably Ogedei and Kublai) are also seen in statues and on banners throughout the capital as well. These signs of a bygone era aren't simply examples of Mongolians clinging to their once-great past however, but are instead a sign of pride in their heritage, which has helped to shape who they are as a people today.

Genghis isn't the only major influence on the country's history however, as both China and the Soviet Union played major roles in its development during the 19th and 20th century. Those influences can still be felt throughout Mongolia as well, particularly in the way that the cities have been built, and the style of architecture that is common there. In 1990, the country threw off the yoke of Soviet control however, and has been an independent, democratic nation ever since.

My first few days in Mongolia were spent in UB getting my feet back under me and shaking off jet lag from the long trip. That chance to catch my breath was a welcome one, as I knew that the journey ahead would be physically demanding, but incredibly rewarding at the same time. By our third day in country my group was preparing to leave the modern setting of Ulaanbaatar behind and set out for decidedly more rural and remote locales. What we would find would exceed all of our expectations, and deliver a once in a lifetime adventure that was befitting any Mongol nomad of the past.

Stay tuned for more. I'll be following up this story with second part of the tale soon. I hope you've enjoyed the start. More to come!

Video: Mongolia with Tusker Trail in 100 Seconds

I'll begin sharing the tale of my Mongolia adventure tomorrow, but in the meantime I wanted to share a sneak peek at what my journey was actually like. I traveled to the remote Asian country with my friends at Tusker Trail. For about two weeks I explored the Altai Tavn Bogd National Park on horseback and foot. To say that this was unlike any other travel experience that I have had before would be an understatement, but as you'll see in the clip below it was an incredibly rewarding experience, and one that you'll want to have on your bucket list too.

Video: Trekking Through Mongolia with Tusker Trail (Part 1)

In July of this year I'll be flying off to Mongolia to join a group of travelers who will be led by the team from Tusker Trail on a 15 day journey on foot and horseback across the legendary Mongolian Steppe. This expedition will take us deep into a wilderness that has remained largely unchanged for centuries, and into a part of the world that few outsiders ever get the chance to see. This video, the first of three parts, not only gives us a glimpse of that special place, but introduces viewers to what this trip is all about. It looks fantastic and I can't wait to be a part of the 2016 edition. And if you're interested in joining us on this once in a lifetime journey, you can find out more by clicking here.

Trek Mongolia - 1 from Tusker on Vimeo.

Video: A U.S. Army Vet Finds Healing in Yellowstone

A few weeks back I posted about a five-part series that National Geographic Adventure was sharing with readers about a U.S. Army vet named Ray Knell who had undertaken a 1000-mile (1600 km) journey on horseback across the Continental Divide. Ray suffers from PTSD, and he found solace and healing as he rode through Yellowstone National Park. This video takes us with him along that ride, giving us more of this former soldier's story, and immersing us in the Yellowstone ecosphere along with him as he not only discovers plenty of adventure along the way, but begins to heal some very deep wounds. This is incredibly powerful stuff, and a good reminder of the healing power of nature.

Across Yellowstone on Horseback to Heal Deep Wounds

We all know that escaping into the wilderness can be an incredibly therapeutic thing. There is something about nature that not only calms us, but helps us to heal as well. That is the basis of a five-part series of stores that are currently being revealed on the National Geographic Adventure website, where a powerful tale is unfolding about how an adventure in the backcountry can heal deep wounds.

The story begins with Ray Knell, a former Green Beret who suffers with PTSD. Seeking peace and solitude, Ray decided he wanted to undertake a 1000 mile (1609 km) journey on horseback across Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana along the Continental Divide Trail. Before setting off, he consulted with horseman Ben Masters, who made a 3000 mile (4828 km) ride of his own to support wild mustangs. That effort was chronicled in the new documentary Unbranded.

Ray set out on his journey earlier in the year, but part way through the expedition his horse and pack mules ate poisonous plants that put their health in serious jeopardy. Fearing for their safety, the U.S. Army vet immediately had the animals pulled off the trail so they could recover. He then called Ben and asked for advice, with Masters saying he would lend him some horses to continue the trip, provided he could join Ray on a ride across Yellowstone.

Just as they were preparing to start that epic journey, one of Ben's friends took his own life, leaving the rancher heartbroken, bewildered, and with a lot of questions. It seemed that both men would have a lot of healing to do on the trail, and lots of time to think about the challenges that life can throw our way.

Thus starts the five-part series from Nat Geo, where two of the articles have already been published. The first part, which you can read here, sets up the story, going into further detail on the outline I provided above. The second part of the tale, which you'll find here, starts the wild backcountry adventure as Ray and Ben meet at last, and start their shared journey that will not only take them through the vast Yellowstone wilderness, but on the road to recovery as well.

The remaining three parts of the story have yet to be published, so bookmark the Nat Geo Adventure page and watch for more to come. This promises to be a great read, and one that will probably leave a deep impression.

National Parks Adventure Day 2 - Sequoia and Wuksachi Lodge

After spending the majority of the first day of my recent national parks adventure in Kings Canyon and at the John Muir Lodge, the second day was earmarked for a visit to Sequoia National Park instead. This amazing destination gets its name from the massive trees that grow throughout the area, one of which is actually the largest tree on the planet. While we were sad to leave Kings Canyon behind so soon, we were also eager to go see what wonders Sequoia had in store for us as well. We were not disappointed.

Even though Kings Canyon and Sequoia sit adjacent to one another, there is a distinct difference between the two parks. The former features more dramatic vistas, rock faces, and valleys, while the latter is more heavily wooded and has more of the giant sequoia trees growing within its borders. These changes in landscape give the two parks a unique feel that makes them both fun to explore.

We started our day by first going horseback riding in the Sierra Mountains. Just reaching the horse corral was a bit of an adventure, as the route took us down an increasingly narrow road well into the Sequoia backcountry. Often we hugged the side of the mountain in our trusty rental car, as one side of the road fell off a precipitous cliff. Thankfully, the road was all-but deserted, so we seldom ran into any oncoming traffic that made it a challenge for two cars to pass one another. It was of course thrilling and nerve wracking at the same time.

Eventually we reached the remote location of the Horse Corral Packers, a family run organization – owned by Judy and Charley Mills – that provides a wide variety of options for riding in the spectacular Sierra Mountains. Before long, we knew it we were on our steeds and setting off a fantastic ride. As we climbed up the side of a mountain, our sure-footed mounts effortlessly carried us above 7500 feet (2286 meters), providing us with breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside as we went. It was an amazing way to see the backcountry, and one that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys horseback riding in any way.

The Mills have a wonderful herd of horses, each more beautiful than the next. They are calm, well behaved, and easy to ride, even though the terrain can be rough at times. Each of the animals has their own personality of course, which we found out throughout our ride, but it was a great experience, with knowledgeable and personable guides taking us the entire way.

Before we knew it our ride was over, and it was time to head off in a new direction. Since Sequoia is well known for its massive trees, we decided we should probably check them out. That included the absolutely massive General Sherman, which stands an impressive 275 feet (83.8 meters) in height, and is 102.6 feet (31.1) meters in circumference. That make it the largest tree in the world in terms of volume. In other words, there are trees that are taller, and even some that are wider, but none are so massive in every way. The healthy General Sherman is believed to be over 3000 years old, and takes up 52,500 cubic feet (1486 cubic meters) of space. To put things into perspective, it even has a branch that is 6.8 feet (2.1 meters) in thickness.

General Sherman isn't the only massive sequoia to be found in the park either. The Giant Forest is so named because of the large number of the trees that are found there, and there are other groves scattered about in various corners of the preserve as well. There is even a spot where one of the trees toppled centuries ago, and cars can now drive through a tunnel that has been carved from its trunk.

One of the highlights of the visit to Sequoia National Park was a climb up to the top of Moro Rock, a 245 foot (75 meter) granite rock dome that provides outstanding views of the surrounding area. The walk up is an easy one since there are more than 300 stairs in place, and a number of barriers to prevent falling. Due to the altitude (6725 ft/2050 meters) the thin air can be a challenge, but those who make it to the top are treated to an amazing panoramic view of the countryside. The ground simply falls away beneath you, allowing you to see for miles in all directions.

After exploring the park for most of the day, it was time to go check into our accommodations for the evening. On our second day of the trip we were staying at the Wuksachi Lodge, which is located in a tranquil part of Sequoia, just off the beaten path. The lodge features many of the same rustic features we found the night before at the John Muir Lodge in Kings Canyon, but there was definitely a step up in terms of amenities and refinements. For instance, Wuksachi features a cocktail lounge, an upscale restaurant, and rooms with better furnishings. Its common area was also extremely comfortable, and guests chatted warmly while they waited for dinner. There is a subtle charm to the place that was very endearing, and it was easy to get settled in after a long day.

Wuksachi is deeply entwined with the wilderness, and the staff reminded us to be "bear aware." Animals were a common sight, and apparently it is not uncommon for bears to wander directly through the premises. We didn't see any during our stay, but we saw several of them not far away during our day in the park.

Open year-round, I can only imagine how lovely the lodge must be in the winter months. It features 102 rooms, and when speaking to the manager it is clear that if you want to stay in Wuksachi you should make reservations well ahead of time. There are plans afoot to begin breaking ground on an expansion, and considering how popular the lodge is with Sequoia visitors, I'd say it is overdue. It is the perfect place to become immersed in everything that the park has to offer, and I'd whole-heartedly recommend it for a stay if you plan to visit Sequoia or Kings Canyon in the future. There are even several expandable meeting rooms available for corporate events, weddings, or other special occasions.

We rounded out the day by driving up to nearby Wolverton for a barbecue dinner and an interpretive historical show. While we dined on delicious ribs, chicken and corn on the cob, a Native American woman spun tales of a character that lived in the late 1800's. The food was better than the storytelling, but it was hard to not be enchanted by the entire experience thanks to the beautiful outdoor setting that glowed red as the sun dropped in the west.

It was another wonderful day in another amazing national park. It was quickly becoming clear that we didn't have enough time to see and do everything that we had hoped. But as always with the national parks, there is a strong desire to return and see more.

Tomorrow, it is on to Yosemite, a place with a reputation that is as large as the massive valley itself.

Adventures in Quito: Hacienda El Porvenir – A Base Camp for Andes Adventures

Over the course of ten days in Ecuador, I have had the privilege of seeing a number of truly wonderful things, while also staying in some fantastic lodges along the way. If you’ve been reading my posts throughout my travels, you have no doubt seen me mention a couple of these great hotels, several of which I have recommended highly. But nothing prepared me for my stay at Hacienda El Porvenir, a traditional mountain lodge that can serve as your base camp for adventure in the Andes.

El Porvenir isn’t likely to impress on first glance, especially if you’ve visited one of the more modern and upscale lodges in the Quito area. But don’t let the exterior fool you. This is a place that will capture your heart, and call you back for future visits. The hacienda has a charm and character all of its own, and a soul that is pure Ecuadorian.

The main house that makes up the lodge belonged to the same family for six generations. About 15 years ago, they decided to convert it into a hotel, first starting with some very basic accommodations that are not unlike something you’d find in hostel. Over the years, they have expanded the operations, and added on additional rooms and buildings, allowing for El Porvenir to meet the needs of more guests. Those additions include incredibly comfortable suites, family rooms, and options for singles and couples. The result is that the lodge pretty much has something for everyone – and every budget.

The entire hacienda covers more than 1000 hectares (2470 acres) of prime real estate on the edge of Cotopaxi National Park. In fact, on clear days, the massive volcano can be easily seen from the hotel itself. Other prominent peaks throughout the area are visible as well, giving El Porvenir some of the best views in all of Ecuador. All of that land is put to good use as well, as guests can book horseback rides into the highlands, hit custom made mountain biking trails, or go hiking on self-guided or full-guided tours. If you like staying active on your travels, and like to stay at a place that can provide several forms of adventurous pursuits, this is definitely the place for you.

El Porvenir is an Ecuadorian ranch at heart, and it stays true to those origins today. The lodge has an impressive herd of horses, and many head of cattle also roam the fertile grasslands that surround the guest quarters. Several times of year, expert horseman from across the globe visit the lodge to take part in an authentic cattle drive, during which the local chalcas – Ecuadorian cowboys – round up wild bulls for use in regional celebrations, mock bull fights, and for use in the kitchen. These popular rodeos are an Andean tradition that remain popular to this day.

Speaking of the kitchen, the management at El Porvenir has worked hard to create a very tasty menu as well, all with food sourced locally. Their gourmet offerings keep guests very satisfied, with fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats that are purchased from the local communities. As with several of the lodges I stayed in on my trip, the food was definitely a highlight, with the steak filet in gooseberry sauce – made from berries picked right off the mountain – as a true highlight.

My stay wasn’t all about just soaking up the comforts however, as I got to take part in several activities while I was there, including a nice self-guided hike that provided excellent views of the surrounding countryside. But the true highlight was a morning horseback ride into the Andean highlands on a near-perfect day. The ride took us up above 4200 meters (13,780 ft), with Cotopaxi gleaming like a beacon the entire way.

I have to admit that I am not all that comfortable on horseback. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to ride several times, usually in amazing destinations, but for some reason I have never been entirely comfortable in the saddle. But the sure-footed Andean ponies that are in use at El Porvenir are well trained, good-tempered, and extremely easy to ride. After just a few minutes in the saddle I was feeling comfortable and confident, even as we jogged up well-worn trails into the hills surrounding the lodge.

My ride went on for about four hours, with spectacular views at every stage. The thick grasses of the highlands proved to be no impediment for the stout horses, who are capable of carrying large loads, even at attitude. My steed in particular had to work hard, as I am certainly larger than most of the Ecuadorians that I have met on my travels.
Adventurous travelers who want to explore the Andes by horseback will find excellent guides and horses at El Porvenir. Even if you’ve never been on a horse before, they’ll provide you with good training and support, both before and during your ride. I’m told that about 50% of all visitors are complete beginners, but they all do fine once they get settled in the saddle. Judging from my observations, I’d say that is an accurate statement.

While I didn’t get the opportunity to mountain bike one of the outstanding trails at El Porvenir, I did get to see the bikes that guests have at their disposal. They include some top-notch models with disc breaks, full suspensions, and carbon fiber frames. Often times when you visit a lodge such as this one, you get bikes that are old, and lacking features. That isn’t the case here, allowing visitors to ride with confidence. That certainly makes for a much better experience for both new and experienced riders alike.

As I’ve said previously, one of the things that has impressed me the most about Ecuador is how friendly and accommodating the people are. Everyone I have met has been incredibly hospitable, and that includes the staff at El Porvenir. From the moment you arrive, to the time you checkout, the staff is courtesy, professional, and quick to assist. That includes the front desk managers, the cooks and waitresses, and the friendly ladies who deliver hot water bottles to your door each evening, and light the wood burning stoves in the suites. You’d be hard pressed to find a friendlier crew in any mountain lodge around the world, and I believe it is that level service that keeps brining customers back.

If you’re planning a trip to Ecuador yourself, and you’re looking for an unforgettable place to stay, you really do owe it to yourself to book a room at El Porvenir. With options for every budget, great food and service, and plenty of adventure activities on site, this is a truly great lodge. Whether you just want to relax in a serene, picturesque setting, or fill your days with hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking, you’ll no doubt be charmed by this Andean retreat. It is fun, romantic, and comfortable, with distinct feel that is unlike any other place I have ever stayed. Truly a great Ecuadorian escape.

Tierra del Volcan, the company that owns El Porvenir, also has two other Haciendas in Ecuador, and can arrange a number of other adventures for you in the country as well. Be sure to check out their website to see what else they have to offer. 

Long Rider Completes Epic Journey From Canada to Brazil on Horseback

It has been a couple of months since we last checked in with the progress of long rider Filipe Masetti Leite. At that time, he had just arrived back to his home country of Brazil, after spending two years on horseback riding from Calgary. The end of his journey was in sight, but he still had a long way to go, plenty of bureaucratic red tape to navigate, and some other commitments to his schedule. But in that moment, Filipe was happy. He was inching closer to home, and he was in Brazil in time for the World Cup. Now, more than five months later, we can report that he is officially home, and the journey has ended.

For those who don't know Filipe's story, he graduated college in Canada, and was preparing to head back to Brazil. But, he didn't just want to launch directly into a normal career, but instead wanted to have a grand adventure before he settled down. As a child, his father had read him the classic equestrian adventure story Tshiffhly's Ride, the true account of Aime Tschiffely's journey from Buenos Aires to New York City, that covered more than 10,000 miles back in 1925. That story had stuck with him, and the spark of an idea began to form in his head. What if he made a similar journey back to his home in São Paulo?

Getting his adventure off the ground was not easy. Filipe had to remain persistent, even as potential sponsors continually closed the door on him. But eventually his tenacious attitude began to pay off, and two quarter horses were donated to his cause. He also received a contract from OutWildTV to tell the story of his journey, which provided some funding to get him going. It all came together just a few months before he had planned to hit the trail, setting in motion one of the great equestrian expeditions of all time.

All told, Filipe's journey took more than two-and-a-half years to complete, and covered over 16,000 km (9941 miles). That puts him on par with his hero, Aime Tschiffely, who inspired him to begin this adventure in the first place.

Back home, Filipe is now working on a book about his ride, and has become somewhat of a celebrity. He reports in his last blog post that he has hit the motivational speaking circuit, and has appeared in a commercial for Burger King. Reading his words, it sounds like he is happy to be home, and close to friends and family, although he is already missing the open trail, and a nomadic lifestyle. Something tells me we haven't heard the last of Filipe Masetti Leite, and that we just might see another long distance journey on horseback out of him in the future.

Congratulations to Filipe on completing this amazing expedition, and thanks to my friend CuChullaine for sharing his story along the way.