Expect The Unexpected
You think you’re ready. You’ve laid your plans with great care. The equipment is the best you could buy. You run through your mental check list one last time, decide you’ve done everything you can to prepare properly before setting off on your great equestrian adventure. So you take a deep breath, and then, just when you’re ready to put your foot into the stirrup, swing into the saddle and ride towards the unknown horizon that’s been beckoning to you for so long, an unforeseen foe threatens to stop you in your tracks.
In 2006, whilst travelling overland from Europe to the Indian Ocean, my husband Tim and I decided we wanted to become Long Riders. We had discovered the Long Rider's Guild website earlier that year and were inspired by those we read about to undertake our own trip.
The only problem was we had very little horse experience. We had been riding for a couple of years, mainly in a school trotting round in circles and as part of our overland trip we passed through Mongolia. Whilst there we hired horses and rode with three local guides completing a journey of around 360 miles over two weeks.
We decided to make this happen but we had a lot of work to do before we were ready. The last thing we wanted to do was to kill or injure our horses or ourselves plus we did not wish to embarrass ourselves and the Long Riders’ Guild due to not thinking things through.
We spent the next seven years improving our riding, working with horses and horse trainers, honing our navigational skills and wilderness experience by mountaineering, climbing and wild multi-day backpacks in Scotland. We attended first aid courses including a wilderness medic course and we spent two and a half years training in Krav Maga learning to fight and defend ourselves. We made kits lists that we reviewed regularly and we learnt from others who had packing skills and experience about what to buy. We spent weekends with our friends' horses practicing packing. We got well paid jobs and put all our spare income away for this trip even saving for a buffer zone for our return to the UK. We bought and studied Russian maps of Outer Mongolia, downloaded these onto a GPS as well as deciding which paper maps to carry.
Basically we spent seven years of our life planning, researching, talking about and saving for this long ride. Everything we did was for this.
Fast forward to 2013. We gave up our jobs, our home, we sold our belongings with anything left going into storage. We hosted a party for all those who supported us in this dream and we left the UK on March 13th.
Week one in Ulaanbaatar was good. We felt homesick but we had skype and emails to keep in touch with everyone and we were finally living our dream. We attended Mongolian language classes, rented an apartment for three months and made contact with two potential horse trainers who we hoped to work with and buy horses from. Life was going just as planned.
Before coming to Mongolia we had secured a 12 month study visa. Our sponsor, the school we were studying at, had agreed to host us. Anyone planning to stay in Mongolia for longer than 30 days has to register with immigration. All this we knew. What we didn't know was that the school had registered us until the end of our lessons, 1st June 2013. We found this out when we received our alien registration cards from immigration during our second week.
We felt an overwhelming sense of loss. We had given up everything and spent seven years working towards this only to be told we had two options; stay until 1st June and then leave or pay the school to extend our registration and study with them full time.
Shock, disbelief, anger, grief for what could have been, what we felt should have been, swept over us in waves for the next week. We decided to leave the country and to give up but we were told we would have to pay 70% of our school fees so begrudgingly we stayed.
|Instead of setting off on his long anticipated ride across Mongolia, Tim Mullan was forced to spend months battling with paper pushers in Ulaanbaatar.|
Over the next two months we continued to attend full time study and work on our Mongolian. We also emailed, telephoned, met with various agencies and individuals and scoured the internet for a solution.
We found one.
Our new sponsor, Global Reach, agreed to host us for the time we wanted at a cost of £400. We had the money so we paid. We pitched ourselves as independent researchers rather than just adventurers which meant we had to write a research proposal as well as actually do the job! We had offered our services to the Long Riders’ Guild and CuChullaine O'Reilly suggested this research during our first week in Mongolia. Little did we know then that this exchange was our key to staying.
To process a change of sponsor is no mean feat. It is difficult to find information on doing this, let alone anyone to tell you how it should happen. I found a source whose friend worked within immigration who provided some information, I read all the documents on the immigration website and we went through blogs, websites etc. with a fine tooth comb and thought we knew what we needed to do.
We were lucky to meet a positive, educated, well connected Mongolian lady named Alta. It was Alta who Tim contacted for advice after reading an online article she had written about this type of difficulty. Alta suggested Global Reach to us and has been by our side laughing, translating and writing and stamping letters for us ever since!
Unfortunately, all the reading we had done counted for very little.
The powers that be decided to create a bespoke bureaucratic package just for us. The three of us have spent the last two weeks discovering how obstructive, disheartening and frustrating a country hooked on bureaucracy can be. Independent researchers can conduct research using a study visa. Someone, somewhere decided this was not to be for us. We were to change our visa to a work visa but only Tim could be employed by our sponsor and I could stay as his wife.
|As the Eiffel Tower is for the French, the Statue of Liberty for the Americans, the Great Wall for the Chinese and the Taj Mahal for the Indians; the Genghis Khan Statue, which was erected in 2008, has become an icon for Mongolia. Standing 40 metres (131 ft 3 in), high, it is the world’s largest statue of a rider on a horse. Even though the legendary leader ruled a vast kingdom thanks to the concepts of collective speed and individual courage, Long Riders have learned that modern Mongolia threatens to trap travellers in a nightmare of paperwork.|
We had to get a letter of permission from the Labour and Welfare Office, which allowed us to approach Immigration. At immigration Counter Number 1 sent us to Counter Number 2. Counter Number 2 sent us to Counter Number 3. Counter Number 3 checked our paperwork and sent us to Counter Number 4. Counter Number 4 requested an update to a letter from the Labour and Welfare Office. We went back to the Labour and Welfare Office who said the update was not required so we returned to immigration.
Immigration requested a letter from our sponsor asking for permission to change our visa type. We already had this letter so Alta showed it to them. It was decided that because the letter contained other information we really needed to bring a letter with only the required information in it.
Alta had family working nearby so we borrowed the use of a PC/printer and wrote the requisite document. Said document created, we went back to immigration.
This letter was sent up to the second floor to be registered. This took two and a half hours as it needed two signatures. Signatures obtained, we thought we were on the home straight.
Then we were informed that we could not proceed without the update to the Labour and Welfare Office letter. Immigration also wanted two more letters from our sponsor. The two additional letters needed two pieces of information that were contained in one letter but had to be separated. Why? There is no reason and you will loose your sanity if you try to understand.
We corrected and wrote what was requested, waited another day for the person with the right stamp to appear and returned to immigration. They asked for lots of money plus an application form to be completed by us both and told us to come back one week later.
Next week we will return.
Do we think this part is over?
Ulaanbaatar was meant to be the easy part of our ride. We still have to buy horses, fly our kit in from the UK and get safely across the country.
My advice to anyone travelling to this type of country is do your homework, scan and hold electronic copies of any important documents (birth certificate, marriage certificate, travel insurance, education certificates etc.) as you may need them.
Trust who you are travelling with and be prepared to change your plans. It pays to expect the unexpected and to keep one's sense of humour and perspective. Fight for what you want to happen but be able to let it go.
We have met some fantastic people in Mongolia who have helped us get this far and we have had great support via email from others including, of course, the Long Rider's Guild. We know that whatever the outcome we did prepare for this ride as much as we could and quite frankly we expect more unexpected problems!
What can you learn from this?
A well respected and experienced Long Rider said "A long ride is not a carefree pony picnic" and he is right. Take your long ride seriously, not just for your own sake but for your horses too.
Post Script – After many weeks of constant stress, Samantha and Tim emailed the Guild to report that they had obtained permission to stay in Mongolia.
“We have cracked the bureaucrats!,” a jubilant Samantha wrote. “After they accepted our mountain of paperwork with various official stamps, we finally have our new registration cards allowing us to stay in Mongolia until the end of November. The long ride is back on!”
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