Who would have thought that I would end up volunteering and riding in Mongolia this year? Probably no one, including myself! But sometimes one little thing adds to another, and what had been just a dream becomes true! Lucky me that Stepperiders in Mongolia were looking for volunteers, and even better – had an opening during a time when I could take holidays. I had found Stepperiders on the Internet, but could not find very much information about the company, except for what is written on their homepage, and some scarce reports from people who had been horseback riding. Stepperiders sounded like a nice group of people, but what would it mean to be a volunteer? I searched the web for other people’s volunteering experience, but did not find anything, and finally I asked Mendee, the owner of Stepperiders. “Teaching English to our guides, helping around the camp, talking to our tourists, and riding, of course”, he answered me in a mail. This sounded not too difficult at all and the prospect of riding in Mongolia as much as possible made it all even more exciting!
So now I have arrived, and am sharing my work with Jo, a young, friendly and curious woman, who is on her gap year exploring parts of Asia. Jo had already been at Stepperiders for two weeks when I arrived and could give me a short intro to what would be expected, before she left for a several days long horse trek. So here I am, trying to organise my work and to make the most out of teaching English to the kids and to the guides. Since the guides are really busy with the horses and/or with cooking, unless Tonga is around to cook, it is difficult to find time for lessons. Thus I decided to help in the kitchen, washing the dishes, or watching how food is being prepared, and always asking loads of questions in English to get a conversation going. Or, I try to help Gaana around the camp, help with building a ger, always trying to include some conversation with loads of silly questions. But as soon as tourists arrive at the camp, I take care of them, place them in the meeting ger, offer something to drink and eat, and sit and talk a bit, and then join them on their riding tours. Some tourists are really interesting and it is fun to talk to them and listen to their stories, travels and experiences, and some tourists are less interesting. Very few of the tourists are really good riders, most of them have hardly any experience and some have never been on a horse. But even the latter ones manage quite fine, at least at a slower pace. Stepperiders have a whole range of different horses, from slow to fast, young to old, stubborn to gentle, and it is easy to find a horse that fits to one’s experience.
Volunteering at Stepperiders is a great opportunity to get to know young Mongolians, to talk to them and learn about their lives and dreams, to see how the horses are handled and cared for, to taste and help cook Mongolian food, to eat fresh yogurt, to clean the dishes, to sleep in a ger, to visit different nomadic families, to see how mares are milked, to watch how horses are tamed, to learn how to assemble a ger, how to cut up a whole goat, how to clean a ger, and how to take care of a ger when it is pouring down with rain.
It is also a great opportunity to ride a lot, both with the tourists who come here, but also with some of the guides, or if one is really lucky, with Puujee, the great horseman. One can also go for walks in the surroundings, listen to all the birds, watch the squirrels and the marmots, and the numerous gorgeous flowers. Entertaining the different tourists who come to the camp for riding can be interesting, but can also become a bit boring. Some travellers have great stories to tell, some are really inspiring, some of them one may not want to meet again, and some of them may become good friends.
The camp has no electricity and cooking is done on a gas stove. Water has to be brought up from a well, situated further down the valley, which is really hard work. It also means no hot water, and not so much cold water either, and consequently restricted washing. It certainly is not a place for someone who needs a daily shower.