The Pandemic Made Mongolia My Home

By Marinel De Jesus

We are all living in pandemic times.  In my case, I’ve been living through this pandemic in Mongolia – for 173 days to be exact.

I came to Mongolia on February 27, 2020 to lead an all-women nomadic migration in the Altai Mountains of Western Mongolia and create a documentary about the adventure. Shortly after my arrival here, the government declared the lock down of the country and the ban of international flights. 

Since then, I have made myself at home in the Kingdom of Nomads.  As a self-proclaimed nomad, I, for once, learned what true nomadism means.  I decided to still move forward with the all-women migration trip with the Kazakh women and make a documentary out of it.  By doing so, I spent days in the landscapes of Mongolia and learned how truly magical they were. 

But the true gem of this country lies in its local people.  I must admit that I didn’t know much about the culture and daily lives of people here in Mongolia but over months of interacting with the locals, I realized that Mongolians are kind, generous and caring. True to being nomads, they continue the practice of herding and migrating to this day.  I witnessed that myself with both men and women in the Altai region of Mongolia.

As the health crisis morphed into a pandemic, I decided to rent an apartment in Ulgii where I spent majority of my time.  Ulgii has only a population of 30,000 so it is a perfect place to wait out the pandemic. My days in this small town can best be described as simple and relaxing.  It’s a sleepy town full of cows, yaks and goats on the streets.  I didn’t mind the silence and the slow-moving pace of life. It gave me the time to focus on completing the documentary and catch up with some writing projects.

Also, basing myself in Ulgii meant I had the Mongolian steppes outside my apartment which affords me the chance to hike or run in nature any time of day.  In fact, one of my favorite moments in Ulgii is hiking up the viewpoint closest to the town where I get to enjoy the view of the wild mountain ranges of Western Mongolia. I hiked up here in winter and then spring and even summer – each time I did, the view was different.

On some days, I visit the countryside where the experience just becomes much more magical. White fluffy clouds dot the blue skies that hover over the mountains.  The feeling as I stood there mesmerized by this grand display of nature was hard to express in words.  The same pure bliss comes from spending time with the herds – baby cows, baby goats, yaks and camels.

As time passed, my birthday arrived during my stay in Mongolia. To celebrate, I rented a small hut by the famous Tolbo Lake just an hour away from Ulgii. I spent four days there where I gleefully counted the blessings that life has given me to date.  I also spent my time running and hiking around the lake and climbing up hill tops for the best views of the water and the mountains.  Even going on a solo trip in the mountains of Mongolia is magical – the company of others isn’t required to enjoy nature here.

If I am honest, I should tell you that there are days when I miss friends, family and my pets back in Peru. I even miss the Andes sometimes – the mountain that usually greets me each morning outside my bedroom window. But Mongolia is a lovely alternative – safe, quiet, gorgeous, peaceful and the local people are heaven sent. 

Sometimes I wonder about the day when I have to fly out of Mongolia.  How would that feel like? I have fallen in love with a country that kept me against my will only to become the perfect home for a nomad like me.  It’s not going to be easy to leave so I count my days here as a reminder of how lucky I am to still be here.