I haven’t stayed in a hostel since 2014, so when I arrived to the Ulaanbaatar headquarters of my Gobi desert tour company Sunpath (which doubles as one), I felt out of place. Seated on a couch with my tucked in shirt and tawny oxfords, I stared at the Mongolia photography on the walls so as not to intrude about all the half-clothed people making their way between the communal showers and toilets and their rooms.
“Well, this is a blast from the past,” a cheery young woman suddenly stood over me, echoing the thought that had been bouncing around inside my head as I studied the Mongolia pictures. “Didn’t we meet in Vietnam?”
She looked familiar, but I hadn’t been to Vietnam in nearly a decade. Before I could explain this to her, however, she continued speaking.
“It was Thailand, wasn’t it?” She corrected herself. “In the winter, a bike tour through Chinatown with your…”
“Friend,” I smiled, recalling the face of the young man who’d ghosted me shortly after that wonderful day in Yaowarat. “He was only a friend, though I’m sure he’ll get a kick out of hearing we met again in Mongolia, of all places.”
Though I’d been too out of it as I sat in the common room to have realized at first, I definitely remembered the sweet voice and million-watt smile of the woman, whose home is in the Netherlands, but who’s in the midst of a trip around the world that will last for around a year.
As I sat there waiting for the other members of my tour group (who actually could’ve been there already, since I knew literally nothing about them), the woman and I continued talking, with her explaining her just-finalized itinerary for next couple of months. In a few days she’d fly to Hong Kong, where she would (hopefully) get a visa to China, then fly to Guilin and backpack through the Middle Kingdom for at least a month.
I’d passed the woman a business card before our all-too-brief interaction ended and was delighted, upon getting internet access again near the end of my trip, as I traded Gobi desert images for paved roads and cell towers, to see that she had emailed me. Serendipity is all too rare a commodity in life—I try to bottle it up whenever and wherever I can.
Of course, as you’ll see scrolling through my Mongolia photography, magic is as abundant in the Land of Nomads as breathtaking vistas, herds of wild camels, cozy ger camps, endless horizons, Soviet-built passengers vehicles and the Eternal Blue Sky.