In part one of a three part travel series, Claire of Lion Rock Press takes us along with her as she travels to Mongolia…
The decision to take an 8 day trip to the middle of Mongolia was virtually instant, despite having never been away from my kids before. My 4 year old son has only known two nights without me, and that was when I was in the hospital delivering his sister. It wasn’t that I haven’t wanted to leave them. I was horrendously sick during both pregnancies, and neither child would take a bottle (making me a slave to breast-feeding for more than 2 years cumulatively)… so it wasn’t like I was any kind of martyr, but I just didn’t have the time.
I was also building my business, The Lion Rock Press, by myself which took up any spare time I might have, so I guess I felt like maybe solo adventurous travel (that had been so much a part of my life before kids) was something that had to be sacrificed during my child-raising years. Actually, I was fine with that. However, it took just one photo of an endless stretch of nothing in a country I’d never really thought about, during an Royal Geographical Society (RGS) talk that I’d gone to with a friend, for me to decide I could not live another day unless I could see that panorama with my own eyes. It was like love at first sight.
My husband was somewhat shocked when I returned home from the talk and announced that I wanted to go to deepest Mongolia as soon as possible. He suggested a nice spa weekend instead which would allow me to relax and rewind. I was adamant. All I needed was a Louise to my Thelma, and I knew that one of my dearest friends, Alexandra, wouldn’t need much persuading. Herself a mother of three little girls, was sadly leaving HK to move back to England in a couple of months. I was certain she could be persuaded to take a last hurrah! Her husband was less surprised. She has that enviable quality of being wonderfully spontaneous and game for anything. With the encouragement of our husbands (who no doubt saw a great opportunity for some pink passes together during our absence), we had booked the trip less than a week since I saw that fateful photograph.
The incredible woman who gave the RGS talk which so inspired me, owns a UK-based travel company, Panoramic Journeys, specialising in Mongolia, Bhutan and Myanmar. Simultaneously shocked at the speed, but delighted with the effect of her talk, she was absolutely brilliant at putting a completely bespoke package together for us in such a short time. We wanted to ride from the heartland to the Gobi Desert on horseback, staying with nomad families on our way, and taking in all of the incredible panoramas that Mongolia had to offer. In our delirious excitement, a warning that the weather was very cold and unpredictable at that time of year fell on deaf ears, and we busied ourselves with getting the visa from the consulate (they kindly rushed it through for us- ordinarily we wouldn’t have got it in time, but according to them nobody wants to go to Mongolia at that time of year so they were very quiet!).
The consulate general told us to make sure we took plenty of warm layers and very thick sleeping bags as it could be around -20°C during the nights. Suddenly realising neither of us had anything like that, save a couple of thin cashmere sweaters, I reached out to the amazing community of Hong Kong Moms Facebook group. Within a couple of hours, we had more “kit” than we needed- the response was unbelievable. Women that I had never met, were offering all manner of items for our trip, and were so supportive of my decision to go and have this adventure for myself. I’ve never felt more grateful to live in this amazing community of women. Other than walking boots, I didn’t need to buy a single thing.
Naturally, the most daunting issue was handling the imminent departure with my children. At 16 months, my daughter was too young to understand. I wasn’t really worried about her since she has a beautiful relationship with my lovely helper, and as long as her big brother is around she is fine. My husband promised faithfully that he would stay long enough in the morning to put my son on the school bus if he could, and be back to see them before bed every night.
At just-turned-4, my son is at a very knowing age. I reminded myself that he’s a confident and happy boy who enjoys school and has a full diary of activities and playdates in the afternoons. Being a business owner, he’s also gotten used to saying goodbye to me for full days at a time and has never objected. Even so, it was with trepidation that I approached the subject. “Darling, would it be OK if mummy went away for a little while? I’d like to go on a long walk which is just for mummies and it will be very cold, and I know you don’t like being very cold. I’d like you to stay here and look after baby and daddy for me. I will be back in seven sleeps. Would that be OK?” He considered for a moment, before smiling and shouting “OK, sure! Don’t worry, Mummy! Will you bring me back a present from your long walk? Maybe some Paw Patrol?”. My heart almost burst; I was so proud of him. Now my only worry was how to find that damnably elusive Paw Patrol!
In the couple of days leading up to our departure, my son told everyone he saw that mummy was going on “a long walk just for mummies” and would be back in seven sleeps. I felt confident that he had grasped the concept and as we said goodbye there were no tears from either side. Leaving my building to join Alexandra in the cab outside, I felt a surge of electric energy that I realised I hadn’t felt in a very long time.