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In Search of Burt the Dutchman

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Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
5.23.2007

I am twenty six years old today. That number looks pretty young to me, but Mira tells me that I am an old fuck. Difference of vantage point, I assume. I went out to the country side yesterday in search of a Dutchman named Burt.

A couple of Swedish artist that I met in Ulaanbaatar heard about this Dutchman who has been living out in the back country of Mongolia for the past ten years. They told me about him, and we quickly decided to tramp out there and try to find him. So the artist Swedes, their one and a half year old boy, the traveller Lauren Everly, and I figured that we would go to Terej to ask around. We did not think that there were many big Dutchmen named Burt hanging around those wild lands for a decade , so we did not think our venture would be too difficult. We boarded a bus out of the capital and rode out to the countryside. In Mongolia there is no limit to how many people that can fit into a single bus, so it was a real tight ride all the way out to Terej. The bus aisles were packed, the seats were filled beyond their capacity, and luggage and other goods were strewn above, below, and on top of everyone and everything. I figure that I made out ok, as I stuffed myself into the back corner of the bus on top of somebodies duffel bag… and I was also sitting next to a lady (women are always better to sit next to than men in such circumstances).

In a couple of hours we arrived in Terej and squeezed ourselves off of the bus. The air was the freshest that I have breathed in nearly 10 months and the mountains were beautiful. Rock spires abruptly rose out of the rolling pasture land and mountains boomed on in the distance. I smiled.

We then began our search for Burt the Dutchman, which ended where it began. “Do you know Burt?,” we asked the first guy that we met. He did, and offered to call him for us. This adventure to did not yet prove to be much of a trial. We then discussed how we would get to his farm, as Burt did not answer his phone. I wanted to walk but the Mongolian that we met said that it was impossible. I figured that I could make it with little difficulty, as we were told thatBurt lived only a couple of kilometers from where we were. But my companions wanted to take horses. I conceded, as they had a kid and bags of food. So we arranged for horses with the Mongolian guy who was assisting us.

But as we were waiting for the horses to be saddled up a big blond man came fast upon us. He was wearing a heavy wool sweater and snug fitting duct clothe pants that had leather patches on the knees. His face was bristled red and he had a weathered appearance that was surely honed by the harsh Mongolian climate. We knew that he was the man that we were looking for right away. As he approached he let us know that he heard that there were a group of foreigners who were looking for him- and did not seem to be overtly enthused. We introduced ourselves, and he then told us that he did not have much room in his gers. “Where do you plan to sleep?,” he said, “I see that you do not have any tents.” The artist Swede quickly resounded that “we were planning on sleeping with you in your ger.” Big Burt stumbled a little at this but seemed to appreciate the Swede’s forthrightness. “Ok,” Burt said with dizzying hand gestures, “but we are going to have to improvise.” He then went on to give us the details of his already full gers and how we could come up with something.

We had accomplished our mission without hassle and walked with Burt down a ravine, over some boulders, up a hill to his truck. After stashing our bags in the back we hopped in and rode out a good ride through a few shallow but wide rivers and over many other impediments. “Ah, we could have walked this,” I jested to Lauren Everly.

We arrived at Burt’s farm into a bit of an uproar. His wife said that there was not enough food for us and seemed to be mildly upset that we just showed up unannounced. We comforted her by saying that we carried our own grub, so she did not have to worry. The end of the day falling upon us so we quickly threw together a meal of potatoes, tofu, seeds of some kind, and tomato sauce; which we cooked “cowboy style- which is to say that we used a stray piece of wood as a cutting board, a piece of kindling as a stirring spoon, and an old-time fire pit stove. We finished this meal off with a big chunk of Burt’s home made cheese. It really is the wild west out in Mongolia.

On the ride out to his farm Burt told us about how he keeps losing livestock to bandits. He said that everytime he buys a new horse it just gets stolen by thieves. “So I just decided that I am not going to buy anymore. There is nothing else that can be done.” So is life on the Mongolian range.

We then were showed to the ger that Burt had cleared out for our using and went straight to our beds. The night was cold, but our ger was kept warm by the cow dung fire that we kept ablaze in the stove which stood at its center. I awoke in the middle of the night and went for a stroll around the farm just looking at the stars, the mountain’s silhouettes, and felt the cool wind blowing back my clothing. I like this Mongolia. I really do.

A hand tending to the cattle on Burt’s farm.

Mongolians at the Terej bus stop.
The government building of Terej.
A Mongolian meal. There seems to be only two courses in Mongolian cooking- meat and dairy. I ordered a soup in a restaurant thinking that it could possibly have a vegetable in it but, no, it was only meat and hot water. I got a little chuckle out of it, but it was actually very good.

Burt’s home and farm.
A ger on Burt’s farm.
Burt’s children playing with the artist Swede’s kid.
Coooooooooowwwwwwwwwssssss (remember, Erik?)

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Filed under: Asia, Mongolia, Other Travelers

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3053 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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