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Lost in remote Mongolia, I found a serendipitous warm welcome in the steppe

As soon as the driver of our uazik, a Soviet-era off-roading vehicle, stops in the middle of the steppe for the third time, I know it: We are lost. Together with my guide, Soyolo Baljinnyum, they take out a large paper map with well-worn corners, tracing roads with fingers stiffened in the cold. If the 24-hour flight from Chicago hadn’t already instilled a sense of distance, it sinks in now. I’m far from home.

Earlier in the day, we’d left Ulaanbaatar, an ever-growing metropolis where monasteries coexist with megamalls and residential highrises. Nearly half of Mongolia’s 3.3 million residents live in the capital; more arrive every year, driven away from their nomadic herder lifestyles in part by the changing climate. (Drier pastures in summer make animals more vulnerable to harsher winter conditions, and livestock losses are often irrecoverable for many families.)

But as soon as we exit the city, we’re in a different place. Mongolia…

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