Kazakh Migration

We Are Nomads: Locked Down on an Adventure with the Kazakh Women in Mongolia

Mountain Culture® Travel
on
May 29, 2020

Covid-19 took over the world and led us to live in less than perfect times.

This was exactly the predicament I found myself in when I arrived in Mongolia at the end of February. I came to Mongolia with the intention to lead an all-women migration trip through my trekking enterprise. Peak Explorations focuses on women empowerment and creating inclusion for women in the adventure travel industry. 

Marinel Mountains
Marinel Malvar de Jesus turned COVID-19 circumstances into opportunity of a lifetime

By the time I made it to Bayan-Ulgii, which is located in western Mongolia, the entire country was on the verge of a complete lock down. I was forced to cancel the group trip and faced a tough decision for myself – stay or go before I find myself locked down in Mongolia.

I chose the former for two reasons – to migrate with the Kazakh women, even if it meant doing it by myself, and to produce a documentary that finally tells the story of the Kazakh women nomads. At that moment, I realized that my choice was going to decide my fate and circumstances during the pandemic. I also understood how important it was to consider my safety in light of the health crisis. Staying would be safer for me in many ways as I was in the middle of nowhere in the Altai region of the country, surrounded by mountains and the nomadic families who have called this place their home for centuries. 

As a result of this decision, I organized a local production team to make the documentary a reality. We ventured into the mountains to meet the Kazakh women. For the first time in their lives, they joined an all-women migration. 

Marinel KazakhWomen
Marinel and the Kazakh women

After two months of research, filming and editing, we completed the documentary, We Are Nomads: A True Story of an All Women Migration in AltaiWe Are Nomads is a film that was made 100% in Mongolia by a cast and crew that comprised of the Kazakh nomads themselves.  

Kazakh AimoldirEagle
Aimoldir is a young Kazakh girl training as an eagle huntress

We Are Nomads is about rediscovering one’s lost identity and tradition. The film also holds special meaning in my life as it relates to my own life journey of being a modern-day nomad, a first-generation immigrant to the U.S. and a woman in a male dominated adventure travel industry. 

Marinel Horse
Marinel meets her horse at the start of the migration. Pictured in KÜHL down parka.

We Are Nomads is about the Kazakh women reliving their roles as leaders of nomadic migrations while the world celebrates alongside them. In other words, it’s a film to celebrate women in the adventure and outdoor spaces where their presence is rarely seen and heard.

Kazakh Migration3
All-women Kazakh nomadic migration in Mongolia

Ninety-two days later, I’m still locked down in Mongolia on a once in a lifetime adventure as my own unique version of being a woman nomad. To this day, I don’t regret my decision to stay. We Are Nomads kept me afloat and taught me a valuable lesson in life: To create and appreciate perfect moments in such imperfect times.

Join our migration and be a part of the initial screening of We Are Nomads: A True Story of an All Women Migration in Altai from May 30 to June 1, 2020 for 3 days only. 

We Are Nomads is an official selection for the online Independent Film Weekend Festival. Check out the film trailer and like the We Are Nomads Facebook page to watch the film. An exclusive link to the film will be provided during the film festival run.


Marinel Malvar de Jesus is a former lawyer who now runs her trekking social enterprise, Peak Explorations, and travel media platform, Brown Gal Trekker. She is also the founder of The Porter Voice Collective, a non-profit organization that advocates for the basic human rights of porters on mountain trails worldwide. Marinel is a human rights advocate, a writer and a global mountain nomad. Most recently, she discovered her passion for storytelling via film making to create equity and inclusion in the outdoors and adventure travel industry.

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