Amanda Goodwin arrived in Mongolia but her luggage, her coat and her sleeping bag did not. It was not a good situation to be in since she was headed into the wilds of the rugged country, planning to travel by horseback and camp in the freezing cold found at nearly 10,000 feet of elevation in the mountains.
Fortunately, she was able to reoutfit herself before leaving civilization.
Ms. Goodwin, 53, was part of a 20-member team that recently spent three weeks trekking through remote areas of Mongolia. The team provided some basic medical treatment for the nomadic people living there. It also gathered information on the flora and fauna of the region and mapped some archaeological sites.
The expedition was organized by the U.K.-based Scientific Exploration Society, which mounts or sponsors several such projects each year. Ms. Goodwin had been on a previous trip with the outfit to the Peruvian Andes, where, in addition to providing for medical clinics, the group tried to gather data on spectacled bears.
Getting onto a team is a challenge in and of itself, she said.
“You have to go through a selection process and you have to raise money,” Ms. Goodwin said. “They need certain science (background) or certain skills. I am a bit of a jack of all trades.”
Trained as a physiotherapist – a role she sometimes played for team members with physical problems – Ms. Goodwin has also contributed to the trips as a Spanish interpreter (in Peru), a community aid worker, a field worker in zoology and archaeology, and a dental assistant.
During the dental clinics the team held, she said, “We took out about 125 teeth in three days. We had no running water, no electricity. We had a generator. There’s no way you can do complex treatment.”
Medical treatment was also offered, she said, but the greatest demand and the longest lines were for the eyeglasses clinic. Despite their relatively primitive lifestyle, the Mongolian nomads are “pretty well educated,” she said, and many were in need of reading glasses.
She was impressed by the people she came into contact with.
“The Mongolian people are unbelievable,” she said. “They are wonderful people, their warmth, their humor, their hospitality. They’re always laughing, always joking, always singing.”
When they entered a new village or encampment, she said, they were regularly offered yak milk, vodka, yak cheese and other food.
“It’s a really, really interesting culture,” she said.
On the research end of things, Ms. Goodwin said, “Wherever we were camping for more than a night, we put out camera traps and some baited traps for small mammals and rodents. In the day, we just recorded what we saw.”
Expedition leaders were on the lookout for Przewalski’s horses, or Takhi. The ancient wild breed, considered the world’s only truly wild horse, were once extinct in the wild. In 2004, a herd of 12 was reintroduced to Mongolia. The population there is now estimated at 400.
In his report on the excursion, leader John Blashford-Snell wrote about encountering the animals after rounding a bend in the trail.
“Along the meandering stream and on the slopes above it were over 50 Przewalskis. Mares with foals were being shepherded by their guardian stallion, who kept trotting back to chase off young bachelors eager to reach his harem. Others bathed in the dark waters whilst several rolled in the dust to protect themselves from ectoparasites and insects. Some groomed each other, but with much whinnying, kicking and biting a number of stallions fought as they attempted to win control of their own mares.
“Parading across our front, they paid little attention to our team that could approach within fifty metres. A photographer’s paradise and a remarkable sight which few will forget.”
Ms. Goodwin said the group was also hoping to spot some snow leopards, but never saw any.
“We thought we spotted a wolf,” she said. “We were also looking for Saiga antelopes, which are endangered. We did see some large herds of antelope.”
On the archaeological front, she said, the team investigated some Bronze Age burial chambers, employing a dowser in the group to help locate and identify the shape of the tombs.
Ms. Goodwin spoke by phone from a town near Valencia, Spain, where she is spending some time before returning to Cayman. She works for Global Macro Investor, a monthly financial magazine.
She said she is still adjusting to her return to civilization. She enjoyed being away from the hustle and bustle, she said.
“Just being out so far from anywhere, no phone, no electricity, no wifi,” she said. “It was refreshing.”