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Individual field and travel responsibilities
Considerations: Individuals on this project will be responsible for preparing themselves and acquiring personal gear to travel to and within Mongolia, and to camp while in the field. Responsibilities include getting travel and medical documents in order, and packing clothes and personal items for travel and camping. During travel to and from Mongolia, some itineraries may require one over-night stay in an intermediate country, such as China, Korea, or Japan. China at least would require a visa for such an over-night stay. While in Mongolia, expect about a week's total time in Ulaanbaatar (several days before fieldwork, and several days after).
Expect about 2–3 weeks of camping in the field. While in the field, you will be responsible for your own individual equipment and accommodations. Each of the principal scientists should have his own 2-person tent, for themselves and their gear, including sleeping bag and foam pad. Consider that you may want your own supply of favorite snacks or energy bars. Our Mongolian cooking team provided eating utensils -- on other trips you may need to bring your own. Clean water is an issue; while we will be stopping for tea occasionally, don't expect the cooks to have a ready supply of boiled water to fill your water bottle -- and you will want to have a water bottle with you. Consequently, most team members found that a personal water-filtration unit or water-purifying tablets or solution very useful. Bring along your own toilet paper and other personal hygiene gear. Some people insisted that a hand trowel was essential; while it would be useful, I got by with scraping a hole with my boot. We will be in places where it will be difficult to find a bush to hide behind... A small bottle of alcohol-based hand disinfectant or moistened wipes is useful (and polite to others) after such episodes. I found the toilet paper and hand disinfectant even more useful in the cities -- public toilets typically have no paper and the need to disinfect your hands afterward will be obvious. A pocket-sized pack of Kleenex tissues is perfect for such needs in the city. Last year, during 18 days of fieldwork, we each took two showers. For me, I figured, No problemo -- my normal routine. But for most people a small supply of antiseptic, lotion-impregnated towelettes was useful for an occasional wipe of the accumulated crud from one's various and unnamed nether lands.
Realize that we will have only limited choice of meals, and that we will be relying on Mongolian cooks who will prepare their standard fare -- which is a diet consisting largely of grain and meat, with some dairy (cheese) products. It will be virtually impossible to maintain a vegetarian diet while in Mongolia, and we cannot offer any special accommodations for vegetarians. We expect many meals to be "one pot" combinations of grain and meat, which may consist variably of canned meats, goat, beef, or other livestock available along the way. Fish will be available -- but only if we catch it, which is apparently quite feasible. Catching goats is more difficult (ask Mark about this), but we should be able to purchase goats or sheep along the route for fresh meat from time to time. I found a bottle of Tabasco essential, but that applies wherever I go, not just Mongolia. Coffee is not as common in Mongolia, so bring your own instant or tea-bag type if you're addicted. (We had coffee from time to time last year -- I can't remember who brought it… I don't think it was the cooks.)
Consider your medical needs. Quality medical facilities in Mongolia are limited, and evacuation in the event of a medical emergency will not likely be very efficient, and may be very costly. We will try to contact the U.S. Embassy to get advice on procedures. Make sure you have some form of medical insurance while in the country -- many standard insurance plans in the U.S. do not cover you while traveling abroad. If necessary purchase an insurance rider to provide coverage. Be aware that you will likely have to pay up-front for any medical care received while in Mongolia, and that you will need to obtain documentation for services performed (translated to English for us Americans), with costs converted to dollars, to obtain reimbursement upon return to your home country (at least according to my insurance company).
For travel in east Asia, the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the following vaccinations:
In addition, be aware that plague and meningococcal meningitis have been reported from Mongolia. We must also keep an eye out for outbreaks of SARS, especially if we travel through China. Contact your primary care physician and ask to have a "travel consultation"; those at the University may be able to get excellent travel preparation and immunizations through the health service. Apparently the rabies vaccine is a sequence of three shots, each of which can be expensive because an entire vial of serum must be paid for each time, even though only a small part of that vial is used for the vaccination. Our university offered a cheaper rate by scheduling group inoculations (usually for veterinary students) to use the serum more efficiently.
Please bring along a personal first-aid kit, with standard components to deal with normal, every-day aches, pains, cuts, and so forth associated with foreign travel and field work. Especially consider bringing anti-diarrhea medication, as food sanitation will be a problem (perhaps most likely in restaurants) and the shift in diet may (or will) confuse your digestive system. This was the single largest problem we had last year -- most of which occurred during the first few days of fieldwork. At least three of our cases could be attributed to eating unwashed, uncooked food purchased from street vendors (specifically currants, which were likely rinsed in infected water before we bought them). So, I do not think it was a problem with our cooking crew. On the bright side, I lost about 10 pounds, felt great, and looked lean and tough upon my return to the States, although "gaunt" was the word my wife used.
While our NSF grant will cover the costs of travel and accommodations, recognize that all grants have limited funds, and accommodations will be fairly Spartan. You should plan on bringing enough money to cover all your incidental needs, such as miscellaneous personal gear and souvenirs you may purchase while there. We will do our best to anticipate and cover all necessary costs -- but recognize that in such remote parts of the world, we are a team that must rely on each other should a major financial problem occur. I'm thinking specifically of what would happen should one or more of us should get robbed of our cash -- pick-pocketing and purse-snatching are on the rise in Ulaanbaatar. Such incidents can be violent, although this is rare. Or, a major injury or illness may require some pooling of funds. Please consider bringing some excess "contingency" cash, along with a few credit cards, well-hidden on your person. Hopefully we will never need to tap our mutual resources, but it is only prudent to consider the possibility.
To do before leaving for Mongolia:
Suggested packing list:
We're aware that you're all seasoned veterans of field work, and that you know what you will need from your own experiences. Please consider the following list as suggestions -- it's probably too much stuff for any one person to take. Just get the items you think are necessary. We offer the list in hopes that some items may prove useful, or address issues you may not have considered. There are some redundancies, which I left in simply because you may categorize items differently and I wanted to be as complete as possible.
Please forward any further suggested items to me (email@example.com). There must be something I forgot…
Personal administrative materials
(Things that I carry on me or in my book bag or "office" pack)
Travel and "urban" clothes -- 1-2 sets
Field clothes (plan for temps from 0-30°C)
Personal travel gear
Personal camping gear
Personal field gear
Field pack, containing
A few notes on packs and packing:
For airline travel, it was necessary to consolidate gear into larger packs -- two large check-through bags for each person was allowed for international itineraries. One of these was personal; the other was for sampling equipment, with group equipment somehow split among the participants. A number of crates of gear were shipped ahead of time -- which in some cases was absolutely necessary -- but these required someone in Mongolia to shepherd these crates through the importing rules and regulations, and required official forms and duties to be filled out and paid. Take as much as you possibly can as personal baggage on the airline.
But, for jeep travel in the country, it was more efficient to have gear packed into more and smaller units that could be stowed in various places. Some large rigid containers for gear were unavoidable and OK -- but the large personal wheeled duffels (while great for airline travel) were in the way when trying to pack a jeep. One solution is to use a series of smaller duffels in the field that can be jammed into a larger wheeled duffel for airline travel.
The Soyombo symbol
Find out more about the "soyombo" symbol, the national symbol of Mongolia.