Volunteers needed to explore Atlantis

Helike, Atlantis
Want to spend next summer excavating the lost ruins of Atlantis? Well, you can! There are only two catches–it may not be Atlantis, and you won’t get to ride in a UFO.

Wide-eyed crystal clutchers need not apply. This is real science and is far more interesting than New Age fantasy.

Archaeologists excavating the once-lost ancient city of Helike in Greece, are looking for volunteers this summer. The city is located in the Peloponnese, the peninsula in southwestern Greece that’s home to Corinth and Sparta. Inhabited from the Bronze Age onwards, it was thought lost after a massive earthquake in the winter of 373/372 B.C. supposedly sloughed it into the sea. All that was left were a few vague stories and the occasional statue trawled up in fishermen’s nets.

Helike, AtlantisSome scholars theorize Helike’s demise may have led to the legend of Atlantis, the famous lost kingdom that also sank into the sea. Others claim a more likely inspiration for Atlantis was Thera, also known as Santorini, an Aegean island that experienced a massive volcanic explosion in the mid second millennium BC that blew away most of its land and may have disrupted the nearby Minoan civilization.

In 2000 and 2001, a Greek team found Helike and discovered that it hadn’t sunk into the sea, but rather got submerged under an inland lagoon that later silted over. Not nearly as romantic, but nostalgia’s loss is our gain. Evidence of over three thousand years of habitation have been found. Intriguingly, excavators found a settlement dating to c.2600-2300 BC that may also have been submerged after an earthquake.

The city was dedicated to Poseidon Helikonios, god of the sea and the earthquakes. The citizens even put the god on their coinage. Considering that their entire city was destroyed by an earthquake and water, it appears their faith was misplaced.

Volunteers are needed for this summer’s excavations. You don’t need any prior experience and you’ll be trained in archaeological tasks like excavation, mapping, and lab work. If you’d rather dig somewhere else, there are hundreds of archaeological excavations around the world needing your help this summer. This list of links will get your started in your search.

Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons. Check the Helike Project website for more photos of this amazing site.

Rescuing wildlife in Namibia

Namibia
While 2011 has been a bad year for African wildlife, a foundation in Namibia is making a difference.

The N/a’an ku sê Foundation, which runs a wildlife sanctuary in Namibia, announced its best year to date, the Namibian reports. Last year the Foundation rescued, rehabilitated and re-released several animals, including five cheetahs, two leopards, one brown hyena, two caracals and one serval. It also rescued and cared for numerous other animals.

The Foundation was started by Namibian conservationists in 2006. Located near the capital Windhoek, the wildlife reserve relies on donations to survive and is open to volunteers, in case you want to have an adventure vacation that makes a difference. A wildlife sanctuary cares for injured or orphaned animals that can’t be released back into the wild. For some luxury travel, you can also stay at their lodge.

The main goal of the foundation is to find the best way for wildlife and humans to share the same land. Africa’s population is steadily growing, putting ever more pressure on wildlife. Yet wildlife is an economic boon to Africa, bringing in hard currency from tourism. The Foundation also provides primary education and healthcare to the San Bushmen and employs several to work with guests and the animals.

Photo courtesy Claire Wormley.

Travel the world through the photography of Kyle Marquardt

photography While there are a lot of beautiful travel photos out there, the images of Kyle Marquardt have a way of capturing those quick, often missed moments while helping people to discover places not often seen by tourists, like a penguin the first second he goes to jump out of the water, a cheetah in hot pursuit of a gazelle, or an iceberg half underwater and half above. So how does he capture such moving shots?

“A certain amount of planning and expectations are required to go traveling, but when I’m finally out there in the wild, I have to respect that mother nature is in full control of the itinerary,” he explains. “I might expect that I want to get to see certain things, but you just can’t ask a group of penguins to jump into the water or a cheetah to sprint after a gazelle in front of you minutes after the sun rises in the Serengeti. You just have to show up and see what you get this time.”

Marquardt is also a photography guide, leading groups into the wild and helping them to enhance their picture taking skills while capturing images they never thought possible. When possible, Marquardt also tries to help the communities he visits. For example, on a guided photography tour in Tanzania, Africa, the group visited LOHADA, a local organization providing care, education, and shelter to young children and adults. After pooling donations, the photography group went out and bought the locals in need supplies like food, toothbrushes, toothpaste, toiletries, vitamins, paper, and pens.

Notes Marquardt, “We came to Africa for travel, luxury photography and excitement and could have forgone a visit to an orphanage. In doing what we did we left with an entirely different kind of fulfillment.”

Interested in taking a Photo Safari with Marquardt? Click here. And, if you’d like to immerse yourself in foreign cultures and landscapes without leaving your chair, check out the gallery below, which contains both published as well as never-before-seen photographs by Marquardt.

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6 tips for dealing with culture shock

remote villageWhen traveling, especially internationally or to more remote destinations, culture shock is bound to happen. Sometimes it is just the smallest feeling of discomfort, and at other times can lead to complete panic and an intense longing to get on the next plane home. While it is completely normal to experience these feelings of culture shock, it is also important to not let it ruin your trip. Keep these tips in mind next time you are traveling to help turn your anxiety into excitement.

Research the destination before you leave home

If you dive into the trip completely unprepared and not knowing what to expect, you are literally setting yourself up to be shocked by the culture. Search the internet, read a guidebook, or talk to travelers who have visited the destination before. Find out about customs and etiquette, ask about what kinds of clothing locals wear, learn about greetings, read about transportation and how people get around, and, most importantly, safety. Basically, just gather enough information so that you can be prepared for your experience abroad and have a better chance of blending in.Take baby steps

If possible, I have always found it helpful to begin international trips in the more touristy areas and then work my way to the more rural regions. You could also try staying in a comfortable hotel, at least in the beginning, just so that you have an escape while you are getting adjusted to your new surroundings. As you get more comfortable, you can gradually begin to get away from these comforts and immerse yourself in the culture more fully.

Learn some key phrases

Many times, becoming fluent in another language just to go on a trip that lasts a few months or less just doesn’t make sense (although, if you have the time this never hurts). It can be helpful to learn a few key phrases, however, to at least feel comfortable making small talk and knowing what people are saying to you. When in Ghana, Africa, for example, the locals would constantly shout “oburoni! at me. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought they were angry at me or making fun of me. However, I learned early on that this word, which literally means “foreigner”, is their way of trying to make conversation with you.

Keep a journal

While it may sound a little corny, it can be helpful to write about your experience for a few reasons. One, its generally therapeutic to share your thoughts and feelings, and writing it down in your own personal book can allow you to be completely open. Moreover, I’ve personally always found keeping a journal helpful in shifting my mindset from being nervous about my new surroundings to being excited. Getting everything down on paper and seeing just how many unique experiences you have in one day alone can help make it clear the opportunity you have to immerse yourself and learn about a new culture and place.

Try new things, even if you’re afraid

While it may seem scary, actually participating in cultural experiences abroad can show you firsthand just how not-scary it is. Try a new food, even if it is something you would never eat at home, learn how to play a local instrument, or attend a cultural festival. Even simple tasks such as hailing a taxi or asking for directions can seem daunting, but you should try anyway. For example, while in Ghana I did most of the talking to locals in terms of asking where to eat or where to go, mostly because my travel companion was terrified to interact with the locals. She really wanted to have a dress handmade in the village, and when she asked me to help buy the fabric for her, I refused, hoping to get her to talk to the seamstress herself. After a bit of begging and pleading on her part, she finally forced herself to choose a fabric and ask the woman for the price. Afterwards, she felt a lot more confident about interacting with locals and experiencing the culture.

If possible, make contacts before you go

With all of the company information, social media platforms, and networking websites out there, it makes it easy to connect with people and companies from all over the world. This could be as simple as signing on to volunteer with an NGO in your destination, or contacting hospitality companies in the area. Ask around travel forums or post on CouchSurfing to see if anyone will be in the same area as you at the same time or has ever been to that destination and can provide information and other contacts. Even if you can’t find someone to meet up with in the country, it is nice to speak with people who have been there and learn about their experiences.