written by Carmen Obied / Features Editor @Fashion Shift Magazine
I breathed in the earthy humid air as I took another step deeper into the dense tangled jungle. As I trekked through knee-high swamps any sudden sound would conjure mirages of Cayman crocodiles known to roam these waters. Ancient watchful trees whispered stories across the mist threaded forest. An orchestra of squawking parrots and howling monkeys followed me as I explored this sensory maze. I will never forget the Amazon.
A backpack, scuba kit, and boarding pass – these have been my three survival essentials of this spontaneous nomadic year. The moment I passed my Ph.D., I knew I was seeking a complete shift in lifestyle. As an underwater archaeologist with a curious spirited mind, I had a yearning for a stimulating adventure away from academia. My childhood dream had been to explore South America, submerging myself in its captivating nature and culture. Though I love the incessant, vibrant creativity and rhythms that flow through London, I needed to escape life’s rush. Coincidentally, a friend told me about a possibility to work in Chile. That was all I needed to hear – so I seized the chance, jumped on a plane and set off! I was suddenly teleported to the charismatic, colourful port-town of Valparaiso, where this year’s journey began.
VALPARAISO – As the bus turned beyond a mountain pass, I was suddenly welcomed by an explosion of kaleidoscopic colours of Santiago’s bohemian sister town, known to the locals as Valpo! And my new home. A dynamic harbour-town built over 45 hills on which its traditional elevators, ascensores, still trundle up and down the steep hills, cerros. From atop you breathe in this city with all its beautiful chaos, the same views that inspired the Chilean poet and activist Pablo Neruda‘s poetry, and many others. This city re-awakened my senses and thirst for creativity. At every turn, I was faced with gritty multi-hued houses and alleys, with the town acting as a canvas for inspiring street art representing post-dictatorship progressive political expressions and movements. It was great to dive and explore Valparaiso’s bay, aside from the cold Pacific waters! The many shipwrecks and artefacts discovered in its bay continue to give us clues into its historic past, having been a strategic port during the gold rush for trading vessels rounding Cape Horn, which led to its boom and cosmopolitan nature. Street performers and Latin rhythms always resonated across Valpo, bringing the streets to life. Art festivals showcased influential artists like Chilean rapper and activist Ana Tijoux. I even made it onto the local newspaper once, enjoying a wine tasting event which gathered traditional wineries from around the country! It is also the town where I experienced my first earthquake – though common in Chile, the sudden strong trembling that pulsated through the apartment shook me! A fond memory was my weekly stroll by the seaside where I would be greeted by an unexpected horde of large sun-bathing playful seals!
ATACAMA DESERT – A dry and barren lunar-like geology surrounded me. Silence filled the air. I felt as though I had somehow stepped foot on another planet. It was otherworldly. In the heart of Northern Chile’s Atacama Desert, Valley de la Luna’s jagged land is one of the the driest places in the world, shaped by the Atacama Desert colliding with the Andes mountains, pushing salt lakes below surface, leaving salt flats in view. Despite these arid conditions, the Atacama Desert holds diverse landscapes painted with soaring volcanic and Andean mountain backdrops, contrasted by vast salt flats, fiery rocks and and flamingo-filled lagoons with beautiful symmetries in the waters. The towering summit of the Volcano Licancabur formed the natural border between Chile and Bolivia. Rock-formed ‘Monks’ and ‘Cathedrals’ shaped by volcanic eruptions and winds watch over the sweeping sand dunes, commonly compared to the ‘Moais’ of Easter Island. Spouting geysers and thermal springs lurk at higher altitudes. Local villages with artisan crafts and designs, surrounded by wandering llamas and vicuñas. This enchanting canvas is transformed with the settings of the sun ansd the revealing of the immense starry skies and milkyway that leave lasting imprints on your memory.
RIO CARNAVAL – While living in Chile, my dream to visit Brazil felt within closer reach. So I thought, why not escape there one weekend during their biggest, most famous festival? The Rio Carnaval! Being raised in Portugal definitely came in handy and knowing people there meant experiencing the beautiful madness through the eyes of the locals. Vibrant colourful parades flocked the streets in the form of party blocks, blocos, with the most extravagant and imaginative costumes you could imagine! Loud, rhythmic samba beats resonated throughout the whole city, as did the people’s energy. A view of and from the Christ the Redeemer was a must, as were strolls drinking coconut water along the shores of Copacabana and Ipanema. A delicious feijoada feast gathering hosted by friends’ families in their home was a highlight, with singing and dancing breaking out in that heartfelt, candid manner that seems to come so naturally to Brazilians.
MACHU PICCHU – Rain cascaded down onto me, as fellow poncho-covered backpackers from around the world powered up precipitous trails, surrounded by floating misty mountains. It was the rainy season, which brought its own allure of mystery and enchantment. A sudden humbling realisation rushed through my body as I walked those same long-winding, narrow stone cobbled paths and steep slippery steps as the Incan empire once did, which took around 100 years to build. The legendary 4-day trail leading to the archaeological world wonder, Machu Picchu, or ‘Old Mountain’ in ancient Quechuan, an oral language still spoken by native locals today! The journey started at the puma-shaped city of Cusco, the religious-administrative center of the Incan empire. The arduous hike underwent dramatic transformations from Andean alpine terrains to damp cloud forests, with the dissipating mist revealing river valleys and terraced Incan ruins along the way, forming connecting stories between nature and its past people. We camped in different remote havens along the way, gazing silently at the majestic views, a reminder of life’s serenity. Damp, sweat-covered and sleep deprived, but the thrill of the destination triggered my fully awakened senses. As I climbed the final steps, the rising sun dispelled the foggy curtains, uncovering the sought-after panoramic view of the Machu Picchu citadel, erected at 2,430m above sea level, where we were greeted by tourists and llamas.
THE AMAZON – Though often associated with unfamiliar perilous and venomous wildlife, the Amazon jungle had always been to me a much fantasised haven which I yearned to explore. Maybe it was growing up as a wild child by a forest pretending to be a jungle native, but that vision followed me, eventually transporting me into the heart of Pachamama (‘Mother Earth’ in Quechua), through which its main artery flows, the Amazon River. The deeper I ventured into the jungle, I noticed the increase in humidity and diversity of indigenous wildlife, ranging from 222 species of mammals, 99 species of reptiles, 140 species of amphibians, 1000 species of birds, 210 species of fish and 2500 species of insects. My guide had grown up in the Amazon, and it was as though he could feel every movement and call that nature shared with us. There is a co-existence between nature and the resilient locals. To decipher the jungle’s language requires local knowledge, patience and a perceptive mind. From being surprised by playful monkeys, to being the one to swing from vines, I felt in tune with nature’s beat. As dusk set in, and we wandered through the night-veiled jungle, my senses felt magnified, alert to any hints of shapes or sounds within the shadows. Furry-legged creatures formed silhouettes under the torch’s limelight to the soundtrack of the dancing foliage. With the rising sun, came rising currents. After an ‘OK’ from the guide, I leapt into the immense fast-flowing river, and momentarily surrendered myself to its will. It was while journeying through the Amazon, with curious eyes, that a fresh peace of mind dawned upon me.
A place where the mountains kiss the seas. Soaring backdrops contour the distinct steep rocky shores of the Balkans. I have been lucky to explore the coastlines of Croatia, Montenegro, and more recently, their less visited neighbour, Albania. It is still relatively unknown and untouched… a beautiful country, rich in history. I was part of a team of international scientists on the “Albania 2016 Marine Science Expedition”, in search of ancient shipwrecks and artefacts along different sites in Albania, known in ancient times as Epirus.
Underwater image taken by Peter Campbell
CORFU STRAIT & ALBANIA
Just as ancient sailors did over 2000 years ago, we embarked on our expedition from the Greek island of Corfu, sailing across to Saranda, on the Albanian Riviera, then northward through and beyond the Corfu Strait to Vlora Bay. We sought temporary shelter along the way at Porto Palermo, where the Ali Pasha Castle lies. Before reaching it, we had to watch out for the inconspicuous reef that was hazardous to sailors throughout antiquity, known as the Devil’s Tongue. Below the surface rests the Joni Wreck, a large 4th century AD Roman shipwreck. As we navigated along this mountainous coast, we faced changing winds and choppy waters, so we continually adapted to nature’s whim. Along the largely harbourless Karaburun Peninsula, we caught sight of the distinct limestone-ringed rocky coastline known as the White Roads in antiquity. We anchored en-route, strapped on our dive gear and explored the seabed of Gramma Bay, a small natural haven where Roman forces landed, and Greek and Latin inscriptions of sailors are engraved on the cliff walls of the way, a sort of sailors’ rock diary.
We then set sail around the tip of the peninsula where it curves into Vlora Bay, past the natural colour-changing border where the Adriatic and Ionian Seas merge. Along this stretch lies the Cave of the Illyrians, believed to have been a pirate hideout in the past. We explored threatened areas across the regions of Vlora Bay and Sazan Island, finding evidence for ancient sea-level change and maritime trade. Our most exciting discoveries were large submerged remains at the archaeological site of Triport. According to the evidence, this important fortified Roman port was far larger than previously believed, extending an additional 8 acres at least. It provided anchorage for ships on the sea and Narta Lagoon, linking ancient cities via major Roman roads and trade routes. On the return journey, we took the land route instead, driving south along mountainous winding roads through abundant national parks. We reached Lake Butrint, an inland lagoon linked to the Roman fortified colony and port Butrint, a key archaeological UNESCO World Heritage site in southern Albania. We carried out underwater cultural assessments of nearby areas, while enjoying evenings at our remote camp surrounding a fireplace in the company of scorpions and mosquitos, overlooking Corfu under a starry sky to the sound of crashing waves.
Note: Albania content edited by Steven Lopez, Travel Editor & Archaeologist @Fashion Shift Magazine (with MSc, specialising on Roman navigation in Albania).
Project directed by Peter Campbell
Photography: Steven Lopez | Travel Editor & Archaeologist @ Fashion Shift | Founder/Writer of ‘Oh Snap! Adventures Blog’ (www.ohsnapadventuresblog.wordpress.com)