COVID-19's economic impact on travel is matched only by the existential impact on the modern traveler. In a sign of the desperation of both, several airlines and cruise ship companies have been offering trips to… nowhere.
In Australia, Japan and Taiwan, passengers can book a flight that takes off and lands at the same airport for a scenic cruise in a cramped seat. Hong Kong's budget carrier HK Express recently joined the trend, with a flight carrying 110 passengers that circles the island before returning to the airport 90 minutes later. Royal Caribbean also plans to resume sailing in Asia with three and four-night "Ocean Getaways' for Singapore residents, at a reduced capacity of 50%.
There are of course no illusions that any of this can fill the void in either people's souls or travel company bank accounts. But the symbolism (and P.R.) of boarding these flights of fancy has apparently provided some sense of comfort.
But as someone in the "born traveler" category, I cannot help but wonder why. Having traveled with my boyfriend in a campervan across Europe for 14 months, I can tell you that, yes, it was the journey (driving through the fjords in Norway or the Carpathian Mountains in Romania) but also the destinations (Copenhagen, Sarajevo or Tallinn). I treasured the passing hours (and days) in our van we called Foxy, but it would have been rather meaningless to drive across the continent without having places to go.
Traveling is not just about hitting the road. It's the anticipation of discovering something new, planning your itinerary and the excitement growing as you get closer to your destination — and then finally plunging into the new playground of your next adventure.
Still, the current exceptional circumstances seems to be pushing people to the extremes of take-what-you-can-get. Qantas' scenic seven-hour flight around Australia sold out within 10 minutes, the fastest selling ticket in the airlines' history. "So many of our frequent fliers (...) have been telling us they miss the experience of flying as much as the destinations themselves," Alan Joyce, the chief executive of Qantas told the The New York Times.
Still, Katherine Wei, writing in the Singapore-based The Straits Times, described her experience on a "moongazing" flight to nowhere in Taiwan. "There was no real destination to get to, which is really the best part about traveling. Because of this, I found the whole trip rather pointless."
The strict lockdown in my home country of France last spring meant our van (and the two of us) didn't get very far. We did have the good fortune this summer to visit Auvergne's volcanoes and explore the Pyrenees. Now, with the government introducing new restrictions of movement, it may be time to take Foxy for a quick spin — even if it means going back to where we started.
With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.
CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.
Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.
It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.
Abundant sunshine, low temperatures
The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.
Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.
It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.
Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park
Chinese want to expand
The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.
The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.
The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.
The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.
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