food / travel

Rock Climbing In China: Scaling The Limestone Ledges Of Guilin

Welcome to Guangxi Province, a land of karst mountains, rice farmers and – rock climbers. Yes, the famous karst mountains of Guilin in the south of China can now be climbed.

The tourist town of Yangshou in China's Guangxi Province
The tourist town of Yangshou in China's Guangxi Province
Marlene Weiss

GUILIN -- Hen‘s Egg Mountain: surely that can't be hard to find. It must be the one over to the left, the one that's clearly shaped like an egg. Or else it could also be the one next to it, or the one behind that. Turns out they all look a bit egg-like. Better to ask someone. "Hen's Egg?" says an elderly woman in the village. "Some ways away," she says, pointing to a footpath that leads through what looks like jungle.

When we get there, we're happy to find that the steel bolts to put your rope through are the same as the ones we're used to. Since we brought our own ropes, climbing harnesses and carabiners, everything seems very familiar as we start our climb. It's only 20 meters up that culture shock really hits: in a monsoon mist we see white egrets, and farmers wearing conical straw hats. We also see limestone hills, some as high as 200 meters, jutting up sharply from the rice fields below. For a minute it's as if we're in a time warp, far from the 21st century…until the mood is broken by the arrival of two very loud Spanish climbers with their mountain bikes.

But you can't have everything: if there weren't other climbers nobody would put bolts in -- and Qiu Xiang would be out of a job. Qiu first went climbing 12 years ago. He tackled the most famous mountain in the area: Yueliang Shan (Moon Mountain), so-called because through a semicircular hole in the limestone the sky looks like a huge moon. "From that day on, I was hooked," says Qiu, who has since become one of the best climbers in the region.

In 2004 he founded his own company, Spiderman Climbing, in Yangshuo, a tourist destination located in the heart of Guilin mountain country. "We've seen more and more climbers coming here over the past four or five years," Qiu says. "That's partly because some famous people came here and took pictures for magazines; that really helped."

400 climbing routes

If you look out from the top of Moon Mountain across the whole chain of hills that extends well into the distance, it seems amazing that climbers didn't discover this dream landscape a lot earlier. The hills, after all, are not exactly a secret – many guidebooks to China feature pictures of the unique limestone formations by the Li River.

Geologists call the stone formations "tower karst." They appeared around 40 million years ago, when tropical rains progressively dissolved the limestone leaving these hills and caves.

While package tourists and backpackers have been coming to the area for many years, western climbers were relatively slow making the trek over here. American climber Todd Skinner, who died in a Yosemite Park climbing accident a few years ago, created the first climbing route on Moon Mountain in the early 1990s, when the sport was virtually unknown in China.

Later, Chinese climber Huang Chao created further routes. Many of the others of what are now a good 400 climbing routes are the work of Paul Collis, a hobby alpinist from the UK. He lives in Hong Kong, and since 2003 has been publishing a climbing guide (now in its ninth edition) to the area around Yangshuo.

Climbing pioneers say that the boom is going to ruin the area because so many locals want a piece of the pie. Several small businesses offer climbing courses. And for a few years now there has even been a climbing festival, held in the autumn. Others have figured out an easier business model: hanging around climbing areas and demanding an "entry fee" from climbers. This is something that more and more climbers are complaining of.

Paul Collis thinks it's right that locals should earn money from the climbing boom. But at the same time it makes him angry to see people who did nothing to create the climbing routes "standing there asking for money." Collis, in contrast, spent countless hours – and a considerable amount of his own money – putting bolts into the cliff faces. It makes him so angry, in fact, that he has moved on to climb lesser known areas in China.

Growing local interest

That locals should play a greater role seems appropriate, however, not least because the booming economy in China means that many Chinese are discovering rock climbing. About half of his customers are now Chinese, says Qiu. Still, most Chinese visitors to Yangshuo stick to more "traditional" activities, like photography, eating and karaoke crooning.

"If only 1% of all Chinese were to become interested in outdoor activities, we would earn so much that we could take off for half the year," says Yi Ouyang, who has worked for a decade as guide for a climbing tour operator. Yi recalls that when he began here, there were only about 200 climbers in all of China; things have sure changed since then.

"Now, every larger city has a climbing association," he says. Last year, the company Yi works for decided to focus on general outdoor activities and is now also offering bike and kayak tours: competition is so fierce now, there's no way to earn a living anymore by just offering climbing courses.

After we finished our climb, we made our way to the river to swim, across rice fields bathed in golden evening light. "The river winds like a band of green silk, the hills are like jade hairpins," wrote Han Yu about this landscape. The Chinese poet penned those lines 1,200 years ago. That much, at least, hasn't changed.

Read the original article in German

Photo – Grey World

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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