food / travel

White Nile: The Best Rafting In The World Is In Uganda

The White Nile offers perfect rafting conditions: soft water and few sharp stones. The number of times you go overboard depends mainly on the mood of who’s steering.

A very bumpy ride (NeilsPhotography)
A very bumpy ride (NeilsPhotography)
Philipp Hedemann

JINJA -- This must be how the delicate cycle works in a washing machine. Everything's rotating, the water is 30° C, and when I come up I'm going to be really, really clean. If I come up! When is this cycle over!?

Air's getting tight. What's up, what's down? After a couple of seconds that seem endless I finally manage to get my head above water. I have just been thoroughly washed by the White Nile where, according to Lonely Planet, the best rafting in the world is available in the topmost of the top travel countries in 2012: Uganda.

"Is there anybody on board who's never gone rafting before?" Paulo Babi asks before we set out. Three hands including mine go up. "Great, then at least I'm not the only one," laughs our rafting guide in his bright red rubber boots. I know he's experienced – also witty, there's that too, I think as I seat myself up front.

We set off, and, spurred on by Paulo's "Go, go!" my arms pull my paddle through the water. Soon I can hear the sound of roaring water through my helmet, then I see a drop, at least four meters, and my mind starts sending signals that maybe this isn't such a great idea -- but my arms keep on paddling. I'm having a hard time keeping my rubber-boot-clad feet down – and now waves come streaming over us. I lose my orientation. The raft and its passengers – me, six overweight Americans and the shouting Paulo – capsize.

Where the Nile meets Lake Victoria

Freshly washed, back in the raft, we dry off in the strong sun as Paulo utters soothing words: "No worries, there are some crocodiles around here but they're all vegetarians! Seriously, we need to pay more attention at the next rapid. I've got my laptop with me and water's not good for it."

The jokes burble out of the mouth of our Ugandan guide faster than the water rushes past the raft. Paulo could have gotten us through without capsizing – he is, after all, a member of the Ugandan national rafting team – but with him the wash cycle is part of the program.

"Right after the Nile flows out of Lake Victoria, you have the best rapids in the world -- Class 5," says Paulo. "And because there's so much soft water here, and so few sharp stones, capsizing isn't dangerous," he adds. He's been taking tourists on this most African of rivers for over 12 years and there's been only one accident, when a rafter broke a leg.

When a rising roar announces the approach of another rapid I get the feeling that maybe I'm going to be Paulo's second accident statistic. Paddling under these conditions seems about as promising as trying to reach up and grab the fresh green leaves away from a giraffe feeding off a tree top. At first the raft bobs up and down on the white foam like a cowboy on a rodeo bull. Then it's as if the water is saying No More Mr. Nice Guy, cuts the fun and games short – and the second wash cycle begins.

Paulo is intimately familiar with the dangers of the current. Until he was 16, he was a member of the renowned Bujagali Swimmers. Carrying just an empty 20-liter jerry can each – no life jacket, no helmet – for flotation, these young men would jump into the Bujagali Falls. Paulo's older brother was killed doing this.

This didn't happen, however, on the 25 kilometer stretch that Paulo negotiates daily with tourists like me for Nile River Explorers. Still -- hearing the story about the brother isn't confidence building, especially as just then we are approaching a rapid called "Bad Place." One minute and a lot of gulps of water later I understand why the rapid bears that name. The next one's "Vengeance Rapid" – vengeance for what, I wonder, that we got through "Bad Place" without capsizing? Here, nomen est omen (name is omen): submerged again.

Shaped like a fat snake that's just eaten its fill, the White Nile courses through the green landscape. Clapping kids leap off rocks into the warm river. Fishermen in slim wooden boats shake their heads at the often sunburned muzungus (pale faces) who pay nearly 100 euros each to get thoroughly soaked.

Over 100 years ago, Winston Churchill called Uganda "the pearl of Africa." He was certainly referring to the landscape – not the Nile rapids. Whether or not, on a rafting trip, your view of this landscape is more that of a fish really depends on the mood of the person steering. Paulo enjoys turning his boat into a submarine and every time he does it I want to swear at him. But no sooner are we back underway, the adrenaline gets going and I'm thinking: another wash cycle, please!

Read the original article in German

Photo - NeilsPhotography

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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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