Feeling bored to live on the same Earth for so long? Want to escape from this nasty polluted blue planet? He is your chance to settle down in the red planet, the Mars. This is not a science fiction movie, but a shear reality, that happens just on your backyard, the United States of America. Mark your calendars for a 10 year countdown, as the first-ever spacecraft carrying the first batch of Mars-settlers will take off in 2023. It’s time to book one way ticket to mars.
Mars One—a controversial project that aims to send humans on a one-way trip to the Red Planet by 2023—has garnered interest from 202,586 folks from more than 140 countries who sent in video applications.
The majority of applicants (47,654) for this one-way trip to Mars come from the United States, with India (20,747) and China (13,176) coming in second and third place, as detailed in this post.
Now that the first of a four-round selection process ended on August 31, a Mars One committee will take the next few months to whittle down the number of applicants (yet-to-be-determined) who will be notified by the end of this year.
The plan eventually is to have the candidates undergo mental and physical challenges. Teams from different regions will compete against each other until only 24 to 40 candidates with the “right stuff” are left standing in 2015.
These remaining Mars colony candidates will then embark on a seven-year training odyssey that, in partnership with spaceship builder SpaceX, will see the first team of four Mars “settlers” blast off in 2023.
With the initial mission costing $6 billion, the plan is to have private financial backing, including a television reality show to help raise the funds for the maiden voyage in a decade’s time—and subsequent missions slated to follow every two years after that.
The long-term vision is to establish a thriving, permanent human colony on the Red Planet with new missions running through the middle of this century.
Just like everybody else, even I got curious to know about ticket to space with Virgin Galactic. Space tourism seemed like a si-fi fiction a decade ago and today it’s become a reality. The question to be asked is that what does a $250,000 ticket to space with Virgin Galactic actually buy you? Let’s dig down deep inside the whole story.
In April, Virgin Galactic — a subsidiary of Branson’s Virgin Group — hit a milestone. The rocket motor the company had been testing on the ground was fitted into SpaceShip Two, the spacecraft that, from next year onwards, will bring space travel to the general public.
“We lit the rocket motor for the first time in the air and the spaceship went through the sound barrier,” recalls Stephen Attenborough, Virgin Galactic’s commercial director. “It was a hugely significant milestone for us, and in many ways, the last big piece of the jigsaw.”
Though a ticket aboard SpaceShip Two doesn’t come cheap — a seat currently costs $250,000 — Attenborough maintains that as things stand, the fare is a relative bargain.
“It’s still about 1% of the price you would have needed to pay to go to space as a private citizen before now,” maintains Attenborough. Indeed, in the past, the privilege cost civilians a fair share. When Dennis Tito, the world’s first “space tourist” bought a seat aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in 2001, it allegedly cost him nearly $20 million.
Though flights won’t commence until next year at the earliest, Virgin Galactic has already sold 640 seats to space enthusiasts the world over. For some, the cost is negligible. Others, though, have taken second mortgages on their homes to pay for the tickets.
“There’s a lot to do with getting you psychologically prepared for a trip that is absolutely about sensory overload,” says Attenborough. The flight itself accommodates six passengers, lasts two and a half hours, and culminates with congratulatory champagne at the spaceport. Space travelers get to leave their seats to experience several minutes of zero-gravity, and perhaps the most iconic view ever afforded mankind.
Single passengers always wish their flights to be pleasant, peaceful and comfortable. Screaming children in the flight could always snatch you peace away and you cloud feel stuck in middle of nowhere. Other than paying extra for luxury of facility, some airlines are providing child free seating zones and unexpectedly are doing very well. the idea struck to a budget air carrier Scoot Airlines.
Recently reported, Scoot Airlines, Singapore Air’s budget brand, became the latest carrier to unveil child-fee seating zones. The program, called “Scoot in Silence,” follows on the heels of AirAsia X — the long-haul arm of the Asian budget carrier — launching a “quiet zone” on their flights.
The operations are similar: under-12s are banned from the zones and cordoned off from the remaining passengers via a curtain, galleys and the exit doors (the space that usual separates business class from economy).
Contrary to how it might seem, Azran Osman-Rani, AirAsia X’s CEO, maintains the measure is as much for the benefit of families as it childless travelers.
“It’s cute how some parents have written back and said, ‘This is a brilliant idea,’ because they feel less stressed and guilty if their child is restless. Now, if someone’s giving them an evil stare, they can just say, ‘Well, if you’re going to complain, you should have sat in the quiet zone.'”
In general, Air Asia X assigns random seats, unless passengers pay a $15 fee allowing them to choose where to sit. Whether that choice is to perch at the back of the plane grouped with spouses and spawn, or up front, where it’s free from minors, the fee is the same.
By introducing quiet zones, Osman-Rani is hoping to drive passengers, be they families or singles, towards paying the fee. So far, it’s been successful — the number of passengers paying to choose a seat has risen “several percentage points”.
Helane Becker, an airline analyst with Cowen and Company says she assumed from the start that the trend was financially motivated.
“I kind of viewed it less about cordoning off children, and more as just another way for airlines to charge fees,” she says.
Still, some airlines argue the measure is more operational.
Japan Airlines has taken a different if similar track on their Tokyo-Honolulu route, where they have introduce a curtained “women only” section in the last four seats of economy. The idea is to give women privacy to breastfeed and do their makeup.
Hawaii is the heaven brought down to earth. This popular tourist destination is defined by the signature beaches that it posses. They give Hawaii the most important tourist attraction. But the global warming poses a serious threat to the beautiful 750 mile coastline of this wonderful city. The melting ice caps at arctic and the resultant increase in the sea water levels might consume a considerable amount of Hawaiian coastline alerts the University of Hawaii in its recent study.
According to the study, Maui beaches are most at risk as the sea-level rise is approximately 65% higher compared to the island of Oahu.
While many beaches have been faced with erosion for years, predictions show that beaches will start to disappear even faster. Researchers with the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) studied 100 years of data for both Maui and Oahu. They found global warming is causing the sea level to rise which in turn is causing beaches to erode. In the next 25 to 30 years the prediction is Hawaii shores could lose 100 feet of beach.
Island-wide and regional historical shoreline trends were calculated for the islands using shoreline positions measured from aerial photographs and survey charts. Shoreline positions were manually digitized using photogrammetric and geographic information system (GIS) software from aerial photo mosaics and topographic and hydrographic survey charts provided by the National Ocean Service (NOS).
“A hundred feet of shoreline erosion around Hawaii takes us into homes and communities and highways so this is a coming problem that has already started and it’s going to become magnified within the next decade or two,” said Charles Fletcher, PhD. SOEST Associate Dean. In places like Kailua and Waikiki sand has been added which is good but not a permanent fix.
“We patch potholes in our roads, it’s not a permanent solution but it gets you through the next couple of years. It makes the roads usable,” said Prof. Fletcher. “Putting sand on the beach is a form of environmental maintenance.”
Not only is sea level rising around Maui and the Big Island, but the islands are also sinking because the volcanoes there are relatively new and haven’t fully settled. Managing coastal erosion is a daunting task. Not only does it take hundreds of man hours to create temporary solutions, but it can cost hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. In order to combat these issues, planning needs to occur.
The authors of the study hope to show that sea level rise is a primary cause of shoreline change on a regional scale. They also hope to encourage managers and other coastal zone decision-makers to focus on these impacts in their own research programs and long-term planning.
It’s fresh, it’s flat and it’s awesome. Apple seems to have did the everything right with iOS 7. But is it worth to be a travel companion? What the new version of the iOS mean for travelers for whom a mobile is the most important thing? It is a whole new experience with the photos app, Apple’s own Maps app and an all new passbook app. But is all worth to give it a try? Natasha Stokes takes a snapshot of Apple’s new kid in the perspective of a traveler friendly OS.
While iOS 7 sports a significant redesign alongside improved battery life and multitasking ability, it’s the assortment of new photo functions that iPhone-toting tourists will find most useful in the iOS 7 update. The big deal is a faster, easier way to scroll through that endless stream of photos you’ve amassed over the years and trips.
In previous versions, those photos all existed as part of one, big linear stream.
The iOS7 automatically organizes photos into categories called Collections, Moments and Years, what Apple describes as “smart groupings of your photos and videos based on time and place.”
Collections is a grouping of moments — say, a trip to Canada.
Moments are organized according to date and location.
Years are obvious — groupings of photos by year.
The cool part of the Years organization is a collage of thumbnails of every picture from a given year that appears on the user screen. This can look a little overwhelming — the more photos, the more intricate the collage — but it’s actually a handy way to find images quickly. A redesigned photo Share panel adds a number of functions that users should welcome.
The most useful is a new Shared Photo Stream that not only allows the user to share photos with others, but allows others to add photos to someone else’s photo stream.
Just back from a family vacation in Greece? In the past you might have streamed all of your vacation photos to family members — with the iOS7, those same family members can now add their photos to the same stream.
Better Maps app
Another key asset is the new built-in Maps app, which will now include spoken turn-by-turn navigation for pedestrians.
Instead of bumbling down Las Ramblas or Lan Kwai Fong, eyes glued to an app and smacking into other people, wandering tourists can pocket their iPhones, stick in an earbud and listen out for the next turn, in the same way drivers use sat-nav apps — and similar to how Google Maps works on Android smartphones.
The App Store on iPhones with iOS 7 will also incorporate GPS location to suggest locally popular apps, which is potentially useful for first-time visits to an area — for example, firing up the App Store in Hong Kong’s Sheung Wan district shows two bus schedule apps and a “taxi translator” that gives the names of streets and places in phonetically spelled Chinese.
Other minor traveler-friendly refreshes include an enhanced camera with vintage filters and a square viewfinder mode — all the better to share those holiday snaps on Instagram; and additional security for a lost iPhone that prevents would-be thieves from erasing it in order to sell it.
Passbook now a bigger plus
An app that launched with last year’s iOS 6 software remains one of the iPhone’s biggest travel boons.Passbook is a travel wallet app that holds digital boarding passes, hotel confirmations and other booking tickets, then uses the iPhone’s GPS sensor to pop up the required boarding pass around the location of use.
“Software updates fix bugs, enhance performance and add new features,” says Richard Lai, editor in chief of consumer tech blog Engadget China.
“It’s up to developers then to take advantage of the new tools in their apps.”
Users of the iPhone 5, iPhone 4S and iPhone 4 will be prompted by Apple to update sometime this month, while iOS 7 will be available for the second-, third- and fourth-generation iPads plus the iPad Mini later in the year (rumored to be October).
As for whether an iPhone packing iOS 7 is a worthy alternative to the slew of other smartphones, it comes back down to those nice new photo/camera features and the apps.
Great travel apps for iPhone such as Skyscanner flight booking and TripAdvisor guides are usually also available for Android, while major apps such as TripIt travel organizer and Skype calling will also support Windows Phone and BlackBerry. For current iPhone owners, iOS 7 will make photo organization simpler, but it won’t revolutionize their next trip away — the next generation of iOS 7 apps could.
We are all plugged in to some kind of technology all the time and the majority of tech savvys now want to stay connected while flying too. As this sector attracts traveler looking for luxury, in a time of budget travel, we still have a huge requirement for technical enhancements, people simple want to fly plugged. According to a survey conducted by Fly.com™, the world’s easiest-to-use airfare search engine, Americans don’t want to unplug from their portable communication devices when flying.
Fly.com’s survey, which questioned 500 U.S. travelers this summer, found that 80 percent of respondents want the option to connect to the Internet during their flight. An additional 66 percent would like to be allowed to talk on their cell phone.
This is good news for airlines that already offer wireless services to their passengers. However, based on Fly.com’s survey results, Americans are reticent to pay for Wi-Fi, with 49 percent stating that they do not want to pay anything at all, and an additional 27 percent indicating that they won’t pay more than $5.
In addition, while flyers would also like the option to use mobile phones mid-flight, 55 percent of respondents were concerned that such usage could put the safety of their plane at risk. This is in spite of the fact that 32 percent of those surveyed have broken the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) cell phone ban by either intentionally or unintentionally leaving their phone on during their flight.
Fly.com’s latest findings in the U.S. contrast with the results of an earlier European survey from the company, which established that less than 5 percent of U.K. passengers want in-flight wireless connectivity. However the study does support the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) recent move to form a group to assess whether air carriers and operators can allow a more widespread use of portable electronic devices on planes.
Other notable results from the Fly.com survey include:
Cell Phone Responses
Do not understand the “flight mode” cell phone setting
Do not know why airlines ask passengers to turn off their phones
Believe the most annoying thing about allowing cell phones on planes will be people talking too loudly
Would use cell phones to keep friends and family informed of flight progress
Think it is important that airlines offer Internet access on flights
Would take advantage of in-flight Internet access to find information and deals relating to their destination
Would use in-flight Internet to catch up on emails
“Not only do American travelers want to stay ‘plugged in’ during their flights, but there is also a much higher tolerance for in-flight mobile phone use than we expected,” said Warren Chang, vice president and general manager for Fly.com. “It is good to see that the FAA is looking at ways to satisfy this demand through possible new allowances.”
Would you be amazed or rather alarmed, if there was no pilot in the cockpit while you were traveling in a plane at miles above in the sky? With technological advances in aviation, pilot less passenger planes are a reality. you could call it a passenger drone or a ground controlled passenger flight, where pilots sit in a simulated facility on the base and planes takes off while the controls are visible to the pilot on a screen on the ground.
The concept and technology was backed by test flights conducted overland UK for the first time. In a detailed conversation article published on CNN, “We’re ready to take control” confirms Bob Fraser, a well-seasoned pilot who has been flying for 37 years.
“And proceed,” replies flight test engineer Duncan Casey.
Fraser and Casey are looking at computer display screens, tracking the position of a BAE 146 aircraft flying north towards Scotland — but there is one vital difference. Casey is high in the sky while Fraser has his feet firmly on the ground.
Casey is one of the flight test engineers onboard the test aircraft equipped with state-of-the-art drone technology along with the two pilots in the cockpit for the take-off and landing phases.
After taking-off and climbing to an altitude of 7,000 feet, the pilots hand over to the flight test engineers who in turn hand over to Fraser. “Flying an unmanned vehicle is not as much fun as flying a normal aircraft, however it has a lot of similar challenges,” explained Fraser from the comfort of his armchair cockpit.
Talking about the the successful experiment, RT wrote about the pilot’s experience after British aerospace giant BAE conducted a successful overland UK flight of an unmanned prototype for the first time.
“I believe we are writing a new chapter in aviation history,” said Lambert Dopping-Hepenstal, director of the £62 million government-backed ASTRAEA (Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation & Assessment) program, which is developing the sophisticated sensors that allow the plane to respond to outside conditions without the help of human eyes on-board.
The Jetstream 31 – an expensive experimental project known as ‘The Flying Testbed’ that looks much like an ordinary 16-seater training plane – took off from Lancashire in northern England, and landed safely 500 miles away in Inverness in Scotland.
As a precaution, two pilots sat in the cockpit, while the entire flight was conducted by an operator back at base.
“The pilots were sitting there having a coffee. They did not have to do anything,” said a BAE spokesman.
Pachinko parlors certainly offer the laser lights, upbeat music, and other multimedia spectacle popularly expected by its clientele, but that’s not what makes these dens of chance so attractive. Rather, it’s the spectacle of thousands and thousands of cascading metallic balls. Many revel in the noise of metallic impacts alone. Some imagine rain. Others think of money –of success and profit. On the surface, everybody seems to hit jackpot at the Pachinko parlors.
However the metallic balls sound to you, Pachinko is undoubtedly one of the most lucrative games across the world. Originally Japanese, pachinko hasn’t quite picked up across the world but that hasn’t its popularity within its home country and influenced areas. In Japan alone, the game pulls in over $300 billion per annum.
That’s a whole lot of money. To pachinko players, that’s a whole lot of balls.
Houses of Ill Repute, Mainstream, and Everywhere Between –Pachinko’s History
Unlike most western games of chance, pachinko started rather modestly –as a child’s game in the 1920s. These early pachinko machines were meant for home ownership.
Not until the 1930s did Japanese adults start recreationally playing pachinko in the parlors and dens of today. At the onset of WW2 all of these parlors and dens closed. Much like golf in late medieval Scotland, the game remained immensely popular after being made illegal and Pachinko parlors flourished in speakeasy type establishments. At the close of WWII pachinko came back to into the limelight with fury and thunder. The first recognized commercial parlor opened in 1948.
Though hugely popular in Japan, pachinko is widely known to be dominated by Japanese Koreans, who moved into the industry after rapid fire machines were banned in the 1950s to curb gambling. While Japanese manufacturers and proprietors backed out, Japanese organized crime increased their presence. That mentioned, near all gambling itself is legal. Pachinko is profitable enough as is.
While Pachinko is known for having an illegal presence, many parlors operate on a purely legitimate level. Visitors and regulars should worry more about a maniacal pachinko player skimming balls rather than upsetting shark-suited thugs.
The Game Mechanics
Pachinko operates like a combination of slot machines and pinball. Balls continue dropping through a vertical maze of pins. Where these metallic balls land is completely random. Some are sucked back into the machine. Others set off alarms or triggers that lead to more balls or send digital slots through a whirl, which can lead to a jackpot of more balls. Sometimes the glinting spheres are caught only to be recycled and set back to the top. Many land into the canister.
Players only control when balls are released and the balls general force of the release. This sense of autonomy keeps players engaged, though the physics themselves are almost completely random. That mentioned, skill does exist among pachinko players and those looking to profit from an automated game of chance are better off with pachinko rather than traditional slot games.
While these are universal aspects of the game, there three reining styles of play:
Hanemono –Popular throughout most pachinko parlors since the 1950s, these machines offer the player the highest chance to use their skills to succeed, based off how and when balls are fired into the machine. While each parlor is different, this type of machine is generally the most affordable and has the smallest payout.
Diji-Pachi –These machines have flourished since the 90s and integrates slots . While winning is further randomized, skill is still important as the game’s objectives are clearer. More importantly, player’s gratification is increased due to the chance of greater payouts and bonus rounds.
Kenrimono –The most difficult but most rewarding pachinko machine, skilled pachinko players gravitate to this type. Initial odds of winning is one in several hundred, but if rounds are successful this continues to halve, thus keeping skilled players in a loop of winning.
Pachinko’s overall objective is to, of course, collect more balls. These can be exchanged for a number of different prizes –at least in Japan. The country’s laws strictly prohibit monetary payout, but there’s usually a conveniently located pawnshop a stone throw’s away from any pachinko parlor. Elsewhere, different payoff rules apply or don’t exist. Illegal parlors operate just about everywhere, including New York and London. That mentioned, many don’t bother to keep things shady are listed as legit games of chance.
Current Pachinko Parlors: The Ladies, You, and the Recession
Given the game’s immense popularity, there’s a whole range of different parlors that cater to different types of players. Some require a cover, offer luxurious surroundings, have dress codes, offer sequestered play areas and the rest. Much like any other casino, pachinko parlors cater to just about anybody with money and sometimes has huge ground floors that attracts people of every walk of life.
Pachinko parlors oftentimes have an internalized economy. Food, smokes, and other goods can be exchanged for balls. Anything can be exchanged for balls, save one object –cash. Perhaps this is what keeps players coming back. Money is at the background and balls themselves are of a uniform value, unlike the colored chips found in casinos.
Pachinko parlors certainly aren’t for everybody. While the spectacle can certainly be breathtaking, those sensitive to smoke or epileptic will want to stay far away.
That mentioned, parlors historically have had better business during times of recession, and plenty of people typically unassociated with the parlors are beginning to frequent these places of chance. Most specifically, women are beginning to frequent parlors more often. Those little balls are beginning to count for more and more.
Travellers tend to fall into two general categories: city seekers and hideaway seekers. Increasingly, though, the line between these two gets blurred as great retreats become over-publicized and overrun with people all looking to get away. But hope is not lost, there are still some great spots to withdraw from your work life and fully embrace your blissful side. Here are four spots in America for the escape-seeking traveller that mainstream wanderlusts have not yet discovered:
Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio
Many of the marquee state parks such as Yellowstone or Yosemite are without a doubt able to be seen with little to no interruptions from other visitors but for some escapists it’s a sense of uniqueness they want just as much solitude during their stay; they’ve seen the pictures a thousand times and are ready to be exposed to something they’ve never really seen before.
For you, rugged individualist, I present Hocking Hills in central Ohio. The hills themselves are dissected areas of the Alleghany Plateau and feature cliffs, caves, and gorges—many of which featuring breathtaking waterfalls. The natural beauty is not to be missed but the name of this game is seclusion and Hocking Hills is chock full of open space.
I’ve stayed in two cabins in different areas of the 2,356-acre park and both times I was wowed by the region’s untouched feel. Both cabins, no matter how big the complex, was staffed at the most by two or three people, enough to welcome you and tell you which dirt road your cabin is located down before sending you on your way. For some this brings up questions like “what am I paying for??” but for others this is true hospitality: inviting, helpful, and out of the way.
There are, of course, some better known gorges and caves than others where you may be forced to see a lone soul or two but the large size and non-contiguous status of the park (there are several smaller sections disconnected from each other rather than one large park) means more likely than not you’ll find yourself master of your own adventure with no real must-see’s unless they are a must-see to you. With unbelievable sights like Ash Cave and Conkle’s Hollow and no one to shame you into seeing any of it if you so choose, Hocking Hills is a great (and cheaper) alternative to the decked-out lodges of more widely visited state parks.
What’s So Hidden?
. Non-contiguous park makes for a lack of central destination where all travellers go
. Distance from major metropolitan area decreases gentrification
. Hands-off hospitality at many lodges and cabins
The Hudson Valley, New York
The next two hideaways require a little more explaining, as they are both increasingly well-known hotspots. The first of these two is the Hudson Valley region of New York. Recent mentions like in the National Geographic list of the “Best Trips of 2013” may make this area stretching from about an hour north of Manhattan to the lower tip of the Adirondacks seem like a fools errand for a quiet retreat. But there is a very narrow section taking up most of the travel media’s attention these days and it’s still easy to consider this a top spot for rural vacationers.
Most of what’s garnered the Hudson Valley national attention lately is its attractiveness to hustle and bustling Manhattanites buying weekend and summer homes in places like Beacon, Hudson, and Woodstock (full disclosure: Woodstock is my hometown, but I like to this this only increases my authority on the subject). As both a one-time resident and current outsider I can say with certainty these towns may be touted for their natural beauty and peaceful living but they are attractive to urban dwellers primarily because they are very reminiscent of city life.
Chic trendy restaurants and art galleries line the streets of Beacon and a lot of city-based companies like Etsy have opened offices in Hudson because they can take the Amtrak right from Penn Station to the heart of town, creating a commuter atmosphere not unlike that found in the immediate suburbs of the New York City. But for every Woodstock there is a slew of surrounding areas (Mount Tremper, Phoenicia, Ashokan, Hunter to name just a small few) where the bankers and doctors would never be caught dead in.
This is the real Hudson Valley and it’s in these towns that feature plenty of B&B’s, hiking, biking, kayaking, fishing, and rock climbing opportunities that you can get the real experience of finding a true hideaway. The lush green and orange of the Catskill Mountains is beautiful particularly because of, not in spite of, their small rounded tops. Unlike the Rockies or Adirondacks that take all the limelight, the Catskills are great canvases on which foliage, sunrises and sunsets, and long sweeping landscapes are painted.
Additionally it’s only once you’ve found yourself feeling really cut off from urban life that you can appreciate the close proximity to major spots like NYC, which make getting to and from the Hudson Valley very easy.
What’s So Hidden?
. Tourism-driven economies in surrounding areas keep low-profile townships off the radar
. Thousands of miles of untouched land that’s not state-landmarked, making it hard for guidebooks and travel sites to pinpoint where to go
. Catskill Mountain ranges offer didn’t aesthetic appeal than more well known Rockies or Cascades and so don’t attract many mountain-seeking travellers
Santa Fe, NM
I know what you’re thinking; EVERYBODY knows about Santa Fe, it’s featured all the time as one of the best and biggest travel destinations in America. This is true, but it’s given this distinction for its artsy downtown and crisp ski mountains in the distance. The hideaway part of Santa Fe is, as it should be, hidden. What puts Santa Fe on my top hideaway list, and what distinguishes it from the others, is that it’s not secluded in the way a state park or mountain range is secluded, it’s hidden in plain sight.
In between the great cuisine and architecture downtown steep ski and snowboard trails are miles and miles of trails and camping spots that come up seemingly out of nowhere.
During my time in Santa Fe I was staying very near downtown when one evening my travel companion suggested we get in the car and see if we can find a nice spot to watch the sun go down. After five minutes and no more than two or three turns we found ourselves high up in the hills at the foot of a long winding trail on which the sounds of the rooftops cantinas below us were no more than a memory. Further investigation proved that we’d stumbled on just one of many spots like this all surrounding downtown.
Real lodging accommodations in these parts can be a bit pricy but for those not afraid of camping (make sure you read up on avoiding snakes and scorpions) the peace and solitude will be hard to beat as so many of those coming to this area will be only a few miles below you but worlds away.
What’s So Hidden?
. Major hotspots down in the city and way up in the mountains, keeping a peaceful no man’s land in between
. Trails and campgrounds are so close to downtown that travellers seeking the city don’t tend to stray beyond and those seeking “hideaways” tend to look farther away.
. Low-rise architecture and older demographic of the population make proximity to downtown easy to forget
Elk Lake, Michigan
Finally, we’ve come to what may be my favorite “true” American hideaway. Elk Lake, and surrounding town Elk Rapids is blessed with some of the same attributes that make the others on our list so well hidden—it’s proximity to very well known spots. Traverse City is a quick drive from Elk Rapids and a popular spot for summer travellers looking for dry cool air and the world famous Traverse City Cherries and the lake is sandwiched between the famous Torch Lake and Lake Michigan.
Because of this when you find yourself in a secluded spot along Elk Lake, of which there are many along it’s nine-mile stretch, you can take full advantage of the clear-as-glass water as if it’s your own private spring of rejuvenation. Similar to Santa Fe this is not a hideaway where you are miles from the nearest human, it’s a hideaway where you are closest to the kind of peace and revitalizing rest a retreating trip should offer. Java Jones in Elk Rapids has all the fixings of a contemporary, hip coffeehouse stripped away of any of the pretention in city centers and trendy vacation spots.
The Sleeping Bear Dunes a short drive from the lake is the kind of outdoor adventure a real escape-seeker wants, no equipment, no line, no payment, just you climbing the most challenging and rewarding pile of sand you’ve ever seen. Fall asleep to the cool dry Michigan breeze and wake up with a swim that will stay with you the rest of the day. Elk Lake is why we started travelling in the first place.
What’s So Hidden?
. Sandwiched in between major destinations; Torch Lake, Lake Michigan, Traverse City that attract more visitors
. Large area of lake (nine miles long) makes secluded spots abundant
The great joy of travelling is to go to places you’ve never been. Isn’t it that much more rewarding going where no one has ever been either?
There’s more than just simple altitude separating Tibet from the rest of the world –there’s also everything from Chinese domestic policy to the tight lips of native Tibetans.
Without a doubt, Tibet has been on the must-visit list of every would-be lama from Annapolis to Zurich. Outdoors enthusiasts, spiritual devotees, historians, and curiosity seekers all consider traveling to the famed plateau of tibet.
That’s perfectly understandable, given Tibet’s media attention. The recent history of Tibet’s takeover by Chinese forces and displacement of the Dalai Lama has inspired a whole range of books, movies, and magazine articles. Martin Scorsese’s Kundun is excellent and plenty of people dig Brad Pit in Seven Years in Tibet.
Tibet is probably the most well known barren plateau in the world. While such media is certainly educative, much of this fascination is thanks to media coverage of China and the Dalai Lama’s very vocal advocacy –not Tibet’s significance. Make no mistake –the recognized Tibetan Buddhist leader certainly has insight and levelheadedness to spare, even if he galvanizes support and awareness by making celebrity rounds. His lobbying is just. Tibet was a victim of Chinese aggression and current Chinese authorities aren’t exactly known for their fair treatment of native Tibetans.
That mention, what’s mostly stunning about Tibet is that people ever bothered to settle there. That’s not Han Chinese political acid. That’s just the plain ‘ol truth. Visiting is to witness human durability –along with tightwad bureaucracy and the ramifications of structural terror.
So…is it really worth the visit? Maybe, but explorative travelers and religious pilgrims have best know a few things before going.
Tibet & China, Forever Intertwined Together
China has an ambivalent relationship with Tibet. On one hand, it has an occupational policy that fiercely roots out vocal dissidence –arguably a grudge that goes back to the Tang dynasty, when Tibetan soldiers occupied the Tang capital of Chang’an for two weeks in 763. On the other hand, China likes trade even more than it likes territory and bad PR over Tibet certainly can jeopardize it. There’s also how Tibet self governed before China’s aggression.
Thanks to this concern with PR, visitors to China have had a relative free hand traveling throughout Tibet from the 1980s onward. Until 2008, that is. The combination of Beijing Olympics and activity from Tibetan nationalists spurred China to once again clamp down on tourism in Tibet.
Those looking to enjoy the country are bound to have a harder time than most, including:
Tibet Traveling Permit – Travelers looking to visit Tibet absolutely require a special travel Visa to enter the region. While just about anybody can receive these, expect to fork over an extra $50. If your stated profession is decidedly political or journalistic, even creative, then Chinese officials may simply refuse passage or extradite you from the province at the first whiff of trouble.
Tibet Time limitations –Speaking of trouble, Chinese officials often close the region to tourism during predicted patterns of protest and turmoil. This can happen at any time, but is usually around March each year, as this is the anniversary of the Tibetan uprising. Last thing Chinese officials want are tourists to witness self immolation or brutally repressed protests. Plan accordingly.
Chinese guides – Though China might not consistently encourage tourism, the nation certainly recognizes what a cash cow it can be. Since 2008 independent touring has been tightly controlled, so all tour guides are sanctified by the Chinese government and all tourists must stick with an organized group run by such guides.
More permits –Specific permits are required to visit certain areas throughout Tibet. First and foremost, Aliens’ Travel Permit is required to enter certain areas, but these requirements oscillate and different regions require the permit at different times. Those looking to checkout isolated reaches of Tibet may need the military permit. Make sure to have a solid reason to request such permits, as Chinese officials are quite picky over who are granted these passes.
Not Recreational, Just Rough
Tibet is far from a recreational spot. Don’t expect restaurants to offer much variety, for inns or hotels to have ritzy amenities, or for many playpens such as spas or night clubs. In fact, the only locations that even feature such possibilities are large settlements like Lhasa, and even then such attractions are quite limited. That mentioned, if you’re considering Tibet then that probably doesn’t bother you.
Tourism in Tibet is mostly spurred by pure curiosity. The inner anthropologist and historian tingle over visiting such remote lands. Places to visit mostly consist of ancient relics, Buddhist shrines, and naturalist sites. For many, the inner Spartan also tingles –the region is known for also lacking many basic amenities tourists are used to.
Atop of all this, there’s the people themselves. Make no mistake –Tibet has whole heaps of very helpful and amiable locals who collaborate with tourists just as they would anybody else. That mentioned, helpful, amiable, or collaborative doesn’t mean hygienic or progressive. Tibetans are likely to smell riper and be shyer outside of urban centers. However, these situations do allow more fulfilling interactions. While polite, many urban Tibetans will likely not volunteer information due to scrutiny from Chinese officialdom.
Tibet With Traveling to…The Plateau of Tibet
Tourists don’t actually need to see Tibet to get an understanding of Tibetan culture. Tibetan communities can be found in neighboring provinces without the hassle or roughness of actually visiting Tibet. Such communities result both from forced relocation and the Tibetan diaspora, both spurred by brutal 20th century Chinese policies. Of course, there’re also migratory Tibetans merely looking to leave what’s essentially a backwater province. Large Tibetans communities are known primarily settling in Dharamshala, India –where Tibetan expatriates and refuges have traditionally entered India. Atop of this there’s a whole slew autonomous regions in the Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan.
Visiting areas similar to Tibet and full of Tibetans, yet not actually Tibet? Probably sounds like a cop-out. Depending on the motives for visiting the region, that very well might be the case. After all, Tibet has the Himalayas and Samye Monastery, the first Buddhist monastery created in Tibet. Just remember that a fuller understanding of modern Tibetan culture calls for exposure to the aftermath of Chinese conquest. Tibet is not just a place, but a people.