In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
Canadian camper rescued in Norway using smoke signals
A Canadian tourist who broke his foot while camping alone on a remote island in Norway has been rescued after sending out smoke signals – but the fire he started then engulfed a large part of the island.
The 25-year-old man, who has not been identified by authorities, spent three days on the remote northern island of Hillesoy after falling and breaking his foot, Nordlys newspaper reported.
The rugged and sparsely populated island has no cell phone coverage so he eventually resorted to lighting a fire to attract the attention of rescuers.
“He lay there for three days waiting to be discovered but on the third day, today [Thursday], he realised he had to do something himself,” Joran Bugge, who headed the police rescue operation, said.
The plan worked and he was rescued last Thursday – but not before the fire burned down his tent.
Authorities believed the blaze to have died out.
It took the efforts of two army helicopters and around 20 firefighters to bring the fire under control Friday.
“It’s illegal to start this kind of fire, but in this case the police aren’t going to take any action,” Bugge said.
Unmanned flight trials begin
Trials which could lead to unmanned flights in British civilian air space will take place over the summer.
It is part of a programme which would see “pilotless” aircraft used for search and rescue missions, coastal patrols and eventually pave the way for the removal of the co-pilot on commercial flights.
The trials are being carried out by BAE systems, which has started flying a small passenger plane over the Irish sea.
Although a pilot is being used for take-off and landing, control of the aircraft during the flight itself is left in the hands of the computer, which is supervised by a remote commander on the ground.
However should communication between the control centre and plane be lost, the computer can take over completely.
The technology in the specially fitted out BAE Jetstream, which is nicknamed the Flying Test Bed, goes considerably further than the auto-pilot system found on commercial aircraft.
It is fitted with sophisticated weather detection systems which will steer the plane away from bad weather.
The aircraft also has what it describes as a “visual sense and avoid” system, which would enable a plane to avoid other obstacles such as another nearby plane.
It is also fitted with equipment which could be used in the event of an emergency landing on a remote field in the middle of the countryside.
“It would understand the terrain below,” said Lambert Dopping-Hepenstal, the Engineering Director at BAE Systems.
“The plane would be fitted with sensors which would be able to tell if there are animals in the field or detect if it is being use for a car boot sale that day.”
The purpose of the trials, which will see 20 flights take place over the summer, is to demonstrate to regulators that unmanned aircraft – known as Uninhabited Air Vehicle (UAV) – can be used safely in commercial airspace, including over cities.
Catching the winds of change in Cuba
It’s the tail end of our weekend in this tropical communist stronghold, and a minor revolution is brewing.
For the past three days, our band of 13 travelers on an Insight Cuba tour has been shepherded through the decaying capital of America’s nearest adversary under a year-old, U.S.-sanctioned “people-to-people” program.
But since Treasury Department rules require mandatory participation in “a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities,” it hasn’t been a salsa-and-cigar-fueled beach escape. Instead, we’ve heard lectures at a day care center for seniors, a literacy museum featuring a blackboard with machine gun holes allegedly from theCIA, and a community project aimed at reviving traditional folk culture.
Now, as we once again clamber aboard our state-of-the-art, Chinese-made tour bus (a stark contrast to the three-wheeled rickshaws and Eisenhower-era cars that cruise Havana’s crumbling, heartbreakingly beautiful colonial streets), our Cuban guide, José Ramón Rodriguez Sicilia, gives us an unexpected dose of democracy. We could drive 45 minutes to a private home and museum owned by elderly fans of vintage American jazz, or head back to our faded-glory hotel for a nap, a dip in the pool or a cocktail in the same bar once frequented by the likes of Al Capone and Graham Greene.
The hotel wins, but José— concerned about possible repercussions from an unauthorized schedule deviation — persuades us to press on. The mojitos, it seems, will have to wait.
Off-limits to most American vacationers since Fidel Castro took power in 1959, this Caribbean “isla non grata” about 90 miles south of Key West has long drawn sun-starved Canadians and Europeans. Now, tourism both on and off the beach is a key driver of the country’s officially socialist but increasingly capitalistic economy.
But “the biggest issue is that Cuba just has too little capacity for the demand right now,” notes Cuba expert Christopher Baker, a guidebook author and tour leader.
And as American interest in Cuba escalates — many “people-to-people” tours are sold out or wait-listed through 2012, and a Republican presidential win would likely eliminate them entirely — prices are on the upswing, as well.
Chinese embrace RV culture
Dong Xuemin can’t wait for weekends when he heads out with family or friends to the mountains north of Beijing or to a lake for a picnic.
Dong is a “Red Ant” – a member of a club of urban Chinese who’ll find any excuse to hit the road, not in ordinary cars, but in recreational vehicles, those quintessential Western chariots of leisure transportation used by “Snowbirds” in North America typified by white-haired retirees heading south for the winter.
“RVs have a long and glorious history in the West,” says Dong, 41, who runs a logistics and storage business in Beijing where he stores his RV, boat, all-terrain vehicle and motorized surfboard. “Chinese are the same; we love the outdoors. So we’re learning the American and Western RV culture.”
China’s RV market is still minuscule compared to North America. Chinese buyers bought an estimated 1,000 RVs last year compared to more than 250,000 sold in the United States. A lack of government regulations, campgrounds, plumbing and decent roads in many parts of the country are among the challenges stalwart road-warriors face.
Experts, however, say the RV business in China is about to take off, benefiting domestic manufacturers and foreign makers alike. The RV China Association expects sales to increase 40 percent between 2012 and 2015 to close to 4,000.
“An RV market needs people with money and time. Chinese have usually had one, but not the other,” says Bill Liu, whose Santa Clara, California-based company, China Motorhome, exports American-made RVs to China.
Liu predicts RV sales in China will skyrocket to 500,000 annually in 20 years because, with China’s first generation of modern entrepreneurs getting set to retire, “for the first time in Chinese history you have people with money and time.”
And while most Chinese today take to the air to travel south for balmy winter vacations, in 10 years that will be very different, Liu believes.
“We’ll see Chinese snowbirds,” he says, “maybe even Russians.”
HOMEGROWN VERSUS IMPORTS
Domestic RV manufacturers currently dominate with about 60% of the Chinese market and offer a range of choices for RV buyers. Chinese seeking a luxury life on the road can go for a high-end Wuzhouxing touring bus, made in Henan province south of Beijing and selling for up to 2 million yuan ($315,000).
“We use Nissan engines and chassis and build everything on top of it,” says CEO Li Jian, who started the company after he had difficulty finding places to stay on trips to remote Tibet. “If campgrounds are developed, the RV market will take off,” Li says.