The cruise business in China is still small. In 2014 about 700,000 Chinese travelers cruised, compared with 10 million Americans and more than 6 million Europeans. But the numbers are climbing rapidly—an increase of 79 percent from 2012 to 2014—and the ceiling isn’t yet visible. In the U.S. and Australia, about 3.5 percent of the population cruises each year; the proportion in China is less than one-sixtieth of that. Some forecasters estimate that China will be the No. 2 market by 2017—and that it could eventually replace the U.S. as the largest in the world. ... Local governments have already built cruise terminals in Sanya, Shanghai, Tianjin, and Xiamen, with more on the way in at least four other coastal cities. Cruise companies are bringing ships to China as fast as the ports can squeeze them in. But the hardware is the easy part. The software—the onboard experience of the Chinese customer—is still in beta. Localization itself is nothing new; brands from KFC to Oreo as well as Hollywood studios have tailored their products to the Chinese market, with varying levels of success. For cruise companies, it’s more complicated than hiring a Chinese celebrity spokesperson or throwing in a green tea flavor. They must rethink the entire cruise experience, from food to décor to how a rapidly capitalizing society thinks about class and luxury.
The interior of Madagascar is ringed by razor-sharp rock, impenetrable jungle, and invisible perils that even seasoned explorers dread. No wonder more men have been to the moon. ... "This place is almost completely inaccessible, an actual no-man's-land!" Simon Donato was explaining over the telephone. He was going on an expedition to this remote spot halfway around the world, a chunk of rocky forest near Madagascar's west central coast called the Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve, and I was hoping to join him. "Right now, we probably know more about what isn't in there than what is. No trails. No infrastructure. It isn't really visible even on Google Maps, because of its tree cover." ... now that the chief qualification to climb Everest is a large checking account balance, and luxury cruisegoers to Antarctica can snap penguin-packed selfies without having to miss their predinner cocktails. Africa is probably the continent most mysterious to North Americans. Madagascar, the massive island nation sometimes called the Eighth Continent because of the uniqueness and diversity of its flora and fauna, is Africa's Africa — an even less-known place. Which makes the Tsingy, as Winston Churchill once said of another strange land, a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.
On this trip, his fans will witness Schlappig's latest mission: a weekend jaunt that will slingshoot him across East Asia — Hong Kong, Jakarta, Tokyo — and back to New York, in 69 hours. He'll rarely leave the airports, and when he does he'll rest his head only in luxury hotels. ... Schlappig, 25, is one of the biggest stars among an elite group of obsessive flyers whose mission is to outwit the airlines. They're self-styled competitors with a singular objective: fly for free, as much as they can, without getting caught. ... "An airplane is my bedroom," he says, stretching to reach his complimentary slippers. "It's my office, and it's my playroom." The privilege of reclining in this personal suite costs around $15,000. Schlappig typically makes this trip when he's bored on the weekend. He pays for it like he pays for everything: with a sliver of his gargantuan cache of frequent-flyer miles that grows only bigger by the day.
Ölgii’s airport looks like that of a Soviet border post, which, in a sense, is exactly what it once was. Mongolia left the Soviet Union only in 1990. The tarmac was shrouded in ground mist, and as the sun rose, we saw ash- colored mountains and white nomad gers, or felt tents. Two Land Cruisers took us through Ölgii, with its decayed Soviet squares, through immense flocks of goats mingled with red- cheeked children on their way to school. On the far side, we followed the course of the dark-blue Khovd River, which curves through the desert steppes. Yaks and argali sheep me-andered along the river as well, shadowed by saker falcons. Jalsa’s temporary ger camp is built by the edge of this river every October for the Golden Eagle Festival and then dis-mantled afterward. It lies several miles from Ölgii, in a wilderness of grassland and glittering beech trees, the gers spread out along the gravel banks. ... The Kazakhs were—and many still are—Muslim nomads who emigrated into western Mongolia in the 1860s under pressure from the aggressively expanding czarist Russia. Their language is Turkic and thus unintelligible to Mongols, but they share with their hosts an ancient steppe culture based on the horse, on archery, and on hunting. In Kazakh, eagle hunters are known as berkutchi, from the word for “eagle,” berkut, and as with the Mongols, their falconry skills have been honed over centuries. Genghis Khan himself is rumored to have kept a thousand hunting birds for his pleasure.
If you want to understand the nonconformist culture of Southwest Airlines, you’ve got to start with its holiest site: the shrine to Herb. Walk into the company’s headquarters, located in a five-story gray building next to the Love Field airport in Dallas, go past the front desk, and proceed down a broad hallway until you get to a horseshoe-shaped employee lounge with a soaring atrium. There you’ll find a museum of sorts honoring Southwest’s Wild Turkey–swilling, Marlboro-smoking co-founder and former CEO, Herb Kelleher. In one towering poster on the wall he’s shown hamming it up in a sequined Elvis costume; in another he’s arm wrestling an aviation rival for charity. Push a red button and you can hear a recording of three versions of Kelleher’s famous laugh—the guffaw, the chortle, and the roaring belly buster. On the walls there are embossed plaques with a selection of his favorite sayings, none more emblematic than this gem: “If you rest on your laurels, you’ll get a thorn in your butt.” ... The company is in the process of reworking or jettisoning altogether much of Kelleher’s tried-and-true strategy—with plans to fly in a totally new strategic direction. In fact, after years of consistently outsmarting and outperforming the traditional carriers, Southwest is today remaking itself to operate more like them. ... The goal? To attract more of the most lucrative customers: high-fare-paying business travelers flying long distances.
Inside the rotunda of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, a circular walkway spirals down from the street level, like an underground version of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum in New York. A series of galleries branches out from there, giving up astonishing secrets from one of the finest—if forgotten—collections of 20th century art in the world. ... The galleries are a ghost town, except for a dozen photography students who, for the $1.50 price of admission ... Built by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s wife, Empress Farah Pahlavi, just before the 1979 revolution, the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art amassed the greatest collection of modern Western masterpieces outside Europe and North America ... As revolutionary mobs protested in the streets in January 1979 after the shah and his wife fled, the museum spirited its 1,500 works of Western art into a basement vault. ... The collection’s survival is part of the larger Iranian paradox—the struggle of one of humanity’s oldest and most refined civilizations to overcome an historic spasm of fundamentalism and xenophobia.
I first heard about Luke Weiss from an elder of the Waorani, a tribe scattered along the Amazon tributaries of northeastern Ecuador. He spoke of a white man living with the Secoya, a small tribe settled on a nearby river, but one who had ceased to be a white man. This man had become Secoya. He practiced the tribe's oldest and most difficult traditions. He spoke a pure, antiquated Secoya dialect. What's more, he had achieved something no outsider ever had among the tribes of the region: He became apprentice and heir to the tribe's renowned healer, a 103-year-old shaman named Don Cesario. When people from local villages and distant towns seek out Cesario for healing, it is Weiss who prepares the ritual potions. ... Weiss, it turns out, is about to enter his second year of a master's program at the Yale School of Forestry. His research project: figuring out how to cultivate yoco, a caffeinated vine that suppresses appetite and provides a sustained energy boost, making it the go-to energy drink of the northern Amazon. Weiss wants to crack yoco's code. If it can be cultivated more easily at scale and turned into a marketable drink like yerba maté, then yoco could become a viable, sustainably produced cash crop — and the Secoya's only chance for cultural and economic survival. Young Secoya are leaving San Pablo for the cities or taking jobs with the oil companies.
All of her reactions, and her answers to the questions Motte asked as Megan used the site, went into a growing database. Expedia, the parent company of more than a dozen travel-oriented brands in addition to Expedia.com, is obsessed with figuring out how to make booking travel online more intuitive, more efficient, and more enjoyable. That means, among other things, understanding the psychodrama of trip planning: the shifting desires and paralyzing wealth of choices, the unsettling gyrations in room rates and ticket prices, the competing demands of family members and budgets and schedules, the need to balance the thirst for adventure against the fear of Zika virus in Latin America or Islamic State in Europe. ... The goal of Expedia’s usability researchers is not only to make Expedia’s various sites and mobile apps more efficient but also to make them an extension of the vacation fantasies that are always running in the back of our heads. ... What distinguishes Expedia is its dedication to understanding the psyche of the modern travel planner. That may be most apparent in the Usability Lab, but much of it happens on the sites themselves, as the company relentlessly tests new ideas about look and feel and function. ... each of Expedia’s brands has its own technology and marketing teams, and they’re encouraged to set their own course. They all benefit from the massive inventory of hotel rooms and plane tickets and the financial resources and technological firepower of the parent company. ... Two-thirds of the A/B tests Expedia runs show no effect or a negative effect, and most of the successful ones are only marginally so.
An interest in big-clawed bears gave way to an interest in big-clawed cats, and for the past half decade, Rosen has spent almost all her time studying Panthera uncia, or the snow leopard, an animal whose life in the wild, owing to its far-flung habitat and fundamentally elusive nature, remains little known. ... So much remains unknown that scientists debate even the size of the snow leopard population itself: Some thought there were a thousand cats in the country, others put the number at 300. ... At 12,200 feet, the sage of the plains gave way to the middle reaches of the mountains, and the only other vehicles were trucks from a nearby gold mine. All around us was an ocean of unbroken snowpack; without sunglasses, it hurt to even open your eyes. At 15,000 feet, according to the altimeter on my satellite phone, the air began to feel painfully thin; my vision clouded at the corners with a gray haze, and my head throbbed. ... The snow leopard is a deceptively small beast: Males are 95 pounds, give or take, and light through the back and torso. They stand little more than 24 inches tall. (Female snow leopards are smaller still.) And yet as the late naturalist Peter Matthiessen, who wrote his most famous book about the snow leopard, once noted, there are few animals that can match its “terrible beauty,” which he described as “the very stuff of human longing.” ... Save for the pink nose and glimmering green or blue eyes, its camouflage is perfect, the black-speckled gray pelt a good blend for both snow and alpine rock. ... Data from the Snow Leopard Trust suggest that the cat will bring down an animal every eight to ten days—ibex or bharal or long-horned argali sheep, whichever large ungulates are nearby—and can spend three or four days picking apart the carcass. ... life of a male snow leopard is lonelier. He might stay with a female for a few days while they mate, but after that he’ll typically return to hunting and defending his territory in solitude. In Kyrgyzstan, he is often referred to, with reverence, as “the mountain ghost.”
Bir Tawil is the last truly unclaimed land on earth: a tiny sliver of Africa ruled by no state, inhabited by no permanent residents and governed by no laws. To get there, you have two choices. ... The first is to fly to the Sudanese capital Khartoum, charter a jeep, and follow the Shendi road hundreds of miles up to Abu Hamed, a settlement that dates back to the ancient kingdom of Kush. Today it serves as the region’s final permanent human outpost before the vast Nubian desert, twice the size of mainland Britain and almost completely barren, begins unfolding to the north. ... The second option is to approach from Egypt, setting off from the country’s southernmost city of Aswan, down through the arid expanse that lies between Lake Nasser to the west and the Red Sea to the east. Much of it has been declared a restricted zone by the Egyptian army, and no one can get near the border without first obtaining their permission. ... Both nations have renounced any claim to it, and no other government has any jurisdiction over it.
The costs of air traffic control have continued to rise, as has the size of the controller workforce. Decades of steadily increasing air traffic have put excess pressure on air traffic controllers. Planes fly around the clock, and the greenest controllers get saddled with overnight or odd shifts, often stuck in a dark room while senior employees opt for cushy positions in places with little air traffic and good weather. ... It's a mess. But it doesn't have to be this way. ... While the FAA accepted this kind of GPS-based system in theory, it took years to develop compatibility software to allow controllers to receive radar-like position information for their screens. Once this system became operational in Pacific and North Atlantic airspace, it took the FAA more than a decade of testing to adopt a similar program for domestic airspace. In 2003, the FAA put an indefinite hold on development. It wasn't until 2012 that the program relaunched with the capability to begin this year. Even so, it won't be fully operational until 2025. ... The FAA, a government agency, must prove competitive due diligence and receive authorized appropriations from Congress, whose representatives aren't always motivated to close down obsolete facilities, especially if it means losing jobs in their districts. Even the FAA's current plan for bringing in satellite-based nav relies heavily on radar as a backup for GPS surveillance, which reduces funding for a new and modern system. ... Sometimes a controller literally calls the next person in line. Sometimes controllers pass information written on plain old paper. ... What if the business of air traffic control were to break off from the FAA, freeing the system from the bureaucracy of a federal government agency? This isn't just idle talk. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a specialized agency created by the United Nations to manage aviation standards among its 191 member states, recommends all nations separate air traffic control from aviation safety agencies. While nearly all member countries do so, the United States has not.
Residents here still speak Sardo, the closest living form of Latin. Grandmothers gaze warily at outsiders from under embroidered veils. And, in a modest apartment in the town of Nuoro, a slight 62-year-old named Paola Abraini wakes up every day at 7 am to begin making su filindeu – the rarest pasta in the world. ... In fact, there are only two other women on the planet who still know how to make it: Abraini’s niece and her sister-in-law, both of whom live in this far-flung town clinging to the slopes of Monte Ortobene. ... No one can remember how or why the women in Nuoro started preparing su filindeu (whose name means “the threads of God”), but for more than 300 years, the recipe and technique have only been passed down through the women in Abraini’s family – each of whom have guarded it tightly before teaching it to their daughters. ... Last year, a team of engineers from Barilla pasta came to see if they could reproduce her technique with a machine. They couldn’t.
Next year it will be 60 years since people first witnessed the majesty of a satellite being launched into orbit: Sputnik 1, hurled into the night sky in Kazakhstan early on October 5th 1957. ... Just 15 years separated the launch of the first satellite and the return of the last man from the moon, years in which anything seemed possible. But having won the space race, America saw no benefit in carrying on. Instead it developed a space shuttle meant to make getting to orbit cheap, reliable and routine. More than 100 shuttle flights between 1981 to 2011 went some way to realising the last of those goals, despite two terrible accidents. The first two were never met. Getting into space remained a risky and hideously expensive proposition, taken up only by governments and communications companies, each for their own reasons. ... New rockets, though, are not the only exciting development. The expense of getting into space during the 1980s and 1990s led some manufacturers to start shrinking the satellites used for some sorts of mission, creating “smallsats”. Since then the amount a given size of satellite can do has been boosted by developments in computing and electronics. This has opened up both new ways of doing old jobs and completely novel opportunities. ... No single technology ties together this splendid gaggle of ambitions. But there is a common technological approach that goes a long way to explaining it; that of Silicon Valley. Even if for now most of the money being spent in space remains with old government programmes and incumbent telecom providers, space travel is moving from the world of government procurement and aerospace engineering giants to the world of venture-capital-funded startups and business plans that rely on ever cheaper services provided to ever more customers.
More than half a million square miles (a thousand miles long and five hundred miles wide), the Gobi Desert is about twice the size of France and with an elevation of 3,000 to 5,000 feet—remote and austere and prized by paleontologists as one of the world's richest sources of dinosaur fossils. Most of it lies in Mongolia, but China rules its southern portion, which is known in that country as Inner Mongolia. ... the snow leopard, the shy Panthera uncia, which has been seen in the wild by only a handful of people and of which only an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 remain outside zoos. ... The Gobi is in many ways like the old American West, filled with abandoned hamlets and buildings, traces of disappeared peoples. Across its oceanic blond grass, horses and the black silhouettes of camels move languidly, as if they are the only inhabitants. Ancient Turkic nomads left enigmatic petroglyphs carved into boulders 2,000 years ago. ... The following morning we got up before first light and drove on across the same open plain toward a distant rim of mountains, guided only by shallow tracks that converged, separated, and reconverged hour after hour, pathways across the desert unreadable to anyone but Gobi drivers. On the far side of the plain, hidden within the low mountains, lay the small and winding valley where Jalsa's lead guide, Anand Munkhuu, who was with us, had seen the snow leopard a few days earlier drinking from a half-frozen stream that ran along its bottom. We went there morning after morning, hoping we too would see it.