By George Stone, TRAVEL Executive Editor
The pandemic has changed how we see the world. Just ask photographer Pep Bonet, who lives on the Spanish island of Mallorca. Last year, some 11.8 million visitors flooded the enclave, dwarfing the local population of under a million. This year, pandemic travel restrictions have delayed the summertime onslaught—a fact that presents both challenges and opportunities on an island where 200,000 jobs (and roughly 25 percent of the economy) depends on tourism.
With the reduction in tourists, “the beauty of Mallorca is now in front of us,” says Bonet, who used infrared imagery (above and below) to highlight the ethereal qualities of an island (temporarily) silenced from the clatter of its economic engine. His images—with landscapes the color of cotton candy and people appearing to be frozen in place—present a new perspective on a region normally packed with tourists. Bonet hopes that the slowdown “will support a more sustainable island.” He’s not alone.
Mass tourism has troubled Mallorca since the 1950s, when Spain’s isolated fascist regime turned to tourism as a source of revenue and encouraged beach development. Since then, the economic imperative has trumped concerns for the welfare of its locals and the conservation of its ecosystem. “Long before overtourism became a pressing concern from Barcelona to Venice, the Balearic Islands were a byword for a travel industry run amok,” writes Jen Rose Smith. “When tourism researchers refer to out-of-control development that values short-term profit over sustainability, they call it balearización.”
Now many locals are looking for more sustainable paths. When strict lockdowns lifted in early June, islanders emerged to find a sun-washed coastline that—for the first time in memory—was empty of tourists in the high season. As Smith writes, Mallorca’s wildness “retains the power to astonish visitors—at least those willing to go beyond the most densely developed parts of the coast.” Many residents hope returning visitors will “seek out natural landscapes and local culture, swapping coastal mega-resorts for cycling through the mountains, stargazing, and sampling the gastronomy scene.”
Is change possible—and is the pandemic our prompt to reconsider how we live our lives and organize the world around us? Sometimes shifting your filter changes your perspective in a wonderful way. The difference on Mallorca, reports one local, “was strange and beautiful.”
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Today in a minute
Exceptions: We’re not encouraging this; just noting that some European countries are still letting in Americans, including Croatia. While Croatia is a member of the European Union, it is not yet part of the border-free Schengen Area, meaning travelers cannot cross Croatia’s borders into other European countries without being subjected to border controls, reports Afar. In late June, the EU restricted U.S. nationals for fear of exposing member nations to COVID-19.
Buggy Americans: Ireland, another European country letting in Americans, is getting peeved at tourists who are flouting a 14-day quarantine. The Irish government is under fire for not enforcing the rule that people arriving self-isolate, the New York Times reports. “Pubs, restaurants, and hotels reported turning away Americans who had no plans to self-isolate. The first thing I want to see is American guests return,” said one hotel owner, Simon Haden. “But not if it’s going to put the health and safety of our guests, our staff, the community under threat after the sacrifices we’ve made.”
Bye bye Bahamas: The island nation, facing a resurgence of COVID-19, closed its borders to Americans, the government said Sunday. The national airline will cease flying to the United States as well, USA Today reported. Since July 1, when the nation reopened its borders, 49 new coronavirus cases had been reported.
The maps are frozen: For the past nine years, the political boundaries of the world’s countries have remained unchanged. That’s the longest interval in modern history. The last change? South Sudan became the world’s 193rd nation this week in 2011. “Simply relabeling three small countries—Cape Verde to Cabo Verde, Swaziland to Eswatini, Macedonia to North Macedonia—would bring a world map from Barack Obama’s first term up to date,” Axios reports.
Missing Venice? If you can’t get there, at least there’s this webcam of the Rialto Bridge. (h/t Dave Winer).
Your Instagram photo of the day
A clean, well-lighted street: Anush Babajanyan photographed this central street in Istanbul, Turkey, at night—and from above. More than 113,000 people have liked this image since it appeared on our Travel Instagram page.
Related: If you must travel, these countries are letting in Americans
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The big takeaway
Ozark memories: Nat Geo’s Jennifer Barger went to Branson, Missouri, not for its “Hillbilly Vegas” lineup of country music shows or roller coasters. Her late mother was born and raised amid these cut-glass lakes (Lake Taneycomo, above) and emerald-green hills—and had been so poor as a kid in the late 1930s (below) that she recalled receiving nothing but a tube of toothpaste in her stocking one Christmas. But her mom moved on to cities, to advanced education, to PBS viewing, and developed an aversion, like your curator’s hillbilly-raised mom, to country music. Looking for clues of Branson’s pre-razzmatazz past, Barger toured the limestone Marvel Cave, where her mom hung out. “The cave, like the world and life ahead of her,” Barger wrote, “must’ve seemed infinite."
Overheard at Nat Geo
Listening to belugas: In the Arctic, beluga whales chirp, whistle, and creak to communicate with each other. That has become more difficult in recent years as shipping plies the once-frozen waters. But, as we discover in the latest episode of our Overheard podcast, the pause in trade from the coronavirus has been refreshing to these marine mammals.
In a few words
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The last glimpse
Don’t poke the bear! For decades, part of the national parks experience was getting up close and personal with its attractions—wildlife included. This led to bad, bear-baiting behavior from humans and troubling reconditioning of ursine instincts. While park policies have reduced animal-related injuries, some visitors continue to go wild whenever they see a bear. Rachel Brown reports that overcrowding in parks—possibly intensified by pandemic travel restrictions—is bringing people into closer contact with megafauna and unpleasant encounters with highly photogenic, 500-pound apex predators. While she notes that “you’re more likely to be killed by an asteroid than injured by a Yellowstone grizzly,” it’s still a good idea to remember how to stay safe around wild animals. Helpful hint: Don’t pause and pose for a selfie. Pictured above: A bear begs for food through a car window at Yellowstone, from the July 1966 issue of National Geographic.
Subscriber exclusive: In the sloshy, soggy home of the spirit bear