Have you got a Bearbanger?

Usually I hate being a tourist, but today in Canada I relished it. I walked into nearly every tourist shop on the Banff strip and I even bought an overpriced ‘Banff tourist T-shirt!’

In the local adventure and outdoor shop I struck up a conversation with the ever friendly owner Kevin. We started with the usual traveler chit chat of when did I get here? Where am I from? How long am I staying? etc. Soon we moved onto hiking opportunities in the area.

I’d heard about these wonderful bubbling creations called the ‘Ink Pots’ at the end of Johnston Canyon and have been itching to get out and see them. I had however read several warnings about the dangers of hiking alone, especially on secluded trails, so I thought this the perfect opportunity to ask an expert.

Kevin responds in his thick Canadian accent with ‘Oh yeah, you’ll be fine on that trail at this time of the year, yeah you should go do that. Watch out for Elk though, they can be dangerous at this time of year. Keep your distance and if you come close to one and it charges you make sure you hide behind a tree so their horns don’t get you’. Heck… was he kidding?

Then came “Have you got bear spray and a bearbanger?” What? At first I thought he was just having a laugh, you know scaring the tourists and all, so naturally I laughed. But apparently this is no laughing matter. They take bears very seriously here and this was confirmed as I just found the ‘Bears and People’ tourist booklet in my hostel lobby! Eeeek…

So a Bearbanger? What on earth is that? Well this crafty little pen looking key ring device is a Bearbanger. You load the banger into the launcher (the pen) and then aiming upwards pull the key ring. This releases a firecracker type bang, hence scaring the bear away without harming it of yourself. Marvellous.

After a little research I have discovered these little creations fall into the ‘bear scare pyrotechnics’ equipment category! Who knew there was even such a market!

‘You must be very careful with these’ Kevin tells me, ‘make sure you don’t carry it around loaded and make sure you don’t fire it at the bear as the sound will then erupt around the bear and it could run towards you in instead of away from you’. Yikes…

Thankfully bear attacks are not that common in Banff and statistically the greatest threat for injury or death is by car. This is reassuring to know – cars I can navigate, but this bearbanger thing, I’m not so sure. I reckon if I see a bear I’ll be too busy sh*ting myself to even remember I have such a creative little device, let alone work out how to load it and fire it in the few seconds I have to save my life! Here’s hoping I’ll never find out…

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The Essence of Travel

I recently entered this image in my first ever photographic competition (still awaiting the verdict).  The theme of the competition was ‘The Essence of Travel’ and I thought this image of a Maasai Tribeswoman in Kenya depicts that perfectly.

I’ve spent so many days sitting here at my desk in my ‘marketing bubble’ stressing over a fast approaching deadline, something stupid my boss has said to me or how I’m going to satisfy another outrageous request from a high maintenance hairdresser.

Then one day I spent a few hours with some of these remarkable Maasai women and their warrior husbands and it really put my life in perspective and I soon realised just how ridiculous these stressers are.

The Maasai tribes of Kenya are one of few African tribes who still live a traditional lifestyle. Their semi-nomadic lifestyle sees them roam the Kenyan plains with their cattle herds upholding centuries old customs and cultures, despite their lands being taken away and pressure from the government to conform to the modern world.

Secluded from civilisation they live a simple existence focused around survival – roaming the plains in search of fresh water, grazing pastures for their cattle and living off the land, which is no easy task in a partly desert climate.

With no electricity, no running water and most of the daily responsibilities falling to the women it’s a hard life. The women build the homes (manyanas) out of mud, sticks and cow pats and they can spend several hours a day walking through the oppressive heat to bring fresh water back to the village. You can almost see the years of struggle etched into this womans face.

They still practice age old customs such as body modification, polyandry marriage and male circumcision in what seems like the most barbaric way. All the while I’m sitting here coming up with a new whizz bang promotion to get people to buy more shampoo.

I find it fascinating that in todays world there are people who still choose to live like this, yet just a few hours away you’ll find modern society, with bitumen roads, traffic, concrete buildings and the latest mobile gadgets. With no desire to be tempted into this lifestyle they appear blissfully happy. It’s a testament to their pride and heritage as Maasai people; to want to carry on these traditions for generations to come, whilst the rest of us are swept up in the latest technoloical phenomenon.

But this is why I travel, to experience and learn about different cultures and be thrown out of my comfort zone. To me this is what travel is all about – this is the essence of travel.