Not your average travel blog
I feel like I should judge Canada, while waving my judgy finger, for allowing such a sordid sin of commercialisation within a national park. Yet for some reason, I find Banff to be more of a community and thriving town rather than a specific, tourist-catering gift shop which pampers to the whims of tour buses (even though the main sustenance here is tourism and there are dozens and dozens of tour buses).
I don’t intend to ramble on about environmental issues (I did that last year), and I do have notes to develop on travelling with a dithering pensioner (he’s fond of the title), but faced daily with the sights of both remote industry and breathtaking natural beauty (I don’t mean KP changing into his fresh underwear every four days), I am reminded regularly of the eco-issues that are at the forefront of world politics, and which should be a hot topic around any government table (not necessarily framed in the right way for my liking, but that’s a different story).
Even though we spend most our time at the moment remotely located, away from most civilisation and everyday conveniences, we are constantly faced with the realities, influences and consequences of our environmental and economic decisions – more so than in a city or while sat at home on our cosy sofa. Neglecting to mention, and to avoid mounting a ranty-horse every now and again over some of the things that upset me on my travels, would be to neglect a huge part of the adventure. Everything is most definitely not rosy. Sometimes, you arrive expecting the dream, but are confronted with the disillusioned reality. The environment is hard to ignore when you’re not living in your bubble in a city or suburb. Surviving without considering it while on a long hike or an even longer road trip is virtually impossible – especially in the wilderness (which admittedly, on this trip, has been tamed with a few luxuries). So indulge me a little here, and I’ll write more about the changing of our underwear and the rear end of an elk in my next update.
Unlike the USA, Canada is more familiar with people living within national parks. It is much more like the UK in this respect – all manner of restrictions apply for people living inside natural beauty spots – especially where tourists visit often. Compared to the USA’s main national parks (Yellowstone and Yosemite, at least), Canadian parks don’t seem to hound you into a forced gift shop holiday. Where people live in parks, amenities appeal to locals when tourism grows quiet. Restaurants and bars cater for more than just Jim, visiting from Dallas, high streets aren’t just full of stop-and-go, tacky impulse stores and in turn, quality and variety is driven up. On one hand, money doesn’t appear without tourism and you can’t expect an eclectic rise of options without it, but condoning towns to be built within national parks simply to remove basic gift shop notches would be backward. Banff however, does seem to be a positive inclusion within the massive park, except for one sad truth…
In Canada; a trip to a national park is for people who can afford it. Whether it be fuel to get there, accommodation, or even just the brands that fill the various high-end stores within the park, the image and the lifestyle that is almost expected in these image-conscious wild lands, is not a shoestring version. Even backpackers who often hitch around these parts can be seen drinking from this season’s gimmicky water bottles, hiking in their vibram-soled, gortex foot huggers, and wearing their colour-coded sunglasses and caps – all the while, snacking on their gluten-free, $5 detox bars. Admittedly, I’m no stranger to carrying a few truly appreciated items of kit, but I feel like most of the tourists here take things a lot further. When they’re not financing their trip in a well paid city job, they must seriously attempt to look the part. There doesn’t appear to be an urgency to strip each visitor of their well earned bank notes for tacky nicknacks (like in Yellowstone for example), but the cost of the branded goods in the high-end-riddled park towns is a clear sign that the clientele who holiday here are people that would spend $80 on a thermal pair of knickers. My point is this – like it or not, when you turn the beautiful wild into a tourist attraction, conservation and preservation inevitably become a wealthy persons pursuit. Unless we change this approach, saving our natural world will forever be the impossible challenge of only the privileged. Banff, is a fine example.
I’ll have one more moan in my next update about my experience in Banff, but as I write this, travelling north into Jasper National Park – past bumbling bears, tasty looking elk, mountains that tower over us, creating their own weather, and along rivers that defy dreams – I promise much less travelling-environmentalism from a high-horse and a few more positive details of intimate, possibly poetic times in the wild.
KP has just asked me to “check out that rack”! Glad that we’ve brought down the tone, I’ll ask him where he wants me to look…