For those of you that do not know, Banff is a small town situated smack in the middle of one of Canada's most beautiful national parks. This place is aptly named Banff National Park and is about an hour's drive from the city of Calgary. After much debate, it was decided that the we, four friends from age of adolescence gone by, would explore Banff at the invitation of a friend of ours.
I am certainly glad that I do not fly for a living. It certainly made my experience at the airport much more amusing rather than tedious. I've realized that in my naivity I probably shouldn't have said, "I passed? That's it? Really?" to airport security. It seems I passed the metal detector wand test with flying colours. Though my former roommate found out that accidentally knocking over the Customs Agents neatly stacked change trays makes him very, very upset. This results in a complete and utter search, short of digging in body cavities.
Now the great debate we all had was where was the safest part on the plane to sit? Now the SAS suggest I wanted the tail section as that section usually breaks off giving me a .05% of surviving a possible crash. Sadly, I didn't get my way and we chose the wing section, so I had the comfort of knowing that I'd get a chance to see the wing torn off, or perhaps just get instantly incinerated as I was sitting on top of the volatile fuel tanks. The mere thought of it made the extra ten dollar expense to be able to choose where you sit worth it. At very least I would have a measure of relief in ensuring that the wing was still in reasonable working order every time I looked out my porthole-like window. Though I had my doubts about the other wing of the matching set. I guess I had to just trust in existentialism.
All things aside the Air Canada flight was highly enjoyable. With a digestible fee of over two hundred bucks I was fed a "meal" (ie. snack with drinks) and entertained at seven hundred kilometers an hour at thirty-five thousand feet. Special thanks goes out to M.C. Mario for dishing out over four hours of dance music.
One of the first things that struck me in Banff was that it is truly a tourist magnet. Suffice to say there is more to this brilliant deduction. The entire town is built on the tourism industry and the subsequently nightlife revolves around the people in the industry letting off-steam instead of killing tourists. What's scary that it seems even the local wild life is in on the tourism scam. I meant scamming tourists not killing them. Really I did.
One such example occurred at one of our first stops. On our walk along the well-worn path at Lake Louise we came across Mr. Chippy. Perhaps it was Fate, but this little rodent had his home right on the trail where millions of tourists tread in an attempt to be "one with nature".
Now, I have never ever in my life seen an obese chipmunk until now. Mr. Chippy was so friendly he was drinking from a bottle of coke and stuffing his face with hand-fed granola bars. His secret to success: the Fatkins diet.
It seemed that even the vicious Deer Flies were well fed. Fending off the Deer Flies at Lake Louise is quite easy simply because they have so many targets to choose from. Why bother go for prey that tries to swat you when there are hundreds if not thousands of other juicy (less determined) targets to choose from? For those that have never heard of Deer Flies, these malicious insects are literally tenacious little flying scissors that are more than happy to tear a chunk out of you. Oh and they even bite through clothing!
At the Banff Springs Golf Course, there are elk running amok everywhere. They are indeed beautiful animals, yet it perturbs me to see them so use to humans. It is apparently illegal to golf while elk are on the course. But who cares! The golfers certainly didn't mind nor did the elk mind either! There is also another annoying problem. This also results in really slow traffic as everyone stops to pose with the large mammals. Even I was suffering from a bit of road rage as a passenger, though I believe it had something to do with my city origins. Yet, it must be pointed out that the surrounding Banff area has many a winding road to spur the Gran Turismo racer spirit in anyone. Having to stop or slow down just kills your best time.
During my solo expedition to Lake Minnewonka I was virtually assaulted by an overly friendly Prairie Dog. As soon as I stopped for lunch, I found the largest rodent I have ever seen not more than six inches away from me. He was utterly drawn to my Subway Sandwich, more specifically attempting to rob me of my double chocolate chip cookies. This in my mind is an extreme no-no. Two minutes of polite shoo-ing failed miserably and only resulted in the little persistent bugger attempting to skirt around my little picnic in attempt to outflank me. I therefore resorted to repeatedly rapping him on the head with my finger. (a la Benny Hill) Thirty seconds of this proved futile, as he grabbed my finger with his badger like claws in an attempt to gnaw off the offending finger. I finally resorted to using my compact fishing rod to whack and prod the persistent brigand until he sought more docile prey.
Things to do in and around Banff:
1) Go the gun range (Okay not in Banff but in Calgary)
While in Calgary we had an opportunity to go to a gun range, and it was damn fun. Nothing teaches you a healthy respect for ballistic weapons better than getting an opportunity to learn and shoot in a well equipped and supervised environment. This particular range was fully stocked and even allowed you opportunities to shoot several antiques, including a single-fire AK-47, Uzi, or even a grenade launcher!
2) Go White water rafting: (Town of Canmore)
All I have to say is glacial water is frickin' freezing. But let me tell you it is it worth the experience. If you have young kids then I suggest the beginner route. However as an adult don't even think of trying anything less than the Intermediate Route. During your stints on the raft you'll probably get a chance to go cliff jumping. Again, I have to say that glacial water is seriously cold, and has the wonderful ability to freeze you and knock the wind out of you. Wetsuits and lifejackets are provided thankfully. As a side note: When they say you've passed over a part known as the "Graveyard". It is named that for a reason. But oh, what a rush!
3) Climb mountains. Take your pick. Easily accessible mountains surround Banff. Several have trails and even have sheer faces for Climbers and Bouldering alike.
What I never realized was that some mountains certainly have odd names. Castle, Cascade and The Three Sisters Mountain are quite beautiful and well worth seeking out. Though both the names Tunnel and Rundle Mountain have me rather stumped. The former is certainly worth climbing. If you are reasonably in shape; (ie. Can get up to change channels or get snacks without too much effort) then Tunnel Mountain is a rewarding hike. The hike is relatively easy, and has well designed switchback trails. The other side of the mountain is for the hardcore climber.
Tunnel Mountain offers an amazing view of the surrounding mountains, and a spectacular view of Rundel Mountain and of the whole of Banff. I recommend timing it before sunset, its well worth the hike.
4) Do make the drive from Calgary/Banff in the daytime: Nothing is more stunning than going from flat prairie land to a wealth of mountains and lush forest. If you're lucky you may spot a some wildlife.
5) Whack some Balls: Silvertip Golf Course offers unlimited ball-whacking pleasure for a nominal fee with a stunning view at the driving range. My suggestion is don't even bother rent a whole set of golf clubs.
Things not to do in and around Banff:
1) Seriously consider buying all of your gear in Banff.
If my wallet had feelings, it would probably physically assault me. Banff is quite possibly the worst place to buy any sort of gear. Sure the equipment is top of the line but you might as well use a student loan to purchase it. If you have to, drive to the Mountain Equipment Co-op in Calgary.
2) Believe that eating out is cheaper.
A special thanks goes to our host for this wonderful suggestion. Your wallet will hate you, your tummy will love you. There is only one supermarket in all of Banff but it is worth paying a visit to cut costs.
3) Be caught being drunk and disorderly in public. Those valiant enforcers in red (RCMP) are quite serious about public drunkenness. We have been informed that if you're caught even stumbling or causing a bit of ruckus in the wee hours it's off to the Drunk Tank for you. Our host validated this with his personal experiences.
4) Forget your water bottle. For those not use to arid climates, Banff is totally and utterly dry.
5) Do NOT rent a boat at Lake Minnawonka.
I have been told that Minnawonka means "Spirit of the Lake" though perhaps I would argue that it really means "Spirit of the Tourist". Renting your own boat is absolutely not worth it. Bring your own boat or canoe. Aside from doing donuts in the water you are limited in what you can do with the boat. So you can forget about exploring. It is certainly not worth the high cost. In addition, do not even think of getting any help while docking, especially if you are the only one in the boat. No thanks to all those useless goomba tourists standing around on the dock.
6) Get stuck in Calgary afternoon traffic. Navigation in Calgary is clearly a stupendous feat. By some miracle of thought the city is divided into four compass based sectors with numerical street names. Great idea but it seems a rather poor idea in implementation. With no major highway you're pretty much stuck in molasses like driving much of the way.
7) Buy film. I would not be surprised if there is a black market in Banff based solely on providing film, and/or camera equipment. If you have to purchase reloads for your camera, head to Calgary.
8) Forget to close the blinds. The sun rises ridiculously early (in my humble opinion) in Banff. If you're looking to sleep in or recover from your partying, close those blinds or sleep in a room with very few windows.
Perhaps it's just me, but the food in Banff is quite possibly the richest I've tasted. Banff has a ludicrous array of hotels and motels with a whole compliment of fast food for its size. It's sort of like visiting a very big rest stop with a whole array of carb-ladened alcohol in the mix. We collectively noticed that a few Banffites had what came to be known as Banff Belly or Banffitis as we coined the term.
I and my travel companions were more than likely collectively 50 pounds heavier as a result. There went our girlish figures.
Banff is apparently the best place in Canada to catch STD's. With this wonderful piece of info our host reminded us "If you score tonight, you're on your own. Just remember to double up." Now I can neither confirm or deny such a fact. Though, being the half-assed sociology student that I am, I can certainly understand why. Banff is a transient society. Everyone in Banff is here on a temporary basis, ranging from six months to a year. Conversely it was advised to us to state that we were all new in town and lowly dishwashers if we wanted to get anywhere with the female natives. They can smell success and success means the dreaded long-term commitment seeker. Hence my host and dear friend was cursed in being successful and in Banff with the dead albatross title of district manager. Amusingly, this very same title worked wonders for him in a major city like Toronto. Either way, visitors take note.
In Banff there are two nightclubs, and numerous bars. Many of which offer cheap deals on drinks of the alcoholic kind. Tommy's Twelve Drink tray comes readily to my mind. Being only two clubs, there leaves no room for specialty clubs, so it's generally the Top 40 for you.
All bitching and complaining aside, Banff and Calgary are beautiful places and well worth paying a visit. Though please note I used the word "paying". Both Banff and Calgary offer something for all types of tourists. In hindsight I think I'd only visit again armed with a virgin Visa card.
Elevation: 4,539.52 feet above sea level
Climate: Dry Mountain
Currency: Canadian Dollar (CND$) Add two dollars to the everything you would normally buy elsewhere
Population: Roughly 5,600-7,600 (Including Transient/Seasonal Workers) + 4.5 Million Tourists Annually
Official Languages: English and French (Unofficial: Japanese)
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