The first morning waking up in Canada, we were told by our park guards that there were seven ‘active’ bears on site. This meant that we had to be extra careful with hiding all of our food in a bear proof manner. Storing your food ‘bear proof’ is done by placing all of your food in a cool box, covering the cool box with a jacket and storing the cool box with the jacket in a car. This is necessary because bears are clever enough to recognize a cool box and break into the car to get to the food. Surprisingly, we were also told to hide all of our cosmetics such as shampoo, because the bears are attracted to the smells. Cheyen heard about this right after he had put on his perfume and feared he would be the first to be caught by a bear…
My mum needed to sign a paper stating that she had read and understood the ‘bear safety rules’. In Ontario there are many black bears but luckily no grizzly bears. Unlike grizzly bears, black bears are not considered to be too dangerous, as they tend to be more scared of human beings than we are of them. Nevertheless, we did get instructions on how to behave if we would encounter a black bear. We learned that we would have to make ourselves look as big as possible by swinging our arms above our heads while singing or screaming loudly at the bear. When possible, they told us to honk the car as well. The worst we could do is to start running away, as the bear may then consider us to be prey.
After getting all this information, we were somewhat more scared of bears than we were before, but we nevertheless decided to go for an unguided bike tour around the camping area. This turned out to be one of my most frightening, but nicest, moments in Algonquin Park.
Beforehand, I had asked the guy working at the bike rental what we should do if we did encounter a bear while we were cycling. He told us that we would have to speak loudly to the bear and say, “Hello bear, we are here.” This sounded rather comical to me, but he explained that this was a way to let the bear know of our presence, in order not to surprise him. Ten minutes into our bike ride, we encountered a man who also told us to keep making a lot of noise, as there was a bear on the bike path only about 1km ahead of us. Cheyen ordered me to sing loudly, but due to the fear I felt, my mind went completely blank and I could not think of a single song to sing. My mum helped out by singing a few Dutch folksongs with me and after a while we came up with a ‘talking game’. We biked in a row, one person after the other, and the one in front would tell a story to the second person, which the second person in turn would tell to the third person and the third person would report the story back to the first person to see what was left of the original story. This way, we continued biking for a while until we cycled passed another person miming to us that there was a black bear straight ahead. Not long after, we saw a group of six people standing by the side of the road. My heart was pounding in my chest, as we thought they were looking at something. We stopped beside them. They told us that only a second ago, there was a black bear on the exact spot where we were just biking and that we had missed it as it had quickly jumped into the bushes!
We biked onto a beautiful lake where we paused for a moment to have a snack and enjoy the magnificent view. Hetty had brought with her the newspaper from Algonquin Park, which I started reading. The paper described four different types of bears and how to behave differently with each of them. The main message of the paper was that most bears are frightened and run away immediately when noticing a human being. Then, there are ‘habituated bears’ that need a little more convincing. This you can do by making yourself look big and make noise, the way the camp guards had previously explained it to us. Third, you have ‘defensive bears’, which for example want to protect their food. They will growl and mow their claws into the earth. With these types of bears, you also need to start with making a lot of sounds, after which you slowly start walking backwards while throwing sticks and stones. It only gets seriously dangerous with a ‘predatory bear’, although these are seldomly encountered. These bears are often starved and see you as a potential meal. These ones don’t growl or mow their claws but are frighteningly silent, waiting for the right moment to attack. The newspapers stated that you should never play dead when they attack you, but give it your all whilst fighting back and hoping that you can convince the bear to cease the attack and back off.
As we thought the chances of us meeting a predatory bear were rather small and because we were exhausted from all the cycling, we remained rather quiet on our way back. Hoping for the best.
The rest of the two weeks we weren’t too afraid of bears, as we were often with the Greens, a Canadian family who are experienced travellers of Algonquin Park. They told us that when the bears are spotted on people’s sites, they are taken away and dropped off 80km further. (However, they also mentioned that a bear could find his way back in about two days.) In the end, there’s been only one night where Chey and I did not feel comfortable enough to sleep in a tent. This was on the one occasion where someone came up to us to warn us with a deep voice that a “big black bear” had “arrived at the campsite”. We ourselves have only seen one small bear during our stay in Algonquin. It was a young cup eating some berries next to the highway. We stopped our car and even left it to take a closer look! The little bear was unbelievably cute, although I was quite scared his mama bear would appear. Later, Bill told us that the mother bears leave their baby bears when they are only about 1 year old. That also means that cars need to be extra careful driving around Algonquin Park, as sometimes the little bears cross the road incautiously and can get hit. We’ve seen a small dead bear lying by the side of the road, which is truly sad, as they are such magnificent and beautiful animals!
I added a picture of the black bear we’ve seen picking berries, but unfortunately it’s a little blurry. I’d say, go and check them out yourself! There are approximately 2000 bears in Algonquin Park, so there’s quite a big chance of you seeing them. As one person there told me, ‘ You haven’t had the full Algonquin experience, if you haven’t seen a black bear!’