Boy skis into bear den, lives to tell tale

A 12-year old Swedish boy has quite a tale to share after he accidently skied into a bear den last Friday, much to the ire of the inhabitant, who was home at the time.

Ollie Frisk and four of his friends were skiing in the backcountry at the Härjedalen ski resort, located in northern Sweden, at the time of the incident. Frisk unwittingly skied over the den, causing it to collapse under his weight and sending him tumbling inside. The female brown bear slumbering beneath the snow, woke up at the sound of an intruder in her home, and immediately pounced on the young man, who says he thought that he was dead for sure.

“I accepted death, that was the feeling, let it come,” Frisk is quoted as saying.

But Ollie didn’t die. Instead, he says, he quit struggling as he accepted the inevitability of his fate, and when he did so, the bear simply stopped attacking him. A few moments later she wandered out of the lair, where Ollie’s friends made loud noises to scare her away. They then helped Frisk from the den, and back down the hill to safety.

The boy spent the night in a hospital, where he was treated for bite wounds on both legs and scratches on his back. Although he is lucky to be alive, Ollie is recovering quite nicely now and has returned home with his family.

The bear’s cubs might not be so lucky however. After being scared off, the female hasn’t returned to the den and the cubs have now been left alone for several days. If they aren’t fed soon, wildlife officials may need to step in to save them. They’re still hoping that mama will return home to her kids, but they are prepared to act if she doesn’t.

[Photo credit: HBarrison via WikiMedia]

Luang Prabang – 3 days in Laos

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is lush, quaint, and improbable. This magical town of butterflies and baguettes seems to exist on dreamlike terms – an island of civility in the savage jungle of Laos. Sometimes a pinch is justifiable to confirm the reality of it all. The green hills, gorgeous colonial buildings, and kind villagers all combine to form a thriving UNESCO heritage city that is Southeast Asia with the charming vestiges of a distant French occupation.

High in the clouds, Luang Prabang holds many treasures for the travelers willing to make the trip. Aromas from fresh bakeries mingle with the crisp mountain air along quiet streets lined with quaint guesthouses and colorful noodle stands. The easiest route to Luang Prabang is on a flight from Bangkok on Bangkok Airways, though domestic flights from Vientiane near the Thai border are also possible on Lao Airlines. Another popular route is by bus from Vientiane. A Laos visa can be obtained upon arrival and costs $35 for U.S. citizens.

Three days is barely enough time to take in the full experience of Luang Prabang, but if planned correctly, you will have time to ride elephants, swim in waterfalls, and take a lazy trip down the Mekong river.

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luang prabangDay 1 – Rent a bike and explore
Arriving in Luang Prabang by plane from Bangkok or Vientiane feels like landing on another planet. Green and misty like Endor, I half expected to be whisked away to my guesthouse on a speeder bike. But no, you have two basic choices for transportation in Luang Prabang: tuk tuk or car. After arriving at your guesthouse in your chosen mode of transport, rent a bike and explore Luang Prabang. Daily bike rentals should cost no more than a few dollars. It is impossible to get irreparably lost in the small UNESCO Heritage city, and locals are happy to guide your exploratory whims. Discover gold roofed temples like Wat Xieng Thong, lazy stretches of the Mekong river, and guesthouses with brightly painted shutters that retain their 19th century colonial charm. Drop by an open air restaurant along the Mekong for some fresh noodle soup.

In the center of Luang Prabang is Phou Si hill. It affords majestic views of Luang Prabang and the surrounding valley. The trek up the hill passes a number of interesting features like a dark cave filled with statues, Buddha’s footprint, and at the summit, the temple of That Chomsi.

After a day spent exploring, duck into Tamarind for a tasty and educational modern Lao meal. This small eatery is committed to providing authenticity, and their menu explains the finer points of Lao cuisine in an insightful manner. If you show up around 5:00pm and sit on the patio, then you will be treated to the echoing chants of monks from a nearby wat. Wash down the spicy dishes with an ice cold Beer Lao.

As far as lodging is concerned, Lotus Villa is a great somewhat inexpensive option with huge rooms, a lush courtyard, and a delicious breakfast. Guesthouses can assist with the logistics of all your adventures.


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Day 2 – Elephants and a trip down the Mekong
The old name of the Laos, Lan Xang, means land of a million elephants. While the numbers have dwindled significantly since the age of the old kingdom over 500 years ago, many elephants still roam the dense forests of the countryside. On the Nam khan river outside of Luang Prabang is an elephant sanctuary called the Elephant Village. The scenic location in the misty hills provides a perfect place to interact with the pachyderms. You can ride an elephant down the river or even learn how to be a mahout – an elephant trainer. It is a fantastic experience and strolling down the river on a lumbering beast is memorable indeed.

Most of the elephants have been rescued from logging operations that threatened their lives. One of the resident elephants, Mae San, was given massive doses of ecstasy and amphetamines so that she would stay up all night and day logging. It seems the elephants are well cared for by the sanctuary, and tourism revenue keeps them well fed.


Upon return from your morning elephant adventure, head to the Mekong and enlist the service of a boatman to take you downstream to check out river life. Lao boatmen ply the rivers in long narrow boats, and the sights along the river include a whiskey village, river life, water buffaloes, and the Pak Ou caves if you have the time.

The Luang Prabang night market is a great final stop to any day. Stalls sell an assortment of offerings from opium pipes to crepes to snake whiskey. It is not a dull scene.


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Day 3 – Morning alms, waterfalls, and bears in hammocks
In order to catch the morning alms, you will need to rise with the sun. At around 6am, orange cloaked monks take to the streets by the hundreds to collect morning offerings, or alms. They clutch small bowls that villagers fill with sticky rice, candy, gifts, and other offerings. If you stay at Lotus Villa or another guesthouse along the monks’ path, then they can arrange mats and sticky rice for you to donate. They will also instruct you on the details of the procession so that you commit no major faux pas.

luang prabang After the monks return to their wats, arrange a driver to take you to Kuang Si Falls. The waterfall complex includes a number of falls and ponds ideal for swimming, so bring your bathing suit. Be sure to try your hand at the rope swing at the blue natural pool near the entrance. If you are feeling brave, follow the “do not enter signs” to unearth a hidden natural infinity pool. Located at the top of the main falls, reaching the unbelievably cool hangout requires climbing a hill, snaking back around through the jungle, and finally pulling yourself up over a small waterfall. As you sit in the pool, overlooking the jungle beyond, you will be thankful that you found your way to this small paradisal enclave. It is one of the coolest spots on the planet. Ask around to get hints on the path.

Near the entrance to Kuang Si Falls is an Asiatic black bear sanctuary and rescue center. Stop by to observe the marvelous creatures that are sadly a popular target of poachers. Most of the bears have been rescued, and they lounge around in hammocks, which is splendid indeed.

For dinner on your last evening, drop in to Blue Lagoon or L’Elephant. L’Elephant has one of the best French/Lao fusion kitchens in Luang Prabang. Both restaurants are smart bistros, and Blue Lagoon has an open courtyard teeming with tropical plants and romantic lighting.

Extras
If you have some extra time in the region, then a plethora of options exist. Mountain biking, kayaking, trekking, and visiting hill tribes are all popular possibilities. Also, if you are taking ground transport back to Vientiane, stop off in Vang Vieng for a few days. Here in the middle of Laos, thousands of backpackers visit each year to inter-tube down an especially lazy stretch of the Nam Song river. The river jaunt is serviced by many shoreline bars serving ice-cold beers, and the experience has become a rite of passage on the modern banana pancake trail.

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All photography by Justin Delaney

Plan a luxury safari in the US with American Safari Cruises

When most people think of a “safari” they think of hiking through the bush of South Africa or trekking through the jungles of Costa Rica in search of exotic animals native to the region.

But here in the US we have plenty of our own wild animals to see and going “on safari” here doesn’t have to mean doing one of those drive-though “wild animal” parks where non-native animals like zebras and giraffes flock to your car for the food they know you’re going to throw at them through your open window.

For a more upscale safari trip in the United States, check out American Safari Cruises, which offers small-group ultra-luxury all-inclusive sailings around North America. There’s aren’t your typical mega-cruises. The vessels are yatchs and are limited to 12, 22 or 36 guests. All meals, airport transfers, alcoholic drinks and shores excursions are included in the price. And according to the company’s website, they institute green and sustainable practices, and give back to the communities they visit on each safari.

Some of the safaris offered include spotting whales, black bears, grizzly bears, bald eagles, mountain goats and wolves in Alaska, birdwatching and snorkeling with sea turtles and exotic fish in Hawaii, and looking for whales, sea lions, seals, black bears and deer in the Pacific Northwest.

Cruises range from 7 to 14 nights and rates start at about $5000 per person.

Going to Yosemite? Don’t take the minivan!

One of the great draws of visiting a National Park like Yosemite in California is that you can get very close to nature and see animals in their own habitat. But there is a limit to just how close you want to get to certain animals, especially black bears, which can be dangerous to both humans and cars as they look for food.

There are several ways to reduce your risk of having an unpleasant encounter with a black bear, and as it turns out, not driving a mini van may be one of them.

A study done by the Journal Mammology over a 7 year period in Yosemite has shown that black bears in the region seem to prefer minivans as their vehicle of choice when looking for a snack. But, the study reveals, it’s not actually the car style and size the bears are attracted to (and no, they don’t care about the car’s crash safety ratings either), it’s more about fuel efficiency. And by “fuel efficiency”, they mean which cars provide the most food for the bears.

It seems that minivan drivers are more likely to be traveling with a family and toting around small children – children who inevitably leave open snack containers in the car or who leave a trail of chips and cookies behind them.

The researchers also hypothesized that minivans that often carry small children may have stronger food odors even when there is no food inside, because kids are likely to spill, and that minivans may be more likely to contain a cooler of food, because they are larger and can accommodate one more easily. The researchers also wondered if minivans were just easier for the bears to break into.

Out of 908 cars broken into in the 7 year period, 22% were minivans, 22.5% were SUVs, 17% were small cars and 13.7% were sedans.

Only in Alaska: Living – and traveling – in bear country

Bears: everybody fears them, everybody wants to photograph them from behind a tour bus window. In my neighborhood, black bears constantly get into garbage cans – when people express disappointment at not having seen any bears on their vacation, I encourage them to hang out on my street on garbage day.

Alaska has plenty of bears, and if you follow a few rules you’re unlikely to ever encounter a bear in the wild.There are really only two types that you might encounter casually: the black bear and the brown (or grizzly) bear. I often meet tourists who are too timid to venture on even a basic nature walk after I warn them that they need to be bear-aware. This attitude is unfortunate, because they don’t realize two things:

1. Bears in Alaska don’t just hang out in the woods, so you’re not necessarily “safe” by staying in town. Though urban bear encounters are generally confined to the fringes of town, last year a grizzly wandered down a popular greenbelt into downtown Anchorage, the state’s largest city.

2. If you follow the right procedures, you’re unlikely to encounter a bear in the wild.

Here are a few tips for avoiding bears, and what to do should you encounter one:

  • The best rule, the holy grail of all rules, is to make noise. I’m a trail runner, an activity that is the third-most dangerous in bear country (just behind getting between a sow and her cubs or a bear and its kill) since it involves moving (slightly, in my case) fast and quietly. I used to carry bear spray (and we’ll get to that) but now I just yell. As my friend told me, “if you run into a bear, you weren’t making enough noise.”
  • On a related note, in my opinion you should forget bear bells unless you’re putting them on your dog’s collar. They don’t make very much noise and give you a false sense of security. Better to sing, yell or clap your hands.
  • Learn to identify a black bear and a brown bear – your response should you run into one will differ depending on the bear. Despite their common names, color is not always the best indicator of a type of bear, so shape and size are important. Black bears are smaller than brown, and are flat between the shoulder blades while grizzlies have a large hump.Black bears also have a straight profile, while grizzlies have a dished-out shape.

If you encounter a bear:

  • Don’t run – you’ll never outrun a bear and you don’t want to encourage it to chase you. Stay calm, talk to the bear to let it know you’re there, and raise your arms to make yourself look bigger. If the bear stands on two legs, it’s just trying to get a better look at you.
  • Don’t climb a tree – bears are better at it than you.
  • Don’t give it food. It might come back for more.
  • Throw something on the ground to try to distract it – a camera or book.

If you’re charged/attacked by a bear:

  • If it’a a black bear, it’s likely bluffing. I’ve had several friends charged by black bears, and each time the bear veered at the last second.
  • You can use bear (pepper) spray on a black bear, but I’ve read that pepper spray only annoys brown bears, which is why I don’t carry it any more.
  • If attacked by a black bear, fight back! Punch it in the nose, kick it, whatever.
  • If attacked by a brown bear, play dead. Cover your neck and head. Typically a brown bear will stop attacking once it doesn’t feel threatened any more.

Remember, bear encounters are not that common, and shouldn’t keep you from enjoying Alaska’s trails. Simply making a lot of noise will reduce your chances significantly.

Come up and visit!