Camping, cottaging, and hiking are not leisure activities typically associated with Black people. Stereotypes abound that we don’t swim, hike, or venture out into untamed nature just for the fun of it.
And if we are real with ourselves, there may be some truth to those ideas. According to an Ontario Parks campground survey, only 0.32% of its visitors in 2011 were born in the Caribbean.
Many reasons have been given for our absence in this world. Primarily, it hasn’t historically been a part of many of our cultures - from the Caribbean to Africa. Moreover, many individuals coming from a rural setting in their native country may find it hard to see the value of giving up comforts they’ve worked hard to obtain to sleep outside.
Consequently, this lack of exposure may also mean that even if you wanted to venture out into the great outdoors, the lack of knowledge on how to best to do so can be a significant barrier.
Growing up with amazing Jamaican parents, I certainly didn’t go for hikes, spend long weekends at cottages, or head up to Algonquin to camp for the weekend. Those were not things they did in Jamaica. But as a first generation Canadian, I had glimpses of that world as a child through school and church groups. Now as an adult, I appreciate how amazing it is to unplug and learn basic survival skills that my cosmopolitan lifestyle had so boldly shielded me from. In fact, in the last six months, I’ve camped in four remote national parks in Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa and recently spent a weekend at Rondeau National Park near Chatham, Ontario. Hiking the trails of Bruce Peninsula National Park last year was such an eye-opener to the absolute beauty of this country and province that I'm so lucky to live in.
Initially, I, too, felt absolutely out of my element and fearful of what lurked around every bush. But luckily we live in a time where access to information is easier than ever. From YouTube to dropping into my local outdoor stores, Mountain Equipment Co-op and Bass Pro Shops, I started on this journey to learning about and loving the outdoors. I started small with day trips to local urban parks, and am now at the point where camping in Africa, near next level wildlife such as lions and rhinos, provoke little fear. Knowing there’s a protocol to everything makes these trips way less scary than they sound.
Whether you decide to camp, rent a cottage, or just go for a day hike, being out in breathtaking nature is fuel for the soul.
Top Tips for Getting Started
-If you don’t have a car, check out Parkbus, an organization that offers express service from Toronto to Ontario Parks destinations—including day trips—and has recently started service in other provinces as well. In partnership with Ontario Parks, Parkbus also offers “learn to camp” programs and affordable gear rentals.
-You don’t need a lot of gear to get started. Stop in at your local outdoor store, and let a professional point you to the basics you’ll need for your trip. It’s a good idea to watch some YouTube videos and conduct a Google search beforehand to get a general idea of what’s required. You’ll be able to ask these knowledgeable people anything you didn’t find an answer to (and they can’t oversell you!)
-Decide what kind of weekend you want and choose accordingly. Are you looking to party in nature or find some solitude? For example, Wasaga Beach’s Sunshine Park is the ultimate party campground with a DJ every weekend and various festivals throughout the summer such as the Wasaga Beach Fest and Wasaga Beach Blues Fest.
-Once you arrive at your destination, read the rules carefully and stick to them. As Black people, we can’t afford to break rules. I was recently reminded of this while camping in Rondeau National Park. At 10:15 pm, following the lead of other campers close by, we played music in our tent but soon received a reminder from Park Rangers that 10 pm was the beginning of quiet hours. When we asked about the parties happening around us, no satisfactory answer was given. It was pretty clear that we had been singled out.
-The sad truth is, out in nature you may not see many faces that look like yours. Don’t let this discourage you though. Know that you are a trend setter who is shattering stereotypes with every encounter you have.
-Look for workshops or short classes to fill in some gaps in your skillset and knowledge of surviving in the outdoors. If you’ve never made a fire, take an outdoor class one afternoon, and if you are a weak swimmer consider taking some classes and play in the water within your limit.
To have a glimpse of some of my latest outdoor adventures, check out my YouTube channel, and videos including Weekend Getaway: Camping in Rondeau Park, Rhino Tracking on Foot and Cape Town, South Africa: Top Things to Do While Visiting.