Archive | June, 2011

Coming to Terms in Tofino

20 Jun

Tofino. It is a word, a name, that people say with excitement, with wide eyes and wonder in their voices. Dropping it into conversation with a past visitor can entirely transform their demeanour. Old folks and young folks will look at you and tell you with conviction that you need to go and see it. Guidebooks talk about ‘stunning beaches’ and ‘wild waves’ but none of this praise really describes a seaside destination that is out of the ordinary, or conveys what it is about Tofino that takes your breath away and pulls people back again and again. There is something very special about this little town at the edge of the world. I will try to explain it.

It is a million gorgeous pictures. More. Infinite gorgeous pictures. Crashing ocean and misty grey clouds hanging low over dramatic, forbidding mountains that rise suddenly from the water like an image from a prehistoric paradise. If I could paint I would spend my life there trying to capture one moment in the life of the sea. Every second it changes to produce new and never to be repeated beauty. Agitated, lapping waves, blue and purple and green mashing and melting together on the surface of creasing, bubbling, peaking and shifting water. The wild landscape reminded me of how massive, how diverse and mysterious the world is and that people, our worries and workings, are only a very small part of that whole. Tofino is its own little universe, even the trees that hide the beaches stand aloof on rock faces. Shaggy cedars with limbs like beckoning fingers they draw your eyes and thoughts high above and outside yourself. Ancient trees that are so utterly unaware of, unaffected by man’s whole history and existence, flourishing, independently, lush and alive and not ever considering the people who stare at them in awe.

My journey to Tofino began when a couchsurfing acquaintance got in touch about hitchhiking there. Up until then i was still WWOOFing at Damali Lavender farm and getting used to a very pleasant life: I had lovely hosts; the company of some brilliant Germans; the use of a bike to explore spectacular Cowichan Valley and; a double mattress to myself. But none of these luxuries could compete witha  chance to visit ‘the best place in the world’. Even the mission of getting there didn’t put us off. With a vague idea of the route we needed to take we started hitching from Duncan at ten on a Monday, smiling and optimistic (we had even made a sign). Tofino is literally at the end of a long and winding road. Through a rainforest. As various drivers brought us along different stages of the journey we grew increasingly creased at the corners. Standing on the edge of the highway with your thumb out watching truck after truck thunder past it became difficult to keep a genuine smile on your face. 8 hours and 5 cars after we had set off we arrived with some of our enthusiasm for our magic destination left in our wake. All of a sudden I was feeling precious, I didn’t want to be uncertain about where my next hot shower was coming from anymore and I was tired of talking to strangers, something really quite unheard of, I just wanted to be around someone I had known for more than a week who already knew me. For the first time since getting to Canada I had a bad feeling about a place.

I see the reason now. I came to Tofino at the end of my year abroad, the most amazing year of my life, already struggling with all the memories I was going to miss out on because I wouldn’t be here anymore: the trips to unexplored places; the nights out; the hikes and; festivals and; new friends. All of these feelings came to a head in Tofino where others were arriving to begin their Summer seasons, they had all of it ahead of them: bonfires and music and hypnotising waves. They would discover for the first time things others had already found and claimed as their own secret possessions and they would make them theirs for however long they stayed. I was catching a glimpse of all of this and I hated that I couldn’t share in their enthusiasm for this new, unknown place that they had months to get to know.But just as Tofino brought my sadness at leaving to the surface it also helped me come to terms with it. As beautiful as it was in that remote place I had no roots there and nobody I was connected to, either from home or friends I’d made in Canada (who at this stage really are family). That feeling that I should be experiencing it with my friends helped me to see that my time in Canada was coming to an end, Tofino was ripe for adventure but they would not be my adventures, I had had mine, a whole ten months packed full of them. Now it was time for something new, somewhere old, I could feel it, the next stage of my life was about to begin and wherever it took me the beginning would be in Ireland. I had a family to reconnect with, friends to look out for and have the mad laughs with, it was all waiting for me, home was where I was supposed to be. My mood and outlook changed entirely when I realised this. I could appreciate Tofino not as something I wouldn’t get to fully experience but as something I simply saw differently to the new locals. The last new destination, a wonderful place for the sun to set on my trip. Tofino gave me this little epiphany. And as far as I am concerned that is the reason for the amazement and the superlatives it awakes in people. A place where the splendour and potential of nature can be felt so strongly that it can quiet the conflicting voices inside us and reconcile us with the inevitable. As much as it exists independently of humans it filled me with a feeling that we are still part of one connected world and that the universe has a plan, a winding path laid out, for everything in that world, including me.

For the benefit of my Darling: Recent ridiculousness in Whistler and the Island

12 Jun

It doesn’t matter that it comes every year, each time Summer rolls around the delights it offers seem fresh and new: long evenings where you can sit outside on your deck (or driveway/windowsill if you don’t have one); walks to the beach that might actually include swimming; music festivals; road trips; holidays and; fruit stands on the side of the road (in Ireland some of these sell strawberries AND potatoes) . Much like with the Rory Gallagher festival I can never quite explain why Summer is so brilliant until it’s here and then suddenly I remember all of these things and terrific excitement builds up.

This year whenever I thought of Summer it was with a feeling of apprehension bordering on dread. As much as I was looking forward to getting exams over with and having time to just  wander around Vancouver and Whistler guilt free my lack of concrete plans for the 2 months in Canada I had left once my final papers were in was filling me with all kinds of panic. It didn’t help that every time I spoke to anybody from home they wanted to know exactly what I would be doing. I know it probably seems ridiculous that i didn’t have it sorted. But the idea of applying for a working visa or investigating under the table work or a J1 just seemed too herculean a task when trying to cope with exams (and fitting in the last bit of whistler time) so did keeping this blog up to date actually… So i let the time pass, really there was enough going on to keep me focused on the present, and just like that Summer crept into view.

The first week all thoughts of choosing a summer lifestyle were put on hold as we opted to go on a bit of a leap of faith road trip with a perfect stranger.  It came about in the most seamless and marvellous fashion. The afternoon before finishing exams Stacie, Freda and myself were sitting in the library trying desperately to avoid writing papers or doing any kind of depressing cramming,and we got onto the topic of road trips and how awesome it would be to see more of BC, if only we had a car.  Then in one of those flashes of freakishly good luck that have become almost commonplace this past year we found Kyle. I was just skimming through my e-mails when one from the Vancouver couchsurfer group caught my eye. Somebody was hoping to go camping, he just needed companions to help fill his car/tent and pay for gas. We shot  him an e-mail and that was that, 2 days later we were in the back of said car swapping couchsurfing memories and figuring out where we should stop to buy beer and marshmallows.

Vintage Hanging out in KelownaThis little holiday saw us revive the lost art of ‘hanging out’, you know back when you were a teenager, still living in a small town where your socialising options were limited both by a general lack of independent funds/ transport/ appealing places to go, and the added hindrance of being underage. Instead of meeting your friends for coffee or going for a beer it was a crate of Rolling Rock in a windy field, or maybe no Rolling Rock at all, just 5 or 6 young ones and their imaginations, cue four or five hours of absurd conversation and at least 3 uncontrollable laughing fits. We tested the hanging out waters in Kelowna,  Sicamous, Salmon Arm, by Margaret Falls and on the Kettle Trail and the little beach at Herald campsite.

On reflection the best spot was definitely the beach. So for any teenage readers and the nostalgic hanger out who now has a car get yourselves to a beach if you want to create cheap amusement from limited resources (we spent a good three hours totally engrossed by a very competitive game of ‘pebble log’).

Our travels in the Okanagan region also led to our building our SECOND fort of 2011 (yep we were all about the revisiting childhood past times around this stage). The first came at the instance of my dear friend Helene. Others doubted whether we could build a fort big enough for 16 people to sleep in, or that we could build a fort at all in fact. But Helene had a dreeeeeeeeeam! Ignoring the skeptics and overcoming all kinds of obstacles (including a couch that really didn’t need to be turned over) we managed to produce this:

The exterior, clear Moroccan influence

Fort exterior, Whistler April 2011

Interior...I really thought it was necessary to include this, just to fully impress upon all reading the fort's unimpeachable epicness

Unfortunately life can’t be all fun and fort building and when the Okanagan explorations came to an end it was time to weigh up my options and decide finally what Summer was going to have in score. I could stay in Vancouver and work on campus or take my chances elsewhere, WWOOFing on the island or working in Whistler. I may have given this decision a bit more thought if I hadn’t gone to Whistler for a little visit (it had been 2 entire weeks since our last ski escapade). 3 days of the usual insane fun and the choice was made . At the time the idea of getting some kind of cash paying job as a babysitter or employee in a  mafia run factory (Kyle told me about these, they exist) seemed fairly realistic and the draw of built boys on bikes, long days sunbathing, swimming in lakes, spring skiing and dancing to dubstep while getting all kinds of merry was just too strong. plus you know there are a few people living there I’d be kind of fond of. So a few last days were spent in Vancouver, a much looked forward to birthday was celebrated in hilarious fashion at that pillar of Vancouver night life the Metropole. Breakfast was eaten for dinner, cafés were crawled to, and there were some last revisits to Lynn Canyon and Granville Island. Bags were packed in a rushed manner (too rushed, I have serious concerns that my precious lumberjack shirt has been left in Marine Drive forever) and then I was stepping off a bus to begin a sun drenched Summer in the most brilliant and ridiculous place ever.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this there was a jaunt to Victoria: Scooters through the city; barbequed moose; s’mores; stalking peacocks; that kind of thing. Though no fort was built, we did stop off at this one. We also hung out more, it was becoming a right old trend. With that flying visit to the Island over (and summed up here in similarly brief fashion) I had to face up to some less splendid happenings.There was the small, devastating matter of saying goodbye to Stacie (at whose request I have written this post) and Freda. Without my partners in couchsurfing/hitchhiking/mountain and everyday adventures I felt rather lost. It was all I could do to go out and get ridiculous in that special WHistler way. It’s a very different place in Summer, in early May it is at its quietest, the bike season hasn’t opened but enthusiasm for skiing and boarding is dwindling. Yet the snow stubbornly refused to stop falling, well past the first week of May there were powder days in Whistler, with fresh tracks until the last run for the few who ventured up the hill. In the village Tommy Africas was closed (tragic) with other bars hiring new staff for the busy summer to come. There was talk of buying tire tubes to ride down rivers and dinghies for spending lazy days in the middle of the lake (superior to tubes really since you can take a beer and a book onboard). People were moving houses, changing jobs. Business may have been slow but locals were gearing up, making the necessary preparations for this new summer landscape spilling over with opportunities for new laughs and frolics.

I got to hang out in that awesome environment for a couple of weeks before it became abundantly clear that employment that didn’t contravene the terms of my visa was not forthcoming. Without a job spending the rest of my Canada days in Whistler made very little sense. It’s a great place but it’s not for the empty of bank account. It was time to check out WWOOFing possibilities. For anybody who hasn’t heard of WWOOFing it is yet another incredibly clever internet initiative that lets one travel all over for minimum costs. WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms and the long and short of the program is that organic farmers sign up to their national wwoof website as hosts and travellers can come and work on their farms in exchange for room and board, learning all about different types of organic farming in the process. Countries all over the world have their own WWOOF sites and networks, most have an annual members fee which you have to pay before you can see the locations of hosts or read their details but in some countries there is no charge at all. With so much fresh fruit and produce coming from BC there is plenty of demand for WWOOFers in Summer. I emailed a few farms on the sunshine coast, north of Whistler and on the Island and almost all got back to me wanting to come either immediately or in the next few weeks. In the end I chose a farm in the Cowichan valley on the east coast of the Island, said goodbye to married Kiwi companions and family dinners and got my hitch/ferry/bus on to my new home/place of work. It’s a big change of plan. We’ll just see how the rest of Summer plays out.

The photos in this post are not mine, I have stolen them from Celia Burnett and Stacie Jay Godfrey!

Naked on a bridge at Nanaimo (or the view from Vancouver Island take 1)

7 Jun

You meet some pretty awesome people on exchange. One of the brilliant things about these new people is that each one brings something different to the table. In the case of my dear friend Bones it is nudity. I’ll elaborate- Bones really likes getting naked. And while naked she has done rather a lot of interesting things. So she’s always encouraging of any activity that might involve getting the clothes off and when she heard that Wild  Play in Nanaimo were trying to raise funds for the BC Schizophrenia Society by hosting a naked bungy jump she didn’t waste any time signing up and spreading the word to the rest of us (God only knows how she found out about it actually…was she just googling naked bungy in blind hope?). My initial reaction to the idea was mixed; a bungy was something i would never forget doing and it was a thrilling excuse to spend a few days on Vancouver Island, which i had yet to visit. But in the nip? Leaping naked from a bridge in front of a crowd of spectators definitely didn’t appear anywhere on my bucket list.  But then a lot of the best things that we have done this year came from last minute decisions or unexpected ideas. So we paid online, locked it in and all that and besides the odd day when we’d all be sitting in a cafe eating cake and somebody would suddenly say ‘you know we have to be naked in public in about 6 weeks’ we just let the day get nearer without giving it much thought.

Then suddenly it was upon us. We got ourselves to Nanaimo, sorted some couchsurfers and early on March 5th (yes I realise it’s taken me a while to publish this) we made the short drive out to the jump site. Curiously there was no wait to register; we had expected a heaving crowd of excited naked folks psyching each other up, chanting clever slogans incorporating the theme of nakedness and giving one another motivational massages, a sort of carnival atmosphere really. But there was only the odd nudie wandering around, with others concealing their modesty under fur coats and grass skirts. After we had the admin behind us we idled at the base of the bridge for a few minutes to catch a glimpse of what was in store for us. A girl of similar age jumped just as we came up to the railings. It was worse than I’d feared; even at quite a distance away you could see EVERYTHING, and hanging upside down from a rope that has you bouncing all over the place is not exactly the most flattering position to be in when wearing only your birthdaysuit.

With that image in my mind I was seized with a desire to get the whole thing over with so having stripped down except for an easily pulled off strapless dress myself and my 7 cojumpers started the climb up that seriously intimidating set of stairs to the top of the bridge. I may have mentioned this earlier but one serious advantage to signing up to bungy naked is that you don’t really spend much time being nervous about the actual plummeting from a  bridge part; the prospect of stripping off is pretty distracting, but now that we were actually looking down the 55m of thin air to the river below the old fight or flight was starting to kick in and adrenaline was spinning around my insides like a hummingbird. I was going first because at moments like this the longer i have to wait around and think about what is about to happen the surer I am to hesitate and need coaxing off the ledge. While the others watched the people ahead of us in line make their dives or jumps or arm flailing falls i was having the harness tied around my ankles. For the only thing that’s keeping you from well….falling head first into a river it’s a surprisingly basic set up- they just wrap a towel around your ankles and then attach the rope to that, but I wasn’t going to go doubting these guys’ expertise. With my feet bound the moment of truth had arrived- not wanting to delay I whipped my dress over my head, got the ‘ok this is me naked’ over with in front of everyone in line and shuffled to the edge. At this point there was some confusion; the lad in charge asked me did I want to get dunked in the river. I told him I did, just down to my waist and when he’d adjusted things accordingly I asked ‘was that it?’ meaning ‘can I go?’ He nodded, turning away, so I jumped,  thinking this was all the advice i needed. Apparently I was actually supposed to await further instructions on how to jump without damaging my spine. Luckily the only technique required is to put your hands out above your head, which wouldn’t you know came kind of naturally anyway. But the lesson here for anyone reading and considering a jump in the future is that no matter how impatient you are to get the waiting over with wait for the guy to fully instruct you before jumping as you may miss something important.

Anyways he turned back around to tell me what I needed to know and at this point I was somewhere in the air. For the first few seconds my body had no idea what was going on; one minute it was on solid bridge the next it was floating, then slowly turning upside down and gathering speed. At least my brain had some clue as to why I was in this position or I probably would have panicked. Then suddenly I was seeing the tops of trees, the crowd of people watching, the railings the banks, all rush by until I hit the water, hard, plunging right down to my ankles (not my waist….stupid bungy technician man). I was still processing this change when the rope pulled me back up and I started to bounce. As soon as i could breathe again all I could do was shout out how awesome this was; the bouncing was intoxicating, the weightless feeling addictive. Any residual panic was gone and I was laughing and swinging my head around trying to see everything from my new upside down angle, but after 2, maybe 3 repeats I was slowing down, and then there was a guy in a raft holding out a pole (with a glove on the end, nice touch) for me to grab so I could be lowered down. I couldn’t believe it was already over. Clever bungy people, it’s so short you just want to do another one immediately, what a perfect moneymaking scheme!

It could have been a bit awkward being pulled onto a raft naked by someone you’ve never met and waiting for him to untie your feet before you can start covering yourself but I was on too much of a thrill high to really notice my nakedness at that point so our small talk about how long he’d worked there and whether he’d gotten himself on the rota for naked jump day on purpose was interspersed with my random outbursts on how brilliant that had just been. The low point of the experience came climbing the very long flight of steel steps he delivered me to(not fun for the barefoot soaking wet naked person) but it was all up from there. Reunited with my clothes I got to watch the rest of the girls jump, Bones the seasoned bungy expert barely blinked as she leapt off the platform but others struggled with serious fear and managed to do it anyway, a pretty amazing feat. No matter how we ended up in the air each of us came off the bungy cord with a  smile a mile wide and a need to express just how flipping deadly the experience had been. And it was all thanks to Bones and her aversion to being clothed.