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.