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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.

Whistler, couchsurfing and the kindness of strangers

21 Feb

So initially when I started looking into the whole year in Canada business an awful lot of people were telling me about this Whistler place. I mean I’d heard of it, I seem to remember there was an OC style show about it a couple of years ago, it ran on RTÉ2 …terrible stuff, but it did make me aware of the mountain’s existence. Oh yeah and the winter olympics were there, I suppose that was big. Anyways I was fairly sure I’d pop up and down a few times and get a little bit of skiing in. I certainly did not anticipate it becoming an obsession! Lately every other minute I’m in Vancouver I find my mind sliding off on a train of thought to Whistler.. How will we get there this weekend? Where will we stay? Which days will we go? Where will we ski? Who’s gonna be there?

It’s a very wonderful place. I’ve been skiing a bit in Austria and Italy and both were awesome but Whistler is on an entirely different level. There is just so much choice! So many lifts, runs, random places to escape off to, and so much snow! We’ve been told this winter has been especially good and I certainly won’t disagree. Even the busiest runs treat you to gorgeous powder, and for the more skilled and daring out there you’ve got all kinds of exciting off piste discoveries to make. So far we’ve been a little more adventurous with each trip, edging our way beyond run boundaries, trying to find little jumps and attempting to navigate moguls, technique could definitely stand to get better but then how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Sometimes we make it down ok, other times there are hilarious falls, but the snow is so deep it’s like being thrown onto a pillow. You just laugh, bounce back up and start down again. Just typing this is making me excited for the next trip!

Whistler adds a new level of awesomeness to being in Vancouver really. As well as all the other things being here has to recommend it you are close enough to the mountains that ‘Want to go skiing tomorrow?’ isn’t a ridiculous question. Being a UBC student helps too. The normal cost of a Whistler season pass varies betwen $1100 and $2100 depending on when you buy it. We got ours at just under $500. At the time it seemed like such a massive investment, now it seems like the biggest bargain ever invented. Still heading up there every weekend to get the value out of that pass was looking like it was going to cost us all the arms and legs we needed for skiing so we started trying to find ways to work around the main costs- accommodation and getting there, and I reckon it’s brought some of the best Canadian fun so far. First of all it led us to the insanely ingenious concept of couchsurfing (see For those of you who haven’t heard of it before the basic idea of couchsurfing is that hosts advertise their couch on the website as a free place for travellers to stay and surfers get in touch to see if they can come crash. Simple but brilliant, we had heard about it before coming over but it was accommodation desperation that inspired us to actually sign up and throw ourselves in. So far we’ve landed 4 couches and in all cases the craic was mighty! Instead of staying in a hostel where you have to rely on the advice of other visitors about where to ski, what time to go out, what days are best and which clubs have free cover you immediately get landed with a pack of folks who have lived there for months and are up for taking you out and getting  merry together. Whistler’s a particularly good spot for couchsurfing since there’s such a huge population of young people who are there to have as much fun as possible while doing just enough work to get by or none at all if they have the savings. So pretty much everyone you meet will always be keen for some kind of antics. Thus far we’ve had some ridiculous, hilarious nights with our couchsurfing hosts and been treated so amazingly well

I’m sure there will be those that read this and think that the couchsurfing idea sounds like absolute madness, dangerous madness. Certainly I’ve been met with a raised eyebrow or two when explaining my recent sleeping arrangements. ‘But what if you end up staying with total psychos?’ or ‘what if they steal all your stuff?’. Well I guess my response is that the host takes on the same risks and more with us really. I mean we haven’t been going alone, there have been 3 or four of us each time, so it’s not like we have left ourselves vulnerable to being lured by ourselves into some predator’s lair, we may be girls but there’s definite safety in numbers. And this person is allowing us into their home (even telling us how to get back in by ourselves in case we should get lost) so if anyone has potential to steal stuff it’s the surfer. But people who have concerns like this are really missing the point. You are supposed to trust the person you stay with is a decent sort. The website lets people leave positive references for each other so you aren’t exactly going on nothing when you stay anyway but a large part of the loveliness is just taking for granted that bad things won’t happen when you put your faith in another human being that you don’t know. Life is better when you believe that most of the people you meet will be good, there are more opportunities for adventure. Couchsurfing is all about having adventures with strangers. It’s a way for locals and visitors to mix and share in all the brilliant things a place has to offer. The couch surfer gets to experience it the way residents do, avoiding tourist traps and generally benefiting from local knowledge, while the host gets to see their home through the eyes of an enthusiastic visitor. The kinds of people you meet through the website are invariably open and friendly given the nature of the exercise, but other than that you aren’t guaranteed to have anything in common, you get the chance to meet people you would never encounter in the ordinary exercise of your life.

In the same vein of  moneysaving and networking outside our usual social sphere we have also been hitching back and forth from Vancouver (in groups of course, no solo hitching and i mean we are carrying skis so if it came to it we’d be well equipped to defend ourselves). It means a free ride, which in times of ski expense is handy but it’s also another chance to meet somebody new and I like to think that generally we brighten up their journey by providing them with some company and chat. Between hitching and couchsurfing the last few months have really shown us  how much good can come from the kindness of strangers and that isn’t something we take for granted. Right now we are without cars, couches or many resources, but you can’t expect to gain as we have lately from other people’s generosity without giving something back. In the short term karma returns can be with small random acts of kindness, giving things away for free, volunteering at events, helping somebody pick things up after their bag bursts in the middle of the road. But hosting couches and giving lifts will definitely be on the agenda when I have the necessary elements for either. Letting people you don’t know into your life is risky. But at the moment I feel like you stand to lose a lot more by shutting people out than by giving them a chance. You never know who will hop into the back of your car.

Coppers yeh beaut!

19 Jan

It’s the 18th day of a new year. Unspoiled and just barely out of its wrapper, 2011 is full of delicious potential for deadliness! As I’m sure the world has noticed it has been a while since my last post. There have been distractions i’m afraid. Mostly in the shape of late nights spent desperately trying to understand evidence or write about islamic law, ski trips, Seattle trips and Passion pit (the latter a particularly sweet slice of awesomeness). in short the kinds of things I’d usually want most to be writing about (yes even exams, I’ve got a very ranty draft squirrelled away which basically lambasts them for their utter pointlessness. Might be best if it never sees the light of day actually…). But all of these things seem too far away now. i mean it’s a new year, hardly time to go reaching way back into the old one. So instead I’m gonna focus on the most recent banter and antics, the very cream of which took place not in Vancouver at all but in Dublin, and where in Dublin but Coppers?

I’ve been meaning to get to the brilliance of Coppers (or Copper Face Jacks if we’re being formal) for quite the while now. For the uninitiated Coppers is a mammoth club in the Camden/ Harcourt area. Before entering there are a few things that you should know. First of all since it’s a fairly huge place you should always be fairly merry when spending an evening there, you need to be a little bit drunk to endure the vast amount of time you’ll inevitably spend looking for folks after losing them on the stairs/ while you were catching up with somebody from school/ Irish college/ holidays. It’s also important to be aware that Coppers has a (deserved) reputation for being something of a cattle market. In other words, the majority of its patrons are there in search of the shift. So do expect people to come onto you in both traditional and creative fashion, and to see an awful lot of messy people getting pretty into each other on the dancefloor.

Now that you have some idea of what’s in store you can concentrate on enjoying the special Coppers atmosphere. I spent two awesome nights there over the Christmas with some of my very favourite people. Ridiculous dancing, running all over the place. Fairly standard nights in Coppers but then a standard night there is a bit brilliant, I guess put it down to the fantastic mix of people you find in there. Coppers is famous for being the haunt of primary school teachers (and teachers in training), nurses, Gardaí and country people up for the GAA but you can also expect to find a nice handful of Dublin people as well as businessmen and lawyers in their late 30s who have ended up there after a rowdy one at Doheny and Nesbitts.

It’s packed out every night of the week, the soundtrack split between chart and old school cheese. You’ll give it socks on the dancefloor, have hilarious chats in the smoking area, steal an abandoned drink or two, run away from the owner, lose the friends you came with, find new ones and at the very least you’ll go home with somebody’s phone number and a huge smile on your face.

what a miracle!

6 Nov

It’s autumn for real now. Took a stroll down to Wreck Beach this evening and half the leaves are brown and gold and some of them were falling as we walked. I know I should be panicking at the season change since it’s going to bring the unending rain we’ve been warned about but so far it’s been just lovely. At home you only get those crisp days when it’s cold enough to see your breath, here we’ve had a whole week of them and I haven’t had to wear a coat once.

We’ve ticked a few more typical Canadian experiences off the list. Two weeks ago it was Thanksgiving here and one of the girls volunteered to cook a traditional Thanksgiving dinner- turkey, stuffing, yams, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy, pumpkin pie (which I did NOT expect to like but in the event it was pretty spectacular, ditto the pecan pie), the whole shebang- it was epic! We all brought along our own food contributions too, Kirsty and I volunteered to make a veggie dish, take a look at the recipe below, it’s a variation on a bbcgoodfood classic. When all of the food had been laid out on the table (feast is the word!) and 15 or so ravenous exchange people were just about to lay into it, one of our cooks asked us all to stand and give thanks- you know, that tradition that’s supposed to be the point of the day! I know it sounds a bit cringey but it was actually really lovely and I think having a holiday that’s all about stopping for a minute and being grateful for what you have is a brilliant idea. I like to think that i don’t take the things in my life for granted and I really believe in telling the people you love how much you appreciate them and how much they matter. If it’s something you don’t do often enough or haven’t done lately Thanksgiving is a good time to step back and remember that really life is pretty good. I also really like that it’s a secular holiday, I mean almost all of the big occasions in the Irish calendar are linked to Christianity, and I guess that makes sense since we’re a pretty homogeneous little country but some people do get left out and at Thanksgiving nobody does because it’s just about eating a massive meal and hanging out with your family, which are things universally enjoyed.

The wonderful dinner came at the tail end of a really fantastic weekend so we had that to be thankful for. We went on a bit of an adventure through the Fraser valley and up to Adams River in search of the spawning sockeye salmon. Every 4 years masses of them swim upstream to the exact spot where they were born to lay their eggs and then they die. It’s strange that salmon have no parent-child relationship, who do they blame all of their problems on when they reach adulthood?

The trip was a truly marvellous laugh. It was Crazybones brainchild- she’d heard about these determined salmon, and that at a certain point somewhere east or north of Vancouver there were so many that they filled whole river. So 5 of us packed off in a rented car with only a vague notion of where we were going and limited knowledge of how to get there. We drove until we hit a small town called Hope. I know- it sounds like the name of a sitcom. And it did have a certain Twin Peaks vibe. Its an unassuming little place, petrol stations, a dairy queen, a couple of shops and bars a very ordinary place in an extraordinary setting- it sits nestled in the shadow of the massive, splendid mountains and the Fraser River thunders along its edge- yet the town is so normal looking, it barely seems to notice its impressive surrounds, if it does it just carries on regardless, minding its own business. When I told people we had visited their faces took on almost sympathetic expressions ‘there wouldn’t be much to do at night in Downtown Hope huh?’. Actually there is rather a lot, Friday night in Hope was one of the funnest I’ve spent in Canada!

It started off with a sign that read ‘karaoke at the Eagles, guests welcome’, assuming the Eagles was a pub we made our way up there, post a pleasant dinner and a few glasses of Naked Grape, only to learn from a lady in the Car Park that the Eagles was not a bar at all but the local headquarters of an organisation called the Fraternal Order of  Eagles. The old FOE is a social club with a charitable message which claims responsibility for Mother’s Day, Friday karaoke was buzzing with Hope’s most high profile FOE members. The sign had told us guests were welcome but that was a little bit of a misrepresentation- members like members you see, luckily we bumped into one of the more fun loving of these just outside the Eagles and she signed us in as her responsibilities (if we’d behaved badly she would have been banned for a month). Luckily we were a hit, breaking the ice with a lively rendition of Proud Mary complete with frenetic dancing and crowd participation. Having gotten ourselves nicely warmed out we continued to roll out the hits until closing (partly because Naomi kept signing us up to sing without telling us, hence a mystified me being called away from a hilarious chat to belt out Billy Rae Cyrus’ Achie Breaky heart….cringe and off key don’t begin to cover it). Afterwards Darlene and Naomi, our new best friends in Hope led us to the Gold Rush, the main meeting point of Hope’s hot young things where we got more chances to dance like mentals and generally soak up the place’s brilliance.

Over the next 2 days salmon hunting began in earnest. They had been and gone from the Fraser Valley so on the advice of the man who runs the river rafting in those parts we headed further north towards Kamloops to the Adam’s River. The journey took us through a variety of landscapes and from the windows of the car we saw some breath taking things. On plenty of occassions we hopped out to take snaps like this one

Popped by Coquihalla national Park to see the Othello tunnels, a line of tunnels (as you may have guessed) that were blasted through the granite walls of a canyon by Andrew McCullough,  a mad, visionary 19th century engineer. He was like a human salmon really, chasing that impossible dream, finding a way nobody thought he could! In his case the mission was to bring a railway to Kootenay BC and the only way was through the canyon. He pretty much risked life and limb to do it and in the event the train only ran that way for a couple of decades. His legacy is still there, the tunnels draw plenty of tourists for a gander (us among them obviously) , but somehow I don’t think that would be any consolation. Sure he’s immortalised, but I reckon he’d rather be relevant.

After another sleep and many more miles of driving in a confused manner we finally made it to salmon. We arrived at the Salute to the Sockeye festival at 8 o’clock on Sunday morning, entirely exhausted but eager to see the fish at the end of their rather more draining journey. As we got near the smell hit us: the salmon who’d already made it, spawned and said goodbye. At the time I thought the whole thing was incredibly sad. They swim all this way, overcome enormous obstacles, finally make it and then die, leaving their little orphan babies to face the same thing in 4 years time. Actually it’s kind of awesome. You’re born without parents. You learn all there is to know about being a salmon from instinct and just live your life without any of the responsibilities of dependents (aging parents or parasitic children) then when you feel it’s time to grow up and enter the mature stage of life you get to head off on this ridiculous adventure with all the other salmon from your generation, leave behind a load of eggs and never worry what becomes of them. Might be the best life cycle ever. Stupid lucky salmon!

Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie with Sweet potato mash

400g tin of lentils

400g tin of chopped tomatoes

1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

2 courgettes cut into chunks

butternut squash cut into chunks

2 fairly big sweet potatoes peeled and cut into chunks

3 carrots cut into chunks,

2 tsp oregano

a chunk of ginger, the size of 2 thumbnails I reckon, grated or chopped

25g butter


Boil the sweet potato in a saucepan until tender. Drain and mash with the butter and season to your heart’s content.Meanwhile fry the garlic, onion and ginger in a  little oil until the onions are tender. Then add the carrots, water, tomatoes and oregano. Throw in some salt and pepper and a spoon of cumin if you feel like it. Simmer for ten minutes then add the lentils, juice and all, cover and simmer for another ten minutes until the carrots are tender. Ladle into an oven proof dish then spoon over the sweet potato mash until covered. Finally grate some cheddar over the top then pop into an oven preheated to 190 celsius/170 in a fan oven for 20 minutes

that was our variation because of some ingredient constraints but do feel free to try the real deal

Early Days (it still feels like holidays)

7 Sep

Feeling a little bit sheepish coming into this entry as it’s been almost a month since anything remotely banterish got a mention on here but I do have some excuse for the last week’s absence at least- I finally arrived in Vancouver and minutes to spare have been few and far between (it didn’t help that my brain was well and truly melted with jet lag). But the next hour looks as though it’ll be pretty empty of distraction, so while it’s all still fresh in my head I guess a run down of the craic so far is in order.

I’ve got to say the first week here has been of pretty high quality in terms of antics and laughing and general merriment so I hope I can do it justice. Vancouver is an obscenely beautiful city. I honestly don’t know how people here manage to go to work every day and do the things that make the whole place run so smoothly because I can’t stop looking around me and staring at everything: the trees; the buildings; the sky- everything is so brilliant, even the light here seems to be of a different quality, almost clearer, than at home (though I may be just seeing things with particularly enthusiastic eyes). My apartment on campus is a 5 minute walk from Wreck Beach and mountains on the skyline give a bit of an epic backdrop to outdoor goings-on. An outdoor going-on I’m particularly focused on at the moment is the National concert in Malkin Bowl this Thursday, which a friend and I just today bought tickets to. The setting looks gorgeous- an outdoor theatre in Stanley Park- so fingers crossed for a warm evening and a clear sky. We’ve already spent a day in the Park, located by the shore in town, and it was teeming with shiny happy Vancouver folks running and cycling and soaking up the sun and gorgeousness.

(haven’t really got the hang of putting photos into posts as you can see, but you get the idea- the park is lovely)

Plenty of animals were milling about too, the squirrels here are so brazen! It’s only been a week and I’ve already seen about seven of them run up to people without the least bit of hesitation, yesterday we actually saw one sitting on a bin eating what appeared to be a paper bag, apparently this diet is working for him as he was by far the largest squirrel I’ve ever seen, I’m only devastated that I didn’t have my camera with me.

We’ve also been down to Granville Island for touristy adventures, the main attraction (for us anyway) was definitely the Public market, where we picked up fresh fruit and hummus and general deli amazingness before heading down to the docks for a makeshift picnic followed by an attempted pub crawl back to UBC. Inevitably we only ended up going to one bar, the Granville Island Brewery, before going in the wrong direction and eventually getting picked up by a bus back to college. Luckily there was some beer from the aforementioned pub at my house (they make their own, it’s definitely drinkable, Brockton IPA variety for the win) which led to a very pleasant session and our first night time trip to Wreck beach. Student socialising here, as far as any of us can gather, doesn’t centre around clubs the way it does in Ireland so in the absence of a major house party (or indeed a Frat party because those exist in this mad country) the beach is sort of the place to go when in search of night time fun (I imagine this is only the case when it isn’t raining, which is soon to be never!). We weren’t disappointed, some resourceful Canadians had lit a bonfire and three guys with serious musical talent were providing dark, antireligious but nevertheless rather brilliant tunes while other folks jumped around and made smores.

Smores at night time isn’t one I’d encountered before. It’s rather a wholesome image compared to beach parties at home (we never had fires, shame on all those people who had been scouts!) and while I wouldn’t say those particular Canadians were having a family friendly evening it’s been glaringly obvious since we’ve arrived that drinking just doesn’t figure in nights out here as much as it does in Ireland, or even the continent. I’m quite looking forward to a couple of months of moderation though it does take some getting used to. The last few nights we’ve been having little get togethers in apartments and this has been brilliant for getting to know people but I miss dancing like a mental and I’m looking forward to going Downtown at the weekends and going to the odd club. The college club, the unfortunately titled ‘Pit’ has been visited twice. Both nights proved a good laugh, we’ve met a lot of really fun people through the international orientation and a good group can make any location fun. The dancefloor is right in the middle of the venue which makes it lovely and easy to view all the entertaining shapes being thrown. There’s a really good atmosphere among all of the international students that I’ve encountered and a lot of effort was put into helping us meet each other which meant that I felt absolutely comfortable dancing in the usual loon manner with people I’d only met about 24 hours before. Loved the music too- a nice bag of tunes some old enough that I remember dancing to them at underage discos, but pleasant associations like that are what make songs like that so fun to hear. Shorty got Low was a serious highlight. But that said I don’t reckon I’ll venture back there for a while, the window to hang out at Wreck Beach is pretty narrow, there are Frat parties to experience, and going to the Pit too often would definitely spoil the hilariousness of the place, I feel it’s gonna be a Coppersesque destination-not one to go to more than once a week, but once there a place of very energetic fun.

This week has definitely been a brilliant start to the year here, with classes starting Wednesday I’m really excited to see things get even more fun as more people show up all over campus and we get fully into the swing of college. Looking forward to seeing some Canadians in their absolute element and sussing out where the best bant in Van is to be had.