Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Tofino, Vancouver Island



Being from Stromness -a small seaside town on an island in Scotland - I couldn't help but make comparisons between Tofino, a small seaside town on Vancouver Island in Canada. Other than the location near a major ocean an the population size, there was little similarity between these two towns.


Tofino is on the west coast of Vancouver Island that has taxi's equipted with surfboard racks and more places offering whale-watching tours than offering coffee. I started my morning by smashing my phone after dropping it on the bus (it can last anything usually but a bus floor? No!) and I was reunited with the rain. After what could have been a scenic ferry from Horseshoe Bay in North Vancouver to Nanaimo there was a four hour bus to endure. The bus driver tried his best to be entertaining but the crowd was dampened in more ways than one. There was a break in Port Alberni which was a fairly uninspiring town between Nanaimo and Tofino, but that might have had something to do with the weather. Although the town was tiny I still managed to get lost but even when I found my hostel the reception was closed for an hour. You may have noticed that most things weren’t in my favour but I decided by changing that by heading straight for a surf school to book myself in for a lesson tomorrow morning.


After a rejuvenating shower I got outside and the sun was shining and Tofino was showing me why people keep finding themselves back here. Every person I spoke to in Tofino had visited on a holiday and either never returned or made their way back as soon as possible. Tofino itself appears small but stretches out far along the highway, however just wandering through the main town gives you stunning views reminiscent of Norway’s fjords.


My surf lesson was with a company called Surf Sisters which was run entirely by women (but doesn't exclude men from their lessons) and is the only surf school in Canada to be certified by the National Surf Schools and Surf Instructors Association 
. Tofino is littered with offerings of surf schools and it’s very much a case of finding one that makes you feel instantly comfortable - especially as a beginner. I was booked in a group booking which consisted of me and a seven piece hen party. Thankfully though the type of women who go on hen-parties to learn how to surf are not as intimidating as your standard hen party guzzling champagne on the train with tight PVC costumes.



We were directed to Cox Beach where we squeezed into our wetsuits feeling like we’d just finished Christmas dinner. After the laborious process of peeling on our wetsuits we then had to carry the boards down to the beach to get some lessons on land where we were taught the basics of surf safety and etiquette. For example there is only one rider per wave and the boarder to the right of you always has right of way so if they start riding a wave you can’t just jump in. The pop-up technique is - unsurprisingly- easier on land that the water but the theory is so simple it shouldn’t be. As soon as you see a good wave - one that hasn’t broken yet- you should paddle hard until you feel the wave take you, then allow yourself three more strokes before trying the pop up. While paddling you should have your chin high off the board and feet together (Cobra yoga position) and after the wave has caught you, you put your feet under your shoulders and pop your front foot forward. It’s at this point where you have to find the courage to stand up fully and then try to not panic about what to do now you are standing up.


Surfing takes a lot of practice but instead of getting frustrated about not getting it right you want to get back out and try again. After three hours of close contact with sea water I had managed to stand up on my board for all of about three seconds but at the time it felt like long enough to look like a pro.


That evening it was raining like I have never seen rain before - you couldn’t see where they sky ended and the sea began. An evening in the hostel was still used for sightseeing though -from the common room window I saw both a Bald Eagle and some Sea Otters frolicking in the rain.


Tofino does have it’s fair share of trendy little caf├ęs 
filled with organic coffees, fairtrade homebakes and lost souls looking for an epiphany “out west.” The following day I toured the town collecting baked goods for my packed lunch as I was heading out to some natural hotsprings for the day at Maquinna Marine Park. The trip involved a three hour boat trip winding through the islands surrounding Tofino which was a chance to spot whales or even bears. The company I was with was called Ocean Outfitters which, coincidentally, has a super trendy and super expensive clothing store inside. Our skipper was called Rob ad seemed very young in jeans and a snap-back - very different to the skippers I was used to- and I assumed that licencing must be a bit more lenient here.


First we headed out around Vargas Island as another tour had called over the radio that there were the Vagras sub-species if Grey Wolf by the coast. These wolves looked a lot more like German Shepherds than wolves and were pretty camouflaged in the sand and forests but came onto the shore to eat from seal carcasses


One of the boards later on had 'No' on it. Unrelated of course.
The boat we travelled in was very small and the ride was more than rough but I inherited my fathers stomach so managed to keep breakfast inside. The trail to the hotsprings began at a small tranquil jetty  in the middle of Nowhere - well more accurately Manquinna National Park. The half-hour board walk led you through dense temperate rainforest where almost every board had been engraved with a ships name, a saying or even a proposal.


You could smell the springs before you saw the steam bubbling up through the ground. As you got closer to the shore the water - thankfully- got cooler as the sea splashed into the lower pools. There were rocks that caught the water flowing down from a hot shower-like waterfall to form three pools. Hot springs are very much like a hot bath that never cools down and after two hours of soaking I have no idea how I did not turn into a cooked lobster.


I got back to Tofino at around 8pm and thought I would head to the (only) pub in town. One of the girls that had moved into my room was from Edmonton but had studied Vet-med at Edinburgh and knew people from my school and I also met a girl who studied in Stirling after returning from the pub! I love small world moments! The pub had an open mic night but I must have been spoilt  with the Open Mic’s in Guelph as I was not very impressed. I was ,however, impressed with Tofino Brewing Company’s beer - it’s blonde was tastier than Scarlett Johansson.


It was blue skies and sunshine for my bus ride back to Nanaimo and ultimately Vancouver. I am yet to find a time to read or watch a film while on the move because the view out the window has been much more exciting. After a perfect crossing to Horseshoe bay I was back in the city and had to make my way to a random Walmart somewhere on the outskirts of Vancouver to meet up with a group of four other international students to tour British Columbia. However that is a whole other story...

Ahh Scotland, if you could see me now!



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