Monday, October 5, 2009

Tofino: Wild, wild beauty

We arrived in Tofino and settled into a rental house on Chesterman Beach with two other couples. After unpacking we strolled the long sandy beach, watching the rollers crash in from far out in the Pacific Ocean. The afternoon light glinted in the water reflecting the clouds and highlighting the many surfers clad in their black rubber suits, toting their boards. At a rocky promontory, anemones and orange and purple sea stars clung to the rocks at water’s edge.

Next day we strolled to the Wickanninish Inn, which is perched on a rocky point so you feel almost amongst the wild waves. It’s the perfect place for winter storm watching. I chatted with Charles McDiarmid, the managing director, and learned this is a family business. The Inn is decorated with west coast Native art including a magnificent long house entrance, masks and totems. But my favourite was a simple carving shed, almost hidden in the trees about a hundred meters down the beach. Here I watched artists create Native carvings.

The highlight was a visit with John Dowd, the legendary long-distance kayaker, and his charming wife, Bea, who live on a nearby island. John picked us up in a marvellous contraption, an amphibious boat that lowered its wheels when we approached his island and drove right up to his home. And what a home it is! John and Bea have chosen to live a simple, close-to-the-earth life. Their island has no electricity or running water, yet their wooden home has charm, elegance and beauty. Working from a wood-fuelled stove, Bea served one of the best meals I’ve ever devoured: starters of smoked salmon garnished with home-made tartar sauce, home-cured salmon caviar and crackers with egg salad, with the egg provided by Bea’s own chickens. The main course was a coho salmon (caught by John the evening before), fried and served with home-grown vegetables. It was a memorable afternoon.

Next day my dearest and I explored the other face of Tofino, the rain forest. We wandered along boardwalks that meandered through giant cedars and Douglas firs. Moss hung from branches. Ferns and nursery logs covered the ground. Green, moist primordial growth surrounded us.

Before departing we took a last walk along Long Beach. A tangle of bleached logs marked the high-tide line; a father and son manoeuvred a kite; big waves crashed on the sandy shore, and the beach stretched for miles. Bliss!

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