We’ve been in Ucluelet for seven days now, and my memory of Toronto is a vague, foggy reccolection of a ten year long bad dream. I’ve been waiting for the culture shock to hit, something that jolts us into the reality that we’re not in Toronto anymore, waiting to miss something about Hogtown that I took for granted.
So far, everything that we’ve needed, Ucluelet provides. From the specialty vitamins and protein powder, first class sushi, goat’s milk, organic vegetables, professional printing services and the cutest office supplies available, Ukee’s got it all. In so many ways Ucluelet surpasses Toronto – for $25 a month Kat & I have memberships to the local recreation and fitness center. The gorgeous cardio room overlooks the harbour, there is a full complement of olympic freeweights, a pool and best of all a sauna. At some point I’m sure we’ll miss Indian food, and I do miss the four star pet food that was available in Toronto – the animals have to eat Purina now, supplemented with chicken and fresh fish which I’ll cook for them.
I thought I’d miss my Toronto apartment – the best place I’d found in the ten years I’d lived in that city. It was in a safe building in Riverdale, a great neighbourhood, and a fantastic view of the sunrise from the 23rd floor. I’d even taken pictures of the view before I’d left. I thought I’d miss it.
But the old view can not hold a candle to the new one. Who wants to look at Scarborough when you can look at the mountains? Why look at Lake Ontario, the toilet of the great lakes, when you can watch the waves of the Pacific crash against the black rock shores of Big Beach? Instead of taking the dogs to the park every morning, I take them beach combing, they tear through the tidepools and roll in seaweed while I look for whatever odities the ocean has washed up since the tide last came in.
Prior to today, the biggest adjustment we’ve had to make has been retraining ourselves how to use the stove. The stove top burner dials are arranged in the opposite manner of the dials in my old apartent, so we keep turning on the wrong burners. A few days ago we thought we put the tea kettle on to boil, when really we’d turned on the burner under a large pyrex baking dish we’d used to heat lunch. We were obliviously watching Star Trek, Next Generation when a sound like a gunshot exploded behind us, followed by the patter of glass raining down all around us. The pyrex dish had adheared to the burner in a perfect round disk and the rest of the dish had exploded in all directions. Shards of glass were everywhere: in coffee cups, embedded in the side of the cupboards, on the widow sills, on top of the ceiling fan blades. It took us hours to de-shard the apartment and count our lucky stars that no one was hurt.
I qualify the glass explosion incident as the second-most jarring adjustment we’ve had to make, since today we got a real taste of culture shock.
The weather in Ucluelet is driven by the Pacific – wind and rain boils over the open ocean and then roars into shore without warning. I’m starting to think of the skys as bi-polar, prone to intense mood swings and dramatic shifts in behaviour. We can wake up to the sound of rain pelting the roof over our bed as though it was determined to pound our home into the earth, and by the time we’ve had our coffee the sun could be shining. But we don’t leave the house without a raincoat because it will probably be raining by noon again.
When we set off for the gym this evening, the sky let loose again, the clouds bursting like overfilled water balloons. We decided to ignore the rain and continue on; after all, we were outfitted in our new rain gear purchased just before our departure, we weren’t going to let a little wet weather slow us down.
Then the rain abruptly transformed into hail. Just like that we went from being wet and optimistic to getting pelted into submission by pea-sized balls of ice so hard it stung through our protective clothing, and smarted against the numbed skin of our cheeks and hands. We couldn’t see more than two feet in front of us and were forced to dismount our bikes. In that second a bolt of lightening hit the telephone pole twenty feet in front of us, the blinding flash and deafening boom sent us reeling backwards. We dropped the bikes and ran over the slippery ground to the nearest house – the power had been knocked out and all around us was pitch black.
We sheltered under the overhang of the roof for a few minutes, waiting for the adrenaline to taper off and for our legs to stop shaking. The hail intensified, the peas grew into marbles and I started to worry about the hail shattering the windows of the house we were sheltering under. And then, as abruptly as it started, the hail stopped. Like a cartoon the clouds parted and rolled away, the setting sun winked at us and I swear I heard birds chirping. The sky was toying with us, just to prove that she could. Her message was clear: At any moment, on any day, she could sweep in and wipe us out of existence. No Gortex coat on earth could stop her.
We’re at the mercy of the sky and the ocean – we’re in Ucluelet now. Talk about culture shock.