tofino twenty silly questions

Tofino 20 Questions: The First annual Silly Tourist Question Retrospective

by Rana Nelson, Tofino


Summer's done, gone the sun - and with it, most of the tourists. That means it's time for the First Annual Silly Tourist Questions Retrospective.

Following is a collection of questions that have been asked at the various businesses around town.

Some of these have been asked many times, leading to the question of whether we're identifying a recurring experience: Silly Tourist Question Syndrome, perhaps?

Here we go, then:

  1. We'll be in Tofino December 12 - what will the waves be doing? (asked at a surf shop)

  2. Can we feed the bears? and/or What time do they feed the bears? (to kayak shop staff)

  3. When do the whales breach? (at an adventure outfitters)

  4. Do the whales come out when it rains? (at same outfitters)

  5. We're going to Parksville tomorrow - will there still be tides there? (at same outfitters)

  6. How much do those islands weigh? (to a kayak guide)

  7. How high above sea level are we? (asked while in a kayak, in the ocean, to another kayak guide)

  8. When do the smoked salmon run? (at a surf shop)

  9. Where do they grow totem poles? (at same surf shop)

  10. Why is Tofino so far away? (at a resort)

  11. Where do you keep the bread for toast? (at - where else? - the Co-op)

    And the shining star of questions, asked at a waterfront resort:

  12. "Can you turn down the lighthouse?"

In an effort to understand Silly Tourist Question Syndrome (stqs), it may be helpful to determine where our visitors are coming from. For example, if you're coming from Ucluelet, Tofino is not far at all. But if you're coming from the Midwestern United States, say, after a four-day drive and a ferry trip, the three-hour carnival ride across the island can feel like a long way indeed.

And if you're coming from Europe, and you phone your resort to tell them that you're just getting off the ferry and will be in Tofino in an hour, you might be forgiven for disbelieving the front desk staff when she tells you it'll take you three hours. "Oh, no," you say, "We looked at the map; it'll only be an hour." Because of course, on a European map, not only would that distance take you a mere hour, but you'd be in another country at the end of it.

Maybe that's it; these tourists are not only visitors to another country, but to another world--the natural world. Considering that most people now live in cities, perhaps it's not so strange that they don't recognize an ocean when they see one or that they don't know that smoked salmon is not its own species (although maybe the problem with that question was that it was asked at a surf shop; surely a fishing charter company would have known the secret spawning stream of salmonicus smokus).

This theory could explain the sign posted shortly after the entrance to Pacific Rim National Park Reserve: Warning: Natural areas can be hazardous. Please see park wardens for more information. While people certainly need to be aware of the risks inherent in outdoor activities, one never sees such a sign placed at the edge of a city, where stats surely show that a greater risk to self exists: Warning: Cities can be hazardous. Please see police for more information. However, if most people live in cities, they take such risks in stride every day.

We are certainly fortunate to live in the natural world instead of only visiting it, and it may be helpful in this exploration of stqs to think about how we from Tofino behave when we are on vacation and the questions that we might ask when our vision of our destination clashes with the reality of it: "What's that green light for?" or "I've heard all this talk about your "amber waves of grain," so where's the beach?"

And lest you despair of ever understanding stqs, take hope that you can find some commonality with the afflicted. Who among us hasn't asked this question, especially in January?: "It rained yesterday; why is it raining today?"

Here's a final question--asked most often in July and August, and to businesses, Visitor Info staff, police officers and passersby alike--that isn't silly at all: "Where can we stay tonight?"

Rana Nelson is a Tofino writer and operates Onwords Editing & Communication. She welcomes submissions for next year's Silly Tourist Questions Retrospective to her email at

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