It took little more than a week of living in Vancouver for me to realize that something wasn’t as it should be. At first I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I could sense I was on the verge of an epiphany. By the end of my first month, I’d officially uncovered the secret. All the fit and healthy people in the world are living in Vancouver. Until February 2011 I was convinced that Hollyoaks was the pretty-person capital of the world, but it turns out I should have been looking 4500 miles west. The troubled yet skinny adolescents of Chester were nothing compared to the blonde, toned yoga fiends I was suddenly seeing everywhere in Vancouver, and yoga really is the key word here.
Vancouver is obsessed with yoga. Yoga in a studio, yoga at the gym, yoga on the beach, yoga up a mountain. For someone whose only experience with yoga was 60 minutes of uncomfortable, stressful, one-time fitness class hell, it took some time to get my head around what I, along with two million other Vancouverites, now embrace as the Cult of Lululemon. For those of you on the ‘wrong’ side of the Atlantic, Lululemon Athletica (www.lululemon.com) is more than a Vancouver-based clothing company specializing in high-end yoga apparel. It’s a lifestyle. A philosophy, if you will. Its mission was to “create components for people to live long, healthy, and fun lives”, and this extends from a strong manifesto and seven core values to free yoga classes and collaborations with local artists. The inescapable and at times supernatural influence of Lululemon has turned it into the clothing equivalent of peanut butter: 98% of Canadians consider a 2 tbsp serving a daily source of protein that they couldn’t live without, while 2% are allergic to the mere smell of it and point blank refuse to engage.
It was just starting to rain as we walked up the snow-lined path, our feet crunching noisily on the gravel. It was also much colder than I’d expected it to be, and my hands were balled tightly into fists and shoved deep into my pockets as we shuffled along the path. I heard the waterfall before I saw it, though the roaring of the water falling 335 metres into the rocks below was soon drowned out by the chattering and camera clicks that could only belong to a group of equally cold tourists. We picked our way awkwardly through a group of over excited toddlers wrapped head to toe in what looked like polyester covered marshmallows, and took our own photos of the Shannon Falls. A steep path to the right of the viewing area led down to the side of the waterfall, where we watched the ice-cold water smash into the side of the river bank. The trees provided some welcome cover from the rain, and the noise of screaming toddlers was soon replaced with the infinitely more welcome sounds of birds singing and leaves rustling. Facing away from the viewing gallery and into the trees, we could have been wandering through the depths of a remote, West Coast rainforest. We savoured the moment for the last time, before making the three minute walk back to the small parking lot on the edge of Highway 99.
Squamish is a small, rural community of a little over 15,000 people nestled in between Vancouver and Whistler on the infamous Sea to Sky Corridor. This number does not include the population of the ‘Squamish Nation’, an amalgamation of self-governed Indian Reserves which stretch from Squamish across the North Shore. The recent improvements to the previously shaky Sea to Sky Highway in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics have puts Squamish a mere hour’s drive North from Downtown Vancouver, and many Squamish residents commute to ‘the city’ daily.
My previous trips to Squamish have been fleeting at best, and mainly work related. In March 2011 a series of unfortunate events resulted in a 90 minute visit for pleasure rather than work, though at least 85 of these minutes were spent standing outside Shoppers Drug Mart waiting for a ride back to Vancouver, so I don’t really count that one. Needless to say, I was excited to be spending a weekend in Squamish on my own terms, and with no other agenda than relaxing.