Cold hippies and sublime hot dogs at the UBC campus
There were no naked people at Vancouver’s Wreck Beach, but there was a greying hippie feeding seagulls and a friendly bearded fella named Cloud.
This would have to suffice as a taste of this naturist mecca, where in the summer, thousands gather wearing nothing but a smile.
We happened on this notorious beach by chance: the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia was charging $14 a person, a few notches above the limits of reason for budget travelers.
So we walked around the building instead and happened upon a totem pole park and an art installation of tiny white plastic boats sticking out of the gravel. This, we thought, would have to be our discounted moment of culture for the day.
But just beyond the poles was a promising nature trail that led to a steep zig-zag of stairs. It seemed to descend into the thick woods, with no end in sight. But soon a sign warned us that below was a clothing-optional beach.
Eight degrees and cloudy is too nippy for even the most dedicated nudist, but traces of the naturist savoir-faire were evident. Like the white-haired Tommy Chong lookalike with a throwing breadcrumbs at the seagulls. When we passed by, his birds took flight. For this, I apologized.
“They have wings, so they’re quite mobile,” he spoke in a lazy bullfrog drawl. “We only wish we could fly like them.” And without looking our way, he resumed his feeding ceremony.
Our attention was then caught by a young fella with a full black beard and an olive hoodie. He seemed to be drawing in the sand with two sticks that were taller than him. When I approached, I saw that he had carved an eight-figure in the sand, in which water from a nearby spring was flowing.
“It’s a filtration system for the animals,” said the friendly sculptor who calls himself Cloud. He’d been doing this for seven years, he told me. He comes to the beach a few times a week and arranges sticks and clay that trap impurities from the water dribbling down the beach cliff.
He pointed to an accumulation just past a miniature dam of sticks he made. “See, this is almost clean enough for you and me to drink,” he said. But it’s good enough for the dogs that come walking. But why the eight figure?
“So there’s a water circulation system. That way the mosquitoes don’t nest.”
I asked his permission to take his picture. He took his sticks and walked towards the shoreline, saying, “I’m going to play. You can shoot me while I do that.” With this, he twirled his sticks like a circus performer or a martial artist. Or a West Coast beach filter engineer, for all we knew.
The stairs back to campus were just as treacherous, and the sight of a hot dog stand claiming to be the best in town – or your money back – offered an irresistible challenge.
It’s manned by a friendly Asian lady and her Mexican assistant. Tourists emerging from an Olympic women’s hockey game, drunk enough to fancy themselves great seducers, hardly managed to fluster them. “Oh, I’m too busy with school to go out with you,” the señorita would say as she handed one such lothario his dog.
A regular hot dog costs $4. One of eight flavoured “smokies” – sausages, essentially – go for $6.50. Not budget prices, but it’s understandable. They come topped with drilled onions and you have six condiments and 10 sauces to choose from.
I had the “volcanic” smokie, meant to be spicy, but it gave me a slight tingle. Bianca had the Cajun. Both were delicious. I highly recommend the cranberry chipotle sauce or the jalapeño barbecue sauce to give the dogs a little more emotion.
Costs per person
Bus fare to UBC: $2.50
Museum of Anthropology: $14
Hot dog and drink: $8
Stunning view of the sea and mountains
Brisk climb and and down wooded steps
Glimpse of Vancouver hippies/naturists in their element