Chapter 6. Newfoundland - Part I
© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2000 All rights reserved.
(Shari) Guess what? It is raining again. Poor Bert cannot go on his bird hike this morning and we leave at 9:30 in the drizzle. As we drive into Nova Scotia, gas prices are going up higher. PEI had the lowest prices of the provinces so far. So yesterday we filled our tank at the Esso station just before we crossed Confederation Bridge. A Tim Hortons's is also there so we bought a delicious English Toffee Cappuccino along with ½ dozen freshly made donuts. Yum, Yum! In a small town called Whycocomagh, Cape Breten, a place called Rod's has cheap gas. At 66.9 cents per liter for diesel and 72.9 cents for regular, it beats the normal 84 cents we had seen so far. So we fill up again. Apparently this is a First Nation settlement and no tax shopping applies. I hear Newfoundland has even higher prices. We arrive at Arm of Gold Campground after lunch. The campground sits on a hill overlooking an arm of Bras D'or Lakes and, in spite of being an open grassy field, it is quite scenic out the window. We are only minutes from the ferry terminal. I am extremely tired and crabby today, so collapse in R-TENT for the rest of the evening, hoping an attitude adjustment hour will help my disposition.
(Bert) Rain falls through the evening and continues this morning as we drive northeast to Cape Breton. We stop at North Sydney, just a couple miles from the ferry dock. Our intentions are to explore the Cape Breton area for the next five days and then ferry to Newfoundland just as the parks are opening. But while I am at the RV park office I meet the wagonmaster for an RV caravan just returning from the province. Surprised, I ask him, "Isn't everything closed in Newfoundland?" He tells me, "No, everything is open and every day you postpone, you will see less wildlife and the icebergs will be further out to sea." The RV park manager concurs. When I spill the news to Shari and Jean, we decide to drive to the ferry dock and change our reservations. At the dock we switch our departure to tomorrow afternoon.
(Shari) The sun plays a warm, happy jig as the wind dances on the deck of the MV Caribou. We are taking the 7-hr. ferry from North Sidney, Nova Scotia, to Port Aux Basque, Newfoundland, today and we could not ask for a better crossing. Bert makes a beeline for the forward deck while Jean and I check out the gift shop. Later we join Bert outside and watch land recede until we get bored of standing just looking at the water. Leaving Bert to his pelagic ferry trip, we go indoors. I spend the remaining time reading, napping and chatting. Fog has rolled in, but a half-hour before docking we go out on deck anyway to watch for whales. It is so cold and windy that even Bert is ready to throw in the towel. All of a sudden I see a disturbance of the water ahead like a wave rolling over a rock. Then a spout of water shoots upwards while I shout, "Whale." Sure enough, just ahead is a whale that shows a wonderful fluke before diving down. Only the four of us are on deck so we are the only ones that see it. What a wonderful sight and it was so close too. Or, the whale was that big! Maybe both! We have no trouble driving off the ferry. Unlike other ferries we have taken, this one allows for forward on and forward off. Keeping our car attached, we just start our engines and drive. As Jean remarks, the coastline looks just as she expected: stark and rugged, rocky with scrubby trees and brightly colored houses perched on the cliffs. Tonight we stay at J. T. Cheeseman Provincial Park, only 15 minutes from the ferry. For a mere CN $9 we have a large level site overlooking water. (No hook-ups of course. What do you want at that price?)
(Bert) Ship's Log 13:30, the bellowing blow horn of the M.V. Caribou - registered in St. John's NFLD - reverberates over the ferry dock of North Sydney, Nova Scotia, signaling our immediate departure. Water churns against the hull as the powerful engines reverse, backing us from the dock. Hydraulic motors lower the giant scoop-shaped hatch door in place over the hull and cover the opening through which we drove R-TENT and d'Bus into the lower deck, a giant garage the size of a couple football fields end to end. As we depart, the ship emblazoned "Atlantic Freighter" slips into the dock next to the one we left. Our pilot executes a Y-turn in the harbor and now we move forward. From my position on the outside forward deck, Level 5, I continue my Ship's Log.
13:40 - A beautiful warm clear day, the hazy blue-gray sky is cloudless. From the bow,
the engines are only a soft purr and I hear the tranquil water lapping against the hull
far below me. The bright sun warms my T-shirted back. In the distance, a short rocky cliff
separates the sea from the green land that slopes gently upward. Small, country villages
drift peacefully past our vantage point, church steeples rising above all other buildings.
13:48 - Double-crested Cormorant, floating on the water, takes flight as our ship approaches. First-year Northern Gannet flies off bow. Great Black-backed Gull floats on gentle swell.
13:54 - We pass a lighthouse on the leeward side, a tall white tower crowned with a bright red roof and a rotating beam, as we exit the bay.
14:25 - Land is a thin hazy line on the horizon. Seas are calm with an occasional flash of a random whitecap.
14:28 - Second-year Great Black-backed Gull flies by.
14:43 - Sooty Shearwater skims across rolling sea.
14:45 - Greater Shearwater identified by white tail-band, dark cap, white collar.
14:55 - Two more Greater Shearwaters.
15:08 - Wind is picking up; darker water ahead.
15:11 - Crossing into darker water; wind becomes much stronger. We must have reached the edge of the continental shelf.
15:18 - I put on my jacket and tighten down my hat. The wind gusts and the waves roll, but no whitecaps are showing. Weather is still sunny with wispy white clouds near the horizon. Only one other person, a fellow birder from Denmark, shares the deck with me.
15:30 - Four more gulls, then a new bird: two Northern Fulmars in light phase.
15:39 - Two Northern Gannets and another fulmar.
15:50 - A dozen passengers spill on deck to watch the maiden voyage of the new hydroplane ferry heading back to Nova Scotia. Traveling at 44 knots, the ship throws water above its height and more than its length behind it. At twice our speed it will make the crossing in 2-1/2 hrs. When the hydroplane disappears, so do my fellow passengers.
15:53 - Fulmars and shearwaters appear at the rate of one per minute for the next half hour. No one else shares the outside deck with me.
16:23 - I put my second coat over the first, now covered with four layers of clothing. Periodically a passenger comes outside in short sleeves, but quickly returns.
16:26 - Shari comes out to see me and I tell her what I heard about fishing in Newfoundland, but I stop mid sentence when a new bird comes into view. Small, pigeon-shaped, it careens like a swallow so low over the water it almost kisses the waves. Life bird: Wilson's Storm Petrel.
16:36 - A hazy horizon with more clouds appearing, the sea is flatter with gentle swells. A young man returning to Labrador, where he grew up, tells me the calmness is unusual.
16:40 - Off port side, the sky turns ominously gray, meeting the grayer water at a thin steel blue line. The last blue patch of sky dissolves into the gray and the sun is swallowed with it. The wind gusts off the bow increase and grow colder, but the seas remain calm.
16:50 - A single Common Murre, unusual for a gregarious bird, wings black-and-white across the sea.
16:55 - Another murre is quickly followed by a Wilson's Storm Petrel prominently displaying its white U-shaped rump band and contrasting gray greater coverts on black wings.
17:05 - Everything has turned gray and cold. I put up my hood and stuff my hands in my pockets. I consider heading inside, but pelagic birds keep appearing, still at the rate of one per minute.
17:18 - A first-summer Black-headed Gull gives me a good view. I'm surprised to find a gull this far out to sea.
17:28 - A large cargo ship glides through the mist at the horizon, only the second ship I've seen at sea.
17:30 - Another Northern Gannet, again an immature bird like the others today. Conversely, the only gannets in the nesting colony on Bonaventure Island were adults.
17:31 - The captain sounds the foghorn; visibility is shrinking.
17:33 - Foghorn again, repeated at 2-min. intervals. murre, storm-petrel, murre Feeling chilled, I head inside to see what my companions are up to.
18:00 - Ship's Log continues. The mist is thicker, seas calm, wind gusts still cold.
18:11 - Shari, Jean and Don come on deck. Within minutes Shari spots a large whale, perhaps Finback Whale, just as it flukes directly in front of the ship. All of us get a quick look, but it is the only whale we see today. The three return to the warm inside.
18:13 - Fulmars, murres, fulmars
18:22 - Land ahoy! A dark shadow in the gray mist grows on the horizon. A beacon flashes from a lofty lighthouse.
18:23 - White buildings peak through gray soup, perched on barren gray rock, treeless.
18:27 - Herring Gulls perch on poles; Common Terns wing gracefully across the harbor.
18:31 - The captain reverses engines and backs the stern into port.
Channel Port aux Basques is an artist's sketch in olive green and gray. Fuzzy edges of twilight cluster on dwarfed spruce and alder living precariously on a barren landscape of cold gray rock. Silvered pools of water reflect the last daylight. Memories of the stark countryside of Scotland come to mind. Hardly a warm welcome to Newfoundland, nonetheless I am immediately entranced by the adventures forthcoming.
(Bert) We begin our exploration of Newfoundland along its western shore and head north to the Codroy Valley, an agricultural, forestry and fishing area carved out of the raw countryside. I can see why the Irish settled here, for there is a close resemblance to the northern and western shores of Ireland. Wide open land sweeps to the sea in a graceful arc from low mountains hiding a few patches of ice, through tightly clustered miniature forests suppressed by windswept cold weather, to a rocky shoreline. Our first stop is the lighthouse at Cape Anguille. Waves erode rocks that are aligned in a peculiar manner. Parallel layers of rock, each layer about 4 ft. thick, are slanted upward and pointed toward the mountains. Although intact, each layer is heavily cracked to form a brick-like lattice and the exposed ends of each layer terminate at different lengths, creating a staircase effect. The composite scene gives me a clear picture of the process of mountain building on the one hand and water erosion on the other. Inland a few hundred feet, the land is spongy soft when I walk on it and just wet enough to moisten the bottom inch of my hiking shoes. Flowers intertwine the sphagnum moss, Blue Flag Iris being the most notable. As a garden flower in Wisconsin, this orchid-like violet blue plant grows to over three feet. But here in the harsh wind-swept climate, the plant is only four or five inches tall, a candidate for a Bonsai garden. Late in the afternoon I visit another sphagnum-covered bog, this one near our campsite at Cheeseman Provincial Park. Here the flowers include insectivorous Pitcher Plants with the strange maroon flowers shaped like the inverted hook of old streetlamps. In the evening, sitting around a picnic table as the sun sets, we again feast on lobster, these selected fresh and squirming from the warehouse dock at Codroy this morning. While at the dock the lobsterman showed us a rare blue lobster. Although the same species, Northern Lobster, this color morph was a brightly polished peacock blue. More stories fill today - the outdoor wedding at the park, the teenage girls sunbathing in skimpy suits, the old Newfoundlander telling stories at the Piping Plover viewing deck - but night closes in and storytelling ends.
(Shari) OK, OK! So we change our plans. We told Don and Jean last night that we would be leaving today. This morning, as I am checking tour books, I see a birding place mentioned called Codroy Valley. I mention this to Bert and Oh My Goodness, you'd think the roof caved in. His whole body sinks lower and every cell is dejected. This is only spot in the province for which he has a bird checklist and oh how awful to have to miss it. I mean, Anne of Green Gables did not get that emotional. So we stay an extra day, pack a lunch and head out in the car to find the birds. He will have to tell you if he saw any, because I didn't. But I did see wonderful scenery reminiscent of Alaska and Ireland. We travel Trans Canada Highway 1 to Highway 407 passing two mountains that the men think of as breasts. Jean and I do not laugh. Mountains, tundra, rocky soil at times cultivated, cliffs overlooking smashing waves, and small fishing villages. A glorious day for a ride: cool with a slight breeze to keep the bugs away and most important, sunny. The road ends at Cape Anguille with a picturesque lighthouse. Two abandoned white houses, standing guard over land that shows evidence of past farming, beckon us to get out of the car. A few velvety purple irises peak through the grasses and catch my eye. Upon closer inspection, the whole field is about to burst forth in bloom: almost enough reason to stay a few extra days. Retracing our path, we turn into the harbor of the town. A few warehouses, a few boats docked on the wharf, and a few men standing around talking, makes the atmosphere look closed and noncommercial. Gregarious Don starts up a conversation and, no longer than it takes to blink an eye, we are told lobster is for sale around the front of the warehouse. Jean and I, both thinking lobster for supper tonight, go check it out. Those big plastic tubs, that contain lobsters straight from the boats, are inside the warehouse, lined up in big vats of circulating water. Water is pouring out over the floor and we can only walk within a small area. We ask about the lobster and are led into the warehouse along a dry section of floor. A man lifts one of the plastic containers out of the water, brings it to us and opens it for our inspection. He shows us a blue lobster that he says he has never seen the likes of in all his years of fishing. We ooh and ah over all the lobsters and ask the price. At CN $7 per pound, we go get our money. In our small cooler, we put the lobsters with some ice, but as the ice melts we periodically have to pour out the water so the lobsters don't die. After returning home, we go to Port aux Basque, at a mall no less, and buy a big 20-qt. kettle for boiling the lobster. At 5 PM I start salt water boiling. Twenty minutes later it is barely warm. Sixty minutes later it starts to bubble. Finally 90 minutes later it boils and I can drop the lobster into the pot. Jean's cookbook says to cook the lobster five minutes for the first pound and one minute for each pound later, after the water returns to a boil. Twenty minutes later, I take the now pink beauties out to the picnic table where baked potatoes have been waiting for over an hour. All of us wonder if this method of cooking is going to make the meat rubbery. We need not worry because this is the best lobster of the trip so far.
(Shari) Scenery as beautiful as Alaska, reminiscent of the Yukon, greets us this morning as we make our way about 90 miles north to Barachois Pond Provincial Park. Arriving at 11 AM, I reconnoiter while Bert dumps and takes on water for R-TENT. Nestled in the trees between two lakes, the campground is 90% full and I drive past all 150 sites before picking out two that will work for us. Not all sites are large and level. Site #1 is next to a lake and, at the right angle of entry, R-TENT will just fit. Site #38, right around the bend, is another smallish site but has an easier in/out for Don and Jean. No matter how far we drive in a day, we think we need a rest after all the hassles of taking down and setting up. Bert and I put our screen tent over the picnic table and start a fire. Working up a sweat in today's 80ish sunny weather, Bert decides to take a swim. I take three pictures of him in the various stages of getting wet. After his cool swim, we have Eggs McPudgie for brunch. For those of you unfamiliar with our other travels, pudgie pies are made with an iron "sandwich" maker stuck into the fire to cook whatever is between two slices of bread. Since an egg, ham and cheese are cooked this morning, I label it "Eggs McPudgie." Next we drive 20 or so miles into town to check out Stephenville. Jean and I drop Bert off near a bridge so that he can look for yet another rare gull while we continue into town. Stephenville was once home to the U.S. Air Force and now the barracks and old buildings are used as apartments and shops. The road to town slices right through an old airstrip. This is not one of Newfoundland's scenic villages but does have a Walmart. Before heading back to pick up Bert, we tour Indian Head Campground. We are not impressed with the weedy, unleveled small sites and are glad we choose to stay where we did.
(Bert) When I arose to a morning temperature of 41 degrees, I would not have guessed I'd be swimming by noon. But here we are a hundred miles further north along the western coast in a beautiful provincial park named after Barachois [pronounced "bar schwaa"] Pond. Our campsite is on the shore of the long narrow pond and the water looks inviting now that the air temperature has climbed into the 70s. So in I go for a short but refreshing swim. We take advantage of our pleasant campsite and enjoy brunch with "Eggs MacPudgie," the name we call a recipe we concocted for preparing a sandwich of fried eggs, ham and cheese over a campfire. In the afternoon, Shari, Jean and I drive to the ocean and the two women go shopping in Stephenville, while I bird at Stephenville Crossing. What I'm after is Black-headed Gulls at one of the few, if not only, nesting site in North America. First I wander along the beach, but the only thing of interest is a Winter Flounder, in the family of Righteye Flounders. (Did you know that there are Righteye and Lefteye flounders, differentiated by which side of their body contains two eyes?) Near the train trestle, I watch a young girl catch another strange fish, a 7-in. sculpin with leopard spots and grotesque pectoral and dorsal fins sticking out formidably. A young man, standing nearby, points to the Saint Paul's Flats where he says the rare gulls nest. Hiking across the soft mud flats, I stir up the ire of a pair of Killdeers that must be nesting nearby. A Killdeer is so common in Texas and elsewhere that they rarely garner my attention, but here in Newfoundland the species is listed as "very uncommon - only likely to be encountered once or twice a year." I hundred feet further, I am surrounded by circling, screaming Common Terns in a scene reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds." Even though I'm staying well distanced from their nests, they harass me from the air and make it perfectly clear that I am unwanted. Finally, off at the edge of the mudflats I catch a glimpse of my quarry and in another ten minutes I'm close enough to watch a pair of Black-headed Gulls feeding in the shallow water. These European gulls spill over the arctic fringe of the Atlantic and reach the northeastern most sections of North America. Finding their nesting site makes my day.
(Bert) By 5:40 AM I'm on the Erin Mountain Trail heading to the summit 1020 ft. above Barachois Pond. Shari, Don and Jean intend to follow but will start at 7 AM instead. My bird watching and nature studying pace is slow, barely 1 mph on flat land, less uphill. Through the marshy area near the lake, my senses of hearing (bird songs) and touch (mosquitoes and black flies) are the most activated. I hear "Pleased to meet'cha," "Oh Canada, sweet, sweet Canada," "Je-bunk," and a whistled series of "Veer" notes - these interspersed with "swat," "slap," and the "pisst" as more Deep Woods Off sprays the few exposed parts of my anatomy. Clear of the lowlands, a boardwalk climbs to the pattern of ten steps forward, one step up through the virgin forest. The growth and variety of plant life here is amazing: Dwarf Dogwood, Clintonia, Pink Lady's Slipper, Yellow Birch, Mountain Alder, Mountain Ash, Labrador Tea, and dozens more. Light rain begins to fall and by the time I reach the halfway scenic viewpoint it is falling too heavily for me to spend more than a moment looking through the fog to the Barachois Pond below. It's 7 AM and I doubt that my companions will begin their climb, but having gotten this far, I'm not about to turn around. Besides, the dense canopy above me deflects most of the rain. I wish I had packed my raincoat, though. From this point upward, the boardwalk ends and the trail becomes a steep and rocky path. I climb for another half-hour, the rain increasing meanwhile. Beside the trail I find caribou scat, a good sign. Were it not for the caribou carrot leading me to the top, I probably would turn around from this damp hard climb. But I'm told a herd of some 700 caribou reside at the top of Erin Mountain. When I reach the summit, the rain is more intense or, perhaps, it's that I'm clear of my forest canopy and I feel it more intensely. The flattened top of the mountain is a tundra plateau circumscribing two small lakes. I search in vain for the caribou, but see only rain and fog. I hike along the ridge and get a dim view of Barachois Pond below. Strong winds near the edge of the cliff chill me and I turn back to seek the windbreak of a stand of short spruce away from the edge. Across the mountaintop plateau is a shortened version of the normal world, a Lilliputian fairyland of miniature trees, ponds, flowers and shrubs densely hugging the ground. While I stand in one spot, the rains stop and the winds subside. Sensing the relief, the birds begin to sing. First the melancholy ones singing only in mournful sharps and flats: Hermit Thrush, Veery, White-throated Sparrow. Then the joyful ones in bubbling melody: Magnolia Warbler, Common Yellowthroat. Then the scene brightens: lakes become bluer; plants become pinker with Rhodora blossoms. I check the view from the cliff again and this time I can see the broad St. George's River and the open sea of St. George's Bay at Stephenville Crossing many miles away. The grand view warrants the wet uphill hike, even if I missed the caribou.
(Shari) Oh no, here the rain goes again! Bert is already gone on the hike up Erin Mountain. Jean, Don and I are to meet him, leaving at 7 AM. Jean calls on the CB and we decide not to go. I go back to bed. After lunch we decide to take our drive around Port aux Port Peninsula despite the weather. Dropping our film off at the Walmart One-Hour processing lab in Stephenville, we continue our scenic drive. The clouds are breaking up and patches of blue sky peak out. Up, around and down 1000-ft. peaks we travel with every turn showing another scenic view. Towns with names like Kippens, Berry Head and Felix Cove each contain just a few neat white houses adorned with colorful trim. In Felix Cove, one of the buildings has "Jim Felix" nicely stenciled on the outside. Marshland and bog, trees stunted and bent landward by fierce winds, rocky cliffs meeting the changing sea, wash hanging out to dry in the breeze, people gardening or mowing the lawn, children on bicycles, water as aqua blue as that seen in Hawaii, and Yellow Lady's Slippers peeking out from the tundra at the higher elevations color the day. A spider, the exact same shade of yellow as the lady's slipper, tries to hide from our gaze. By 3 PM the sky is solid blue, the fog lifted and the sea no longer painted gray. In Mainland, a small restaurant (Sea Breeze) advertises the best donairs in town. Since it looks to be the only restaurant in town, that claim may be suspicious, but Bert, Don and I try it anyway. Jean has the fresh cod and fries. Sitting in old wooden booths flanking a wooden table, we are greeted by the new owner and her husband, the previous owner and her new baby, and at least two other women helpers. Fresh coffee is made for every one of our never-ending refills. The food arrives and we remark that donairs are gyros with a creamy sweet sour sauce; same meat, chopped onions, and tomato filling in a pita wrap. Homemade cranberry/apple pie fulfills our sweet tooth. All this costs less than US $6 for the two of us. By the time we get home, we are still full. Deciding to forgo supper, we walk the trail to the lookout that we were supposed to do this morning. Most of it is a boardwalk through the wet forest. I say boardwalk, but it includes a lot of stair steps - over 300 of them. I first start counting about midway when I see yet another set of steps going up and up. Walking and climbing for 45 minutes - seems longer - we reach a lookout. Way down below, I can see the campground and, with binoculars, the front of R-TENT. Bert had continued to the summit this morning, another steeper climb without the benefit of the steps. I had enough of a workout for today and head home with thoughts of popcorn.
(Bert) Continuing north along the coast, we drive for an hour and then stop at Corner Brook, a city of 50,000 inhabitants built on the slopes surrounding an inland arm of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Here we gather supplies and I transmit e-mail at Mail Boxes Etc. Although I'm getting a strong cellular phone signal, it's a local company without a national contract and an operator interrupts my call. For CN $6 I use the Mail Boxes Etc telephone jack and my computer to get the e-mail. Again on the road, we pass through expansive scenery, the type where you can see for miles to mountains on one side and water on the other, with flat bogs and marshes stretching between. For nearly a half-hour we travel the length of Deer Lake. Not broad, but very long, the lake fills a hollow between sloping mountains. In my mind's eye I can picture the glacier that covered Newfoundland to all but the highest peaks at Gros Morne. As the river of ice inched northward, it dug out this valley and rounded off the mountains. We drive through most of the length of Gros Morne National Park - we'll return again later - before stopping for the afternoon at Cow Head, a small town less interesting than its name. But it does offer at least one bit of amusement worth the price - "Ed & Ed: Trapped," a production of the Gros Morne Theatre Festival. The two main characters - there are only three - are both called Ed and they come from a long line of Newfoundlanders named Ed. While the plot is weak - two unemployed cod fishermen unwittingly incite a national uprising over the plight of depleted fisheries - the comedy is non-stop. When listening to a Shakespeare play, I have to tune my ears carefully to the archaic language in order to catch its meaning. The same is true tonight as I listen to two Newfoundlanders speak in a rapid-fire lingo with misplaced vowels, altered consonants and replaced vocabulary. Life becomes "loff," that is "dat," then is "den," my is "me." But their favorite word seems to be "notting." They ain't worth notting, they cane't ado notting, they'd dust is notting. After the show is over, we walk next door to the restaurant/bar/motel for live bar music that started at 10. But, now at 10:30, the last musician is packing up his instruments and heading home. It's time to roll up the carpet in Cow Head, so we turn home also.
(Shari) I could have slept an hour more. The extra time we gained by our 7 AM departure was used up in waiting at the Mall Plaza in Corner Brook. Arriving at 8:10 we find that all the stores do not open, including the grocery store, until 9 AM. McDonalds is right there in the parking lot. So, you guessed it. We have breakfast at McDonalds before filling our pantry for the trip north. Milk here is still CN $3 per ½ gal. Yikes! How do these people survive? Scenery today is just breath taking. Bert remarks that I am always comparing it to someplace else, but I cannot help it. I would be comparing Alaska to this if I had come here first, I guess. But the land is really like Alaska and the Yukon; forest-covered mountains with patches of snow struggling to last the summer; long lakes alongside the highway shimmering a deep blue in the sunlight; the sea, periodically peeking out to our left, calmly lapping at the shoreline. More cars share the road with us than did on the Alaska Highway, but then the road is much wider and smoother too. We stop at Gros Morne National Park Visitor Center and learn of a lobster festival held up the road a piece in Cow Head. We decide to stay the night there at Shallow Bay Campground and take in the sights. Driving through town, we see nothing that could remotely be called a festival. At our camp check-in, a flyer sure does proclaim LOBSTER FESTIVAL in big red letters. The clerk gives us a schedule of events and today's activities include a flea market and craft fair at 3:30 PM, a lobster dinner all day, a theater performance this evening and Newfoundland music later. Don, Jean and I drive the short distance to town and attempt to find the craft fair. This community is a hodge-podge of houses and shacks and overgrown lawns. The only real commercial enterprise to speak of is the Shallow Bay Motel where the theater is held. In response to our inquiries about the festival, we learn that the lobster dinner is the same one regularly served at the motel (one pound lobster, four salads and a roll for CN $18.95), the craft fair is non-existent, but tonight's show is a go. Jean proclaims false advertising; Bert says the head of the visitor's bureau dreamed up the festival on his own, but had no staff to carry it out. I guess that the motel owner wants to attract more people to stay in his rooms. Later at the play, a local lady fills us in on the festival, Newfoundland and Canadian politics. The festival is not much this year because of the big deal the whole province is making of the Viking 1000-year landing. The festival, although advertised for 10 days, has most events occurring on Sunday, when a replica Viking ship docks at the breakers. The best lobster is done by the Anglican Christian Women's Society, again only on the weekend. The play, "Ed and Ed," takes us into the life of two unemployed cod fishermen. The government does not allow them to fish and they bemoan the idleness and the meddling of the Federal government. Deciding to do something about it, they find themselves in a heap of trouble. Even though the comedy makes fun of their plight, I cannot help but feel sorry for the Newfoundlanders, realizing that they are between a rock and a hard place. The lady behind me says people are still sorry they ever voted to join the Confederation 40 years ago. After the show we hurry over to the traditional music at the motel but find the show is over - only lasted 30 minutes. Win some and lose some!
(Bert) Scenery is washed out by persistent rain during our drive along the northwestern and northern shores of Newfoundland. The temperature has dropped into the 40s and 50s, but looking out our windows it gives an even colder appearance. Bleak, dreary, foreboding, only the infrequent white houses bring cheer to the landscape. I'm sure my perspective is painted by the fog and rain; I hope our return drive in a week is under better conditions, because I'd like to see the effect lighting has on my judgment. Villages are far and few between. All bear names related to the sea: Plum Point, Black Duck Cove, Deadman's Cove, Savage Cove, Nameless Cove. The stark villages are barren of landscaping: widely separated, simple cubical white houses, with small high porches, stand naked of trees or shrubbery. Near River of Ponds we encounter our first Newfoundland moose when it crosses the highway a quarter mile in front of us and then retreats into the brush as we pass her. Don buys gasoline at Daniel's Harbor at the equivalent of US $2.39/gal. I get diesel further down the road at St. Barbe for US $2.03, the highest we've paid thus far on our trip. Here, Shari also checks on the ferry to Labrador that we will take in a week or so. We camp in an electric-and-water site, our first since our Newfoundland arrival, just outside St. Anthony in the northeast corner of the island. In early evening, while there is still plenty of light, a brightly painted car pulls in front of our sites and a TV reporter mounts a camera on a sturdy tripod and aims it in the direction of our two motor homes. Then he proceeds to recite a storyline into his microphone while he faces the camera. We slide open our windows to hear the message he repeats several times until he gets his words smoothly together. When he finishes, Shari and I get out to ask him what he is doing. The newsman is from CNN in Corner Brook and his report will be on the Newfoundland news in a week. Apparently, local accommodations in the St. Anthony area are almost non-existent for the huge celebration at the end of July when the Viking ship arrives from Iceland. R-TENT and d'Bus are props for his storyline, "Some people will bring their homes with them."
(Shari) R-TENT travels north in a day shrouded in a wet gray cloak. The road from here to St. Anthony is pretty rough and traveling is tedious. Canada has very few rest areas and finding a place to stop for a break is awkward. About halfway, a moose walks right in front of us and we slow even more to watch it until the thick brush hides it from view. Thousands of lobster traps are neatly stacked in piles along the road. I wonder if someone picks them up at the end of the season. Individual patches of cultivated land dot the sides of the highway. Later we learn that families stake out a garden wherever they can find fertile ground. Locals can also cut the trees on public land for firewood and the roadside is full of neatly stacked logs waiting the winter stove. As we travel north so do the gas prices: 93.9, 94.9, 97.9 cents a liter. My advice is to get gas in Corner Brook along with your groceries. Little towns along the way look prosperous from their neat outward appearances, but the words from the lady at last night's' play still echo in my mind. These small towns with populations 10 years ago in the 700s now have only 300. Fisheries closed, jobs were lost and the young people moved to other areas to find work. By default, the towns are retirement communities with little hope for the future. As we get close to St. Anthony we see signs advertising Triple Falls RV Park, our home tonight. The park is on the left hand side of the road as we drive to St. Anthony but has no signage warning of its approach or even one directly across the road from it. We miss it entirely and have to travel a good 5 miles further before finding a place to turn around. The park costs CN $8.40, including taxes, for water and 15-amp electric sites. Our voltmeter indicates that in our site 7, the power is low when operating appliances. Otherwise the park is nice enough. Our site even is complete with free moose droppings. I hope we see the moose.
(Shari) Quick, the sun is out! Not wanting to waste any part of the yellow rays, we pack a picnic lunch and head out to view some icebergs. Traveling into St. Anthony - the regional service center in the north in spite of its small size of 4500 people - we see a small iceberg in the bay. We are excited and have visions of icebergs dancing before our eyes. At Fishing Point Park, we park the car and Bert thinks, off in the horizon, he sees hundreds of icebergs merrily making their way south. He scrambles to get out the telescope while I doubtfully look into the binoculars. I think he sees a line of breaking waves. I go into the Lighthouse Inn and make reservations for their Viking Feast tomorrow night. The lady there mentions that she has not seen icebergs for about a week, but supposedly more icebergs than anyone has seen in fifty years are about 180 miles north making their way down Iceberg Alley. They may reach this point in a few weeks or a few years. Great! Not to be daunted, we learn that we can drive up to the highest point, thereby passing up the 467 steps hikers use to get there. Sounds good to me and off we go, still not giving up on icebergs. The view from the top is fantastic, but alas, no icebergs. Tiny alpine flowers are everywhere up there, struggling to bloom before winter comes again. Thinking that maybe the boat trip takes their patrons to the icebergs, we go to inquire about it. Unfortunately we learn the only iceberg that it sees is the one in the harbor. Bummer! We pass on the CN $35 fee charged to see whales and birds. Eating our lunch on the benches there, we decide to go to L'Anse aux Meadows, the site of the first Viking settlement 1000 years ago. Imagine, 1000 years ago, not just 200 years past. The site, discovered in 1960, has been recreated by the government and is fascinating. Apparently a small settlement of 75 Norsemen and a couple of women called this place home for 4-6 years. Seeking a better life, they came from Greenland but must have found the conditions or the natives too harsh. What is left behind, however, proves of their existence. There go all those history lessons of Christopher Columbus discovering America. The Vikings were here some 500 years earlier. Three of the buildings in the settlement have been recreated. Unfortunately, just last night, a fire burnt the roof of the main structure and we are not allowed into it. This is where all the reproduced artifacts were kept and the four people dressed in period costume have to tell us about them rather than show us. I certainly did not realize that the people at that time spun wool for cloth, dyed it and knit it into garments with one small needle. The buildings are made of peat and are extremely dark inside. Unable to fathom living in such conditions, I realize again just how good I have it.
(Bert) From the high lookout peak at the entrance to the harbor at St. Anthony we can see for miles in every direction. Nevertheless, we'd need to see a couple hundred miles to find the icebergs. Charting unpredictable paths, they could arrive in weeks or in years. Here we are at the peak of iceberg season, and the only one we can see is a puny - if you call house-sized, puny - one in the harbor. Even the operator of the marine tour says his boat does not reach the icebergs today. I'm disappointed. Instead, we drive to L'Anse aux Meadows (pronounced "Lance ah Meadows" or maybe "Lance aow Meadows"). When I was in elementary school, I - like most of you - learned that Columbus was the first European to discover America. We may have been told about Leif Erikson, but his voyage was dismissed as a Viking myth. But Norwegian explorer Helge Ingstad believed the story and with his wife Anne Stine Ingstad, an archaelogist, they persisted in locating evidence of Norsemen in North America. In 1960, they found what they were looking for at L'Anse aux Meadows, a tiny community of a few houses erected at the edge of a meadow beside a calm bay in the northeastern corner of Newfoundland. The spokesman for the community told them of mounds of ground, just outside the village, that fit the description for the ruins of old buildings. Today, we see those same mounds of ground and samples of the Norse artifacts found at the site. We walk into replica sod houses and talk to Newfoundlanders in Norse costume as they describe what the life of the Norsemen must have been like here in America a millennium before. Even though the climate was 4 to 5 deg. warmer in the tenth century, this still would have been a harsh climate in winter. Using L'Anse aux Meadows as a base camp, the thirty or so Norsemen, including a few women, exploited the Gulf of St. Lawrence for pelts and other goods to take back to Greenland. They abandoned the outpost after a few years, but left evidence of their presence: a bobbin and other sewing tools, metal tools, nails, a broach. One that I find fascinating is the evidence that the Norsemen smelted iron here. Below the surface of the adjacent bog, they removed bog ore. Using hot wood fires, they smelted the ore to produce iron, although, judging by the accumulated ashes, only a few pounds in total, but enough to make nails for repairing their boats. Until the 18th Century, only Norsemen had the technology to smelt iron; thus the discovery provides some of the strongest evidence of their presence here a thousand years ago.
(Shari) We are now honorary Vikings, members of the Hroadsson Clan. Partaking of the Great Viking Feast at Leifsburdir and participating in an Althing or Viking Court, we can call ourselves Vikings. In reality we went out to eat in a sod hut and were entertained with a taste of how the performers thought Viking life was 1000 years ago. Of course, I am sure they did not have heated walls, electricity to keep the food warm on the buffet line, and moose meat. (Moose was introduced to Newfoundland in the 1900s.) Anyway, the six young people, acting as our servers, our slaves, and our entertainers are all dressed up in period costumes and do their best to make us have a pleasant evening. I like our shy server Kveldluf (Mike) right away and tease him about being a slave. He brings out our food and makes sure we are happy. As the first ones to enter the dining room - set for 80 but only 40 come tonight - we pick side seats that have a clear view of the action. At a cash bar we can order wines, beers and an array of mixed drinks (even one with iceberg ice). Shortly, out comes our appetizer of roasted capelin (herring) and fried cod tongues (don't ask). Next we serve ourselves from the buffet line choosing from moose stew, jiggs dinner, roast beef, squid fried rice, cod casserole and baked salmon. When we just think we can eat no more, out comes a partridgberry flatbread with bakeapple sauce and whipped cream (a berry pancake with syrup). All this is nice, but too pricey to do again. I think a $20 fee would be more in line with value received than the $36 per person we are charged.
(Bert) The advertising flyer boasts, "This evening we will entertain you with a taste of Viking life as we suspect it was in the year 1000 A.D." We arrive at the Viking long house, Leifsburdir, in thick fog that permeates dampness on the alpine terrain and foreshortens our view of where the St. Anthony harbor must be. Only the foghorn tells us there is water beyond our perch at the head of the bay. The Leifsburdir resembles a Viking long house in its overall length and its sod covering, but little else. The Viking Captain Hroadsson and his "slaves" are youthful students playacting with little experience. The performance definitely lacks authenticity. So does the food, although it is the most rewarding part of our CN $36 per person admission price and our opportunity to try a few new local foods. Moose Stew has an uncanny resemblance to beef stew and had you put moose side-by-side with beef, I could not tell the difference in a taste test. Cod Casserole and Baked Salmon are tasty but unimaginative. Squid Fried Rice doesn't live up to its name, but the Cod Tongues are well worth a taste and an explanation. Heavily seasoned flat slabs of tongue-sized cod go down in one bite begging for more. Roast Capelin is something worth trying once or twice, but not thrice. Capelin are small herring-sized fish that run aground the Newfoundland beaches this time of year. They are fried whole, head to tail, and to be eaten in their entirety. Sight overcomes taste, so I can't resist breaking off the head before chewing the rather tough sharp-tasting fish. For dessert we have "Partridgeberry Flatbreads with Bakeapple Sauce and Whipped Cream," a name larger than the dish and filled with more superlatives than deserved. Now, Captain Hroadsson - it seems odd to show respect to a 17-year-old student playacting as a fierce Viking ruler - lords over his "Althing" or Viking Court and he declares sentence in family disputes from the audience. Amusingly, a young boy traveling with his family accuses his older sister of being a tattle tail; she has nothing to say in her defense; and her father, as a witness, declares both of his children guilty. The audience registers their votes by pounding our hands on the wooden tables and the majority side with the young girl. Captain Hrodsson orders the boy to do everything that his sister requests during their next day of traveling. Mild entertainment and unusual menu balance against high price and hokey authenticity to leave me with mixed feelings about whether "Leifsburdir: The Home of the Great Viking Feast" is worth a first visit. It certainly is not worth a second.
(Bert) Only the calendar tells me it is July; I'd never guess it from the weather. Starting with cold rain in the morning and darkened skies all day, the temperature hovers in the 40s, not my usual July weather. A good day to stay inside and work on the computer, I finish my regional report for North American Birds, but I can't get my modem to connect through the RV camp office phone even after repeated tries: poor phone lines I guess. After lunch, Shari and I decide to visit the Grenfell museum and home in St. Anthony. Recommended by Don and Jean, who saw it yesterday, the museum provides the history of Dr. Wilfred T. Grenfell, a physician-preacher who brought the first medical skills to Labrador in 1892. Coming here from England at the age of 24, he encountered poverty and deplorable living conditions that promoted sickness, especially tuberculosis. One of his quotes sums up his life particularly well: "The purpose of this world is not to have and to hold, but to give and to receive." Amazingly, in his life he treated thousands of patients; instituted dozens of hospitals, nursing stations, orphanages and hospital ships; wrote 40 books and hundreds of articles; and gave countless international lectures, particularly to raise money for his endless list of projects. He first received worldwide recognition by happenstance. To treat a patient in another village, on Easter Sunday, 1908, he and his dog sled team set out across the ice covering Hare Bay on the Newfoundland coast. Disastrously, the ice broke and he and the dog team slipped into the cold water. But Grenfell had the strength of body and the presence of mind to climb up onto an ice pan, pull in his dogs, and then sacrifice three of the dogs to provide him with their coats. He survived the night and was rescued the next day. His story became international news and he later published it in his book, "Adrift on an Ice Pan."
(Shari) We are invited into Sir and Lady Grenfell's house sitting on the hill overlooking the harbor. Locals call the house "the castle" and say it is a shame the Grenfells did not use it much. Everything is just as they left it and we are allowed to walk around and enjoy their nice things. I almost feel wrong somehow in spying into their lives like this. Lady Grenfell's silk underwear is laid out on the bed for heaven's sake. It is not that things are not orderly, for they are. The beds are made; the children's toys are picked up and arranged neatly in their room on shelves; the bath has certainly been cleaned; but still I feel a little awkward walking around their house like this. I am careful not to step on the bearskin rug on the parlor floor and the one on the bedroom floor. Keeping my hands in my pockets, I refrain from touching the fine clothes of Lady Grenfell hanging on the closet door or the linens in the bath. I cannot help but pick up a piece of China and turn it over to read the label. As I walk upstairs and into the bathroom, I cannot help wondering when the rooms in this house will be cordoned off and visitors allowed to peak at them only from the opposite side of rope. You see, the house is a museum of sorts. It is the house that the Grenfell's lived in and contains many of their personal things displayed as if they are gone for the weekend and not dead these past 50 years. The house, an interpretation center across the street and the display of ceramic murals in the rotunda of the hospital are part of Grenfell Historic Properties and tell a legacy of a great man that walked the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador. In his lifetime, he brought modern health care and education to the area through mission hospitals, orphanages, schools and business cooperatives. Cold and rainy outside, it is a good day to visit a museum. Before heading home we try once more to see icebergs at Fishing Point and this time are not disappointed. Out near the horizon is a big white iceberg floating south. With Bert's spotting scope I watch it tip to its side and back again, making a huge splash. Pretty neat! Later we are invited for happy hour at the "home" of a couple of Escapees members from Texas. They saw our Escapees sticker on the back of our car and came over to collect their hugs. Opening a can of seal meat I bought a few days ago, I heat it and take it over with crackers. The color of liver, the texture of a beef roast, we joke about its unappetizing appearance. It cannot be too bad; everyone tastes it and takes more. Either they are very hungry or they like a salty liver taste on a Ritz cracker.
(Shari) Based on a survey of one, the church in Newfoundland is going the way of the cod. Of the 50 people in pews able to sit 250, at the Parish of St. Anthony, only 4 do not have gray hair. Of those four, two are children. The ending prayer mentions almost as many people (25) as are in attendance. I find this sad. After church, Jean invites us over for sourdough pancakes and eggs. Later in the afternoon the sky clears and is brilliantly colored blue. We walk through the woods along the Triple Falls hiking path with our new friends Jan and Joe. Full of exposed roots and biting bugs, the path is strenuous for me. I often take Bert's helping hand to get up or down an incline. The view at the end is worth the effort, however, but I do not stay long to enjoy it because of the mosquitoes. Even though I am protected by my bug jacket - thank you again Gwen - I itch all over just watching them swarm around my head. By the time I get back to R-TENT I am very hot and tired. We have Happy Hour with Don & Jean, Jan & Joe, and talk about getting up at 5 AM to see the moose that are out along the roadside. By the time I get to bed, I am already thinking I may not go. We'll see.
(Bert) Coincidentally, we sang the same hymn a couple weeks ago at the Baptist church
that we do this morning at the Anglican church. It's one of my favorites, "How Great
Thou Art." One verse particularly speaks to my love of nature:
When through the woods and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur,
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
After services, I head to Fisherman's Point and check for icebergs. Now I see two on the horizon, and another still rests in St. Anthony Harbor. One of the distant icebergs is tall and rounded; the other is long and flat. When I ask the captain of the tour boat if he will head to these, he tells me it would take most of the day to reach the icebergs and it would not be possible on his 2-1/2 hr. boat trip. He estimates the icebergs are 15-20 miles from shore and are hundreds of feet high. By that estimate, I would judge that the flat iceberg must be long enough to land an airplane. Following a scrupulous brunch prepared by Don and Jean, I drive toward L'Anse aux Meadows in search of birds. I park the car and hike a trail that follows a bay. Birds are far and few between - Black Ducks, eiders, a brightly plumaged, orange-billed Spotted Sandpiper - so I take note of the artifacts spewed up by the sea: Green Sea Urchins, Blue Mussels, a seal thigh bone, and chunks of ancient whitened coral adhering to black stones. I pick up an attractive piece of driftwood, bleached snow white, smoothed and rounded as if worked by fine sandpaper. Most interestingly, each end of the 1-ft. limb shows the teeth marks of a beaver. I wonder the route this tree branch took before it reached my feet on the beach. When I return, Jan & Joe, our fellow Texas Escappees, join Shari and me for a hike to Triple Falls. As Shari says, this path through the trees is not a "groomed" trail. Stumbling over tree roots, careening randomly up and down and infested with swarms of mosquitoes, Shari is ready to turn back, but I want to persist to a worthwhile goal. Finally we see the first of the falls, then all three, spilling streams of water down 60 ft., splashing off knife-edged rocks still not worn smooth. I'm reminded again of the hymn; it just needs to add mosquitoes to the list of God's creations - or did the Devil have something to do with that one?
(Bert) At 3:30 AM, a bird awakens me. Thinking it might be an owl, I get dressed and venture outside into the cold night. Although I cannot see it in the dark skies, I hear the bird circling high above and now recognize the noise as the wings of a snipe. Since I'm up anyway, I decide to find other night sounds. I head to the small lake a quarter mile from the campsite. Dawn is nibbling at the edges of the horizon, a salmon colored sky backlighting navy blue, pulled taffy clouds. The lake's surface is motionless, reflecting every color and nuance in a flawless mirror. I can still hear the reverberating wings of the snipe, but a louder chorus of robins cheers morning from the edges of the lake. Tendrils of fog tiptoe across the water on wet cat's paws. I pan my flashlight along the shoreline, hoping to see the moose that frequents this lake, but none is evident. I head back to R-TENT as the light increases and more birds arise: a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, followed by competing Yellow Warblers. I write yesterday's journal into the computer and finish in time for our 5 AM departure for finding moose. Don joins me, as does Jan and Joe, but Shari and Jean find bed too irresistible. With Joe in the driver's seat, we head in the direction of the airport. Within minutes I spot the first moose, Joe swings the car around, and we watch it munch on grass beside the road. A half-mile further, I see four on our left and another four on our right. The sequence continues ( 1 + 1 + 1 + 2 + 1 ) until our count is at 15 when we arrive at the airport. Turning on Grenfell Dr., the land surrounding the airport is cleared of trees and only short green fodder remains, ideal for moose foraging and perfect for us to view them without interference of forested cover. We find six moose to our right - two bulls, a cow and three heifers - and two moose to our left - both bulls. We have plenty of opportunity to watch them browse, gallop and pose majestically with prominent antlers. Picking up one more moose as we turn for home, we total 24 in about 80 minutes of searching. In the afternoon we drive the short distance to St. Barbe and park across from the Labrador ferry dock. In the car, we double back to the little fishing villages scattered along Newfoundland's north shore. Most memorable to me, is our stop at Flower's Cove. With the help of a local resident who corrects my printed directions - turn west, not east; school house is gray, not blue - I park at Our Lady of Snow. No kidding, that's the name of the little white church built a few feet from shore. On the beach I soon find what I am looking for: thrombolites. Large bun-shaped mounds, the size of a picnic table, rest firmly on plate-like layers of dolostones. Dating to the Cambrian era, these thrombolites are some of the Earth's most primitive life forms. The mounds are the result of the growth of millions of tiny algae and bacteria, built up during a time when these organisms thrived in the tidal and subtidal zone of a warm saltwater sea. In a way its like a coral reef, but the "reef" is ball-shaped and the surface is not porous, but hardened rock. Dozens of these thrombolites are positioned along the beach and in one spot an old shed rests on an amalgamated cluster of them.
(Shari) "Are you going to go Shari? You have 15 minutes." I answer, "No," to Bert's question as I turn over and snuggle deeper into the quilt. I choose a few extra zzzz's before a few moose this morning. I may have missed a great number of moose this morning, but I do see one on the way to St. Barbe. We are headed for the parking lot at St. Barbe where we are to stay the night awaiting tomorrow's ferry to Labrador. The lot is located right across the street from the ferry terminal/motel and costs CN $11.50 per night without hookups. I must mention the weather again today. We had a few hours of sunshine this morning but as the day progresses so do the clouds. We find a wonderful little boardwalk through the woods and alongside a bay just north of St. Barbe. The sky is cloudy but the temperature is still warm. The meadow at the end of the walk is just loaded with wild strawberries and some raspberries. In a few weeks time, one could pick and eat them to his heart's content. Alas, they are not ripe yet. Later Bert takes us to a spot he read about that is supposed to have trilobites. I am all excited about finding all these neat rocks with embedded fossilized shells and am duly disappointed at the mounded rocks that look like cement has been poured over them. Later, Bert tells me I was thinking of the wrong animal; the word is thrombolites, not trilobites. I do, however, find some neat looking scallop shells that make it back to R-TENT for some future use. Maybe my friend, Mike, will want them as an aid for baptisms in his church. By now it has started to drizzle and a cold wind blows off the Strait of Belle Isle. As I write this at 9 PM the sky is an ominous gray, matching the color of the wet payment on the street, the wind is blowing hard enough to make the Canadian maple leaf flag stand straight out from the flag pole, and the fog is rolling in. So much for the weather report of clearing skies this evening.
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