Chapter 8. Newfoundland - Part II
© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2000 All rights reserved.
(Bert) Returning by the same Viking Trail we drove June 28, we travel southwest with the calm Gulf of St. Lawrence on our right. Responding to the bright morning sunshine, flowers open fully, coloring the roadsides. Thousands of Cow Parsnip line both sides of the road; with large rhubarb-shaped leaves and broad white flower clusters, they are hard to miss. Dandelions have turned to white puff moons, but the buttercups still add lots of yellow to the scene. In marshy areas, iris bloom in profusion. Mile after mile of virgin ocean vistas and mountain grandeur provide soothing passage while the sun shines; but as the dark clouds form, the polish is tarnished. We stop for propane - we've been running our heater a lot - and then settle in at the Berry Hill campground in Gros Morne National Park. In late afternoon, Shari and I hike the circumference of Berry Hill Pond, a jewel encased by a low forest. Along the path are dozens of natural rock gardens with tranquil pools filling rock stepping-stones and planted with Blue Flag, Forget-me-not, Twin Flower, Wild Lily-of-the-Valley and Labrador Tea in full bloom. Each garden would be the envy of any backyard landscape artist, but here God is the only designer.
(Shari) While Bert works on his computer, I take the opportunity to check out gift shops in the small town of Rocky Harbor, without being hurried. I need not have worried about that. I find only two such shops in town and even those have similar things to what I have seen before. When the gift shops start looking the same, it is time to move on. At the end of the road, I find a nice fish store and buy some shark for dinner tonight at an unbelievable price of CN $1.20 per lb. A small grocery store provides most items, but at a high price and I only buy what I desperately need: dish soap and bananas. Then I drive to Norris Point and enjoy the view from atop the hill, overlooking Bonne Bay below. Although the view is a lovely one, I miss sharing it with Bert and head home. The rain has stopped and we decide to take the 2 km walk around Berry Hill Pond. When we entered the Berry Hill campground, I had read a notice of a bear in the area. Now, we find some unidentified scat on the trail and wonder if it came from that bear. Mostly we see the scat of moose and our walk does not scare up any big mammal. The path follows the shore of a big pond, meanders through heavily wooded sections and winds over marshland and bog. Bridges and boardwalks link the areas together. White bunchberry blossoms cover the ground - a flower I have been seeing for months now - and I wonder just when they will start to make the fruit. Wild iris peek out in sunny locations and forget-me-nots color the ground blue wherever they grow. Wooded places, thick with ferns and moss, make me wonder if I am walking in a rain forest. Bert finds a flower he does not know, but I bet before the night ends, whether I want to hear or not, I will be informed just what it is called.
(Bert) As readers have often pointed out, Shari and I experience life through differing sets of eyes. I view the world through rose-tinted glasses, once physically, now figuratively. Today, Shari and I definitely see different views while looking at the same picture. As we traipse along the boardwalk through the bog, I want to stop to read the interpretative signs, but Shari expresses her concern about getting our boat trip tickets before they sell out. So we speed walk for 45 min. to the edge of Western Brook Pond. While Shari buys tickets, I read about the lake and mountains in front of me. Classified as one of the last ultraoligotrophic lakes in the world, in lay terms this means it is very low in nutrients. As a fjord lake, vertical cliffs shade the deep water, keeping it cold. Few algae, few plants and animals, neutral pH, and, most importantly, virtually unseen and utilized by man until the 1970s, the water is some of the purest in the world. When we board the boat, I claim an outside seat, front and center on the open top deck with a panoramic 360 deg. view. Shari takes a warmer, more protected, seat just inside the enclosed cabin. Each of the two 66-passenger boats is filled to capacity, so there is no seat changing during the trip. Herein lies the first reason for our different experiences. As we depart, strong chilling winds push from the mountains, cross the cold waters and drill across the top deck; I button down all three jackets I'm wearing. We soon cross the exposed area of the lake and begin our entry into the fjord, free of the wind. Repeatedly, in the last 20,000 years this area - and in fact most of Newfoundland - was covered by glaciers, the last receding about 9000 years ago. In their path, the glaciers converted a V-shaped valley eroded by a river of water into a U-shaped valley carved by rivers of ice. Then, relieved of the immense weight of the glacier, the land pushed up and trapped the salt water into a lake. Through the millenniums the rains washed out all the salt. Western Brook Pond, over 540 ft. deep, is a walled in lake. I've been in steep canyons, but I can't say I've experienced before what I'm witnessing now. To the north, trees still find enough cleavage to place roots in the rock walls, but to the south massive rock formations are so shear and so vertical that I see just naked rock, 2200 ft. high - much taller than the CNN tower in Toronto - and several miles wide. The shear rock is so immense it is hard to put into perspective. A few Herring Gulls nest on crevices and when they fly across the rock surface, their relative size is about the same as houseflies against a 3-story house chimney. Numerous waterfalls pour thin ribbons from alpine mountaintops, dropping vertically for hundreds of feet, splashing bridal veils on rocks and then plunging again and again until the streams round out near the bottom and spread into the lake. We get an excellent view of a hanging valley - we are told, this is one of the best examples in the world - created by a smaller glacier that encountered the path of a larger one that sheared off its path, terminating the valley and leaving it poised high up on a cliff. We reach the narrow terminus of the lake and turn around. On our return I spot a moose swimming in the frigid water, up against a shear cliff. I point out the moose to others on the upper deck and then the captain must also notice the moose, because he turns the boat in its direction. Disturbed by our intrusion, the moose returns to a bit of land where it had made its entry into the lake. As we pass the gull colony, this time closer to the wall, I can see downy chicks on the nest, begging for food. Now, heading out of the fjord, the winds intensify and I huddle inside my layers of clothes, gloved hands stuck into coat pockets, chin tucked down to my chest and wait out the gale until we again reach the dock. I judge the trip easily worth the price we paid and I'd happily do it again. Now, let's hear what Shari has to say about it.
(Shari) Quick! The sun is out and we do not want to waste it. Pack a lunch. Dress. Make sure I have camera, binoculars, raincoat, money, park pass, drinks, hat and gloves. We had better make hay while the sun shines! Off we go to the 10 AM Western Brook Pond boat tour. On the half hour drive to the trailhead, Bert notices he does not have his park pass. At the trailhead, a sign reads, "Park passes required." Now it's decision time. Do we make the 45-min. walk to the boat and chance that my pass alone will suffice or do we turn around and take the 1 PM tour? Deciding to continue, we hurry along the walk. We do not have reservations and I want to get there early enough to buy tickets so I hurry Bert along. That's like pushing a sled uphill without snow. It just about kills him to pass up an interpretative sign, a singing bird, or a new flower. At times on the walk he is far behind me, and a couple from Texas ask where my partner is. I say, "Oh, he'll catch up." And he does. We get to the ticket counter just as a woman is opening up. We buy number 131 and 132 tickets for today's tour. I find that the two boats only handle 133 people. Talk about cutting it close! Bert wants to sit on the boat that has a top deck and makes sure he is first in line. When we are allowed to board the boat, Bert makes a beeline up the steps to front row seats and I stay downstairs. I am sure the top deck will empty out once the boat gets underway since the wind is strong enough to blow hats off and is very chilly. This is a 2˝-hr. boat tour through a land locked fjord, 18 km long and 1˝ km wide that costs CN $30. From my perspective, sitting alone downstairs, it is boring. (Don and Jean chose not to go.) One time I make my way up to the top deck but the wind soon chases me back down. I try to make conversation with some other people but they are too interested in their own group. We see two moose and some skinny waterfalls, but that is it. The walk in is prettier and is free! After our "tour", we have our lunch on the beach steps facing the 1920 shipwreck of the SS Effie. Later we tour Lobster Cove Lighthouse, a picturesque place overlooking the entrance to Bonne Bay and the town of Rocky Harbor. Don and Jean meet us and inform us our new friends, Jan and Joe, have invited us to their campsite for happy hour. They are camped at Green Point, a wonderful park campground overlooking the water. The next 2˝ hours fly by as we talk with them and meet new folks camped nearby. We end the day roasting brats over an outdoor fire.
(Bert) From bed, I hear the pitter-patter of rain on the roof of R-TENT. I guess I won't take that 10 km hike up to Bakers Brook Pond. Instead, I work all morning on my computer, producing part of my TOS birding report. Inside, where it is warm and dry, I enjoy looking out our big windows at the water dripping off the vibrantly green Mountain Maples and Yellow Birch. Occasionally, our resident Snowshoe Hare shows up to munch on grass and I can hear the territorial Red Fox Sparrow sing clearly even through the rain and windows panes. By noon, the weather shows signs of clearing and Shari is getting stir crazy, so we eat a quick lunch and ask Don and Jean to join us for a drive through southern part of Gros Morne and to the newly completed Discovery Centre. Less interesting than other days, the highlight is buying a copy of "Wild Flowers of Newfoundland" - allowing me finally to identify Roseroot, a strange seaside flower I first saw in L'Anse aux Meadows - and a double-decker ice cream cone with scoops of Grizzly Tracks and Diamond Mine.
(Shari) Why am I surprised? It is pouring rain and dark as twilight most of the day. After lunch we drive to Woody Point just to see what is there. Even in the foggy mist and drizzle, the scene is beautiful. The Canadians built a fancy Discovery Center high on top a hill that has a fantastic view of Bonne Bay. Some big bucks were spent on the structure and I wonder why. It is quite a drive from anything else and I doubt if much traffic goes past the place. Right now it has one room exhibiting old photographs and another housing local modern artwork. Nothing else but a gift shop and a small snack bar attracts the tourist. Woody Point is a cute village built along a C-shaped piece of land. The Hay Loft Restaurant/Gift Shop/Ice Cream Store is worth a visit, if in the area. I understand local comedy in the local theater also plays in the summer and another fjord boat trip is offered somewhere close by. But again, it is a long drive to see it. A water taxi runs from Norris Point to Woody Point and might be an option for transportation if your schedules match. On a pretty day, the trip would be breathtaking. It is after 5 PM when we return home. Because we want an early start in the morning (5AM) we dump, take on water and get gas in town. At 74.9 cents per liter, it is the lowest price we have seen diesel since arriving in Newfoundland. By the time we get resituated in our spot, our raincoats are soaked, but R-TENT is cozy once again.
(Bert) With a long day's drive ahead of us and with the hope of seeing wildlife, we take an early start and are on the road by 5 AM. The Snowshoe Hare are out in number and we see a dozen within the first few miles, but we are almost out the south end of Gros Morne before we encounter a moose. Displaying a royal crown, this Bull Moose could pose for a TV commercial advertising insurance. We turn inland, crossing into the north central portion of Newfoundland, a land of glacial-formed moraines, forested in tall Quaking Aspen, White and Yellow Birch and Black Spruce and punctuated by frequent lakes and bays. Mid-morning, near South Lake, we get our first view of Woodland Caribou, two distinguished males with enormous racks. Without exaggeration, millions of Ox-eyed Daisies - white with yellow centers - cover both sides of the roadway for over a hundred miles. Turning off the Trans Canada Highway, we head north toward the coast. The road deteriorates, but is quite acceptable until we are within 25 miles of our destination. Then it breaks up into uneven pavement that is best handled at 30 to 40 mph. After parking R-TENT, Shari and I drive to the old lighthouse at the northern edge of Twillingate Island. From a lofty station, we can see an iceberg on the horizon and a few gannets circling below. The water is a deep ultramarine. In every direction, the views of the cliffs, bays, islands and inlets are the type that make us say, "This would a great setting for a house."
(Shari) Bert is counting wildlife. We have not seen anything but rabbits so far and he is marking them down. Oh brother! We want to see moose and I am beginning to think we got up this early for nothing when we see one. He is standing proud and tall wearing his rack of horns like a crown. Where is the camera when you need it? After two hours pass without any significant sightings, we see two caribou in a field to our right. Spooked by R-TENT, they quickly run into the woods affording Don and Jean a look at their backsides. At 8, three out of the four of us are ready for breakfast and we stop at Burnt Berry Motel in Springdale. It is the only restaurant we have seen in miles. Not much of a place, it does offer an interesting breakfast of Boiled Corned Cod with scrunchions, homemade bread and molasses on the side, for CN $8.25. I order it, Bert orders bacon and eggs, and we split 50/50. I think the cod is poached salt cod and scrunchions are fried fat back (both very tasty). The molasses is too strong and over powers the flavor of the food and we leave it in its dish. After breakfast we drive to Grand Falls-Windsor, where we gather our e-mail and grocery shop before heading to Twillingate. It is a shame that a lot of people miss Twillingate because it is off the beaten path. We had intended to park overnight at Long Point in the lighthouse parking lot, but learned of a brand new RV Park, Peyton's Woods RV Park and Campground with full hook-ups in the town of Twillingate. After 10 hours on the road, we are ready to stop and pull into this brand new place. Later we find Seabreeze Municipal Park just two blocks from the light house that offers the most scenic camping I have seen this far. A sign says camping costs CN $5 but no one is around to collect any money. The campground is not large and has room for only two or three big rigs, but two of the sites have a most fantastic view of a cove called Sleepy. Here a camper could walk to the lighthouse, explore a cave used for mining copper, walk the beach, or just drink in the scenery. We get a tour of the lighthouse and visit the neat gift shop next door and natural history exhibit in the basement. Everything is so scenic in this area. One cove after another offers scenes straight from a postcard, that we have to refrain from using up our film. We see an iceberg from the lighthouse view point, lobster traps piled on rickety wharves that look like they have seen their last season, boats bobbing in the water or tied to the dock, white caps madly dancing in one place, while water is as smooth as glass in another. The list goes on and I am sorry when the day ends and we must return home.
(Bert) My view is 360 degrees, two-third sea, one-third Twillingate. I'm sitting atop an egg-shaped treeless hill covering the equivalent of a couple city blocks, but no streets or trails lead to this spot, just a steep climb up through thick, high grass, then gravel and then a tightly woven mat of trailing juniper. The mat is soft as a bed and now, close to the ground I can see tiny black crowberries on evergreen stems. I had only intended a quick climb to the top, but the cove, the hillside and the apex are so filled with nature's treasures that I've spent hours in the pursuit. I'm reminded of the oft-repeated Family Circus cartoon of the little boy's circuitous route on his way home. Along the beach, tide pools collect tiny fish, sand shrimp, periwinkles and urchins. I find both Blue Mussels and the larger, redder Horse Mussels; tough creme-colored Greenland Cockles; large rotund Moon Snails and a type of brain coral that adheres to small rocks and mussels. Remnant artifacts of marooned boats show glimpses of a history of fishing; a few scattered Molson beer bottles tell a more recent story. The birds are the familiar ones I've been seeing everywhere along the coast, but I add one species to the Newfoundland list: American Pipit (#86 for the province), probably nesting somewhere at the top of this hill. The sea breeze is refreshingly brisk, the scene peaceful, so with reluctance I begin my descent. Near the edge of the grassy top and the gravelly side I find the wing of a charcoal gray bird, perhaps the remnant of a predator's meal. The shape, color and size of the wing immediately make me think of a small seabird. Then as I stoop down to pick it up, I see a small hole in the grassy hillside: the nest of a Leach's Storm-petrel. The wing could be Leach's or, perhaps, Wilson's. On the steep gravel side of the hill, aimed in the direction of the campground, I leave a surprise for Shari, and then head back down. Even on the return, I can't get far without finding yet more flowers: Butter-and-eggs, Angelica, Seaside Plantain, Harebell and many more. I wouldn't mind spending a summer here in Twillingate to enjoy its incredible scenery, comfortable weather and treasure store of discoveries.
(Shari) "What was written on the hill yesterday?" Bert asks me. We had noticed the word "Viking" spelled out on the hill beyond our campground and now Bert says it is changed. He takes his binoculars out to get a closer look and then gives them to me and says, "What do you think it says now?" Looking in the eyepiece I see "Shari" spelled out. Oh my gosh! Just like a teenager in love, Bert climbed the hill and rearranged the 3 ft. driftwood pieces to spell my name, 25 ft. across. Isn't that cute? Later, I want to see the polar bear that came ashore this past March, so we go to the Durell museum. The police shot the animal and after some discussion, the town got to keep it. It is the most noteworthy thing in the museum and we read the newspaper clipping about all the interest that the bear stirred. I can believe that 300 cars would drive down the street to get a glimpse of the bear. That many pass our motor home to get a glimpse of the newest business in town. Not much to do up here in these small fishing villages. In fact, I ask a local about the dinner theater we are going to tonight and she assures me it is really good and that she went two times last year and intends to go at least that many times this year. Arriving at 7 PM with our own beer and wine, we are told to sit at the square table covered with plastic on top of a blue tablecloth. The theater is a misnomer; it is more like a VFW hall with a stage set. The meal consists of baked cod over stuffing, carrots, vegetable soup, roll, mashed potatoes, and rhubarb cobbler with whipped cream-very filling. The entertainment consists of our six servers, now performers, doing skits, playing accordion or guitar, and acting silly. After we get used to the strong Newfoundlander accent, we can even laugh at some of the jokes. Worth the price of CN $20 per person, the meal is very tasty even though the talent is very, very local and very, very hokey.
(Shari) It is raining again and does so all day long. We travel to Terra Nova National Park with both hands on the wheel and windshield washers going to beat the band. The Visitor's Center here at the park has a wonderful tank of marine animals for kids - and us kids at heart - to look at. Bert takes all the neat animals out of the tank for me to touch and we learn how to make a clam open its shell: first put it on its side to drain out the water and then lay it flat in the palm of your hand and the shell will open. If the clam meat is pink inside, a girl resides in the shell; if white it is a boy. I feel kind of achy all over today and I retire early. By 9 PM, I am sound asleep.
(Bert) We're heading southeast now, through the flowing inland hills dimly apparent in the rain that perpetuates throughout our day's drive. We stop for information, gift shop and e-mail transfer in Gander, the site where an infamous U.S. military plane crashed several decades ago. After being greeted by a brief glimpse of a Red Fox, we set up camp at Terra Nova National Park, near the east coast of Newfoundland, and visit the Marine Interpretation Center. Designed mostly for kids, of which a sizable population is in attendance - summer vacations are in full swing here - the exhibits are nonetheless educational and entertaining. Most interesting is a large open saltwater tank where we can reach in, touch and pick out sea anemones, sea stars, urchins and Atlantic Deep-sea Scallops. In the evening, Shari makes a delightful seafood diner of Iceland Scallops with a shrimp appetizer. I'm lucky to have a gourmet cook on board during our travels.
(Shari) A wild puffin chase, two neat surprises and a moose! By the time I get up this morning, Bert has various places circled on the map. He wants to see puffins. I really do not want to go for a drive, but then it is dreary out and what else can I do? But I am not going to pack a picnic lunch; we will just have to find a nice restaurant. Off we go and immediately we think we bit off more than we can chew. The going is boring and tedious and takes us 90 minutes to reach Trinity, only our first destination. This is a cute little town that is mostly abandoned in the winter. Folks come to their summer homes and cater to the seasonal tourists who flock into town by the busloads to see their living drama given at 2 PM on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Dressed in costumes, the actors take the audience for a 2˝ hr. walk through history, moving from one real location to another. In Trinity, we have our lunch of brewis, a fish and bread casserole, and tea. The sky has cleared and the sun brightly shines on the day, but no puffins yet. Next stop is a couple of small villages off the beaten tourist track. Still no puffins! We check out Lockston Provincial Park for future reference and find it is a nice spot to stay. The park is now putting in electricity for the campsites! Next we travel to Old Bonaventure and take a dirt road past a man's house to the end of a cliff. Bert peers over the side, but still no puffins. Another very long dirt road to the end of nowhere results in no puffins either. It is 3 PM and we still have not reached Cape Bonavista where I had read about puffins. Pushing onward over the squiggly road, we see something ahead of us. As we crest a hill and look straight down the road we can see water ahead but something looks out of place to the right. Picture a mountain covered with spruce that has a white sharp edged object sticking above it. Can you believe it is an iceberg? We do not believe it at first either, as it looks so fake. Someone must be joshing us and painted it there. I mean it is huge and shaped like an airplane hanger but 10 times its size. We turn off the road to Melrose and follow a narrow road to a better viewing spot. A local man asks us if we came for the capelin. I tell him no, the iceberg! "Oh," he says, nonchalantly. He is definitely more interested in the black cloud of little fish swimming in the sea than the huge white hunk of ice floating off shore. We ooh and ah over the capelin and the iceberg, but still see no puffins. By now it is close to 5 PM, we are hungry and need to use the rest rooms, but we push on to Cape Bonavista. Here we see another iceberg as big as the first and Bert gets his puffins. I knew it all along. The puffins have orange feet and legs, black and white bodies and orange and yellow thick bills. They are nesting on a huge hill not 100 yards from the cliff we stand on to watch them. In and out of holes pecked out of the ground they go with capelin in their mouth to feed their young. We spend over an hour looking at them, the iceberg and the gift shop. Now it is after 5:30. After refreshing ourselves with an ice cream and checking out a number of camping sites - free camping about a block from the lighthouse for 5 rigs at Landfall Municipal Park, free camping across the street from a restaurant about 1 mile from the lighthouse, and nice camping with water and electric for CN $12, a few miles out of town at Paradise Farm Trailer Park - we drive home. Along the way we spot a moose on the side of the road. A bit past Bloomfield, a group of people is gathered near the shore and cars are lined up on the road. We park on the road too and notice people netting capelin. How fun! I ooh and ah at all the pretty iridescent fish and before I know it, we have supper. A very nice man, using just a hand net walks out into a swarm of fish and scoops a whole bunch of them for us to take home. Isn't that nice? Capelin are like the smelt my dad used to bring home from Lake Michigan. They only roll in to shore once a year. Today is their time at this spot and we are lucky. By the time Bert cleans them and I fry them up, it is 9 PM. A delicious way to end a delicious day!
(Bert) Impatiently, I rouse Shari at 8:30. I want to see puffins at Cape Bonavista and she's sleeping the morning away. Half awake, she agrees to a 9:30 departure and I go to d'Bus and ask Don and Jean to join us for the day trip. The map in the tourist booklet does not have a mileage scale, so we have no idea how long this trip will be, especially since there are lots of stops and side trips worth pursuing. Through the heart of the Bonavista Peninsula we pass forested land and climb to alpine areas dotted with small lakes. We reach the coast at Trinity Bay, named in 1501 by a Portuguese explorer who found it on Trinity Sunday. After exploring the historic village of Trinity - settled already when the grandparents of the Mayflower Pilgrims still slept in England - we stay for lunch in the harbor and order another local special: fish and brewis, a Newfoundland version of a fish casserole. I've marked the map with several locations where puffins are known to occur. The first one we try is Old Bonaventure, but the road ends at the harbor, far on the inland side of a protected bay and too distant from seafaring birds. Next we drive to English Harbor, a much more open bay with a rough road skirting its north perimeter. Exploring the first cliffs I come to, the winds blowing off Trinity Bay are fierce and cold. Gannets and gulls glide past the cliffs; alpine flowers grow on the grassy tops; a fen is covered with acres of bake apples, some in bloom but not yet in berry. We continue along the cliff road, following a line of electrical poles and wondering where they lead. The cliff top is raw and forbidding, devoid of trees above 3 ft., yet beautiful in its own way. Shari is impatient, Don and Jean are tolerant, but I am curious and push on, up and down the very steep gravel road, for over three miles. Finally we reach the terminus and see a modern unmanned building that emits a voluminous foghorn every few minutes. We climb stairs leading up to a high platform and discover a helicopter pad. From this lofty stage we can see over the cliffs, far out to sea. Hundreds of gulls, kittiwakes and guillemots glide the air currents and fish in the blue sea, but still no puffins. We return to the main road, heading north along the coast. Going over a rise in the road, Shari and I both see it at the same time and in disbelief we both exclaim at once, "Iceberg?" Looking straight down the highway, beyond a far off shore we see the white behemoth floating far out to sea. It must be large, to see this far away. I check my odometer and continue the straight line toward the village ahead. Three miles later, I stop for a telephoto picture - using my 300mm lens - of the village of Melrose with the iceberg in the distance. After five miles we reach the end of the road and stop at the edge of the natural harbor. Now I take a photo with my 420mm lens that fills much of the viewfinder. With my spotting scope I can see a large fishing vessel with outstretched nets and a tall mast. The mast is about the same height as the lower end of the rhombohedrally-shaped iceberg. After snapping a photograph, I notice an Arctic Tern hovering in mid-air, so I take its picture also. The tern is feeding on schools of Capelin, coming to shore to release eggs and sperm. The dense neon green fish darken the waters and look like black clouds floating in mass below the blue waves. Lots of gulls nest on the rocky isthmus jutting in the bay, but still no puffins. We continue to Bonavista and finally reach the cape by 4:30. Immediately we see a large iceberg and I guess it is the same one, but viewed from another perspective. While Shari finds out from the shopkeeper that it's a different berg, I walk over to the cliff edge. I yell back to Shari, "Puffins!" Like the dot on the letter "i" a rock island is separated from the cape by a deep watery ravine. Atop the rock fortress is a grassy knoll and it is here that I spot the puffins, standing erect like tuxedoed penguins, but with colorful faces and bills that make people smile. Some fly in from the sea, carrying fish in their bills, gliding in for a landing like bulbous bombers. Others push orange feet off the cliff and swoop down like hang gliders. Still others remain as sentinels beside their burrows, while some make a hasty retreat inside their earthy homes. I alternate my camera and my spotting scope on the tripod and watch the antics for the better part of an hour. This is one of the main reasons I wanted to visit Newfoundland, and it is definitely worth the trip for me. Now at 6 PM we've reached the end of Bonavista Peninsula, but we still have the return trip left. But without the side trips and with only stops for ice cream cones and a roadside moose, we soon cross the peninsula and round the curve of Goose Bay. Here, Shari spots fishermen netting along the shore and we brake for Capelin. While Shari is sweet talking one of the netters into catching fish for her, I take interest in an eel lying belly up in the gravel shallows. One of the boys caught it with his fishing rod and released it again, but it came back to shore. Now he uses a forked stick to turn the head right side up and aimed in my direction. This eel is not the sucker-mouthed Sea Lamprey, but an American Eel: a 3˝ ft. skinny fish, not yet fully grown. The eel opens its wide mouth, serpentines its lanky body, peers its beady reptilian eyes at me and hisses venomously - or is it my imagination that hears the hissing. Finally, back to camp I behead and gut 42 Capelin, half of Shari's "catch of the day," and half of those make tonight's fish fry dinner. What a day! Eleven hours, 265 miles and a Bonavista collection of good memories!
(Shari) The rain follows us all the way to Goobies. Here, Don and Jean continue on to St. John's while we travel down the Burin Peninsula to Fortune. Jean intends to fly from St. John's to her class reunion in Wisconsin and wants to see the city before she departs. We will catch up with them in ten days or so. Our intention is to board a ferry to the French islands of St. Pierre et Miquelon. Bert knows about this country from his high school stamp collecting days. I just heard about it from another tourist a few days ago. Even though the day is drizzly, the 2˝-hr. drive is fascinating. The scenery at first is more inviting than what we have seen of Newfoundland so far. It seems warmer and more idyllic, protected from the winds by mountains and coves. Soon we climb higher and travel down the center of the peninsula. We see few other cars along this flat, smooth, pink-colored road, punctuated with placid ponds and rushing rivers. It too reminds me of other places I have seen in Alaska. Earlier this morning, we learned of Horsebrook Trailer Park at the visitor center and now look through the ever-increasing fog for signs of it. At the other end of town, we see the place and back into a spot close to electrical and water hookups along with five other rigs already situated in this mowed field. The cost for tonight is CN $10. A shuttle will pick us up here tomorrow morning at 7:10 AM for CN $3.75 to take us to the ferry. By 5 the fog lifts and the clouds begin to break. I hope this means tomorrow's weather will be nice for our trip to France.
(Bert) The alpine country of the Burin Peninsula seems to rise eerily above the rest of the world, a nether land remote and out of touch with the real world. Foreshortened, vast and uninhabited it appears as an endless wasteland plateau, but not devoid of plant life or mystery. Wispy tendrils of windswept white larch dance in the breeze or hang limply with heavy raindrops. Evergreens, neatly trimmed like miniature Christmas trees, form clusters between open spaces of tightly woven mats of intertwining moss and juniper, permeated with tiny alpine flowers. Countless shallow pools of mercury dimes and silver dollars stand tranquilly, peacefully, reflectively. Some host myriad yellow pond lilies; most are sterile black pools stained by centuries of peat moss. In some places gray boulders lie strewn like sheep across a green meadow. A raven startles and in this strange setting, it seems as ominous as a character in a Poe poem. Ghostly gossamer wings of fog sweep across distant vistas. The scene is lush, but austere at the same moment. No one lives here. No one works here. Almost no one is here. Hours pass, but time evaporates in nature's narcotic trance, held fixed by our tranquil passage. An Osprey crouches from a lofty pole, eyes piercingly pointed in my direction. We start our descent down. Beside us a ragged red river froths with root beer foam as it tumbles downward. Mountains erupt; landscape roughens; trees envelope. Lower we plunge into the green forest and leave a land I'll call "Nevermore."
(Bert) Unknown and ignored by most travelers, the islands of St. Pierre, Great Miquelon and Little Miquelon - collectively known as St. Pierre et Miquelon - are a French colony directly south of Newfoundland. With French language, French currency and French customs, in a way it is like traveling to France without leaving North America. For me, the highlight of the day is the boat ride to and from the island of St. Pierre, a 3-hour round trip. Our first view of the island shows a rocky, forbidding mound of exposed lava and ash, remnants from underwater volcanoes 600-1000 million years ago. Tightly clustered between the hillside and the harbor, the town of St. Pierre is an array of colorful boxes that become houses as we propel closer to shore. Arriving on the French holiday commemorating Bastille Day, we expect more activities, not less. But as it turns out, negatives outweigh positives and the overall experience is a disappointment. On the positive side, we visit the city square - a dismal block in a dismal setting - enlivened by a local party not unlike a Fourth of July celebration in a small American town. Kids compete in sack races, clowns entertain, two musicians play traditional French tunes and, at noon, two men release hundreds of red, white and blue balloons and one booth offers free wine and sausage on buttered French bread. But with the persistent use of French and the closed in nature of a town where everyone knows each other, I definitely feel like an uninvited guest crashing a private party. After a delicious cold buffet at one of the two restaurants open on the holiday, we are left with little else to do - everything else is closed. But, like I said, the highlight of the day is the boat ride. Calm seas over and even calmer seas back, and a bright blue cloudless sky, I can see to the horizon with Newfoundland on one side and an array of small and large islands seaside. And, because the boat is much smaller than the car-carrying ferries we've ridden thus far, I am able to stand near the bow and have almost a completely unobstructed 360-degree view, perfect for wildlife viewing. During the round trip, I record dozens of Common Dolphins in leapfrogging schools, a Minke Whale, a dozen or two Harbor Seals lounging on a small island and 15 bird species. Among the better birds are 50+ Sooty Shearwaters, 3-4 Greater Shearwaters, dozens of Common Murres, a couple Black Guillemots, two Common Loons, a Northern Fulmar and a Bald Eagle. The best are dozens of Atlantic Puffins flying and feeding in the ocean and one Thick-billed Murre, a species that is hard to distinguish from its close relative, the Common Murre. From a pelagic birding viewpoint, this was a rewarding and worthwhile day. From a shopping and tourist perspective, I'm confident Shari found it a great disappointment, but I'll let her speak for herself, as I'm sure she will.
(Shari) I look on today with anticipation of experiencing a French culture with all its sights and sounds and shopping. I read that you should plan a trip over to St. Pierre on a weekday because all the shops are closed on the weekend. Now a cloud hangs over my anticipation like a swarm of black flies overhead. I just heard today, Friday, is Bastille Day. That means many things will be closed. Hopefully it will only be banks and doctors' offices. The ferry captain tells us we are in for a treat because a policemen march is to be held on the square at 10:30 and food, entertainment and kids games later on the square. Dancing and fireworks begin tonight. We pack a change of clothes, just in case we stay the night. All we need to enter this country is our driver's license showing a photo. Our ticket shows we will only be staying the day, but that too can be changed. We have to go through customs when we disembark the boat and are just asked the customary questions: Where are you from? How long are you going to stay? Passed without interruption, we head for the tourist information building across the street, where we obtain a city map labeled in French. So far the town looks dead. Next we walk to the bus where a tour is to commence in ten minutes. The driver commiserates about his competitor who owns the ferry, the hotel, and the other tour company in town - the competitor gets all the customers. The driver tells us to wait until after the police march and maybe more people will show up for the tour. He needs eight people to do it and so far only five show up. I think most people do not know he exists off over here in the corner and he needs to advertise better instead of grousing about it. We walk to the square and watch a dumb ceremony with uniformed policemen standing at attention, moving their rifles around, raising the flag during the national anthem and shaking hands. Back to the bus, but no more people show up, so the bus tour is cancelled. We decide to walk to the entertainment section. Food and game booths are set around a square with a stage at one end and kids sack races at the other. One booth sells crepes and I buy one to try. All the booths have wine for sale. After I get a nice picture of the balloons lifting off, free wine and sausage on bread is handed out. Feeling like a stranger in a crowd, I soon bore of this hokey celebration and decide to find a restaurant for lunch. Everything is closed and looks dead. I do not think we will be staying the night. We enjoy a nice lunch buffet, finishing by 1 PM, and still have two hours to go. Like a homeless person, I take a nap in the park and then take another one at the ferry dock. The hands on the clock move slowly but finally it is time to ride the ferry back. This turned out to be an expensive lunch in France and not an experience I would recommend. It could have been worse though. At least the day was pretty. Can you imagine us in the rain with no place to go? Yuck! If you should go over there, please go on a non-holiday weekday. Trying to sell us an overnight package, we were told if we stay less than 48 hours we couldn't bring any goods back duty free. However, as American citizens, we can bring back anything we want - except for the limit of one liter of alcohol per person and some limit on tobacco - and do not have to declare through Canadian customs. We have to worry about U.S. customs later on. Had stores been open, some nice French wine would have been nice and scarves, etc. Maybe my whole perception of the trip would be different.
(Bert) It sounds like a gunshot, but Shari and I are the only ones here and perhaps the only humans on the cape for a distance of at least 10 miles. We had just watched the orange sun set with a green flash, a phenomenon I thought only occurred below the Tropic of Cancer. Shari returns to R-TENT, but I walk through the sheep pasture and down the steeply sloped grassy embankment. I hear a chorus of birds and want to investigate. From my viewpoint on a vertical cliff several hundred feet above the water, below me hundreds of kittiwakes glide and dozens of murres rest on the dark waters. In a deep ravine opening to the sea, I can hear the echoing chorus of roosting alcids and gulls. Then I hear the whistling blow I've come to recognize as a whale. There are several sounding from positions too close to shore for me to see from the cliff, but a few venture to deeper water and I can see what seem to be Minke Whales. Suddenly, in another direction, much further out to sea I hear what sounds like a gunshot, but isn't a gunshot. I've heard that before - in Sitka Sound, Alaska - and now I recognize it: the slapping of a whale's tail. I direct my binoculars towards the sound and see the Humpback Whale continue to slap the water: two, three, four, five times. The tail continues slapping, but the whale does not move forward. Six, seven, eight, nine, it pauses. Then the whale resumes tail slapping. Strangely, I see a long time lapse between signals to my eyes and signals to my ears. Ten, eleven, twelve, nineteen and another pause. This time I count off the time lapse: 4 seconds, almost 5. That whale must be almost three-quarters of a mile from me, yet the tail slapping is distinctly clear. Then I hear another sound. The whale bellows like a bull elephant, not as harshly, but with more of an airy sound and very loud. Twenty, twenty-one, the slapping continues. Minutes pass and still the slapping continues, yet the whale is stationary. A pattern develops of a series of slaps, a pause and a loud bellow. Finally after what must have taken enormous energy, the whale stops pounding the sea on its 60th slap, lets out a loud bellow, flips tail up and slips below. Incredible! I return to R-TENT quickly to get Shari. When we get back out to the sheep pasture, the night has become much darker, but the western horizon still glows orange and reflects light across the open sea. I hear a whale blow and then Shari does too. Both of us can still make out a whale working the surface about a half-mile from us. Then Shari hears the bellowing call also. We watch until we cannot see, but our ears tell us the whale is still out there. As we return to R-TENT, the moon is rising on the opposite side of the cape, reflecting blue light across a calm sea. Now as I write behind closed doors and windows, I can occasionally hear the whale bellow in the darkening night.
(Shari) What a fantastic campsite! Well, it is really not a campsite, and a sign posted nearby proclaims, "No Camping or Overnight Parking." But when we ask at the Visitor Center, two Ecological Reserve attendants say that they ignore the sign and will ignore us if we stay. So here we are, at the very tip of Cape St. Mary's looking at the sunset to our west and the sea in every direction except north. Joe and Jan had told us about this site but I had forgotten, or they did not tell me, about the narrow 18 km road to get here. Although nicely paved, I shudder to think about meeting someone as big as we are along the way. Single lane with no pullouts, we come to a dead stop every time a car comes along in the opposite direction. We have to leave tomorrow along that same road! Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve is a must see for birders and others alike. As I walk the 1.4 km path I can envision walking the cliffs of Moher in Ireland. The marked path follows grass-covered cliffs along the sea's edge with sheep grazing on either side. The end of the path is also the end of a cliff, and not 100 yards further is a rock pinnacle were thousands of gannets nest side-by-side. Remember the gannets in Percé, Quebec? This is another big rookery, but now the eggs are hatched and the fuzzy juveniles are at the big awkward stage, not yet ready to fly. The adult gannets are not as sex starved here, so this rookery does not have all the activity involved with courting and nest building, but it is interesting nonetheless. I wonder why the chicks just do not fall from their perch, whenever they move. Some look dragged out as if they just spent the day pecking out of the shell, others are trying to stand up and move their wings up and down just like Daddy does. This high-rise apartment complex for birds is segregated: gulls off to one corner and a few token murres allowed on a bottom ledge off to the side, for appearance's sake. By 8 PM all reserve visitors have left and we are all alone in the parking lot. After dinner we watch for that famous green flash we saw at sunset in Mexico. Both Bert and I see it here in the north so we put the issue to rest: it is not just a Mexican phenomenon. It is so quiet and peaceful here and almost paradise (we are having a rare, perfectly sunny day). The sea is extremely calm with swirls like a marble cake in blue and white. Bert takes a walk alone towards the lighthouse and soon he is back asking if I want to see and hear whales. I sure do, so I put on my jacket and walk among the sheep, this time near the lighthouse, with only the moon, and a bit of lingering twilight, to light my path. Soon we hear the whales breathing. We focus binoculars on them, but with more and more difficulty, in the continuing darkness. They are making a trumpeting sound like an elephant does. And once I saw one whale come out of the water and hit his tail on it. Sound travels slower than light and a few seconds later, I hear the whomp. I cannot tell you what a wonderful experience it is to hear whales in the moonlight with a background of bleating sheep and the soft clucking of thousands of birds as they settle down for the night. The whales move off and the continuing darkness makes us retreat into R-TENT. Bert says it is so lovely outside he almost does not want to come in and I agree. As I climb into bed at 10:30, I can still hear the whales breathing and trumpeting.
(Bert) I'm up at 5:30, hoping to visit the gannet colony, but the fog is so thick I can barely see the parking lot pavement. By 6:30 I can make out the Visitor's Center, so I decide to explore the fen above the cliffs. No path leads through the fen, except meandering trails left by the sheep, so I get my orientation by the foghorn to the west, the 80,000-bird chorus at the colony along the rock cliffs to the south and the dimly glowing spot where the sun rises from the east. In the distance I can hear the Humpback Whales blow and occasionally trumpet. I'm hoping to find Willow Ptarmigans, which are known to breed in this area. The first bird I encounter is a surprise. The fog must have grounded the Pectoral Sandpiper. Not a breeding bird in Newfoundland, preferring instead the coast along the Arctic Sea, the lone bird is passing through in fall migration. Through the thick fog I hear robins and Savannah Sparrows and when I see them they appear much larger than usual, either an illusion because of the foreshortened distances in the fog or because the birds are actually allowing me closer approach since they don't sense my presence. Not finding a ptarmigan, I hike to the cliff edge and sit on a rock while watching the bird colony. Many kittiwakes, gannets and murres glide in and out of the fog and it occurs to me that, just as I did, the loud chorus helps the flying birds get their orientation by sound. Like Shari queried yesterday, I wonder what keeps the young birds from tumbling off the minute ledges where the nests rest. I notice that most of the parent birds place their large webbed feet under the juvenile and position their bellies towards the rock, thus wedging in the young bird. Should the bird struggle free and fall, its wings are not developed enough to allow flight and it would crash down several hundred feet. As I see later, Great Black-backed Gulls and Common Ravens are omnipresent and quite willing to take advantage of the free lunch. I return to R-TENT. I had hoped to go to church this morning, but all three of the churches we passed yesterday had no signs displaying name, affiliation or worship times; I guess they left the 28th chapter of Matthew out of their Bibles. By noon the fog has completely lifted so I head back along the cliffs. Now with camera, spotting scope and tripod I want to search out some of the rarities that nest here. From the staff at the Visitor's Center, I learn that about a half-dozen pairs of Razorbills nest along the miles of cliffs of Cape St. Mary's. One pair is near the gannet colony, but finding it is a real challenge. I stretch my body full-length across a large uncomfortable rock and peer with my binoculars almost straight down over the edge of the cliff. Kittiwakes claim most of the higher perches and Common Murres use the lower ones. After a half-hour of searching the cliff wall I see a bird that looks almost identical to the murres, except it has a thin white line extending between its eye and forehead and an orange lining in its mouth. The enlarged bill is less obvious from my top down viewpoint. I point out the location to Jack, a visiting birder from Washington D.C. whom I met a few minutes earlier. Describing the location of one bird among hundreds of nearly identical birds, all positioned on nearly identical rock walls is quite a challenge and it takes several minutes for him to see what I see. After I take a few pictures, Jack leads me to another cliff where he previously had a view of a Thick-billed Murre. When we arrive, the bird is still at the same nest spot and I photograph it, even though the distance is 400-500 feet away. On my return to R-TENT, I encounter Horned Larks taking a dust bath and I snap their picture as well. For bird photography, for seeing tens of thousands of pelagic birds up close and for enjoying whales, Cape St. Mary's Ecological Preserve has been the highlight of Newfoundland thus far.
(Shari) Bert goes chasing Thick-billed Murres and gannets, while I get extra beauty rest. I can hear whales again this morning but to go out is useless until the fog lifts. At 11, I can see water and the visitor center next to us. I take my binoculars and sit on a rock over at the lighthouse and wait for their sound. Darth Vader and ten of his men are hiding in the fog: I must hear at least 10 whales breathing in the mist. Finally I see one blow and follow it with my binoculars and then another and another one. I have three whales at once in sight and I can hear others at either side. One lifts his front white flipper, slaps the water with it and a few seconds later I hear its sound. Another flukes its tail as it dives down. Another gracefully moves up and down following the capelin. Capelin by the gazillion feed many things besides man; sea birds and definitely whales love them. I sit there on the rock all alone just drinking in this once in a lifetime atmosphere. The scene is just as great in the daylight as it was last night. I am told what we heard last night is rare and somehow that makes me savor it even more. A park attendant takes me to some rare Northern Green Orchids she found. Last year she saw only two, this year there are three and she wants to show them off. When we get to the spot she had so lovingly circled with rocks to protect the delicate flowers, she notices that "some moron" had picked two of her pride and joy. I can feel her pain as she rants and raves about the loss. I have found that the majority of people all over the world just do not think, take their world for granted and do not appreciate God's gift of nature. By 2:30, Bert is ready to leave and we head out, stopping 2˝ hours later at Butter Pot Provincial Park. The vacationers have finally hit the island, and most of the campsites are already taken on this Sunday evening. I will have to start making reservations or arrive earlier, I guess. This is the third day in a row that has been pretty and we sit outside in front of the fire enjoying our campsite by the water.
(Shari) I am going to have to revise my thoughts about Newfoundland weather and bugs. Today is the fourth picture perfect day in a row. Not to waste it, we drive to Witless Bay to take the Mullowney's Puffin and Whale Tour that begins at 9:30. We check out at least four other tour companies and decide on this one because the boat has places to walk around and us lookers are not relegated to benches on either a top or bottom deck. We also luck out and find only five other passengers making the trip this morning. I thought 70,000 gannets was a lot of birds to see but this morning I see over 1 million; all nesting and many with fuzzy young close enough to see. The boat glides along Gull Island where over 400,000 puffins make their nests in little tunnels in the hillside. Kittiwakes and murres also nest here by the gazillion and we are warned not to open our mouths if we look up. We see whales, the humpback kind that put on a show for us yesterday, and they do not disappoint the group today. I see no flippers or hear no trumpeting, but a lot of blowing and fluking takes place. I guess we see over 12 different whales at various times, some as close as 50 feet. I could not ask for better weather and every blink of the eye brings gorgeous ocean scenery: the birds, the whales, the grass covered cliffs protecting the town, another town in another cove, other boats bobbing in the clear ocean water, the murres "flying" underwater almost as fast as they fly in the air, breaking surface as if shot from a cannon. We eat lunch at O'Brien's restaurant across the street from the boat dock. Bert and I both have the steamed mussel special but think it too pricey - CN $7.95 for just mussels, no sides - for what we receive. It is still early in the day and we decide to make the Irish Trail loop around the Avalon Wilderness, hoping to see caribou near Trespassy. We are told a caribou was spotted at noon on the St. Shotts road. A caribou is an understatement. By the time we get there, we spot one herd of over 450 head and another over 200! They look rather shaggy since they are loosing last winter's coat and do not have their new antlers yet, but they are caribou. One lost soul stays in the middle of the road for us to photograph to our heart's content. It is 7 PM before we arrive home and I do not feel like cooking. Passing one of the Mary Brown Chicken places that are advertised to death up here, we pick up dinner. The chicken is very good, but the fries are a big disappointment and are really soggy and cold by the time they reach R-TENT.
(Bert) Puffins are everywhere! We barely leave the dock at Bay Bulls and already puffins are flying past. Their density increases as we reach Gull Island, where our guide claims 400,000 reside. That number seems large, but there is no doubt there are a countless multitude on hillsides above the cliffs, on the water and in the air. Murres and kittiwakes are in large numbers too, and I see a few Razorbills that I hope I captured on film, although the lighting would be better had we chosen a late afternoon cruise instead. We coast past the island much too quickly for my purposes and head to the next, called Green Island. Because of a coral reef, the boat can't get close to this island, but the more distant view is incredible. Much of the surface is black and white - almost solidly packed with murres. And, the air seems to be filled with dense clouds of insects, but they are actually more murres. Literally, millions of seabirds nest and roost on these two islands and a third, Great Island, further south that we do not reach today. In between the islands another show is in progress. Humpback Whales are frolicking in every direction. Even though I've taken lots of whale pictures through the years, I can't resist clicking my camera at a few more skimming the surface, blowing air through their hump and, especially, diving and raising that T-shaped tail high above the water. With more than a dozen in Witless Bay with us, we can distinguish individuals by the pattern of white and dark on the underside of the tail. The boat guides slowly through the bay and we encounter murres floating on the surface. To avoid contact, they either fly or swim away in a peculiar way. Because of their short wings, murres and puffins can't just beat their wings and take off. Instead, they paddle furiously with their webbed feet, trying to kick-start their rotund bodies and their stubby wings to get airborne. The muscular act throws water in every direction as the bird plows the sea for a hundred feet or more, sometimes coming to rest on the water rather than getting into the air. Murres often take a much more graceful retreat by performing a graceful somersault dive and then swimming below the surface. We watch them swim underwater, using the same wing strokes they use in the air. Their underwater "flight" is elegant and amazingly fast. The 2˝-hr. cruise is over too quickly and we are back at the dock. We stop for lunch of blue mussels at a bayside restaurant with a magnificent view on this sunny, warm day. Then we drive an extensive coastal loop around the southeastern lobe of the Avalon Peninsula. The land is gently rolling, almost flat, and treeless, so we can see for miles. From my geology book I've learned that this area of limestone and shale was once a deep-sea basin attached to the Gondwana continent, which later separated from North America and became the European continent. You could almost say, we are driving across land that was once part of Europe. After the town of Trespassey, on our way to St. Shotts, we start looking for caribou. I spot the first herd about a mile from the road and I take out my spotting scope for a closer look. About 450 caribou, mostly antlerless adults and young, are feeding peacefully on the alpine plants. We drive a few miles further and see another herd of 200, but these are much closer. With shaggy hair peeling off in clumps, the caribou look rather ugly. Only a very few sport an attractive rack of antlers. But their numbers are impressive. On our way back we encounter one more caribou, a very stubborn one that claims the center of the road as her own and finally allows us to drive past slowly, only a few feet from her.
(Shari) "Guess what?" I say in a singsong voice, "It's foggy and drizzly." That is ok, since we are going 30 miles up the road to St. Johns at Pippy Park and the yucky weather is not spoiling any activity. The park is a huge complex with hundreds of RV and tent sites. We check in for one of the over 80 full service sites for CN $23 per night. Plenty of partial service and tent sites are also available at a lesser charge. Just when we are staying over a week in one spot, we find only monthly discounts are honored here. Even though the park has plenty of open spaces, I am happy I had made reservations, since on the weekends it is full. Adventure Caravans pulls in right behind us and we talk awhile with the wagonmasters, Ellie and Bob, making a date for happy hour later this evening. We meet Don and Jean, invite them also, and catch up on their last five days experiences. They have enjoyed this town very much and plan to show it to us tomorrow. We go to Wal-Mart, stock up and drop off film. The store is extremely crowded and we are told it is a slow day. I need to refresh my fruits and vegetable supply and walk the nice mall that connects Walmart with Sobey's. I will have to spend some time alone here, I think. Right now it is just a utilitarian shopping trip and we head back to R-TENT to finish some wash and clean before we go meet the caravan folks.
(Bert) Only a few miles from the wilds to the bustling city, our drive today is short. After 26 days of traveling Newfoundland, St. John's seems like a big city even though its population is under 100,000. Avalon Mall is packed with cars and Walmart is bulging with people when we stock up on supplies and take in film for development. Don and Jean are here at the RV park and we stop to see them and exchange stories of our past few days. For Happy Hour we meet an Adventures Caravan group lead by Bob and Ellie Blake, a couple we first met at the Goshen Escapade in Indiana last fall; then found in Alamos, Mexico, in January; and today ran into while we all were in line to check into Pippy RV Park here. We must travel similar routes, when we can bump into a couple in three countries.
(Shari) Another load of wash is complete before we take off with Don and Jean for our lunch date at Stella's. We park our car in the 200 block of Water Street and walk to the restaurant. Low and behold, it no longer exists. The restaurant was closed in May but the downstairs takeout is still in operation. We ask about Casa Grande Mexican Restaurant and learn it is only a few blocks from here. Our friends, Jim and Ermine, went there last year and recommended it highly. We Texans are fussy about our Mexican food, you know. I find the food pretty good. The chips and salsa are authentic but the Margaritas are too sweet and not frozen, like we mean frozen. I have a soft shell taco with beans and rice, which is so so, but Bert orders the Poquitos, which are superb. The rain has started again, so Don gets the car and picks us up across the street from a tourist gift shop. By the way, Bert has bought more on this trip than I have. He should have plenty of T-shirts to show everyone when we get back to Texas. By the time we get to R-TENT it is 3:30 and too late to do anything else today. It has been wonderful to relax and not be hurried to do and see the next attraction. We know we have plenty of time here to see it all, so we slow down the pace a bit. Time to get haircuts, oil change, clean, wash, RV wash, and all those little maintenance items we seem to put off until
(Bert) With so little to report today, I'll comment on a general topic: the roads of Newfoundland. Prior to our coming, the reports we heard from other travelers often included warnings about the roads, roughness and steepness being the main descriptors. I have found neither to be a problem and, in fact, I find the Newfoundland roads to be quite good. The Trans Canada Highway (TCH) covers much of the island and it is a wide, well-paved divided highway. The side roads are narrower and rougher, but I still usually traveled them at the posted speed limits of 45-60 mph. There are some exceptions where the road is uneven and/or the upper layer of blacktop has peeled off, making it rougher. Where these poorer sections exist probably changes from year to year, but for us it was portions of the Viking Trail between Gros Morne and St. Anthony's and the section of Hwy 340 near Twillingate. For these roads I reduced my speed to 35-45 mph, usually in response to the complaints and warnings I received from the navigator riding next to me. As for steepness, there was only one section where I think this would be a major issue. To reach Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve on July 15, we took the scenic coastal route along Placentia Bay. Highway 100 follows the cliff tops and offers the most dramatic coastal scenery we saw in Newfoundland. But rivers cut through the peninsula and reach the sea in narrow deltas and coves. At each of these coves - Placentia, Little and Great Barasway, Gooseberry Cove, Patrick's Cove, Angels Cove, Cuslet - the road plummets from a thousand feet to sea level and then rockets back up the cliff. The grades are not posted, but I would guess they ranged from 8-14% and were typically a mile for each incline or decline. Had we still been driving our Pace Arrow, powered with a Ford V8 gasoline engine, these roads would have been a challenge to our engine and brakes. The same would be true for a 5th Wheel or trailer being pulled by typically underpowered trucks. They were not difficult for our diesel-powered Discovery, which took the steepest in third gear at 30 mph and the J-brake was usually sufficient for the decline, sometimes aided by the regular brakes. So the issue of steepness depends to large degree on the type of vehicle being driven. Although we would have missed the great scenery, we could have approached Cape St. Mary's from the east, a much more level road, and avoided the steep roads altogether. In summary, I've found the Newfoundland roads to be better than the Alaska roads and easily handled by RV's.
(Bert) Exploring Newfoundland's history, we visit Signal Hill, a pinnacle overlooking the sea and St. John's harbor. A small, but well-done, museum at the site gives a broad history of the island. John Cabot, a Venetian but sailing for England in 1497, was the first European to plant a flag on Newfoundland soil. He reported back to King Henry the great quantities of cod on the Grand Banks and that set off a flurry of fishing activity, involving hundreds of ships each season. Much of Newfoundland's earlier political history revolves around wars between England and France, both on the Continent and in Newfoundland. At the time, much of England's wealth was derived from the cod fisheries of Newfoundland, its oldest colony. England eventually dominated and France's presence was reduced to the islands of St. Pierre et Miquelon and certain fishing rights. World War I brought Newfoundland to England's defense and in 1916 the island sent 800 volunteers to Europe. War statistics at that time are frightfully grim compared to today's electronic and mechanical wars: of the 800, 710 were casualties including 324 dead or missing. At Signal Hill, I learn of Marconi's experiment. Previously, a transatlantic cable completed to Newfoundland in 1866 provided telegraph communication with Europe. But in 1901, Marconi was successful in receiving a wireless telegraph message from England to a 500-ft. copper aerial suspended from a kite flying over Signal Hill, a distance of 2000 miles. The world just became smaller. Moving outside to the parade grounds adjacent to the museum, we watch and hear a performance of the military tattoo. Colorfully dressed in historic British uniforms, teenaged girls play flute (fife) and boys play drums while others carry rifles, all marching in precision ranks - well, precision for them, but not up to Aggie standards. They demonstrate the style of fighting wars centuries ago, a technique that seems hopelessly vulnerable to being shot at while standing in ranks completely exposed. Before visiting Newfoundland, I had no idea how much of the history of early North American settlements revolves around this island.
(Shari) Hearing on TV last night that the Newfoundland Minister of Fisheries closed all cod fish processing plants because he thought the cod not of good quality - the politically correct way of saying there weren't enough of them - I decided I had better get some cod before none was to be had. However even finding a fish market here in a town that was founded on fishing, is difficult. The winding streets of St. John's are enough to daunt anyone from looking for an address. One-way streets, no left turns, roads that just end, no thoroughfares and hordes of traffic make finding the downtown area difficult. Fortunately at every bend, I can see the harbor so we just point the car in that direction and wiggle our way there. I do not know if we took the shortest way to Signal Hill but we never had to turn around. Signal Hill is the apropos name for the spot that Marconi devised an apparatus that would send the first wireless communication across the Atlantic. From its crest, the city of St. John's below looks like an idyllic toy train town nestled on the banks of the sea. Its narrow harbor entrance encloses it from enemies and storms, like water in a bottle. Today the outer sea is calm even though the wind is fierce enough on top of the hill to close the Cabot Tower to visitors. From my windy perch I can see a small iceberg floating close to shore just about on its last leg before its demise. After our tour of the area we wiggle our way to the fish market for some cod. While buying the fish, two lively lobsters happen to jump into my basket just as I am paying for my purchase. Oh darn, now we will have to eat them tonight!
(Shari) What an expensive oil change!!!! This morning we take the car into Wal-Mart and ask for an oil change and tire rotation. While the mechanics are working on the car, Bert and I get haircuts, eat lunch and walk around the nice Avalon Mall. Expecting to be home by 1:30, we go to pick up our car. The tire rotation has not been done because they say the tires are shot. I check those tires every other week or so. I just cannot believe it. Sure enough, the inside of the tires, on each and every one, has worn and wavy spots. I guess I was only checking the outsides of the tires. We order new tires and do not leave the store until 4. I certainly did not expect to spend the day at the mall, but had a good time. Actually when we calculate the towed miles, as well as the mileage on the car, since we last had tires, we come up with 47,000 miles. From now on I will have to get down on my hands and knees to check those tires. We have Don over for dinner since Jean is still in Wisconsin.
(Bert) We went to the mall this morning for a few errands, but one thing leads to another and we are still here at 4 PM. Getting a haircut is an historic experience. Until I was about 20, all barbers seemed to have the same technique: cutting hair short with electric clippers, and using shaving cream and a razor to trim the hairline. Then the world shifted to hair stylists with scissors, layering, shampoos, etc. Today is a throwback to the 60s when I visit a St. John's barbershop. All six barbers use the same old style and the price seems old too, the equivalent of US $7. I head back to Wal-Mart where the Pathfinder is getting an oil change and tire rotation. The mechanic tells us the tires are heavily and unevenly worn and then he shows us what he means. The inside of each tire is worn down even though the outside thread is fine. Undoubtedly a result of towing our car, the uneven wear has been causing us to replace tires about ever two years. Although we've only driven the car 20,000 miles in that time, we've towed it at least 25,000. We take advantage of the currency exchange and buy tires at a bargain price compared to what we usually pay in the U.S.
(Bert) St. Johnswort is a plant that I'm sure many people have heard about, but few have found in the wild. Today I find it here in Pippy Park, a large metropolitan park that includes the campground. Shari bought the herb a few years ago to make tea from its leaves, convincing herself that it has some medicinal qualities. This morning, as I walk one of the many trails winding through the park, I find the tall plant in full bloom. The clusters of flowers sport bright yellow petals and a central spray of yellow stamens that shoot out like fireworks. Being in St. John's and finding the flower here, I assumed the name came from the city. But after checking my books, I learn that it derives its name from the fact that the flowers are said to bloom on St. John's Eve, June 24. Many other flowers are in bloom, but the bird life is sparse. Boreal Chickadees are hiding in the same trees as Black-capped Chickadees, bringing up a confusing mixture of songs and call notes. In Long Pond, mixed flocks of female and juvenile Mallards and Black Ducks present an identification challenge. My time along the trail evaporates quickly, so later in the afternoon Shari and I return on a bicycle ride. Lots of Saturday afternoon strollers share the paths, making bicycling awkward, so we head along some of the less traveled trails. But in an hour we cover only a fraction of the trails marked on the map. In the evening we attend the dinner theater featuring "Ruby Brace's Boarding House Reunion." I'm amazed at the local talent. With songs from the 60s, plus a mixture of Newfoundland story songs, the cast of two men and three women blend voices in pleasant harmony. The storyline is laced with humor that keeps us laughing the whole evening.
It doesn't matter where you come from
It doesn't matter where you've been
It's our spirit and our culture
That keeps us all within
One big family together
That is powered from above
We are rich no matter what we owe
We have each other's love
We have our rocky shores and mighty seas
The rolling fog and salt sea breeze
We are a people proud and strong
I could not sum up Newfoundland any better than the song sung for us tonight at the Theatre at St. John's Lane, labeled as one of the many "events" of the Soirees & Times occurring throughout the Province and sponsored by the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation. In Newfoundland and Labrador a "soiree" is a community social gathering that usually consists of an evening of food and entertainment and in the past it was an opportunity for people to gather and celebrate. Tonight's show is the best I have seen of these activities so far and I find out later that the troupe that performs this event has won numerous awards. The song above relates why I have enjoyed this country, in spite of the fog and rain. It is not only the scenery that makes the land, but its people. The people are so refreshing and friendly. The crime rate is extremely low and people care about each other. Here 13-year-old girls look like 13-year-old girls and not some adaptation of a "Barbie" doll. Scrubbed faces, playing jump rope in a park or giggling down the street, they seem to enjoy life so much more than their American counterparts. No slumped shoulders and sad eyes here. Boys are just as clean cut and have smiles on their faces when they meet strangers. They take great pleasure in stripping down to their shorts and swimming in the local watering hole, when all of us in the car passing by think it too cold for sure. Their self-image is intact. Whatever do we do to our youth back home that makes them so angry and/or sad that they want to kill each other or themselves or try to be someone that God did not intend? I have my own opinions on that but will not bore you more about it here. I thoroughly enjoy the funny play, great harmonizing from the five players and the delicious traditional food consisting of Jiggs Dinner, Atlantic salmon and vegetables and blueberry cake.
(Bert) The man and his young family sit down in the pew next to me. He introduces himself and asks if we are the ones with the Texas license plates in the church parking lot. I guess we visitors stand out. After services we talk a bit more and somehow start discussing the geology of Newfoundland. I'm surprised he knows so much about the subject and I suspect he's surprised I've also learned about the plate tectonics of the island. I suspect he is a geologist, but he corrects my presumption and says he is an endocrinologist who moved to St. John's from Michigan years ago. It seems to me that St. John's wouldn't be a bad place to live. In spite of its size, the city offers a lot of amenities, the coastal scenery is attractive and the people are very friendly. In the afternoon we drive to Cape Spear on the opposite side of St. John's Harbor. Few houses on this side, the low mountains are covered with trees until we reach the point where the old lighthouse is built, flashing a beacon since 1836. Concrete bunkers dug into the hillside during World War II still have a long cannon on exhibit. Although never used, the defense point shows the concern Canadians and Americans had for being attacked on their own soil. On a rocky point, I stand next to the sign marking the most easterly point in North America. I'm reminded of our Alaska trips and our visits to Anchor Point, the most westerly location that can be reached by highway.
(Shari) I had seen Cape Spear on national television this past New Year's Eve. Being the most easterly point on the North American Continent, it was the first to celebrate the millennium. After church, Bert and I take the short drive to this historic site. Just as the brochure states, we explore the landscape where the Cantwell family ran the lighthouse for generations. During WWII, Cape Spear was a prominent point of defense for the Canadian and American troops. The remains of two 10-in. guns, reminds us of the significance of St. John's vulnerable position during that time, since it was on a direct route from Europe. We had intended to go to the outdoor Julius Caesar play staged at the old barracks this evening, but decide the evening to be too chilly for our Texas blood. The college-age actors and the amateur atmosphere helps in the decision to use our money elsewhere. After two hours in the cool stiff breeze at the Cape, we want to go home to R-TENT where it is all cozy and warm.
(Shari) Newfoundland weather has a sick sense of humor: rain all day long and clearing at suppertime. We were going to explore some of the bike paths in town today, but now maybe tomorrow. Instead at 5, when the sky turns glorious blue and the sun shines, we walk the path around Long Pond. It is a good day any way. We get domestic things done and I even finish a pair of slacks I was making for myself.
(Bert) Rains give me an opportunity to work on the computer most of the day. Skies clear in late afternoon, so Shari and I go for a 2-mi. walk around Long Pond. At one dense grove of trees near the pond, I find European White Birch and apple trees, a strong indication that at some time in the past a house stood near this spot since neither tree is native. Even though buildings are gone and foundations buried, plant life often provides evidence of man's presence. Not much else to say about today; I guess it's time to move on.
(Shari) I shall be happy when Jean comes back from Wisconsin. Waiting for her has been pleasant but now I am ready to move on. Weather not cooperating again today for a bike ride, I clean and cook. We share our traditional Newfoundland dinner of salt cod with Don. When caught, the cod is cleaned and salted heavily to preserve it. I am told it will last for weeks. I soaked it in water, changing the water 4 times, for 24 hours. Then I made Stovetop stuffing and put the rinsed cod on top. After brushing the cod with a butter partridgeberry wine sauce, I put it in the oven for 25 minutes. My goodness, it is good. Tomorrow, I intend to go to the open-air fish/produce market and buy six more packages of cod. Maybe, some lucky Texan will have a taste of this delicious Newfoundland staple when I get there. Be nice now, ya'hear!
(Bert) A day of household chores, I have nothing worth reporting.
(Shari) The Canadians have a weather term I have never heard before: breaking clouds. Instead of a homogenous mass of gray above, shapes and forms appear in the clouds and once in a while an itsy bitsy bit of blue. Today starts out as one of those days, but ends as partly cloudy. I have many errands to run this morning and finish getting groceries, six packages of salt cod for the freezer and bagels by 1 PM - great bagel shop on Elizabeth St. past the open-air fish/produce market and next to a Dominion's grocery store. Bert has told me about a place to look for trilobites: small crustaceans fossilized in shale millions of years old. We go off in search of them, but do not find any. We do find fossils of plants, however, as we dig around in the quarry of flaking shale deposits, so all is not a complete waste. We then take a shortened bike ride that we had wanted to do for the last three days. The path meanders all the way through downtown St. John's and Signal Hill, but we only explore 4-5 miles of it around some ponds.
(Bert) With a bright sunny day ahead of us, we take advantage of the opportunity. While Shari goes grocery shopping, I walk around Long Lake, hoping to get close-up photos of the American Black Ducks that are rearing ducklings there. But kids taking a canoeing class keep the ducks on the move and I miss a chance. I find one surprise, an American Coot, a species I've seen millions of elsewhere, but here in Newfoundland is considered "very uncommon" and only expected to be seen annually. For me, it is the 99th species on my Newfoundland list. Late summer flowers have started to bloom, presenting a new set of identification possibilities. Around the lake I find pink and sometimes white Musk Mallow, a curious name that sounds like something to roast over a campfire with Graham crackers and chocolate. I also find Meadowsweet, Marsh Bedstraw, Woundwort and Northeastern Rose. I haven't counted, but it seems I've seen as many flower species as bird species in Newfoundland. After lunch we drive to a quarry in Killigrew, not your typical tourist destination. I've read that one can find trilobites here and we try our luck. The quarry is the side of a hill of black shale, a fine clayey material that aligns in flat layers, easily separated and broken. Successive layers of clay particles that traveled in a quietly flowing stream built up the shale, and then hardened into fragile sedimentary rocks. Although I'm not sure anything we find is a trilobite, we do find rocks with small plant-like pieces and some with spiraled animals. I think looking for trilobites is a bit like looking for gold: I'm convinced they are in the rock pile, but it will take a lot of time to find them. When we return, there is still enough sunlight for a bicycle ride, so we petal for a hour or so around Pippy Park and the surrounding area. Then I wash the outside of R-TENT and get ready for tomorrow's departure.
(Shari) From the air, Newfoundland must look like a jigsaw puzzle without the straight border pieces. The whole island, or "The Rock," as the locals call it, is jagged with cove after cove after cove bordering its edge. Our time at Pippy Park is over and we have to move from our spots so we decide to explore another small peninsula about 30 miles down the road. I do not know much about it, since I have not found much tourist literature describing the area. We take highway 70 north when it cuts the TCH1 and stop at Mountain View RV Park in Clarke's Beach. The park is only CN $12 for full hookups, but rather unkempt. Unhooking our car, we hope to see some scenery. A side trip brings us to Hawthorne House in the town of Brigus where Captain Bob Bartlett was raised. He was the man that led Admiral Perry to the North Pole in the early 1900s. I know I am getting old when I pay $2.50 to see a house that looks like my Grandma's house did. I even see a toaster like the kind I used as a kid. Brigus is a cute little town that also boasts of "the tunnel, a must see for any tourist." That particular attraction does not live up to my expectations. Anticipating a hole dug out of rock for ships to go through, we find only a small tunnel big enough for a horse or two that leads to a road on one side and the sea on the other. We surmise Captain Bob parked his ship close by and used the tunnel as a shortcut to unload his belongings. As Bert wants to see a beach up the road at Salmon Cove, we continue our drive north, stopping at a Visitor Center to inquire why a big ship is marooned in their harbor. The SS Kyle, marooned in ice when making a ferry run thirty years ago, was brought into port to have her damage fixed. During a storm she broke her moorings and landed on a mussel bank. With too great an expense for repair, she rests as a monument to the personality of the sea and its people. The government paid the owners of the ship $4000 and then another $100,000 to have her painted. Now she is an Historic Site where tourists can look but not touch, since she is still parked in the middle of the harbor rotting from the inside out. I ask the girl at the information center about bakeapples. I read that bakeapples are ripe in this area during the middle of July. All four of us are ready to stop and pick whenever we see a field. However, upon asking three different locals about the location of the fruit, no one seems to know and they direct us to other areas of Newfoundland. This young lady tells us to ask at a fruit stand. One young man, a local no less, never even heard of bakeapples. Unbelievable, since every little gift store in every little town sells bakeapple jam and bakeapple syrup and has pictures of the berry on towels, mugs and other sundry tourist items. After our five weeks on this Province, I think we may know more about it than many of the locals.
(Bert) Finally we are back on the road again, even if the trip is brief. Heading southwest from St. John's the hills are covered with yellow flowers. I'm amazed at the wildflowers of Newfoundland: the wide variety and the constant changes by week and by area. This time the profusion of wildflowers is a mixture of hawkweed, St. Johnswort and buttercup, all three being bright yellow and they lie so thickly that the green leaves and the ground color are all but excluded. We stop at Clark's Beach on Conception Bay at a mediocre RV park, but one of the few available in the direction we are heading. After the young man helps us into our camping space, Shari asks him where we can pick bakeapples, since this area is noted for the berry at this time of year. We are surprised that he's never heard of bakeapples, so jokingly, we quiz him on a few other Newfoundland specialties. Even though he's in his mid-20s he has never heard of brewis, a traditional Newfoundland dinner. He seems to be a very picky eater and one of the few things he eats is carrots, so I ask him if he recognizes the plant growing at his feet - Wild Carrot - and he does not. Nor has he heard of Pitcher Plant, even though it is the provincial flower of Newfoundland. Finally when I ask him about moose, I find something he recognizes. Although all of this is in jest, his lack of knowledge of the province where he has spent his whole life is surprising and yet not unique; many residents know little about the area they live in, at least from the perspective of nature. From the campsite the four of us take our car along the road bordering Conception Bay. We visit Hawthorne Cottage, a nearly 200-year-old house where Capt. Bob Bartlett lived, the Arctic explorer who lead Admiral Perry to the North Pole. Then following the road northward we encounter lots of traffic, as if this were some sort of holiday. But it seems, instead, that this is a popular vacationing spot for Newfoundlanders. We travel halfway along the peninsula until Salmon Cove, a place I read about in my geology book. The beach is very fine gray sand, a remnant of glaciers, pulverized further by the action of wind and water. The cove is protected by a "U" of high cliffs of roughly cut sandstone and shale and a small island pinnacle is home to nesting Arctic Terns, now with half-grown fuzzy chicks. Waves roll in gently over the sandy beach and a few children play at the edge, but even fewer venture into the deep blue water.
(Shari) I have no plan today, except to get us to the ferry terminal at Argentia to spend the night. I have not read much about the area around the ferry, so whatever happens today will be unplanned. We stop at one of the very numerous tourist information buildings along the highway and ask about activities and sights. The girls there do not offer much, so we push onward. We keep our eyes open for bakeapples - Jean and I still think they are ripe and ready to be picked along the highway. Bert stops R-TENT at a wide spot in the road and we do see some bakeapples. Don goes down the steep embankment to check it out, but finds it is all too wet. Maybe later down the road. Arriving at Argentia at noon, we stop at another information center for lunch. Inside I find a well-done museum. With the use of historical prints, pictures and artifacts of the period, the museum depicts the role of the U.S. in the area and the impact on its people. Argentia played a strategic and crucial role in the defense of North America and was the location where President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill signed the Atlantic Charter, a basis for the founding declaration of the United Nations. I never realized the importance of Newfoundland and its people during this time frame. That period of both nation's history cemented friendships that have lasted into the present. It is very refreshing to visit a country that really likes America and its citizens. We learn of another presentation in the next town of Placentia on Castle Hill. Here a group of amateur college students depict the role of the French on this island. The little outdoor play would have been much nicer if the players had stuck to their lines and forgot about their friends in the audience who were making them giggle. After paying CN $5 a piece for the privilege of sitting on bleachers to listen to a dialog that was flat to begin with, and flatter after delivery, I was not about to pay another CN $2.50 to visit the museum. I suppose it may have been my loss, since I do not fully understand the French role in this nation's history. By now it is 5 PM and we head to the ferry. This terminal has an agricultural check and a lady boards R-TENT to look in the refrigerator for potatoes, carrots and onions. Had I known about this ahead of time I would not have bought fresh carrots yesterday. She tells me I can keep them if I clean them first. No problem. I also have to cook the potatoes. We then go through a vehicle wash and the underside of R-TENT is sprayed as we drive over water coming out of a cement floor. We are told to park in line 13, joining two other RV's already there. This terminal is extremely nice. Picnic tables on grassy areas along the side enable overnighters to have their lunch or dinner. Tents as well as RV's are allowed and the terminal is open all night for the use of its restrooms and showers. A gift store inside, attracts the purchase of that last souvenir, a cafeteria serves good smelling food and two free movies are shown at 7 and at 9. Too bad airport terminals are not as customer friendly.
(Bert) We succeed in spending most of the day covering a distance of fifty miles, stopping to look for bakeapples to pick and to mail letters at a post office where the clerk does not know the postage rates to the U.S. We visit an historical park at Placentia where we watch a play put on by college-aged students with limited acting skills, but we learn a bit of history in spite of the mediocre performance. A French outpost at this location played an important role in launching a successful attack against the English at St. John's, only to have their success annulled by the Treaty of Utrecht, which restored Newfoundland to the English. We are almost the first to arrive at the ferry dock at Argentia. After paying the one-way ticket (CN $528) for a 57-ft. vehicle combination and two adult fares, we proceed to an agricultural checkpoint. Unlike Mexico, they do not confiscate unacceptable vegetables. Instead, they will allow us to wash our carrots and cook our potatoes before departure. Next I drive R-TENT through a spray of insecticide that douses the undercarriage. We park second in line where we will spend the night, awaiting tomorrow's early departure. Meanwhile, we check out the terminal, a modern building complete with restaurant, gift shop, free movies and showers. I pick up a flyer describing the ferry we will take tomorrow. The MV Joseph and Clara Smallwood is the length of two end-to-end football fields and is powered by four diesel engines of 7000 hp each and can carry 1200 passengers. I find its cargo capacity more fascinating: it can carry 370 automobiles and 77 tractor-trailers. Judging by all the vehicles lining up tonight, I suspect we will fill the ship tomorrow.
(Bert) "There's nothing out here," huffed the woman to her husband and fellow passenger. She turned about on the forward deck and headed back inside with her husband following closely behind. I thought to myself, "It's all in what you are looking for." An hour and a half into our ferry trip, I had already seen 155 birds of eight species, plus 7 whales; I'd watched the receding Avalon Peninsula, followed the Burin Peninsula and enjoyed the bright sun and cumulus clouds lord over a gentle blue Placentia Bay trimmed in a few whiskers of whitecaps. To me, there was lots "out here" at the bow of the MV Smallwood. Over the p.a. system comes the announcement of whales being sighted off the starboard side. I had been watching whales for the past half-hour, but it seems strange to make the announcement now that the whales have left. Fifty passengers appear on deck, some carrying 35-mm cameras hoping for a close-up photo. None of these people see a whale, much less photograph those I saw earlier when they kept a distance of several miles from the ship. Disappointed, the crowd goes back inside to perpetual movies, food, card games, music, reading and sleeping. I stay on deck, keeping a vigil for whatever the sea has to offer. A few miles offshore, the ship follows a course along the southern border of Newfoundland, following the Burin Peninsula on its port side. Through binoculars I can see the city of Burin and a hundred gannets feeding just off the cliffs. Miles of coastline seem uninhabited and, except for Burin and St. Lawrence, I see no other towns. Three and a half hours into our transit, the island of St. Pierre shows up on the horizon, grows larger over the next hour until the city of St. Pierre is visible. Puffins fly by in flocks of four to twelve. Six hours since departure, I can still see Miquelon on the horizon. Relative to land formations, the ferry seems to move slowly. In fact, its top speed is 22 knots and the average speed during the 14-hour trip is 18.5 knots, leisurely travel by comparison to highway traffic. Now on the Atlantic Ocean, out of sight of land, the seafaring birds increase in numbers: Greater and Cory's Shearwaters, Wilson's and Leach's Storm-Petrels. Birds are almost constantly in view during the next three hours, providing me with a great opportunity to study the fine points of bird identification. Storm-Petrels are 8-in. birds with 17-in. wingspans, zigzagging around waves at 30 mph while I'm holding binoculars on a ship that is rocking with the waves and passing the birds at 20 knots. To differentiate Wilson's from Leach's I need to see if the 2-in. tail is square or forked, whether the white rump band is complete or broken with a thin black line, whether the wing beat is shallow or deep, plus a few other more subtle characteristics of feathers and flight. After watching these perpetual motion machines for several hours, I can begin to accumulate a mind picture made up of hundreds of microsecond fragments. Pelagic birding is a different game from watching hatching birds poised on nests or territorial males singing from a treetop, and its definitely a lot different from studying flowers firmly fixed in the ground and approachable to a few inches. Except for a short break for lunch, I spend the whole day - over ten hours - on deck watching the sea and its wildlife. All told, I record the following: 9 whales (probably Hump-back), 5 Common Dolphins, 3 Northern Fulmars, 2 Cory's Shearwaters, 98 Greater Shearwaters, 9 Sooty Shearwaters, 13 Manx Shearwaters (a new species for my North American list, although I've seen them in Scotland), 110 Wilson's Storm-Petrels, 719 Leach's Storm-Petrels, 264 Northern Gannets, 26 Ruddy Turnstones (winter-plumaged and juveniles in migration), 6 Herring Gulls, 9 Great Black-backed Gulls, 6 Black-legged Kittiwakes, 4 Common Terns, 6 Arctic Terns, 4 tern species, 1 Common Murre and 57 Atlantic Puffins. Add to this, two cargo ships, three sailboats, two fishing trawlers, peninsulas, islands, villages and an infinite variety of ocean waves, I'd be the last to say, "There's nothing out here."
(Shari) After listening to the ferry's diesel engine all night, I easily awakened to hear the 6 AM announcement about shutting off propane supplies before boarding the ferry. This ferry is going to be a full one and even though we were almost first in line last night, we are almost last to board this morning. Inside the cramped cargo hold, we are parked within inches of other motorhomes to our right. Bert even stops and tells the man directing us that he has a concern about getting our door open to get out of the motorhome. I am the first one out and find my chest is indeed bigger than my stomach. Luckily it is also malleable and I am able to literally squeeze out of the door. Bert is next and is not so lucky. He and I both fear he may get stuck with one leg in and one out, while his middle gets hung up on the door jam. He must have inhaled since all of a sudden he pops out of the opening in one piece. Any bigger man would not have made it. Being one of the last to board, I am afraid we will not find good seats for this long 14-hr. ferry ride, so I rush upstairs to the lounge. I am lucky to find four seats in a row in the middle of the ship. These seats are almost the same kind of the recliners others pay money to sit in and I am pleased that I did not buy those additional tickets. The first thing we do is get breakfast. A bargain at CN $4.99, we dine on two eggs, ham, toast, cottage fries and coffee. Bert takes his leave to stake a claim at the bow of the ship to watch for his feathered friends. Jean and I stake out the gift store. Finding nothing that we have not seen before, we return to our seats to watch the first of five or six movies shown all day long in the lounge. Bert shows up again around 2, when we go to the cafeteria to eat the lunch I had packed. Don and Jean sit on the sun deck for a few hours in the afternoon soaking up the wonderful warm rays that we rarely see anymore, while I walk around the boat looking for Bert. I find him on deck 5, but after a few minutes I am bored and return to yet another movie and a book. Finally it gets too dark for him to see and he returns at 7:30 when we get our supper. At 10, the ferry docks and we exit the boat to the artificially lit terminal, awash in a fog and drizzle. I know we only have a few miles to travel down the road, but after five weeks, I cannot remember where the turn to Arm of Gold Campground is located exactly. Bert says he thinks he can find it and he does. I am glad, since I see no sign advertising the place and I would have passed it up. A big caravan is also turning into the campground and the road is blocked up a long ways along the highway. However it does not take too long to check in and find a place. We are told to turn left on row 2 and just park when we find a spot. Not wanting to run into an electrical or water post, I get out into the drizzle to help Bert drive in. Before leveling off, we go over to help Don and Jean find and park into their spot. Returning to R-TENT, we level off, connect electrical and open the slide. Finally we can relax with a beer, all nice and cozy inside.
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