Showing posts with label newfoundland trip. Show all posts
Showing posts with label newfoundland trip. Show all posts

4.17.2009

polar bears in newfoundland

If you read wmtc when Allan and I were in Newfoundland, you may remember my friend "NCF," Newfie Campaign Friend. We met NCF's mom - who insisted we stay for dinner and spend the night - and visited the birthplace of her grandmother, which just happens to be a National Historic Site, the Cape Bonavista Lighthouse.

NCF sent me these photos, sent to her from a friend back home. They were taken around Bonavista Bay, Newfoundland. Click to enlarge.

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I didn't find any stories online about this incident, but it is mentioned in a CBC story about another polar bear sighting in Central Newfoundland:
Conservation officers caught two polar bears over the weekend — one in Cape Freels near Lumsden, the other in Bonaventure on the Bonavista peninsula.

Rebecca Jeffery, a wildlife biologist with the Newfoundland and Labrador government, said at the end of March that while sightings of polar bears may be up, that doesn't mean there are more; they might just be moving in areas where they are more likely to be seen.

8.15.2008

newfoundland photos are up

Photos from our trip to Newfoundland are up: here.

For more context, you can click on the category "Newfoundland trip"; each set is linked in the appropriate post.

Allan chose a small representative sample from the zillions of pictures we took in each place. I still have to add some descriptions, but hopefully it will give you a feel for what we saw.

7.29.2008

jeannie's sunrise b&b, port au choix, newfoundland

We do have photos from Newfoundland, I promise. I am under the gun on the Spinal Network project, and struggling to maintain some down-time (exercise, reading) and my sanity. Getting photos organized and online is usually my department, but this time it's Allan's. So you'll see the photos... at some point.

Yesterday I started reading John Gimlette's Theatre of Fish, a memoir - travelogue - meditation on Newfoundland and Labrador, so this seems like a good time to cross something off my long to-write list.

If you visit the west coast of Newfoundland, I highly recommend spending a day or more in Port Aux Choix, especially if you're interested in native peoples, ancient history and archeology. And while you're there, you'll want to see if Jeannie's Sunrise B&B has any vacancies.

In Newfoundland, we stayed in both bed-and-breakfasts and motels. The B&B's were all lovely, and some were outstanding. The nightly crabfest put on by our wacky host in Bonavista was an experience we won't soon forget, although at our next stop, Twillingate, we were ready for the bland anonymity of a motel. There's such a thing as too much local flavour.

But among all our accommodations, one stands out: Jeannie's Sunrise B&B. If I were going to dream up the perfect little B&B, this would be it. (I wrote a little about Jeannie herself here.)

Some B&B's are stuffed with over-the-top attempts at charm and elegance. I don't need to be surrounded by priceless antiques and rugs; I don't even prefer it. On the other hand, some B&B's really feel like you're staying in someone's spare bedroom (because you are). I definitely prefer the spare bedroom to the overly ornate house, but it's sometimes a little too cozy. You can feel like you're in the way. Jeannie strikes the perfect balance - homey and comfortable, with just a touch of pampering.

The house is beautiful, full of colour and light, which pours in through skylights and picture windows. There are several breakfast options (not the case in all B&Bs), and whatever you choose, Jeannie will whip it up fresh in her immaculate kitchen. Guests can share tables and sitting areas and get to know each other, but if you prefer a quiet breakfast, Jeannie will respect your privacy.

Next door, Jeannie has a beautiful cottage for an astoundingly inexpensive rate. It's quite large, with a spacious kitchen and sitting area. The B&B also has wireless internet access.

And, in a place where friendliness and warmth is the norm, Jeannie stands out as the friendliest host of the trip.

7.02.2008

deer lake and home

Wouldn't you know it? The weather is brilliant today - warm and completely sunny. Ah, well.

With a morning to kill in Deer Lake, we drove to a craft studio in the nearby town of Pasadena. This was Meyer's Minerals, a shop that makes jewelry and other objects from local stones such as labradorite and marble. We had seen labradorite in all the gift shops, but I didn't care for it - and now I discovered why. The stuff sold in the gift shops is mostly cheap imitation, coated with beeswax. The real thing, cut by a craftsperson and polished to a high gloss, is beautiful.

The labradorite jewelry was out of my price range, but there were earrings made of other local stones that were more reasonable and really nice. I bought another pair of earrings: an abstract shape of a polar bear, cut from white marble. It used to be really hard to buy myself things on our trips - I would agonize over any purchase and Allan would try to talk me into it. It wasn't the money - it was buying something for myself, rather than a gift for someone else. Now I just buy it, and later, I'm always happy I did.

We had lunch in the best restaurant in Deer Lake: a diner attached to the truckstop-gas station. It's true! If you go to Newfoundland, you'll often find the best food in a restaurant attached to a gas station. Once we got over our aversion - fish chowder from a gas station? - we realized it was the way to go.

Now we're hanging out in the little Deer Lake airport, because our rental car had to be back 2-1/2 hours before our flight.

I can't wait to hug the dogs!

7.01.2008

gros morne to deer lake

Happy Canada Day!

This morning it was only misting, so after partridgeberry pancakes in Woody Point, we went to The Tablelands for a guided walk.

This is one area where you really want to have some interpretation, or else it's just a lot of rocks. Two young Parks Canada guides really brought it to life, using props and analogies to explain basic geological concepts and introduce us to the strange fauna.

We learned about how so much of the earth's mantle got exposed here, and why people like to study it. We saw plants that normally grow in the arctic, a few carnivorous plants, and some stunted junipers, which are more than 100 years old but only a few inches tall. It was pretty interesting, although I find it difficult to really conceive of things that happened 650 million years ago.

We went to the Discovery Centre, which is the visitors centre on the south side of the Park, and much more of an educational centre than the centre at Rocky Harbour. One great exhibit had photographs and descriptions of all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Canada. I'd love to see them all. I mean that completely literally. There's not one on the list I'd pass up, given the chance.

We poked around Woody Point a bit more, tried to find another artist's studio, but couldn't. The fog was clearing and the views of Bonne Bay were stunning. This is a place of exceptional peace and beauty. I was reluctant to leave.

Deer Lake is about an hour away, but it's another world, full of fast-food signs and truck stops. We were booked at the Deer Lake Motel, but there was no internet (although a huge sign outside says "free wireless internet" and I checked when I made the reservation), so we left there and went to a B&B. It's in a huge McMansion in a residential neighbourhood, which is half old, beat-up bungalow-style homes and part huge, ugly new monstrosities. It's a beautiful room, and very comfortable, and a nice way to spend our final night of vacation.

We miss our girls so much! I'm always a bit sad when a trip ends, but I'm also very glad to feel good about coming home. Wmtc resumes its regular broadcasting tomorrow. Thanks for reading. It will be a while before I can get our photos posted, but I hope it was interesting anyway.

rocky harbour / woody point / trout river (gros morne)

[Monday, June 30]

Yesterday's little sea kayaking adventure was on Bonne Bay, a beautifully scenic little bay surrounded by the mountains of Gros Morne, and home to several small towns - Norris Point on one side, Woody Point, Shoal Brook and a few others on the other side. A water taxi can shuttle you back and forth in 15 minutes, but it takes an hour and a half to drive on the mountainous roads from one side of the bay to the other.

From our kayaks, Christine pointed out The Tablelands, which from our vantage appeared as a reddish-brown, bald mountain. Gros Morne National Park is home to a large number of geological oddities, one of those being the area called The Tablelands. It's a barren, rocky expanse where more of the earth's mantle is exposed than any place else on earth. I don't know what that means, but if the weather clears up, I'll find out tomorrow morning.

From the visitors centre in Rocky Harbour, we made a few phone calls and found a room - actually a cabin - in Trout River, on the other side of the park, then we drove around the bay. The road rises in altitude, and you're soon among the mountains that you've been seeing from a distance. You also see those geological oddities very clearly. At one point the road slices through a valley. One one side of the road, the mountains are lush and green. On the other, the same-shaped mountains are completely bare - devoid of vegetation - and red. It looks more like a moonscape than like Newfoundland.

As we drove into Woody Point, I was really glad we came to the other side, rather than staying in Rocky Harbour and driving back and forth. Rocky Harbour is developed and commercial - not to an extreme degree, but relative to the rest of the area - and it services the majority of Gros Morne visitors. Woody Point is an old community, settled in the 1910s and '20s - isolated, but vital and beautiful. We drove past big old homes, well cared for, with lovely gardens and gorgeous views of Bonne Bay.

In the centre of town - four or five buildings at a crossroads - there's a few restored houses - Aunt Jane's B&B, the Old Loft Restaurant, where we would have stayed and eaten if we had settled on Woody Point, and the Granite Coffee House. We stopped for lunch at the coffee house, empty when we got there, then suddenly swamped by a horde of seniors from Pennsylvania. The poor server was overwhelmed. "A toasted 'am melt? Hon white or 'ole wheat?"

After lunch we stopped by a studio called Molly Made, because I loved Molly's logo with the curly sheep. There are craft and visual art studios all over Newfoundland, but for whatever reason we didn't see any of them until now. We opened the door to Molly Made to find Molly working at a table in her one-room, brightly lit cottage. On the walls were works by Molly and husband, mostly hooked rugs.

These are not the kind of hooked rugs I've seen (and made) in the past, with long fibers, made with a latched tool. Molly told me this kind of hooking is found in Atlantic Canada, but rarely anywhere else - another way this region is so different. They're made with a tiny hook, with which you pull yarn very tightly. The finished product looks more like embroidery than a rug.

Molly uses a lot of found materials to make art with mixed media. My favourites were made with both hooking and driftwood. Another terrific one was hooking and painted wine corks. I took a few pictures, but when I tried to include Molly in one, she said, "Oh, you don't need a picture of me in there."

Molly also teaches hooking and other crafts to both children and adults. The studio was filled with yarn and all kinds of materials. The work I liked best was well out of our price range, but I did buy a hooking kit for my mother, who is a champion knitter and a tremendous appreciator of all kinds of crafts. (And if she's reading this, there goes the surprise.)

We were admiring some work in Molly's little studio kitchen, which turned out to be by her daughters when they were little girls. And what are her daughters doing now? One is a college program for adventure tourism... and she works for Gros Morne Adventures with Christine, our guide from Nova Scotia (who of course Molly knows well). When Molly's daughter Kathleen graduates the program, she'll be able to apply all her credits to a university course for environmental studies.

On the same road, we saw the little communities of Middle Brook and Curzon, then doubled back to another turn-off, towards the tiny town of Trout River, which is more isolated, but closer to The Tablelands and the Green Gardens hiking trails. It's completely quiet and not touristy out here, but still doesn't seem depressed the way so many towns on the northern end of this Peninsula did.

We found the cabin we booked, way more space and amenities than we need, but for the same price as a B&B, the privacy and space seemed wonderful, and it's convenient for our plans.

By now it had started to rain, and was windy and quite cold. We were feeling extra lucky that we had the warm, partly-sunny day for yesterday's Western Pond boat tour and kayaking. We couldn't decide if we should bother with the Green Gardens hike or not. Crazy to try it? Silly not to try it? We finally decided that we'd give it a go, and if it the weather was too awful, we'd turn back. Better to try than not try.

It was pouring rain and windy, but when we got to the Green Gardens trailhead, the rain had stopped. We already knew there were two Green Gardens hikes, a very challenging 16-kilometer loop that calls for fording two creeks (yeah, right), and a shorter but still challenging 9-kilometer loop. Sue from the kayak office suggested we do half the smaller loop. We could follow a path to the coast for great views, then walk along the coast trail as much as we wanted, then take the same trail back. She said it was all downhill on the way there - you know what that means! - but the views were well worth the struggle on the return trip.

So when we got to the Green Gardens trailhead, it had stopped raining. It was very windy, but the wind was at our back. (You know what that means, too.) The first part of the trail is over bare, rocky ground, then the trail enters the woods. And you know the thing about rain? It stops, but then it starts again. As we hiked the mostly downhill, rocky trail, I started to feel fatigued. It was late afternoon (not my best time of day), and damp (people with arthritis don't like the damp), and windy, and we weren't on a loop. I had to rest frequently, and after a while I wasn't sure we should continue. Then it started to rain. Hard.

We tried to continue for a while, but it was ridiculous - especially since the best part of this hike is supposed to be the view. We couldn't see two feet in front of our faces.

We turned around. It was uphill. We were walking into the wind. It rained harder. The wind was blowing the rain sideways. We tightened the hoods on our windbreakers and pushed ahead. Every once in a while, Allan would turn around to check on me, and we would just laugh. The rain and wind just got harder and more vicious. When the rain hit our faces, it hurt. We thought it might be hailing at one point.

I was very tired, and very wet, and the walk back to the car took a very long time.

At one point Allan turned around and said, "Too bad we're not camping". We were laughing to keep from crying. But towards the end, I thought I might cry anyway. When I finally reached the car, it was so windy I couldn't open the car door. A few times, I tried to walk forward and felt the wind push me back.

Crazy!

At the cabin, we stripped and dried off and found wonderful clean, dry clothes. If we had been prepared for cabin living, it would have been the perfect night to make dinner and not leave the house for the night. Too bad we weren't at all prepared, and the only stores for many miles were convenience stores. (We have noticed this is usually the case. If you ever travel Newfoundland by RV or by staying in efficiency cabins, you'll want to shop way in advance of your destination towns.)

So after getting into dry clothes, we had to go out again. It was still great to have the cabin - a laundromat to dry our things, extra room to hang things, a sitting area to curl up in.

There's only one restaurant in Trout River, The Seaside, but it has a far-reaching reputation, having been written up in "Where To Eat In Canada," and several other national publications. We had an excellent meal, the usual local fare but much better than usual quality. Have I mentioned cod tongues? It's a popular dish out here - thin disks of fish, pan fried, a slightly different texture than the cod itself. I think they're very yummy. I'm a little sad to think I've eaten my last cod tongue dinner. I also love partridgeberries, so we had to have something with partridgeberry for dessert. Sometimes it's partridgeberry pie or crisp; this time it was partridgeberry cheesecake.

Random note. In addition to the familiar provincial flag of Newfoundland and Labrador, many people display the flag of the "Republic of Newfoundland," a tri-colour flag like Ireland's, but with pink instead of orange. It was never an official flag, but it represents Newfoundland between Britain and Canada - an independent Newfoundland.

It's impossible to say how much it's meant as a joke or a wish and how much separatist sentiment there is here, or what percentage of Newfoundlanders think of themselves this way. From what I've learned about Newfoundland, its challenges and its economy, I can't imagine how it could exist and thrive outside of Canada. It would seem to be a beneficial relationship for Newfoundlanders. But I haven't spoken to anyone about this, except our host in Bonavista, who said it was the best decision Newfoundlanders ever made. I'd like to hear about it from all points of view.

Random note. On our Western Pond boat tour, we chatted with some women from Vermont, who told us they saw whales in Witless Bay, the area south of St. John's where we had our first boat tour. They saw two humpbacks, and the boat followed them for quite a while. We've been hearing reports of whale sightings in almost every town we visited earlier in the trip. Strangely enough, this actually made me feel better about not seeing whales. It means our (almost) whale-less trip was just luck of the draw - no whales happened to be around while we were there - rather than massively poor trip planning.

Everything I read said whale season was June to October, yet when we got here, several people said June was too early, that whales typically don't show til July. I wondered how I could have mis-planned so badly. As it turns out, many people see whales in June. Bad luck is better than idiocy!

No one in Trout River has wireless internet access for guests, so I don't know when I'll get to post this. While we were calling around, one host laughed at me for asking about internet - which is a bit odd, considering she has a website and an email address. We're already booked in a motel with internet access in Deer Lake for our last night. Last night?!

Pictures of Woody Point are here.

Pictures of Molly Made and other crafts we saw (or bought) are here.

6.30.2008

rocky harbour (gros morne)

[Sunday June 29]

We had a terrific day, made even better by great weather - sunny with some puffy white clouds, warm enough for a t-shirt and a light jacket, and no rain or fog. After breakfast we had a bit of running around to do a little laundry (ran out of short-sleeved shirts!), but timed everything perfectly for the boat tour of Western Brook Pond.

This is one of the main attractions of Gros Morne, and it requires some advanced planning. You need an advance reservation, but you can't purchase your ticket when you make the reservation (not sure why, possibly weather?), so you make two trips to the ticket office.

The ticket office is in a hotel in Rocky Harbour, and the entrance for the boat tour is about 30 minutes away. You park there and walk a three-kilometer trail to the boat dock. Part of the trail is boardwalked through bog. Later in July, there are three or four boats a day, but right now there's only one, and it was completely sold out. The parking lot was full and when we got to the dock, there was a large crowd waiting for the boat, the largest group of tourists we've seen on the whole trip.

The boat ride was spectacular. Western Brook Pond is an inland fjord, a large freshwater lake squeezed in by cliffs that were formed by glaciers. The mountains themselves are part of the Appalachian chain, which I find remarkable; I didn't know those mountains extended so far north.

As the boat travels farther inland, the water narrows and the rocky cliffs rise up on each side, slate-gray and rugged. Parts are sheer cliffs. The bottom of the cliffs are covered in trees, but the green thins out and the tops are bald rock. There are several waterfalls along the way, some two- or three-tiered as they cascade down the levels of rock. The lake - which was once part of the ocean - is full of oddities, like the water being so pure that it sustains very little life.

There's not much I can say about this, although it was one of the highlights of our trip to Newfoundland. We just sat there going "Oh wow" and taking dozens of photos.

Then we did the three-k walk back to the car, drove back to Rocky Harbour for some food and a little rest, then back to Norris (locals say "Norse") Point for our kayak trip. On the trail to the boat and back to the car, we saw a moose, bringing the count on the moose-o-meter up to five.

The kayak-tour office had stayed open for us, so it was quiet there, just the owners getting things ready and our young guide, Christine. She's a student in an adventure-tourism college program. (We later learned that Sue, one of the owners of this company, developed the program.) Because we had no kayaking experience, they put Allan and I in a double kayak, which is more stable.

It was a little awkward suiting up and getting situated, but once we got into the water, it felt fine. After 10 or 15 minutes, my arms were getting very tired; I was thinking, how am I going to do this for two hours? Then it clicked. I started paddling correctly, and it was suddenly easy.

Sue had told us that it's much easier and more efficient to push the paddle with your top hand, rather than pulling with your bottom hand. At the beginning, I must have been pulling, and my arms quickly fatigued. Once I started pushing, the whole thing flowed.

Unfortunately, a double kayak is steered by foot pedals by the person who sits in the back, and this wasn't so comfortable for Allan. His legs were getting cramped and the keeping pressure on the pedals was awkward. I never would have been able to do it, as my knees and hips would very quickly hurt. If we ever sea kayak again - which I hope we do - I think we'd be fine with our own single kayaks.

We paddled across a narrow portion of the bay, then followed the coastline. Our guide showed us huge jellyfishes - I held one, Allan declined - and other small, strange marine animals. She said several people have seen Minke whales while kayaking, but she never has, and I wasn't expecting to. She pointed out a spot where some bald eagles nest, so we were on the lookout for those.

It was so quiet, and beautiful, and I absolutely loved it.

"Bird! Bird!" That was all Allan could say. I only saw a gigantic wingspan and a flash of white head, and the eagle was gone. Christine and Allan saw it flying a second time, but I missed it.

We were on our way back when we spotted the eagle again (or possibly its mate, males and females look alike). It was sitting on the very top of some bare branches, at the very end of a tip of land jutting out above the bay. We had a perfect view of its distinctive profile, with its white head almost blending in to the cloudy sky behind it. Christine said, "Let's try to sneak up on it."

We paddled quietly, then stopped, paddled a bit closer, stopped, a little closer... Allan got the camera from the dry bag (strapped to the kayak) and took pictures while I paddled. The bird remained on its perch, completely still. We were very close, certainly the closest I've ever been to a bird like that, and my first really good view of a wild bald eagle.

We were all holding our breath, paddling once, then just watching, then one little paddle more. We were drifting almost right under its perch when it opened its magnificent wings and took off, directly above us. Its wingspan was as long as our paddles! We watched it fly away, gasping and laughing at the sight. It was truly awesome.

When we got back to the dock, we showed Christine and Bob, the other owner (Sue's husband), the pictures. Everyone was surprised the eagle let us get so close.

We were pretty beat after that! It's supposed to rain tomorrow, so we're extra glad we got our boat tour and kayaking in while the weather was good.

Pictures of Gros Morne are here.

Pictures of Western Brook Pond are here.

6.29.2008

port au choix to rocky harbour / gros morne

[Saturday, June 28]

We had a fun day and I think we have a spectacular day ahead of us. I don't usually blog after drinking this much wine, but I'll give it a go.

We left Port au Choix with many goodbyes, hugs and well-wishes. Jeannie's Sunrise Bed and Breakfast is a special place, and I want to write a separate post that perhaps Jeannie can use for her website. For now I'll just tell you something about our host. Jeannie grew up in Port au Choix, one of 17 children. Of the 13 that are still on this earth, seven live in Newfoundland. Jeannie owns and runs her B&B with love and pride. She does well - but the season is only four months long.

In the off-season, she works in Alberta as an oil-patch cook. "Like modern-day slavery, it is," she says. In Alberta, Jeannie works 14-hour shifts, on her feet the entire day, the only break an hour or two in the afternoon. She works for 21 days, then has six days off.

Jeannie has done this for the past three years, and she dreads going out west again, but she has to. Her personal goal is to do this for three more years, until she's 55 years old. At that point, she'll own her home outright, and - universe willing - she'll be able to run the B&B in season and make do the rest of the year.

After saying goodbye, we hit Route 430 heading south; Rocky Harbour is about 150 kilometers away. The scenery is a lot better this time, now that we could see it! (You may recall, we drove up the Northern Peninsula in the pouring rain.) To the west is the Gulf of St. Lawrence, looking as vast as the ocean to our eyes, spreading to the horizon. Tiny villages dot the cliffsides. To the east there are firs (or some coniferous trees - I called them pines but a local corrected me). In the distance, the mountains are becoming increasingly dramatic as we head down the coast.

We passed a lookout that said whale-watching, and we couldn't resist, scanning the horizon with binoculars. It's pretty silly - what are the chances a whale will be popping up for air just as my binocs hit that patch of water? But still, if whales are seen in the Gulf, and I'm here, I'm looking for them.

I'm totally over whatever minor disappointment I felt about not really seeing whales, or seeing one whale for two seconds. It's far too beautiful and unique here to worry about something like that. But still, why not look?

We did see a moose, though! That puts our moose count at three.

We also stopped at The Arches, a provincial park where the wind and water have created an unusual rock formation - two arches through which you can see the water. The waves lap through at high tide. We had seen pictures of it, and were underwhelmed, but the real thing turned out to be more interesting and impressive than we imagined. Besides the rock formation itself, I loved the beach, which was all perfectly rounded, smooth stones. Stones of all sizes - watermelons, footballs, eggs, walnuts, peanuts - all completely smooth, and all pastel colours - pinks, blues, light grays, striped.

Once in Gros Morne National Park, we stopped briefly at Lobster Cove Head, a lighthouse point with some great views. Continuing on 430, we came to Rocky Harbour, one of the towns that is a main access point for the park. From Port au Choix, we had already reserved a room at a motel. (We seem to like alternating the friendliness of the B&B with the anonymity of roadside motels.) Driving into Rocky Harbour, we saw that there were tons of B&Bs and motels in town, most of them with vacancies, although I don't know if you'd find that later in July. We checked in, confirmed that our internet access works, and drove a bit further to the Visitors Centre.

I love Parks Canada employees! I always felt the same way in about National Parks Service people in the US. They are always so helpful and friendly, ready to help you plan your visit to suit your own abilities and needs. Whether you're a back-country hiker and camper, a casual hiker, a person with a disability, an RV-er, or any combination thereof, they will help you get the most out of the park.

You can't just wing it in a park like this. There are several different areas, a piece that can only be experienced by boat (and you have to plan the boat tour in advance, you can't just show up), another piece for which you really want a guided walk, several hiking trails of varying degrees of difficulty. So if you don't plan, you'll miss a lot.

We travel somewhere between completely off-the-cuff and meticulous pre-planning. We always have a general idea of where we're going and what we want to see, then fill in more specifics a day or two in advance. Whenever our planning lets us down, I kick myself. I was annoyed because we could have purchased a "Viking Trail" pass, and used it for L'Anse aux Meadows, Port au Choix, the Grenfell House in St. Anthony and Gros Morne, for one price. (It also includes a few sites in Labrador.)

The Parks Canada person was helping us figure out whether we should buy three separate day passes for our three days, or an annual pass, now half-price before July 1. When I mentioned the Viking Trail pass, she said if we had receipts from those entrance fees, she would apply it to a Viking Trail pass. Amazing! Sadly, I don't save receipts. I'm too neat - I'm always getting rid of little bits of paper.

So here's an opportunity to really kick myself. Only when Allan pointed out that we were just giving Parks Canada a bit more money did I drop that. In fact, when I think about it that way, I feel good. Parks Canada is tremendous and they deserve at least that.

At the Visitors Centre, I saw a brochure and remembered something we had talked about earlier: sea kayaking. We saw brochures in Witless Bay and Twillingate, and that put the idea in my head. Neither of us has ever kayaked, but it seems like something I could do. (I sure hope so!) So we drove a bit further to Norris Point, in the Park on Bonne Bay. On the way there, we passed a lookout with the most stunning view of the bay, with giant green mountains on the other side and a tiny town spotted with colourful houses beneath us. It was impossibly beautiful. I have a feeling you can stop every few meters for a stunning view in Gros Morne.

As if it isn't beautiful enough here, lilacs are in bloom everywhere, a good two months later than in my corner of southern Ontario.

Down in Norris Point, we found the little office of the kayaking tour people. They also do cycling tours, hikes, and rent equipment to more experienced paddlers. The place was empty - unlocked - with all the equipment and computers sitting around. I guess that's what it's like in Norris Point, Newfoundland.

After a while, Sue, one of the owners, appeared. We told her what we were thinking of, and the next thing we knew, she was looking at weather reports and helping us plan our whole visit. "OK, it looks like your best best for Western Brook Pond is tomorrow, then the Tablelands talk is on Tuesday..." When we couldn't fit everything in, and had to choose between a particularly scenic hike and kayaking, she suggested kayaking in the evening. It's not one of their scheduled tours, they would just take us out because that's when we could do it. She even asked where we were eating, and wrote down recommendations for dinner in each park location.

Random note about our conversation with Sue. While we were looking at the weather information on her computer, she reminded us that the high of 13 was in Celsius. When I said we were used to Celsius, she was a bit confused: "Where are you from?" We said Ontario, and she said she thought we were from the US - so we owned up to our origins. It was the first time someone picked up on that! So when Sue was giving us directions and told us to turn at the Esso Station, I felt free to say, "That's the Hesso Station?" She thought that was very funny, and repeated "de Hesso station" in perfect Newfunese.

We had a beer on a dock with an incredible view - ah, vacation - then drove back to Rocky Harbour for dinner at Java Jack's. We've been eating at roadside diners and local joints for ten days, and although we enjoy the simple seafood - and we've learned how to avoid eating everything fried - it can get a bit monotonous. So Java Jack's was a fun surprise. It's in a funky old house, full of work by local artists, with a menu that would fit in Toronto or New York. It's not a trendy or pretentious place, more like the kind of restaurant you'll find in coastal towns in California or Oregon - funky, lighthearted, with delicious food made from local ingredients.

We had a delicious meal, drank a lot of wine, and were very taken with one local artist's work. We like to come home from a big trip with one special purchase to remember the trip by, something local and handcrafted - a piece of pottery, a drawing, a sweater. We hadn't seen anything on this trip, and we never buy things just to buy, so we haven't gotten anything more than a pair of fun fish earrings for me. Then we saw these wonderful paintings and boxes by Doug Bird. They depict the painted houses of Newfoundland and St. John's, which I love - and I love them a little more because they look like Ireland. Before I knew it, out comes the credit card and our server (also named Laura) is wrapping up a mirror with three painted houses on it, and a box.

Now we're watching the Red Sox on Allan's laptop. Tomorrow we're taking a boat tour through some fjords, then going kayaking? Is that true??

Random note. At the lookout point in Norris Point, we pulled into the parking lot right next to another car exactly like the one we are driving. When we got out, we saw the license plates were only one number different! As we were laughing about it, people were walking back to the car. When I asked, "Is this your car?", they were a little wary or nervous, until I said, "Look, this is our car!" Of course, they rented it from the same place in St. John's. Later on, Allan saw it parked outside a room at our motel. Strange but true vacation coincidences.

Hey, happy Pride Week, everyone! The War Resisters Support Campaign will be marching in the parade, which will be a fun surprise for some of our resisters who are new to Toronto. I'm sorry to be missing all the fun, but of course if I were home, I'd be working anyway.

Pictures of the Arches are here.

6.27.2008

port au choix

This is a very interesting place, and a beautiful one. If you are ever driving the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland, I highly recommend a day's stop at Port au Choix.

After breakfast at the B&B, we went back to the Visitors Centre for a video and a better look at the artifacts there. These are among the best preserved prehistoric artifacts you will see anywhere, thanks to the area's alkaline soil. Also, the Dorset Indians and the Paleoeskimos were expert toolmakers who knew how to best exploit the rich resources they found. The arrowheads, toggle harpoons, needles (made of antler), sled runners (made of bone), spear heads and all the tools displayed were so perfect and fine, quite impressive.

Excavations began in this area in the 1960s, after a local resident found skeletal remains while digging a basement. It is still being excavated, and the work could continue for decades without ever being complete.

As the climate changed, cooling and heating and cooling again over thousands of years, different peoples populated this area, but all thrived in it. Some were around for centuries, others for thousands of years. All of them - the Maritime Archaic Indians, Dorset Paleoeskimos, Groswater Paleoeskimos, and Recent Indians (recent in archaeological terms, but still prehistoric) - lived many times longer than modern Canada or the US has existed.

All evidence shows that these peoples lived long and healthy lives in sustainable societies. All are gone now. Some of them are the ancestors of the Beothuks, who are now completely extinct. Some are the ancestors of the Inuit. Others, like the Dorset, have no known direct descendants.

After checking out the Visitors Centre, we hiked to the main excavation sites, those of the Dorsets, who left an especially impressive record. Now the sites are quiet meadows of low-lying plants a short distance from a rocky shoreline in a sheltered bay. Thousands of years ago, they would have been alive with human activity.

The digging was going on while we were there, as it is every day weather permits. When we walked over, a young archaeologist came over to greet us. He explained that at the moment they are working on an area between two dwelling areas that was probably used for processing seals. At this location, seals were the Dorset Indians' primary source of food, clothing and shelter.

While we were asking questions and hearing about the work, another archaeologist came over with a piece they had found that morning - a section of a sled runner, made from whalebone. The whalebone was probably scavenged from a beached whale. It would have been connected to the sealskin sled with seal sinew. We asked her how they knew what it was when they found it, and what would happen to it next. It was fascinating.

This is the largest Dorset site in the world. Our interpreter (who is from St. John's) told us that there is enough material here for five lifetimes of excavation and study. It was really fun to see the work going on right before our eyes.

It was cool out today, but not raining, so we were happy. We picked up some food for lunch in the town supermarket, then went for another hike.

This one began with a French oven, a working replica of the outdoor, communal ovens once used in France. These ovens were built in seven Newfoundland towns as part of celebrations in 2004, commemorating 100 years since France gave up its claims on the waters off Newfoundland, a milestone in Newfoundland independence. Although the Treaty of Utrecht [1713] gave Newfoundland to the English, France was still permitted to fish the shores and operate offshore fisheries. The French boats were floating salt-cod processing factories; they fished, salted the cod and sailed back to France without ever coming ashore. We've heard about the French fisheries, and the long struggles between the English and the French over Newfoundland, in several places. This area we're in now is also known as the French Shore. Apparently the first Europeans to fish here were Basque, quickly followed by French, Spanish and Portuguese.

Anyway, this outdoor brick oven was the start of a hike along the coastline that led to the site of an early European settlement. The coast is rocky but low-lying, none of the dramatic cliffs we've seen elsewhere. The plants are all short and scrubby, spongy when you walk on them. Yellow and white wildflowers are in bloom. Seagulls wheel overhead, and the occasional fishing boat chugs by. It was very peaceful. We sat on rocks and watched the water for a while.

The Dorset site and the oven are on opposite sides of a small harbour, where there are a few houses, a few fishing boats, and piles of lobster traps. It's pretty, but not exactly a hub of activity. There's a factory in town where cold-water shrimp is processed. There are a few restaurants and B&Bs - and a lot of boarded up buildings, and for-rent and for-sale signs. Once again, if it weren't for Parks Canada and the cultural work going on here, this town would scarcely exist.

We called ahead and made reservations for the next two nights in Rocky Harbour, a town outside Gros Morne National Park. Please contact your nearest weather deity and request clear skies for us. Thank you.

There are no pubs or cafes within a 100-kilometer radius, at least. The "lounge" in town (a metal shed connected to a motel) has a handwritten sign posted: "Disco Tonight". Scary! I'm tempted to stop by and see what that means, but we have the Red Sox on our laptops tonight.

Random note. We notice that Parks Canada does not use the designations "BC" and "AD" for dates; it uses "BP" for "Before Present". For example, interpretative information will say, "The peoples who lived in this area 4500 years ago" rather than "...who lived here around 2500 BC." Perhaps Canadian readers know about this already, maybe you all grew up with this in Canada? It's new to me. In fact, when I was writing about ancient civilizations for a US and European publisher in 2005, we were using BC and AD.

This "xxx years ago" designation is certainly more accurate, and dispenses with the ridiculous Christian-centricity of dating the whole world according to the supposed birth year of one supposed man-god. I think it's also easier for most people to think about some number of years ago, as opposed to subtracting to the year 1, then adding back to the BC dates, which run backwards.

My only question is what is the baseline for "the present"? When we say "before present time," the present time will keep changing. But perhaps this doesn't matter, because we're talking about centuries or millennium, and 50 years give or take is not important. I'm sure some readers know.

Random note. I was in error: the locals don't say "Port Oh Shwah". They say "Porto Swaz". It sounds like a Salad Nicoise.

Pictures of Port au Choix are here.

6.26.2008

st. anthony to port au choix

After my two-second whale spotting and our decision to take a boat tour in St. Anthony, we gave up trying to find anyplace to hang out in town. We picked up some food in a supermarket and went back to our room to get warm and dry, blog, and watch the Red Sox game online. But our frustrating and annoying day wasn't over yet: bad weather caused our host's satellite connection to fritz out. Sigh.

We got up very early for a 9:00 boat tour. It was cold, windy and still raining, but we were bundled up and ready. And the boat was cancelled. Sigh.

As it turned out, we didn't need to be in St. Anthony at all. We could have stayed in L'Anse aux Meadows, saved ourselves a lot of driving back and forth, and probably hit a ranger tour at Burnt Cape. Annoying. But you know, these things happen. L'Anse aux Meadows was terrific, and we had no way of knowing how the rest of it would work out, and obviously no control over the weather.

So we stripped off a few layers and hit the road. An early-morning start meant I was driving again. Plus, Allan had popped a couple of Gravol for the boat, but since there was no boat, he was pretty out of it. I was really just driving his bed. It wasn't pouring, but visibility was very low, so I took it slow. Every once in a while I would prod Allan awake so he could change the music.

The towns along this northern coast are small and look pretty desolate. There's usually a gas station, a convenience store and maybe a restaurant on the main road, then a turn-off to a group of houses and docks. All along the roadsides, there are stacks of lobster traps, timber and the occasional garden. Much of the route is at sea level, and although it's always beautiful to see the water and waves, it's a lonely seascape up here.

Around the town of Flowers Cove (one of the dozens of Cove-named villages), there's a turn-off signposted to "Marjorie Bridge and Thrombolites". Blink and you miss it, but the description in our guidebook prompted us to take a look. We parked on the side of the road and walked on a plank boardwalk to a little wooden bridge with a red roof, spanning a creek. A sign said this bridge connected the residents of Flowers Cove to the rest of the coast for more than 100 years. It's named after the bridge-builder's daughter.

Beyond the bridge, a trail led to the shore, where the thrombolites are lying about the rocky beach. If you've never heard of thrombolites, you're in good company; we never had either. They are big boulders that are shaped like round-petalled flowers, and are actually the fossils of algae and bacteria. They are 650 million years old, making them the records of the earliest known life on earth. What's more, they are only found in a few places on earth - in Australia, and in northern Newfoundland. At least, this is what I understand. If you know more about these strange things, please do explain. A photo of the Flowers Cove thrombolites is here, hiding among the ads. Websites about the Australian thrombolites make them sound like structures made of living micro-organisms, not fossils.

In Flowers Cove, there are two very large flower-shaped boulders and about a dozen smaller boulders with the same distinct fossil markings. The thrombolites stand out among the other rocks in colour, shape and size, but if no one had pointed them out to us, we would never know they were there. There's no sign or interpretative information, just a roadside signpost marking the turn-off.

Allan was still in Gravol-land, but he did come out to see these strange things. I poked around the rocks and seaweed a bit. There were beautiful shells with mother-of-pearl, and lots of seaweed, and the rain had let up to a drizzle.

We had coffee and soup in a roadside joint (note: not all Newfies are friendly) and drove on. Further down 430, we took another turn-off to Bird Cove. We drove through a small village, onto a dirt road, punishing our poor little rental car as if it were a four-wheel-drive jeep. When the road ended, we hiked down a boardwalk, then a trail. There were supposed to be signposts and excavated artifacts of the area's aboriginal peoples, the Dorset Indians and the Archaic Maritime Peoples. Nothing.

One trail led to a little spit of land called Dog Peninsula, where some of the area's earliest European settlers lived. There were some fence posts and abandoned gardens, but I'd say there were used pretty recently. No homestead remains, no aboriginal remains. Do you see a pattern developing?

It was a nice hike, though. We saw lots of animal tracks and droppings, but no animals, which is just as well, as the tracks were quite large. I got the chance to use my latest naturalist knowledge: identifying the cloudberry, which the locals called "bakeapple". It grows low to the ground, each plant sending up one white flower which yields one berry. They are everywhere around here; people use them for pies, jam and sometimes liqueur or wine. At L'Anse aux Meadows, we learned the origin of the name bakeapple: the French called these berries baie qu'appelle.

Back on the paved road, an interpretation centre looked more than closed - it looked abandoned. Perhaps it's time to update those Moon guidebooks?

Between Flowers Cove and Port au Choix, the weather cleared considerably, and by the time I saw the turn-off to Port au Choix, the sun was peeking through the clouds and Allan was more awake. Our first-choice B&B had a vacancy and we grabbed it. Since we have no cell phone service, internet access is a top priority, so I can keep in touch with Katherine The Dogsitter and not worry about our girls.

We have a tiny little room - we have to put one suitcase in a closet and another in the bathroom in order to walk around! But it's clean and comfy, it has a private bathroom, comes with a full breakfast and our host may just win the Friendliest Newfie Innkeeper Award, which is saying something.

Port au Choix is a National Historic Site, and after settling in, we drove over to the visitors' centre. A guide gave an overview of the area, which was - and still is - rich in the remains of several different aboriginal groups. He described the area as one big food basket, a wealth of land and marine animals as well as edible plants, so it attracted many migratory hunter-gatherers over thousands of years.

We just stayed for the talk; we're saving our own explorations for tomorrow. The sun was out, which felt glorious. Right now I wouldn't care if it was freezing cold - in fact, I'd enjoy it - if only it would stay sunny.

st. anthony / l'anse aux meadows

[Wednesday, June 25]

This morning we learned that we can stay in this B&B a second night, if we don't mind sharing a bathroom with our host, which we don't. So after breakfast, we moved our bags upstairs, cancelled our reservation at the motel next door, and drove to L'Anse aux Meadows, about 50 km away. (We passed the turn-off for it on the way to St. Anthony yesterday.)

As you drive out to L'Anse, the landscape becomes very barren - rock, moss, low-lying plants, almost like tundra. We passed a moose on our way to the visitors' centre. He was busy feeding and took no notice of people staring at him from a distance. He was still there, still eating, when we came out.

L'Anse aux Meadows was the first location ever listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was the first point of European contact with the New World, and also the first site of iron-making in the New World. The Vikings came to this place four times over the course of 10 or 20 years, 500 years before Christopher Columbus would make his fateful journey. The Vikings didn't stay. They got their asses kicked by the native peoples and never tried again.

Two Scandinavian researchers, Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine Ingstad, a husband and wife team, rediscovered the site in the 1960s. They knew the Vikings had traveled from their native lands, to the Shetland and Faroe Islands (off the northern coast of Scotland), to Iceland, then to Greenland. They also knew the Vikings had continued their sea journeys, and the routes they likely took, so felt certain the Vikings must have bumped into North America.

Meanwhile, northern Newfoundlanders knew there were ancient sites on their land, but always assumed they were Indian ruins. Our guide, who grew up on the spit of land that is L'Anse aux Meadows, played among these sites as a child. He said it was lucky for all of us that nobody knew they were Viking sites, or they would have been plundered in search of treasure. The community was flabbergasted when they learned their Indian sites were really the remains of Viking settlements.

The Scandinavian researchers, and later Parks Canada, found the foundations of huts, forges, places where ships would have been dry-docked and repaired, and all manner of tools.

At the site today, there's a good interpretation centre, with information on both the Vikings and the archeology, and a boardwalk and trail that leads down to the sites themselves. Parks Canada re-covered the sites with sod, to preserve them for possible further excavation at a later date. In one small area, there's a recreation of the Viking huts and a forge, but I got a lot more out of the our guide's talk than I did from the fake stuff.

L'Anse aux Meadows was perhaps less thrilling than some other ancients sites we've seen, because the Vikings didn't leave the impressive tangible remains that you can see in some other places. But even so, it's wonderful to think that these ancient people were here, with this ingenious technology - their sea-going boats, their iron-making - trying to establish a new home, so far from the world they knew.

We know that explorations such as these, by other people from other countries, often touched off the most terrible and heartbreaking chains of event for the native peoples. Much of those events were caused by the attitudes and beliefs of the newcomers. (Not all, though. Much was also caused by the native people's lack of immunity to European diseases, and by their lack of European technology.)

Yet the explorations themselves were inevitable. People had the means to explore, and they wanted to use it to enrich themselves and their cultures. Also, they simply wanted to explore. Usually when we visit ancient sites, I think about the people who were conquered and who disappeared. Today I was thinking about the explorers.

* * * *

Our guide had many interesting things to say about the land he grew up in, the very northern tip of Newfoundland. The area didn't have electricity until the 1970s. His family had a battery-operated radio, but his dad wouldn't let them use it; he was saving the batteries for listening to Saturday night hockey. (This prompted an annoyingly long discussion among other people on the tour about various hockey radio announcers.)

Until the 1950s, the people of L'Anse aux Meadows traveled out of their community only by boat or dogsled. St. Anthony's, now a 40-minute drive away, was a full day's journey by boat. In the 1950s, they got "the Bombardiers" - snowmobiles - and people stopped keeping dog teams.

When the Scandinavian researchers came to the village, they were aided by a man who was the unofficial town spokesperson, a kind of unelected mayor. Our guide's description of that role reminded me of how many ancient small societies functioned - by consensus, with a leader who emerged naturally through personality and inclination. I think it's somewhat remarkable that a North American town in the latter half of the 20th Century was still working that way.

Our guide - who looked a lot like as younger Levon Helm and sounded a lot like a Newfie Red Green - fishes, hunts, builds boats, and makes his own tools. His father and his grandfather were both highly skilled fishermen and boat builders. He denigrated his own skills as compared to theirs, but then, he's had to develop skills his forebears would not have needed.

None of his siblings chose to stay in the area, and his children have all left, too. If it weren't for Parks Canada, he said he'd be in Alberta or on a trawler "nort' o' sixty". He is very grateful that he is able to stay in this place that he loves so deeply. "We need people to come here, or we'll all be gone to Alberta."

There was someone on our tour who spoke with a Scandinavian accent, and a Toronto-area man whose father and grandfather grew up nearby. Each exploring some of their heritage, I suppose, which is very nice. The UNESCO ethic teaches that these sites are all of our heritage, as humans. Even nicer.

* * * *

After leaving L'Anse aux Meadows, our day became frustrating and annoying. And wet. We tried to visit Burnt Cape Ecological Reserve, said to be a hidden gem of the Northern Peninsula. It is home to a variety of unusual fauna and geological formations. The park is not marked or interpreted, so it's best viewed with a guided tour from a provincial park ranger. Unfortunately, our timing was off for the tour, and it had started to rain again, and was very foggy.

We drove around the site - on an unpaved, rutted road, in the pouring rain, seeing nothing - and finally gave up. Even if we had snagged a tour, visibility would have been minimal. We're also starting to wonder what the weather will be like in Gros Morne. We're good about not complaining about weather and just going with the flow, but if the rain keeps up, that portion of the trip will be sunk.

The other attraction in the L'Anse aux Meadows area is Norstead, a commercial site that's a recreation of a Viking port and village. We skipped it, although if time was unlimited and the weather had been better, we would have gone.

* * * *

Back in St. Anthony's, it was now pouring. We drove around in search of a pub or tea room or lounge, but found nothing. Nothing! We drove to the very end of town, Fishing Point Park, where there's a lookout for whale and iceberg watching. Despite the steady rain, I insisted on getting out of the car for whatever view there was. Allan reluctantly followed me.

We were standing at the looking point, talking... and I saw a whale! I grabbed Allan's arm and shouted, "Whale whale there's a whale!" and he turned around in time to see it breach.

It was only for a moment, but it was exciting! And maybe a little extra exciting because it happened on our own, without a boat or guide.

We walked on in the rain on the lookout trail and watched and watched some more. We were soaked, and cold, but I kept thinking, one more minute, just one more try. Then, through the rain and fog and my wet glasses, I saw something on the horizon. An iceberg. It was very far away, and obscured by fog and rain, but there it was.

Before this, we had been talking in circles about what to do the next day. There were several possibilities, all fun, but each would mean not doing something else. After catching a glimpse of a whale and an iceberg, I knew we had to take one last boat ride and try again. And even if we see "only" one iceberg or catch a glimpse of just one whale, still, we're here, we should give it a shot.

So tomorrow morning we'll wake up early, take one more boat ride, then head down the coast, halfway to Gros Morne, to Port Au Choix. (By the way, the locals do say "Port Oh Shwa". I half-expect to hear "Port Oh Choicks".)

Random note. All through the Northern Peninsula, as you drive up the highway - a rural route, one lane in each direction - along the roadside, there are little gardens marked off with stakes and twine and the occasional scarecrow. These are people's personal vegetable gardens. Because most of the soil is rocky and not fertile, people plant gardens wherever they can find a patch of fertile soil. So some people drive a fair distance just to tend their garden.

Random note. One feature of the local dialect we find amusing is the addition of a leading H to any word that begins with a vowel. "Haboriginal people," "hicebergs in the bay," "Hindian land". When you add the dropping of initial Hs ("ome", "ardy", "ouse"), you get some amusing combinations. For example, our guide was nostalgic for "hamateur ockey".

People also say "yis" (as in "yis, I agree"). It sounds exactly like the guys from Flight of the Conchords, that is, New Zealanders.

Pictures of L'Anse aux Meadows are here.

6.25.2008

grand falls to st. anthony

[Sunday, June 23]

I forced us to get out early this morning, which means I'm the driver for a several hours before Allan is fully awake. It was sunny and warm, but that proved to be deceptive. This was a driving day. We weren't sure how far we'd get, but were planning on staying somewhere on the Northern Peninsula. The idea was to get up to L'Anse Aux Meadows as quickly as possible, then take our time getting back. Newfies pronounce the site name in English: Lance-Oh-Meadows.

The Trans-Canada was empty and fast, as always, and the scenery was green and beautiful. There is so much water here - bay, inlets, ponds, creeks, streams. Water and rock, water and rock.

At Deer Lake we picked up the 430, which runs along the western coast of the Northern Peninsula, from Deer Lake to St. Anthony (said "Sinnantiny"). Route 430 also runs through Gros Morne National Park, and the scenery becomes very dramatic there, with ridge upon ridge of green mountains marching off into the distance.

Right about the time it was time change drivers, it started to rain. Then it rained harder. Then harder. It was raining about as hard as it can rain, positively teeming, and when it wasn't raining, it was heavily fogged. Since there was no scenery to be seen, and if we had stopped we would have been stuck in a motel room for the rest of the day, we figured we might as well keep driving. And keep driving. And we made it all the way from Grand Falls to Sinnantiny in one go, which we hadn't expected.

Allan wanted to stop sooner, but I was for pushing onward. I was only hoping that moose don't like to be out of the woods in the driving rain. The fog was so thick that if there was a moose in the road, I might not be typing this right now. We drove carefully and stayed alert (which everyone warns you about here, all the time, with good reason). We did finally see a moose, standing on the side of the road, stock still. Big. Big big.

When we stopped for a bite to eat and a driving break, I called a B&B in Sinnantiny and found an inexpensive room with internet access on the first try. It's a lovely place, but it's not available for a second night. So on our way back from dinner in town, we stopped at a motel, confirmed that they have wireless internet, and booked a room for the next night.

We had dinner at a nicer (more upscale) place that we usually do, only because that's what we found first, and it was too long a day to look further. We ordered our new favourite local dish, and wouldn't you know it, the fish cakes and baked beans weren't half as good as they were at the roadside diner.

St. Anthony is the town closest to the L'Anse aux Meadows, the Viking archeology site. Everything here is named Viking This and Norse That. The town also celebrates the medical missionary Wilfred Grenfell, whose life's work was based here. I don't think we'll get to the Grenfell Premises, at least not if it's sunny, as we have several other priorities. It's also our last shot at whales for this trip.

Random note. At most restaurants here, the server does not bring a bill (US: check) to your table. When you're ready to leave, you walk up to the cash (US: register or cashier) and someone totals it up for you. When we do that, we've already left a tip on the table, but I think people expect you to tip when you're paying. I've encountered a few sour looks and cold shoulders as I wait for change.

Random note. On the way to Twillingate, there were many signs for various B&Bs, hotels and tourist attractions. Many of the signs look very old and unsophisticated, like signs I used to see traveling with my family 35 years ago. One such sign had four crudely drawn pictures: a lobster trap, a lobster, a big cooking pot, and the fourth... a stick of butter! As we drove by, we said to each other, "What was that sign? Was that butter?!" We've been laughing about it ever since.

Of course, if I want to burst out laughing, all I have to do is think, "That's a really big hook."

twillingate to grand falls

[Saturday, June 22]

This was our last morning on the east coast of Newfoundland, and our second consecutive sunny, warm day, likely a record that we won't see broken. Before we headed out, I wanted one last look at the massive iceberg that was still hanging around the harbour. As we checked out of the motel, the desk clerk said she was up by the lighthouse the night before, and of course she saw a whale. "Comin' right up out of the water, it was." Is everyone really seeing whales when we're not around, or is this an elaborate trick the locals play on the mainlanders?

After checking the iceberg - still there, still huge - we drove down the peninsula to Boyd's Cove. In that town, there's an interpretation centre about the Beothuks, the aboriginal people of Eastern Newfoundland. The Beothuks (pronounced "bee-othic," to rhyme with "gothic") were a culture of migratory hunter-gatherers who lived on and near the coast. Two hundred and fifty years after the first Europeans began to settle on the land, they were completely extinct.

Ralph Pastore, an archaeologist, searched the area for signs of Beothuk encampments, and found them in Boyd's Cove. The site turned out to be a treasure trove of artifacts and clues about Beothuk life. The museum we visited, a provincial park, displays artifacts, tells about Beothuk life (and their demise), and also emphasizes the methods and processes through which Pastore and his team derived the information. It was very well done. A trail that led to the site was wooded, secluded - and teeming with black flies and mosquitoes. Even with protection, we were both attacked.

Further down the peninsula, we stopped at a roadside restaurant and had a thoroughly delicious meal of two local specialties. Allan had "squid rings," what calamari is called here, which he never misses an opportunity to eat, and I had fish cakes and baked beans. The fish cakes were more like fish pancakes - crispy on the outside, and soft and fluffy on the inside. The baked beans were cooked in molasses and bacon, and were one of those "I didn't know this food could taste like this" experiences. I love eating in tiny, hole-in-the-wall places and stumbling on a truly delicious meal.

Further on, we drove around another small town looking for a laundromat, and spent a few hours getting clean clothes. From there, it was on to Grand Falls, where Newfie Campaign Friend grew up. Grand Falls is inland, and was settled relatively recently (compared to the fishing towns), in the late 1930s. I haven't had cell phone service since Clarenville, but we did find a pay phone so I could give NCF's mom a head's up.

NCFsM greeted us both with hugs, and five minutes later was insisting we spend the night there, and telling us what was for dinner. We wanted to take her out, but she wouldn't hear of it: cod au grautin was already in the oven. (That's another local standard, pronounced "cod-oh-grottin".)

NCFsM, Allan and I talked about Newfoundland, and the NCF family, and Canada, and pretty much everything. NCF likes to say that she is first generation Canadian-born, a bit of a puzzle since everyone knows she is from Newfoundland. But of course Newfoundland wasn't in Canada until NCFsM was a young adult.

We learned that the guides at Bonavista Lighthouse don't have the correct genealogy, and that NCF is also related to the Ryans of the Ryan Premises. We heard a story about some bad blood between the Ryans and our friend William Coaker of the FPU, who of course were on opposite sides of the political spectrum.

And speaking of politics, we also learned that NCFsM opposes Canada's presence in Afghanistan. She vehemently opposes US militarism and any Canadian support for it, and believes most people she knows feel the same way. She wants to see Canada return to peacekeeping, because "there's no such thing as winning this kind of war. There are only losers."

We had a truly lovely evening.

6.22.2008

twillingate

We didn't get an early start this morning, but there's something about these lazy seaside towns that discourage rushing. But it's a glorious warm and sunny day, something to be treasured here, and you do want to stay outside as much as possible.

After breakfast, we drove around Twillingate's little harbour to the tour boat company that has the best reputation. Cecil Stockley has been in business 25 years, about 15 years longer than there has been a regular tourist trade in Twillingate. We booked a 1:00 boat, then headed farther down the road, just to see what was out there. Not 50 feet later, as the car came up over a hill, we saw a huge iceberg sitting out in the bay. It's a remarkable sight. It seems completely out of place, like it dropped from the sky.

We drove further out, thinking we could walk onto one of the headlands for a good view, but the berg disappeared. The roads are winding, and there are so many more inlets and coves than you think, you can't easily figure out how to view the berg. When we parked in one little cove, two women came by with stories of where they had seen it and how. The tourists here all bore each other with stories of where they saw icebergs or whales, or where they didn't see them but other people did, or where they hope to see them later.

Eventually it was time for our boat, and who is on the dock but the couple who shared our crabfest in Bonavista. This is one thing I dislike - seeing the same people on a travel "circuit". It makes me feel so touristy. But it's happened to us in many places, so I suppose it's inevitable.

The "Iceberg Alley" boat holds only 20 people, and it was only half full, which was nice. Cecil Stockley was excellent - very knowledgeable, friendly and without any hokey "entertainment". He said since there was only one iceberg in the vicinity right now, we'd go out whale-watching, and "god willing, we'll see one or two," then head over to the iceberg and check it out thoroughly.

On the way out of the harbour we saw a bald eagle high in the cliffs. The sun was sparkling on the water. All was completely calm. The moment was almost ruined by a BC man who couldn't stop yakking, but even he eventually entered into the spirit of the moment and shut the hell up.

Cecil said the morning boat had seen a Minke, which is the smallest whale, and one or two had been spotted last week. We've confirmed that it's a bit early for whales, and a bit late for icebergs, but it's possible to see either or both this time of year. Cecil said the only time he'll say you won't see a whale is when the tour ends and you haven't seen one. You never know.

Well, still no whale. We'll have a couple more chances on this trip. If we leave without having seen a whale, we just might have to return to Newfoundland. A few days in St. John's and a few days on the Avalon smack in the middle of whale season may be in our future.

When the boat headed towards the iceberg, the temperature dropped a bit. In this case it was refreshing, as we were overly bundled up for the sunny day. (When we took a boat tour in Alaska, as we headed into a glacial cove, it was like entering a giant walk-in freezer.) Cecil navigated as close to the iceberg as was safe, although apparently you can never be sure how big it is.

We were all riveted. It's massive, and looks totally different from every angle and in different light and shadow. Parts are polished smooth, and other parts are ridged or cross-hatched. The different textures are caused by the water and wind erosion, and by the constant splitting, turning and flipping of the iceberg. The berg erodes from the bottom, and as it does, its centre of gravity changes. It becomes imbalanced, until it eventually flips over, and a different part sticks out.

The berg we were watching was hollowed out in the centre, with two arms forming a little harbour. It also had three finger-like projections, like a claw, sticking up on the top. Cecil estimated that it was about 150 feet high. It's also 100,000 or 200,000 years old. It left Greenland three to five years ago, breaking apart and shrinking as it traveled. In a few weeks it will no longer exist.

While we were circling the berg, it made a few loud cracks, like a small explosion - the sound of the ice expanding. We were all hoping to see a piece break off and fall into the water, but that didn't happen while we were there.

Cecil mused on why these bergs command our attention this way. I liked that, because I always think about those kinds of things. Why do we all love to see wild animals? What is it about natural phenomena that stirs us so deeply?

Some of it must be the novelty. Most of us don't see icebergs where we live. Cecil thought that could only be a small portion of the attraction, as he sees them all the time and never tires of it.

They are extremely beautiful - Allan used the word "majestic" - and to think that this just happens, that no one sets about creating it, is quite amazing. But I don't know... there is something I can't articulate. I just appreciate the feeling.

That was really all we did on the boat - saw an eagle, looked for whales, and examined one iceberg - but it was great. The area itself is impossibly scenic. From the water, you see the little white houses clustered by the shore, as if they're clinging to their little footholds between rock and sea. Behind them is only rock. And out into the bay, rocky promontories and jagged cliffs jut out, one after the next, but no two alike.

After the boat ride, we had to get more of that seafood chowder, then spent the rest of the day driving or walking around admiring the scenery. On the way out to one lookout, I suddenly saw the iceberg across the bay. We pulled over and watched it between two houses. We went up to another lookout and scanned the horizon for whales... nothing.

I had more snow crabs for dinner; I had to pay for these, and I had to work on them myself, but it was still wonderful. Before we headed back to the room for the night, we drove out for one more glimpse of the iceberg. It looked completely different.

A huge piece had sheered off and a dozen or so smaller "bergy bits" were in the water alongside it. We were very far away and could see the pieces without binoculars, so they must have been sizeable. With the binos, you could tell the change was massive.

Back at the room, I'm blogging and Allan is watching today's Red Sox game in the MLB archives.

Tomorrow we will drive to Grand Forks, where NCF is from, and visit her mother and possibly her father and his wife as well. From there, we'll continue working our way west, then up the Great Northern Peninsula, for the next portion of the trip.

I've been emailing with Katherine The Dogsitter. Everyone seems to be fine, including her two bunny rabbits who are living in our spare bedroom (in their cage). Now Katherine understands why I was so concerned about having rabbits in the same house as Tala. Tala is a hunter, and I'd like Katherine's bunnies to live past July 2. But all the precautions we've taken seem to be working, and with any luck, both the bunnies and Tala will eventually settle down.

Random note. Our running gag is to tell each other about all the whales and other great wildlife that the other one missed. If one of us goes to the washroom or looks down to change the film or get something from the backpack, the other deadpans, "Don't you love it when the whales do that? Oh too bad you missed it." Or one of us says, "Was that before or after those seven whales swam by?" "Whale! Just kidding" will also work.

This Google image search might give you an idea of what I'm going on about.

Pictures of Twillingate are here.

bonavista to twillingate

[Saturday, June 21]

Saturday morning, and most of the day, was chilly and drizzly. Everyone here talks about the weather all the time. Even taking into account the usual small-talk, this seems unusual. I imagine when you live in a place where the weather is constantly changing, and where a warm, sunny day is a minor event, and then throw in the influence of a maritime culture, where weather could mean life or death, it makes sense.

And everyone has been complaining about the weather, too. It hasn't seemed so bad to me - we've usually been comfortable with a light jacket, and only once had to really bundle up - but when you consider that it's late June, perhaps they've got a point. It was only when fellow guests at the B&B complained that it bothered me. Hell, you don't come to Newfoundland for the weather. And if sunny weather is that important to you, then wait for July and put up with the crowds. Grumble, grumble.

This mild irritation is the perfect lead-in to our breakfast on Saturday. On Friday morning we ate with our hosts, but this morning the table is full - us, a couple from BC, the couple from northern Ontario we met the night before and Teddy-Bear Guy.

TBG is declaiming loudly, holding court, making speechlets. He has a bad case of look-at-me-ism. Plus several disgusting personal habits that make it very difficult to look at him at all. Plus I haven't had my first cup of coffee. I can tell Allan is quietly gritting his teeth.

When TBG finally leaves - he had finished his breakfast a long time ago, and is just hanging around to make speeches - the atmosphere in my head improves considerably. But even making travel small-talk with the other couples (who are perfectly nice people) reminds me why we usually don't prefer B&Bs.

We settle up our ridiculously tiny bill, and thank Albert and Florence profusely. They see us off with directions and well-wishes as if we are family.

The plan is to drive down the Bonavista Peninsula to Clarenville, back to the Trans-Canada Highway to Gander, then turn off towards Twillingate. But first we want to stop at Port Union. Port Union represents a fascinating piece of history, and our stop there leads to one of our funniest travel moments, ever.

Port Union bills itself as Canada's only union-made town. It was founded in 1916 by William Ford Coaker, who began Canada's first fisherman's union, the Fisherman's Protective Union. Through Coaker's FPU, fishers and their families challenged the "merchant system," which was the maritime equivalent of sharecropping. The merchant - the big boss - owned everything. Fishers paid for all their essentials - tools, flour, anything - out of their catch and lived on credit. The system was designed to keep fishers in a constant state of poverty and debt.

Coaker encouraged community self-sufficiency, and unionism, and under his methods fisher communities lifted themselves out of poverty and began to thrive. The union motto was "To each his own".

The FPU formed a political party, and in 1912 ran on a platform of radical social change. In 1913, the FPU held eight seats in Newfoundland's House of Assembly. The FPU morphed into several different unions, but to this day, most fishers and fish-processing workers in Newfoundland are unionized.

It's a fascinating piece of labour - and of course, Newfoundland and Canadian - history. As its home is just down the road from Bonavista, we wanted to stop by. In Port Union, there's a small museum about Coaker, who was knighted in 1923, along with his home and grave. There's also an exhibit about the Fisherman's Advocate, the union newspaper that was an integral part of its organizing. Sounds perfect for us, eh? That's what we thought.

We purchased tickets, and the women hanging about introduced us to our guide. We'll call him Unintentionally Hilarious Tour Guide.

Now, Allan and I have taken guided tours or ranger talks on our travels together for more than 20 years, and I've been in this habit all my life, first from travel with my parents, then then on my own. Almost without exception, guides are very knowledgeable about their subject, offering context that illuminates whatever we're seeing, whether that is natural wonders or political history.

UHTG was in his 20s, and most likely intellectually disabled. Please know that we were nothing but polite and friendly to him. I'm certain no one else in Port Union knew what we were thinking.

As soon as UHTG started his talk, I knew something was wrong. He told a short story, probably memorized by rote, that was disjointed and out of context. The opening sentence: "We don't know what the workers earned, but after the strike, they made fifty cents an hour." What workers? What strike? What year is his? Then the Fisherman's Protective Union is formed. "On November 2, they held their first meeting." I asked, "Excuse me, what year is that?" He didn't know, but thought about it for a minute and decided on 1908. This was strange, but not yet ridiculous.

A few minutes later, UHTG told a story about the fishermen's opposition to the war, and how Coaker voted for the war anyway. (I haven't verified that.) The story had jumped around a lot, and we didn't know what year we were in, or even what war he was referring to. Allan asked, "Which war?" UHTG drew a blank. Allan said politely, "Was it World War I, or World War II?" UHTG: "Either World War I or World War II. One of those. World War I would have come first, then World War II would have been later." From the exhibit, we later saw that Coaker died in 1938. Oh boy. That's when I decided not to ask any more questions, so as not to possibly embarrass him.

We followed UHTG around, trying to read the printed material as he chattered. The tour included a walk around the old printing machinery used to create The Advocate, guided by a former pressman. He had a very strong accent, spoke very quickly, and although I have no doubt he was an excellent printer, he possessed no skill as a tour guide. But at least it was a break from UHTG.

After the press room, things really deteriorated. Upstairs in the woodworking area, UHTG read the labels on the display cases. "Here we have some saws, here are some nails, here are some hooks. This is a really big hook." He walked quickly through the room, reading the signs to us. "This table used to be over here, and this one was over here. We had to switch them around. It was really hard to do, the tables are very heavy!"

At this point, I feel a fit of giggles coming on, and I'm afraid that if I start to laugh, I will be completely out of control. (I'm laughing as I type this!) Allan and I had exchanged looks behind TG's back a few times, but now I have to stop looking at Allan altogether. I start biting my lip, and occasionally coughing into my hand when laughter threatens to become audible.

We follow UHTG outside, for a stroll past Sir Coaker's house, small bungalows were workers lived, Coaker's grave, and a walk near the bay, from which you can see the boarded-up fish processing plant and the small, active plant where shrimp is now processed. (The Port Union fish-processing plant was the huge employer of our lovely guide in Bonavista, along with everyone else in the area.)

Outside, UHTG seems to lose all memory of what he's supposed to be doing. It's like we're walking around with some guy we met. I am struggling not to burst out in an uncontrollable laughing fit. It's drizzly, so I use that as an excuse to pull the hood of my windbreaker tightly around my head, and I hang back a few steps, so I can't hear anything. It's the only way.

When I do catch some of the "tour", UHTG is pointing out the overgrown grass - "They really should do something about this" - or the poor condition of the town's sad-looking playground. By the time we're back at the bay, he's pointing to pieces of trash and musing on what happens when you feed seagulls.

On our way back to the gift shop, we pass the small Coaker museum without a word, like it's not even there!

Finally we return. I hope I don't need to say that we had no intentions of telling anyone what just happened. I think the rest of the staff doesn't know what goes on on these tours. Allan disagrees, and is convinced that they must know, and not realize how inappropriate it is. Either way is strange, and kind of sad. This is not an official historic site that gets funding from Parks Canada. The entrance fee is steep, but they're never going to attract more visitors like this.

At the gift shop, I want to get something with the FPU logo, a big red U surrounding a fish. There is nothing, not a pin or a keychain or a postcard. There's not even a pamphlet about the FPU, just stuffed puffins and other generic Newfoundland gifts. When I asked about something with the logo on it, a gift-shop employee said other people have asked about it, and she agrees that they ought to sell those.

We talked a little about the union - her husband was a member for 30 years - and how it changed the lives of so many people. She says, "We did well around here. People owned their own homes, and could even save a bit of money. Who ever heard of a fisherman able to save money? The union was everything to us."

Finally we said goodbye, thanking UHTG, shaking his hand, and managing to drive away before we exploded. The whole way down the Bonavista Peninsula, we couldn't stop talking about, alternating between hilarity and incredulity. We didn't learn very much, but as Allan said, we got plenty of material.

We drove to Clarenville, where my cell phone worked, and called a few places to stay in Twillingate. Our first priority was internet access. Being offline for a short time can be refreshing, but being cut off from our dogwalker, my blog and the Red Sox for days was stressful! A few B&Bs were fully booked, but after some phone calls, we found a room at a larger motel. And after our irritating breakfast that morning, the anonymity and privacy of a motel seems like a plus.

Back on the Trans-Canada, we drive on steep hills, past rock outcroppings and scrubby pine forests. The highway cuts through Terra Nova National Park. Every so often the trees give way to a view of a lake, pond, bay or inlet. There is water everywhere.

We exit the highway at Gander, where, surprisingly, I again don't have cell service, so good job we booked our room from Clarenville. The road out to Twillingate is rutted and slow, but the scenery is amazing. There are dozens of ponds and quiet bays, small white houses perched on the water's edge, a more gentle landscape then we had seen before. The road eventually branches out into causeways, as the end of the peninsula is an archipelago of large and small islands.

Towards Twillingate, the land becomes rugged again, with jagged cliffs and spectacular views. Twillingate calls itself the iceberg capital of Newfoundland. There are tour boat companies out here that are supposed to know where all the icebergs and whales have been spotted. As we approach Twillingate, the sun comes out, and suddenly it's summer again.

We find our hotel, and hooray, we're back online! We managed to pull ourselves away from our computers long enough to eat amazing seafood chowder and admire the sun-drenched scenery, then back inside to write more.

Random note: my feet don't hurt! I have had zero foot pain. It was this trip that pushed me to see a podiatrist and get orthotics, and it's really paying off. There's no way I could be doing this otherwise.

6.21.2008

bonavista, second day and night

[Friday, June 20]

After Florence cooked us a full breakfast, including homemade bread and jams, we walked down the street to Ryan Premises, a national historic site. We weren't expecting much, just a town museum and something about the fishing industry, but it turned out to be absolutely fascinating, a must-see if you visit Bonavista.

Ryan Premises is a group of buildings on the harbour, which includes the home of the Ryan family, who owned much of the town, and pretty much owned the fishermen and their families, too. It houses the Bonavista historical society, an collection of artifacts from generations of town families.

The best part of Ryan Premises is an interpretative centre telling the story of the fishing industry in Newfoundland, from its beginning in the 1500s to its demise in the early 1990s. (There's a separate exhibit on sealing.) From it, I gained a much deeper understanding of the history and culture of the province.

The exhibit includes a National Film Board movie called "Taking Stock," about the end of the cod industry (and possibly the end of the northern cod species). It was very moving, and very disturbing. The film takes a strong viewpoint in favour of the "inshore fishermen," which are the people of Bonavista and hundreds of communities like it, whose lives have been bound up in cod fishing for centuries.

The filmmaker compares the destruction of the northern cod stock and its effect on Newfoundlanders to the destruction of the buffalo and its effect on the native peoples of the plains. That's a powerful image, and an apt one. I did realize later that the people of Newfoundland had Canada. For whatever it might have done better, Canada didn't let them just fade away and die.

You know I hate the dilution of language, and I try not to throw around words like tragic and heroic. But if ever there was a tragic story, it's the demise of the northern cod. It is all the more tragic because it was completely preventable, and given what we know about human behaviour, also almost inevitable.

While the movie shows the complexity of blame and responsibility, to my mind this tragedy has some clear villains, too. One species of fish can't be caught twelve months a year, and it can't be caught in massive quantities, hauling in a daily catch as large as most fishermen would see in an entire season. The ocean is not a factory. The cod is not a widget.

The story brings up two themes I've hammered on at wmtc. One, Jared Diamond in Collapse: people thinking they were spending the interest of their environments, when they were actually spending their capital and draining their bank accounts. (In this case, knowingly draining the bank account, because they'd run off with the money while the family stayed behind in poverty.) And two, Michael Pollan on the horrific consequences of trying to apply the principles of mass production to food. Both ideas are brilliantly and tragically illustrated in the complete collapse of a food web and way of life that thrived for 500 years.

After we saw the film, we talked for a while with one of the guides, who grew up in Bonavista. She and her husband - and everyone they knew - worked at the fish processing plant. She told us about her old life - how the increased production from the trawlers brought them a comfort level and prosperity they had never known (who ever heard of middle-class fishermen?), and also how they saw the signs that something was going very wrong, such as the size of the fish getting smaller and smaller.

Then the devastation, the disbelief, the depression, as their entire way of life is made obsolete. Something unthinkable, impossible: the end of commercial cod fishing in Newfoundland.

And then, their options for survival, brought to them by the government. She chose to get more education - none of her family had ever finished high school, and her parents and in-laws had left school to work while still in their single-digits. I could hear this woman had an inner strength and flexibility to persevere against strong odds, and without a lot of support.

She went back to school, then started working for the town museum, at first earning a tiny fraction of her former factory pay. She learned new skills, and worked hard, and eventually landed a highly competitive job with Parks Canada, telling the story of her own culture. It's an excellent job, and she loves it, but unfortunately it is only seasonal (4.5 months out of the year), and she doubts she can advance in the parks service because she doesn't speak French. But she's already done so much - she's transformed herself and her family. I really admire her.

One huge part of the rebirth of a post-fishing Newfoundland is what Allan and I are enjoying right now. I'm told that ten years ago, there was almost no tourism infrastructure here at all. Grants, education programs, and such helped Newfoundlanders build a tourism economy, to share the beauty of their land and culture with us mainlanders.

After the museum, it was back to Marsh's, for more fish and chips (it never ends), then to the Bonavista Lighthouse.

This is a beautiful lighthouse, similar to the one at Cape Spear, but we were there on a special mission. My Newfie-born friend from the War Resisters Campaign - Newfie Campaign Friend, NCF? - sent me there. Her grandmother was born in that lighthouse!

We took a short and very informative tour, and told the tour guides (who are dressed in period costumes) about this connection. They looked it up, and we derived that NCF's grandmother was the youngest child of Nicholas White. Nicholas was the son of Bonavista's very first lighthouse keeper, and took over for his father when he died.

NCF told me to check out the cliffs behind the lighthouse and realize that was this family's backyard. There's a fence there now, of course, but the drop is steep and the rocks are like a dragon's teeth snapping in the air. But they never lost a child over the cliffs, and some lightkeepers' families had as many as 11 children.

Near the lighthouse is a statue of John Cabot (given name Giovanni Caboto!), who may or may not have first touched the New World at Bonavista in 1497. He did "discover" (ahem) this New Found Land, the first toehold of the nascent British Empire, and "legend has it" that was at Cape Bonavista. A replica of his boat, The Matthew, is on display in the town. It also has an interpretative centre, called The Matthew Legacy.

After the lighthouse, we went to Bonavista's little public library. We had been waiting for it to open, as we hadn't had internet access since leaving St. John's. I have no cell phone service either, and I get a little nervous being completely out of touch with our dogsitter. (This comes from one very bad past experience.) I was also anxious to blog, and Allan needed some game information. The library is only open a few hours a day - and not even every day - and there is no other public internet in town.

When the library finally opened, we couldn't do anything but check email. Blogger was blocked! The entire Newfoundland/Labrador Community Access Internet Program cannot access Blogger or any blog created with blogger.

Our hosts had told us that the door would be open all day, and we should feel free to stop in any time and put the kettle on. So we did, and while we were having our tea, we met another guest I'll call Teddy Bear Guy.

Bonavista is celebrating Discovery Days, a local holiday commemorating Cabot's landing. Teddy Bear Guy is performing a children's music event, and whenever he's in, he stays with the Alberts. I don't want to go on about TBG; let's just say "irritating" and leave it at that.

For dinner, we couldn't bear another meal at Marsh's, so we drove out of town a ways and found another little joint, and ate some non-seafood, non-fried food.

Back in Bonavista, we missed the parade that opens the festivities, but settled in at the Orange Hall (like the Legion Hall, but for Orangemen) for some music. Local people drifted in, wearing jackets against the chill, even inside. There were chips and cans of beer or pop for sale, and everyone sat at big folding tables on hard wooden chairs.

The first act was a duo, one man on guitar and one with a concertina, singing Irish or Newfoundland ballads and spinning off reels. They were followed by a man on guitar and harmonica, singing Hank Williams-style country songs, with a few Irish numbers mixed in. We enjoyed them both, but when the next act did a Canadian-style Toby Keith "Canada Is Number One" kind of song, we got ready to leave. They also had a Gordon Lightfoot-influenced folk thing going on, and as you may know, we are not fans of Mr Lightfoot. Besides, it was almost crab time!

Back at the B&B, our crabfest was joined by another couple from Northern Ontario. Albert told the same jokes, Florence walked in at the same time with the same tarts, and I realized we had witnessed an old routine. They seem to love it, and I sincerely hope they do. These folks give so much to their guests, and they could fill their house at twice the rate. In fact, Albert told us that he has never raised the rates in 11 years. They have no employees to pay, they own their home outright, and they live simply but want for nothing. Their daughter is an RCMP officer and their surviving son lives in St. John's. They're a wonderful couple, and I promised I would tell you all about their wonderful home.

That catches us up with last night. Today was fun and accidentally hilarious. I'll write about it tomorrow morning.