Newfoundland/Labrador Day 20: Final stop
Central and eastern Newfoundland can be painted with a palette of two colors: green and blue. Trees of various greens and shapes densely pack the landscape, whether one looks to the ocean or to the interior. There may be parts of Newfoundland that are bereft of trees, but I haven’t seen it. Have a blue brush in your hand? Paint the constant ocean as it swells into the rocky shores or dot your painting with hundreds, no thousands, of streams, rivers, brooks, lakes, ponds, bays, coves. During my entire seven-hour ride today I was probably not out of sight of water for more than five minutes, even if I was away from the nearly always present ocean. (I guess that makes sense. I am on an island, after all, albeit a rather large one.)
I’m still amazed at how wild this land is. There may be some farming on this island, but I haven’t seen it. The land, rocky though it may be, is lush, fecund and covered with very slow-growing trees. It’s easy to see why fishing and logging (and perhaps tourism) are the main industries. It’s also easy to see why the people who live here love it, at least until the blue and green turn white in October when there is apparently a sizable migration to Florida and other warm places.
My final base location is the Whale Watcher B&B, about 20-25 miles south and west of St. John’s on Newfoundland’s southern coast. It’s a cozy building, pine walls and ceilings, a large kitchen and dining area, and a common room with couches, chairs and reading material and seven guest rooms. But best of all it has large, nearly floor-to-ceiling windows that face the ocean and as I sit in the dining area right now I’m watching two whales (type unknown) surfacing and spouting. They are a little way out, near an island across from us, but, I’m told, they were on our side of the sound a little earlier. There’s a wooden deck just outside with Adirondack chairs that I will retire to when I’m finished writing.
Today was mostly spend riding, which of course is always a good thing. The roads were generally good, but on one of the feeder roads I imagined myself back on the Alaska Highway. A small sign indicated road work ahead, and within seconds the asphalt had ended and the gravel–evil gravel–stretched into the distance as far as I could see. And there was no one working on the road. For the next four miles or so I crept along at about 25 bouncing miles per hour, expecting, hoping that the pavement would resume. But the crest of each hill, the apex of each curve only revealed more dusty gravel. Finally, at about mile five a crew was spreading and packing even more gravel, but at least they had a water truck to keep some of the dust down A couple of stops and starts as they moved equipment back and forth across the road and then the asphalt appeared as suddenly as it had disappeared. No harm done. Only a couple of big trucks had passed me going in the opposite lane and they weren’t throwing any gravel. But it did bring back less-than-pleasant memories of the trek north on the Alaska Highway.
I did get up close and personal with a moose today. I ate it. I had a moose burger for dinner in Cape Broyles. Still no luck with moose still wearing hooves. But who knows. There are warning signs everywhere and there have been a couple hundred car-moose encounters so far this year in Newfoundland.
Watch out for flying gravel and I’ll do the same.
Newfoundland/Labrador Day 19: Got Cod?
Today, my last full day in Twillingate (until I come back for another visit), was another good day. Not kayaking-in-the -icebergs-and-hearing-wonderful-local-music great, but it was a very good day.
The day was cool–about 60 degrees–with a little rain from time to time and wind all the time–30 mph with gusts to 40. Certainly not the good weather I’ve had for about 85% of this trip, but not so bad that I couldn’t get out and go places.
There was one more museum I wanted to see, and if time permitted I wanted to get in a hike along the cliffs and the beach at the northern end of the island. So, trying to dodge the intermittent showers, I took off for a short ride to find the “Prime Berth” museum.
Located at the southern end of the island just before crossing the causeway back to the mainland, the “Prime Berth” museum is the brain-child and labor of love of a local fisherman named Dave who wanted to preserve what is clearly a disappearing (disappeared?) way of life. Dave was off on a family errand returning two grandchildren to their St. John’s home, but I met a friend of his–Bill–who took me on a personal tour of the museum and explained things even the best museums tend to miss. Bill has lived all of his 66 years on Twillingate Island except for a brief time away at university where he studied to be a teacher. But, like nearly everyone else of his generation on this small island on the edge of the large Labrador Sea, he had had his hand in the cod industry before electricity, flash freezing, and factory boats helped to destroy cod fishing by overfishing from the 1960s to the 1990s when the practice was ended by government decree.
To my delight, Bill proved more than willing to talk about his childhood and the life of cod-fishing families who braved the dangers of the deep blue sea and tried to survive the rapacious practices of fish merchants who sold them supplies and bought their fish on terms that kept most of the families broke most of the time. The practice reminded me of share cropping in the south.
Dave’s museum, a collection of seven buildings, thousands of artifacts and dozens of cleverly informative displays, is his way of trying to show the process that all cod-fishing families went through day after day, month after month, year after year. Bill talked me through the exhibits (in his distinctive Newfie patois) which showed various ways of catching cod, from baitless jigging (essentially snagging fish as they swam) to the great cod traps that catch thousands of fish in one haul.
Once caught, the fish were taken to the family’s dock and “stage” where nearly everyone in the family had a hand in heading, gutting, splitting, and salting. And it was done every day weather permitted for about a month. Then they took the salted fish and laid them on wood platforms known as “flakes” to dry. But the drying fish couldn’t get wet or too hot, so the cod would be moved almost every day into another building known as the “store” only to be returned to the flake the next day to dry when the weather was better. At the end of the season, they would load all their salted, dried fish into barrels and take them to the fish merchant who did his best to pay as little as possible for the family’s four to five months of work.
I relate all this because (1) Bill took the time to tell me and (2) as a tribute to Dave who still fishes for a living (crab not cod) but probably spends an equal amount of time preserving and telling the story of his childhood and the daily lives of a dozen generations of Newfoundland cod fishermen. The buildings on the property had belonged to Dave’s father, but they were on an isolated island with no road access. So Dave, with a little help from his friends, floated the buildings for about 20 miles from their original location to his current home on Twillingate Island and started the museum. Some museums are subsidized by state or local governments; Dave’s is subsidized by him.
I don’t expect everyone to hurry to Newfoundland to see Dave’s museum. But when you’re travelling, stop in at some local museums, find a “Bill” or a “Dave” and learn some important lessons that you won’t find in history books or classrooms (even mine).
Other than kayaking yesterday, I had spent most of my Twillingate time in museums and at various entertainments and didn’t want to miss hiking along the rugged coastline. So this afternoon, I headed to the northern tip of the island where some trails had been laid out beginning at the top of the cliffs, winding their way through scrub trees on the gray, rocky soil and down to the rocky beaches (no Florida sand here). Once again, the sights along the precipitous cliffs–especially the icebergs–were awe inspiring and the exercise was good for body and soul. As I strolled down the cliffs and huffed-and-puffed my way back up again several times, I knew I wanted to come back here again.
Twillingate is not touristy like St. Augustine is touristy. Far from it. It’s still a working village in a challenging climate trying to diversify via the tourist industry. But it has a comfortable, don’t-lock-your-doors-at-night feeling to it. Relaxing to the body and refreshing to the soul. The people are friendly, the scenery is beautiful; what’s not to like.
Tomorrow, on to the Avalon area of Newfoundland, which includes the city of St. John’s, more historic sites, the eastern-most point in North America and hopefully a whale and a moose (not at the same time of course).
There are several more pictures on Flickr you might enjoy. Click here.
Think peaceful thoughts and I’ll do the same.
Newfoundland/Labrador Day 18: Off the Road and On the Water
Some days on the road stand out above others, even when you’re not actually on the road. Today was one of those days. I went to another museum this morning and it was interesting, but that’s not what made the day special.
Today I checked off “kayaking among icebergs” on my bucket list. What a blast! I went to one of the local kayak/zodiac boat tour operators and was the only one there so I had a one-on-one guided tour by Mitch, a 20-something kid who was guiding for the summer while he figured out what he wanted to do with his life. Nice kid and pretty laid back.
I got suited up in the appropriate kayaking gear and we headed out of the harbor and onto the open seas where the icebergs were. The wind was up a little when we got outside the harbor, but not enough to turn us back so we continued to paddle out to the bergs. They’re amazing from the shore but unbelievably awesome from up close. The colors, the texture, the constantly changing shape as you circle around them made for a great on-the-water experience.
I knew going out that we wouldn’t get right next to them because they can break or flip at any time and would easily swamp our little kayaks. We generally stayed about 20 yards away, maybe a little further from the bigger ones.
Each iceberg, as one circles around it, becomes dozens of different icebergs as the light reflects differently and the shape constantly changes as you change perspective.
I gave Mitch my (old) camera to take pictures for posterity and to remind everyone what you can do when you’re retired. We paddled out to one of the bigger ones that was pretty well out to sea, with the plan of coming back toward shore (with the wind at our backs) and seeing some of the others. One of the bigger ones was streaked with brown/red stripes that I’m pretty sure were the result of volcanic eruptions from Iceland a few years ago, though it could have been any airborne dust that settled on the Greenland glaciers as they were forming.
As we positioned ourselves between two large bergs to take a picture, we heard an explosion-like sound behind us and knew what it was. It was an iceberg breaking up. We turned to see which one and about 4 seconds later the berg closest to us lost about 1/3 of its surface mass as the ice came crashing down into the water. It set the kayaks rocking some: exciting but not dangerous. But if we had been right next to the berg as it broke up, it would have been a serious situation. Mitch, who’s been guiding in Twillingate for only two weeks, said he’d seen another break up last week but from a distance. He said he’d never been this close to one and said it was as exciting for him as it was for me.
The wind continued to pick up and we headed back for the harbor, picking up a small piece of 15,000 year-old ice for me to cool my Jack with for the next couple of days.
The iceberg kayaking was one of the adventures I had really hoped to have on this trip, and today’s experience was better than I expected. Being up close to these massive ice cubes was cool, but the break up was something special.
I’m going to hear some local Newfie music tonight but probably won’t add to this blog when I get back because it will be late. I may, though, as I sip my iceberg-chilled Jack.
Watch out for falling ice and I’ll do the same.
11 p.m. Addition: I just returned from a first-rate musical performance by a local singer and her two guitar accompanists. It was an order of magnitude better than the dinner theatre entertainment last night. She has a great voice and a very wide repertoire: Blues, folk, traditional, bluegrass, country and her original songs which were as good as any of the others. Bought a CD that will keep me entertained on the road. (I found a link to a YouTube video of her singing lead on a song she wrote for a group of women–The Split Peas–that she sings with. Click here if you’re interested in hearing her.)
Now I’m going to close the evening with a sip of Jack over 15,000 year-old ice. Life is good.
Newfoundland/Labrador Day 17: Lighthouse, boats, and local entertainment
A full day in Twillingate is a full day. Icebergs, lighthouses, museums, a winery, and dinner theater.
While Twillingate is still a fishing community, it has made significant efforts to cater to a growing number of tourists who arrive via the relatively new causeway which connects it to the mainland. When commercial cod fishing was effectively ended by government decree in 1992, Twillingate began to redefine itself as a tourist destination, in part by claiming to be the “Iceberg Capital of the World.”
If what I saw again today is any indication, the little village in the cove may deserve that title. Everywhere where I went on the island today icebergs of all shapes and sizes could be spotted, some almost next to the shore and others far out on the hazy horizon. Hundreds of floating ice islands is an amazing sight, though everyone says that this year’s crop of icebergs is above normal. They also say that as Greenland continues to warm dramatically and shed its glaciers, a “normal” iceberg year in Iceberg Alley will be far above the “normal” of 10-20 years ago.
I went back to the lighthouse I saw yesterday because I wanted to see the exhibits inside. As luck would have it, as I was getting ready to go in the lighthouse I struck up a conversation with the Canadian Coast Guardsman who is the only staff currently at the lighthouse. Dennis (an easy name to remember) had been born and raised in the area and had returned a couple years ago as a lighthouse tender. Heavily tattooed and wearing his uniform with a decidedly non-military nonchalance, he explained that he is one of two tenders who work 28 days on and have 28 days off and work a 40-hour week. The lighthouse and fog horn are automated and maintenance is largely farmed out to the private sector. His job, he said, was to monitor the emergency band radio when he was at his office. The rest of the time, the lighthouse is on its own. He explained several lighthouse facts to me: Each lighthouse has its own distinct light and foghorn signal. The number of light sweeps per minute and the duration and frequency of the fog horn are different for each station. We talked for about half an hour and I knew a lot more about lighthouses when we finished than when I arrived.
All the buildings on the site except the lighthouse tower and Dennis’ office were sold a few years back by the Canadian government to the town of Twillingate for $1.00 for them to use as a museum as long as the new owners maintained the property. Good idea. Rather than simply recreate a “lighthouse keeper’s” museum, the town and the historical group that run it decided to gut and refurbish the main structure and create a proper museum with changing exhibits. The current exhibit features boats and boat-building over the years, beginning with pre-European Indians and continuing through the demise of handmade wooden boats and the growth of fiberglass boats. I hadn’t thought about how important boat building was in a fishing culture nor how different each boat could be based on its specific use and the boatbuilder’s special skills. I learned about kayaks and canoes, dories and punts and schooners and cruisers. The exhibit was well-done and the underlying theme bemoaned the loss of vital, historic boat-making skills with the advent of fiberglass and the end of commercial cod fishing in Newfoundland. There are, however, a small group of craftsmen dedicated to preserving and carrying on the art of boat building mastered by their fathers, their grandfathers and their great grandfathers.
I climbed the relatively short lighthouse tower and saw, as the Coastie said I would, a panorama of most of Twillingate island and many islands, bays and coves beyond. And LOTS of icebergs.
One minor glitch today on the motorcycle following the lighthouse visit. It wouldn’t start. Wouldn’t even turn over. But I had plenty of power from the battery. I tried the alarm override PIN # I had set up to bypass the fob, and it started up. So it must be the fob, but I just replaced the battery about 2 months ago. I returned to my B&B a spare fob was stowed in my pack and it started the bike. But then the other fob appeared to be working as well once the second one reset the system. Will keep my eye on it. Fortunately I had some practice a few months ago starting the bike when I didn’t have a fob, so that came in handy, Brian.
I went to one of the docks where kayak tours were available but the cautious entrepreneur said it was much too windy to get out on the sea today. Maybe tomorrow. If no kayaking, I’ll probably take a zodiac boat tour of the icebergs. I want to get up close and personal and get some ice for tomorrow night’s glass of Jack
Another local museum on the other side of the island was more in the nature of a typical local museum with an eclectic collection, including a polar bear that was shot and killed in 2001 when it wandered through town. I actually learned about cod fishing, curing, salting, packing and shipping. That knowledge probably won’t come in too handy, though, since I’m retired and don’t plan to take up cod fishing. But, hey, you never know.
There are no grapes grown on the island, but there is a winery nevertheless where they use local berries to make fruit wines on the premises. I picked up a small bottle of Moose Juice which Marilyn and I will share on my return unless it breaks inside my luggage before then in which case I’ll probably just chew on my socks and shirts until the flavor’s gone.
Dinner theater tonight to end the day. It was fun but not over-the-top fun. Some singing and skits using local talent. Best part of the evening was table conversation with dinner partners, one of whom had been born in Newfoundland and spent 50 years sailing the seas on various vessels and could tell me more about cod fishing to fill in the gaps left by the museum. Cod tongues may be in my dining future.
I’m hopeful I’ll get on the water somehow tomorrow. Forecast is still calling for 70% chance of rain of Sunday which will have an impact on any riding plans I have.
More pictures on Flickr. Click here.
Watch out for the polar bears and I’ll do the same.
Newfoundland/Labrador Day 16: Forests, History & More Icebergs
The Newfoundland/Labrador adventure is half over. Today is day 16 of what I expect to be a 31 day ride and, so far, it’s been all I expected and more. The weather has been good: I’ve only needed rain gear 3 out of 16 days and the next two days are supposed to be sunny. Then Newfoundland will probably get hit with what’s left of hurricane Arthur, though I think it will just be two days of rain and some 35-40 mph winds. The second of those two days is a travel day for me to the next B&B south of St. John’s but I think I’ve ridden in worse rain than what’s in store Monday.
Today’s ride was uneventful on good roads (The TransCanada Highway (TCH)) most of the time and the scenery was nice but not spectacular like Gros Morne. Miles and miles of forests, which often blocked the view of the small mountains and numerous lakes and streams along the way. The highway doesn’t have a wide shoulder and there’s usually not a good place to stop and take pictures. I was frankly disappointed that I didn’t see a moose. But I still have more than a week left on the island to capture (digitally of course) of the ugly ungulates.
After riding for about two hours I saw a sign indicating a heritage center at the next exit, so I braked hard, made the exit and headed down a secondary road looking for whatever the sign referred to. About 10 miles down the road and one turn onto a dead end, I came upon Botwood, which turned out to be a small town on a good-sized cove of the Atlantic Ocean. As I pulled up to the Heritage Center, the first thing that caught my eye was a great big plane parked next to it. Maybe there’s something here, I thought.
I entered the Heritage Center and paid my $4.00 entry fee to a matron who seemed unsure if the fuzzy biker in front of her was lost or really wanted to see the museum. A young student interpreter, hired under the largess of a government grant, said he would show me around. Lead the way, says I. It was exactly the kind of local history museum I’m fond of: Hints of professionalism, evidence of thousands of hours of volunteer commitment and mostly collections of what ever local collectors wanted to donate. Nevertheless, these museums are a microcosm of the communities in which they exist and I love to go learn about the people who lived, worked and died in those communities.
Botwood, as it turns out, has the deepest natural port in Newfoundland, capable of handling some pretty good-sized ocean-going vessels. All those forests I had been riding through for the past two hours had been logged extensively in the last 100 years and most of those logs went by a newly constructed (in 1898) narrow-gauge railroad to Botwood to be shipped to ports around the world. The railway, the longest of its kind in North America, ceased operating in 1988 with the final completion of a modern highway system and extensive logging roads for trucks.
Botwood also played a key role in the defense of Canada and North America during WWII. The building that now houses the heritage center had been built by the army as a primary radio relay station and the harbor served as a runway for seaplanes that hunted German submarines. A small nearby island had been converted into an anti-aircraft gun emplacement and the island had been hollowed out to hold ammunition. The particular plane in front of the building had not been in Botwood, but PBYs just like it had been. But before Botwood was used as a Catalina and PBY base, it had been the starting point in 1939 for the first trans-atlantic passenger flight (12 years after Lindbergh piloted the Spirit of St. Louis to Paris).
Finally, the museum revealed that the community had also been an important ship building center during the 19th century and many of the artifacts were of the kind that would have been used to build those ships.
As it turns out, the 20-mile detour was a good one for me and added to my storehouse of never-to-be-used-again historical trivia. But I had fun.
After an hour and a half of discoursing over the history of Botwood and a short hike out to the anit-aircraft island, I was on my way again to Twillingate.
Laundry and bike needed to be washed but laundry came first. Maybe I’ll wait for Hurricane Arthur to wash the filthy Ultra Classic. It’s almost as dirty as it got last year on the Alaska highway. Almost.
After more seafood and no pie for dinner, I took a quick tour of the island (Twillingate is an island, by the way) and came on a whole herd of icebergs. A flock of icebergs? Covey? Pack? Don’t know what a bunch of them are called, but they were everywhere. Some big, some small. Some grounded, some floating. But all melting, meeting their doom in the waters of Newfoundland and the coves of Twillingate.
I also found the lighthouse I knew was here somewhere. Not particularly tall, but an interesting design. The interpretive center was closed by the time I got there, but I may go back sometime in the next three days while I’m here. Tomorrow I’m going to check into some kayak possibilities and maybe go whale watching and take in a Beothunk (extinct Indian tribe) exhibit. I missed one musical performance I hoped to see (they only played tonight and I was too late) but there are some other local musicians playing Saturday night so I may try to go to that event.
Hope everyone has a good Fourth of July tomorrow. Look out for errant pyrotechnics and I’ll do the same.
More pictures on Flickr: Click here
Newfoundland/Labrador Day 15: Back to Newfoundland
On travel days there often isn’t much to write about and on travel days in the rain and fog and wind there seems to be even less to occupy my typing fingers.
What I can do, though, is relate last night’s events that occurred after I posted the blog (early for a change). After participating in the Canada Day revelries in Red Bay, I thought my Canadian patriotic fervor had run its course. But no. I was wrong, much to my delight. The town of Fronteau had its traditional come-one-come-all evening bonfire and fireworks celebration and it just so happened that the festivities took place just across the road from the historic B&B where I was staying. So I and several other B&B guests strolled over and joined the fun. It was as small-town traditional as you can get.
Residents had gathered wooden pallets into a pile that was stacked well above my head and just as dusk was setting in, they set some of the ablaze. For the next two hours they added more pallets every time the roaring flame began to burn down. But wait, there’s more.
They also had another small fire going where townswomen were toasting bread, then smearing it with butter and encouraging everyone to have toast and homemade jam with tea (or hot chocolate). I chose the partridge berry jam and it went quite well with the burnt toast. But wait, there’s more.
The men folk, when they weren’t talking hunting or fishing, were steaming vat after vat of mussels and grilling a small fish called a capelin, which they carried in large pans to a serving table where more townswomen served huge plates of the seafood delicacies. Not wanting to hurt their feelings, I tried a mussel. Then I tried about 20 more which made me a piker compared to the multiple plates some of the folks were eating in a Canada Day feeding frenzy. I missed the capelin, though. And throughout all this, the townschilden were engaged in age-appropriate play: wandering away from parents (ages 2-4), running around the fire (ages 5-12), ignoring the opposite sex (ages 13-14), flirting with the opposite sex (ages 15+). But wait, there’s more.
About 11 p.m., when the only light available was from the bonfire and the cooking shed, the pyrotechnics began with a couple of half-hearted Roman candle bursts and concluding 10 minutes later with a crowd-pleasing, multi-rocket, star-bursting, cascading firefalls finale.
Last night’s activities seemed better to me than any extravaganza about to be put on at great expense in cities across the United States on July 4. Those of us who “weren’t from around there” were made to feel at home, and we joined in the celebration with mussel-eating gusto and a real sense of common pleasure. Community rituals are growing more rare, yet they are crucial to maintaining a sense of self and communal identity in a complex and confusing world. Small towns across Canada (and the United States) may be struggling to survive adverse economic fortunes, but there is a very real reason why I hope they succeed in their struggle. That reason was in full evidence on the beach at Fronteau, Labrador, on Canada Day night.
So, Happy Canada Day, everyone, and Happy Fourth of July, too.
I woke this morning to fairly heavy rain and thick, hanging fog and 50 degrees, which meant I wouldn’t do the on-the-road sight seeing in Quebec I had planned. Instead, I suited up in rain and heated gear, said goodbye to my gracious host at the Genfell Louie A Hall Bed and Breakfast, and putted slowly through the forlorn mist to the ferry landing about 15 miles away at Blanc Sablon. There, I waited through the mizzel until the ferry arrived, disgorged its automotive load, and then swallowed up the cars, truck and lone, filthy motorcycle waiting in the que for their turn to enter the belly of the beast. The boat ride back to Newfoundland was considerably rougher than the ride to Quebec/Labrador two days earlier, though my vast nautical experience 45 years ago in the Naval service of our county served me well as I kept my breakfast where it belonged while others were losing theirs.
The rain had stopped when we landed in Newfoundland but the fog was still there and the wind, blowing south across the cold Labrador Strait, had gained in intensity and made my ride down the western Newfoundland finger more exciting than it otherwise would have been. Imagine trying to dodge potholes while an unseen hand grabs your handlebars and tries to countermand your efforts. But by the time I approached Deer Lake, my current location and site of the Lakeview Bed and Breakfast that really does have a view of a lake, the winds had been blocked by the Gros Morne mountains, the clouds had begun to part and I could see blue skies and the sun peacefully setting over the mountains. Not really a bad day after all.
Tomorrow I’ll travel east to Twillingate. (Twillingate, Twillingate, Twillingate, Twillingate: I like the sound of that town. That’s why I chose it as my next destination. That and the fact that there appears to be multiple historical and adventurous things to do there.) I can’t wait to get on the road again.
Watch out for the slick spots and I’ll do the same.
Newfoundland/Labrador Day 14: Whaling, Lighthouse & Canada Day
First, a question: If I go to Labrador, pick something up and bring it back, does that make me a Labrador Retriever? And if so, will someone adopt me, take me home, let me up on the furniture and feed me treats? Just wondering.
The paved road in this part of Labrador is only about 50 miles long, so I knew I wasn’t going to get in a lot of riding today. But the riding I did do was through some starkly beautiful country and the cold, early-morning fog that perched on the mountain tops added to that rugged beauty. It was cool (cold?) this morning with temperatures in the low to mid 40s but heated gear fended off any chill there might have been as I rolled carefully down the road peering through the fog looking for potholes and large critters.
I paused briefly along the way at the beautiful Pinware River, where a substantial number of frustrated fishermen had determined again today that the Atlantic Salmon had still not started making their way upriver. There was not a line in the water but they were properly attired in their waders, netted hats, and plaid shirts just in case their aquatic prey began their upstream swim. Since they probably fish all the time in waters like these, they may have been immune to the scene that riveted my attention. Fast water coursing whitely over boulders stretching through multi-green colored trees to the distant mountains like a liquid snake kept me staring for sometime, wondering why the fishermen didn’t just sit a spell and take it all in with a deep, satisfied breath. Maybe they did after I left.
On down the coastal roller coaster road I went until I ran out of pavement at Red Bay. The road, of course, continued to Goose Bay to the north, but it was 250 miles or so of dirt and rock and definitely was not part of my itinerary. Instead, I wound my way through the small village until I came to what I was looking for: The Red Bay National Historic Site featuring the archaeological discovery and preservation of a 16th century Basque Whaling Station. About 50 years ago, a researcher in the Basque region of Spain came on some documents that indicated a whaling station had been in this area and that find led local archaeologists and park officials to begin looking for evidence on land and, more importantly, underwater because of the belief that a large Basque ship had sunk in the Red Bay harbor during a storm.
The land-based artefacts such as distinctive red roof tiles and the locations of large ovens for rendering whale blubber into oil were discovered fairly quickly and in short order, divers located the best preserved ship of its kind in the world and began efforts to carefully, a piece at a time, salvage the rare underwater find. As a result of their efforts, Parks Canada created another fantastic visitor’s site that explains how the first commercial industry in the new world had been established, run and then collapsed. Red Bay today has only about 150 residents; when the Basque were there almost 500 years ago the summertime population was probably close to 1,000.
As a bonus to my trip to the Historic Site, I watched and even participated in the annual Red Bay Canada Day Parade and Celebration. Up the road came the firetruck (a chevy pickup) with lights flashing, followed by four boys on bicycles, a dozen or more eager children waving small Canadian flags and wearing Canada Day Hats and streamers in their hair, and their parents bringing up the rear in a headlight-glaring automobile procession. Once the parade reached the site, the head ranger lowered the red and white Maple Leaf ensign, then raised it again as the gathered revelers sang O Canada, then everyone moved inside to sing Happy Birthday to their native land and eat a cake decorated with a strawberry maple leaf. A good time was had by all, including me.
On my return trip to Fronteau where I’m spending the night, I stopped at another lighthouse (just to make a friend even more jealous). This one, built in the 1850s with six-foot thick walls to withstand winds clocked at more than 140 miles per hour, is the second tallest lighthouse in Canada at 109 feet and still operates to warn passing ships not to get too close to the shore that, over the centuries, has claimed hundreds of boats and ships, from small fishing trawlers to British Navy destroyers. The lighthouse keeper’s house, attached to the lighthouse, is open to visitors as is the tower itself, all the way to the very top where the modern fresnel lens sends a bright beam miles offshore. When I was at the top today, the wind was howling strong at 30-35 miles an hour. I would not want be there in triple-digit winds.
At the lighthouse they had gathered and displayed an impressive collection of map reproductions of the Labrador Straits going back more than 500 years. It was there that I learned how Labrador got its name. It’s from the Portuguese “lavrador” which means small land holder and is attributed to an early Portuguese explorer. And all this time I thought they had named it after a water-loving dog. Who knew?
Pie report: Another slice of bakeapple by a different chef. Same result: yummy.
Tomorrow, the ferry returns to Newfoundland with me and my iron steed aboard, and I head for the central and eastern portions of the big, friendly island. I can’t wait to get on the road again.
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Watch out for rocky shoals and I’ll do the same.