Port Aux Basques, NF (Sep 19/19) – The 6 hour ferry ride from North Sidney, NS to Port Aux Basques, NF was pleasant enough with relatively calm seas (1-2 metres) & winds (10-15 knots) …all aft of the ship’s heading. ‘Below deck’ may have been a different matter though as the look of ‘miserable’ all over Jesse’s face was not easily erased, requiring continuous head rubs, love and attention to divert his mind of what he endured alone in Hobbes (he is not allowed on the passenger decks; N&J are not permitted below those decks during passage).
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The arrival onto Newfoundland’s shores felt like a different planet…. low rock embankments, wind swept starkness with little to no vegetation, grey-dense-fog… a small village adorning the harbour with quintessential simple homes populating the landscape without thought to regiment. Gravel streets and dirt lanes not in any conceivable pattern, no fences or demarcation, yet organized and proper.
Hobbe’s first night on Newfoundland (the last province to join the Canadian confederacy in 1949), was spent at a ‘freestyle’ spot in Port Aux Basques, on the waterfront near a nature conservancy area protecting over 200 species of migratory birds. Enjoying the presence of the birds, Jesse’s attention now fully altered from the days experience. Other travelers (from Quebec, Maryland) joined in for a quiet night after the long ferry ride.
The highway was sparsely populated with vehicles, being the shoulder season, a good time to travel is always the fall, and less competition for camp space. The ride up the western shore of Newfoundland was pleasant, albeit very windy (Hobbes needing to gear down and plow through the wind in his face) and cloudy with the occasional gusts of rainfall. Meandering in and out of a number of small villages on tiny harbours, amazed to see the square, mostly white, box like homes that the locals live in, not requiring windows to take in the commanding view- practicality prevails with functional windows and doors spaced opposite of the winds direction. Obviously the climatic conditions warrant restricting space in hopes of keeping the heating bill low…. nevertheless the simplistic look and lack of clutter is appealing to the eye. In the past, the colours of Newfoundland structures (house, shed, boat house, etc) all were adorned with bright primary paint (bright reds, blues, yellows, greens), now as these buildings are being upgraded to vinyl cladding (much more durable to the elements)…. the newer, modern house siding comes only in ‘subtle’ colour schemes (kinda bland as compared to yesteryear).
Confusingly, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by scrubby forest, lay lobster traps neatly piled in layered rows. Their rainbow netting and rigging also asking as one would, “why lobster traps along the roads and not anywhere near the ocean?” Something to explore with the locals after deciphering their heavy accents, but knowing at some point the word “luv” can be heard.
Stopped into Corner Brook for a bite, ’Wing’n It’, as our only obvious choice and seemingly a ‘NFLD only’ chain of restaurants), excellent chicken wings by any standard, and being on a ketogenic ‘keto’ diet, N&J would know!!! Great for blogging too. The town’s main employer by the size & statue of its footprint is pulp & paper.
N&J’s second night on ‘the rock’ would be at a rest stop in Deer Lake. Situated right on an expansive lake, at the outlet of a large hydro-electric plant, the sound of rushing water lulled all to sleep. As the night progressed the dreams were invaded by ‘images of the dam breaking’… air-raid sirens at 7am announcing the start of the work day, it was an abrupt wake up call for all.
As the trio proceeded to the northern reaches of the western peninsula, they traveled through Gran Morne National Park, which hugged the Strait of St. Lawrence, dotted with campgrounds, hiking trails, picnic & viewpoints abound. The wind whipped up the seas to a frothy scene of whitecaps & massive waves crashing onto the beach. Visible just off the shore was a shell of an old sailing steamer the ‘SS Ethie’ that grounded onto the beaches in December of 1919 with 92 people aboard, no lives lost, even the baby tossed in the mailbag made it safely to shore! Legend has it that a ‘Newfoundland dog’ was the true hero diverting this tragedy by grabbing the end of the rope attached to the ship and bringing it to shore where it was tied off to a tree thus enabling the crew to ferry people off the stranded ship by rigging a bosun’s chair. Hauntingly though, the movement of the surf slapping the ship’s skeletal remains…. seemingly bringing it to life again.
The destination of L’anse aux Meadows (the absolute northerly most point) is a long remote trip, through moor-like ecology, short stunted trees, grassy rock-scapes (Ireland comes to mind). Feeling like early explorers, Hobbes dodging potholes and literal craters in the road, excitement still hung in the air with each vista and km earned on the odometer.
Another oddity at best, are the piles and piles of neatly aligned perfectly cut cord wood. Nowhere near homes, not even near the forest, the abundant amount of wood looks out of place. Another question to ask the locals…
The third night spent at a campsite just outside the L’anse aux Meadows National Historic Site (NHS)…. a UNESCO Heritage site. The wicked wind & rain were relentless, thankfully a unmanned campground provided amenities to plug-in for the night…. the little electric heater paid its dues keeping Hobbes & occupants warm, dry & cozy.
The morning brought new beginnings for NJ&J, clear skies, bright sunshine, a little less wind (not much less mind you). Arriving at the L’anse aux Meadows NHS at the end of the road, feeling like the end of the world looking out at the vast expanse of sea pounding waves against rocks, it was hard to imagine the Norse (or as most like to refer to the romantic notion of Vikings) landing on these exact shores over 1,000 years ago. Although only taking 9 days to sail from Greenland (after previously sailing to Iceland from Europe in 400-500 ad), these early explorers faced excruciating hardship of survival in this new land. Enticed by the adventure of unchartered territory the Norse would have been exalted by the array of berries, grapes, nuts and plentitude of wood available (unlike what Greenland provided). The season of the earth’s offerings however is short and the cruel cold winter comes all too soon. The oncoming mini ice age is thought to have drove them back to Europe in the 1400’s.
During walkabouts Jesse (in his go-kart) tended to attract crowds wherever he ventures… with a bold stare, glazed eyes, sitting tall and unconcerned, he looks past the ‘paparazzi’ with their lenses leering into his domain…. aware that he will become the face of many facebook and instagram accounts around the world.
Archeologists in the 1960’s painstakingly recreated the Norse village that was said to be inhabited by 150 people. Sodden earth houses made to exacting perfection to keep the heat in and the cold out (the sod on the roof would have an ‘R’ insulation rating of 100!!!), artifacts of cloak pins, spindle whorls, and iron nails have all been archived. Advanced in technology, the Norse smelted ore to make iron, evidence showed that this was done at least once to make iron nails, likely to build huts and fix their ships. While no hard evidence that the Norse encountered the First Nations (FN) people of this land, it has been established that the FN were in the area before and after the Norse landing.
Driving south was a different experience from the previous days, no fog, no relentless rain…. the Gulf of St. Lawrence was ‘blue as blue gets’ (electric you might say). The nightly stop was at Arches Provincial Park overlooking the ocean, a place where the rock has been worn from eons of wave erosion to create an arch.
Meeting new traveling friends, greeting old ones as well…. we all quietly observed a most remarkable sunset…
PS… during the night N&J popped out of Hobbes to… answer nature’s calling. No big surprise there until they tried to open the side sliding door to get back in. YIKES!!!! …it’s 3am, it’s cold outside & they are locked out. YES THE DOOR IS LOCKED. Tried all the doors, the windows… nothing is open. Major brain fart until N has a solution, she jumps up on the front tire, J offers a shoulder to get her up on the front roof, she unzips the front tent window & in she goes…. realize you have pictured this; now picture N stark-naked at 3am climbing up on top of a Westfalia camper van 😉