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 comments:

Kim_in_TO said...

After all the wonderful descriptions, I can't wait to see your photos (I assume you're taking a lot, right?). I'm also curious about the earrings.

The War Resisters Support Campaign will be marching in the parade

I really think the US-to-Canada couples should also have a contingent in the parade. Maybe next year?

Jen said...

Another flaky Jen post: I'm inordinantly hopeful that you'll love sea kayaking... I don't know why. Maybe because we just got back from a canoe trip and I remember now how much I like being on the water. Maybe because I love it and hope everyone else does too. Maybe because I can imagine being in fab Nfld setting and am jealous. I hope you love it... or at least have fun. [Our great sea kayaking trip near Gibson's Landing BC is directly related to the name of our dog even (Gibson)].

L-girl said...

Kim, yes, we are taking lots of photos! I looked online for the person who made the earrings, but couldn't find anything.

You've given me a good idea, though. When I posted photos from our trip to Peru, I never thought of including the things we brought home. They're examples of the beautiful crafts people make, so they're worth including in the photos.

I think I'll go back and do that, and I'll include the earrings and the other artwork when I post pohotos from this trip.

It will be a long time until I can deal with the photos, as I'll be very busy when we get back. (Big writing assignment, yay!) Then again, you can always see the photos in person. An excuse to get together!

Hope you're enjoying a great Pride Weekend!

L-girl said...

Jen, not flaky, and I totally loved it! It was fantastic and I would love to go again.

I didn't know you guys were paddlers, that's very cool.

Happy Pride to you, Leah and Gibson!

Steve said...

"Modern day slavery"? The head camp cook at the site I worked at was clearing (after taxes) $6000 a month--easily--in wages for his "14 hour shifts" in the Alberta Oil- Patch.

L-girl said...

I didn't ask Jeannie how much she cleared, but we got the impression it wasn't very much. She's a very cheery, hard-working person, so it's hard to imagine she would call a well-paid job modern-day slavery. Perhaps your head cook is on a different pay scale than she is.