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.