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.

5 comments:

Amy said...

Sorry about the lack of whales. Come to Provincetown some time. We did a whale watch in 1984 when I was pregnant with the younger daughter. I remember seeing so many whales that I was actually bored after a while. (I was also 7 months pregnant and dealing with an almost 4 year old and a seasick 30 year old at the time, so that could explain why I grew tired of it all.)

Scott M. said...

If Whale Watching is your excuse to go back to Newfoundland... I suspect the locals won't mind one bit if you miss them again. :)

There's also some gorgeous views and whale watching opportunities from Tadoussac, QC next time you're up by Quebec City.

Sarah O. said...

I completely understand why you would want to return to Newfoundland (it's awesome), but if you don't see any whales this trip, why not do some whale-watching on a future trip to NS, from someplace like Cheticamp or Brier Island? Most of the tour companies out of Brier Island practice "sustainable" whale-watching, e.g. refusing to chase whales to get tourists closer, irritate them with engine noise, etc., and you might get the chance to see Atlantic Right whales (only 300 left), as well as Minke, Finback, Humpback, Pilot, etc (those are the most common). You can also see puffins, if you didn't get your fill in Nfld. Oh, and the Fundy tides. Then you can drive to a vineyard and have a wine tasting. I love this province.

Looking forward to hearing about your trip westward and northward.

L-girl said...

Sarah, thanks for the info! We definitely plan on going to NS anyway, and since it's a lot closer and more easily traveled than Nfld, that's probably what we'll do.

Besides, I'm not usually keen on repeat visits - too many places I haven't been yet to go back for seconds. (Although there are exceptions, like Paris and London.)

Scott, I didn't know there was whale-watching in Quebec. We will definitely get to QC at some point, so maybe that will work. Thanks!

Provincetown... probably not. :) But wow, so many whales that you were bored with them! Although seasickness trumps almost anything. We saw whales in Alaska (1996) and Allan was too queasy to care.

Scott M. said...

If you do head up to Quebec City and Tadoussac to watch whales, make sure to get a combo tour that also goes up the amazing Saguenay Fjord, a must-see.

Here's but one company of many who do combo tours up that way...
http://www.croisieres2001.com/introang.html