Sunday, July 31, 2022
North Sydney, NS, to St John, NL
Cumulative miles: 3,509
Mostly sunny, high 70s, breezy
Today was a big travel day; the day we boarded a ferry bound for Newfoundland. It would be a sixteen-hour ride aboard a very large ferry, the “Marine Atlantic”. As with most large, vehicle-carrying ferry crossings, there was a huge parking lot where we lined up nearly five hours before boarding. During our wait, Sandy applied half a scopolamine patch to ward off seasickness.
Just as we slowed down to stop in our assigned lane we were s**t-bombed with what turned out to be cormorant droppings. The cormorants were nested at the tops of the many tall light standards that dotted the parking lot. We were able to move forward about fifty feet or so but the strong breeze that day blew more of the little gifts from the sky all over the back half of our camper. Rules prevent the ferry company from removing the birds until after their young fledge. And, since cormorants are fish eaters, their little gifts are extremely difficult to wash off, especially after they’ve been drying in the sun.
We dropped our small overnight bags in our stateroom, an outside room with a window and ensuite bath. Then we drifted down to the bar and lounge where we joined others in our group. Shortly after leaving port at about 6:00 pm the restaurant opened up and we headed in. It was an all you can eat buffet that was really quite good. Seating was assigned at very nice tables in an area that actually managed to feel cozy. Wait staff was attentive, removing plates as we finished with them.
After dinner we headed out on the deck to watch the sunset, hoping on this clear evening with a true horizon, to see the green flash. No such luck but it was, otherwise, a beautiful evening.
Monday, August 1, 2022
St John’s, NL
Clear, low 80s
The ferry docked in Argentia, NL, at about 9:30 am Newfoundland time. Interestingly, Newfoundland is unique in that it has it’s own time zone, half an hour before Nova Scotia. There isn’t anything of note to do or see in Argentia, so we all immediately headed toward St John’s, the capital of Newfoundland, a little over 80 miles away.
The drive was beautiful. We saw many, many ponds and wetland areas. Newfoundlanders refer to this type of landscape as being water terraced. Other areas were arid with lots of rocks protruding above the sparse vegetation. Still other areas were wooded almost exclusively with conifers. Of these, about eighty percent are black pine and the remainder are balsam fir. The few deciduous trees are mostly birch.
We camped in Pippy Park Campground. The park is owned by the city and, besides the campground, is used by residents for hiking and picnicking. After setting up, our first orders of business were taking our car to the car wash and washing the back of the camper! Cormorant poop be gone!
That evening we attended a “Newfie Screech-In”. Most of you understand that a Newfie is someone from Newfoundland. But what the heck is a Screech-In? Not surprisingly, it’s a little ceremony to induct newcomers to become honorary Newfoundlanders. But what’s with the Screech thing?
Old, long story short: Newfoundland’s big export for hundreds of years was dried salt cod. The cod was graded and the lowest grade was traded to the people of Jamaica for other products. The Jamaicans recognized they were getting inferior fish so they decided to export in return, the dregs of the molasses process. In turn, the Newfoundlanders decided the only thing they could think to do with the bad molasses was to make inferior rum. An American soldier, given a taste of the rum, let out such a terrible screech when he swallowed it that the name stuck!
In addition, the evening featured a meal and entertainment by the “Newfie Time Band”. These four women sang traditional Newfie songs, largely in the Scotch/Irish tradition. They played a variety of instruments including guitar, fiddle and the button accordion. They encouraged audience participation asking that we either dance or play “ugly sticks”.
An ugly stick is a wooden stick festooned with noise makers, mostly bottle cap rattles, with funny mop head at the top and a rubber boot on the bottom. You bang the stick on the floor in time with the music making quite a racket!
Tuesday, August 2, 2022
St John’s, NL
Sunny, mid 80s
Today was a bus tour day of St John’s. It began with the very protected small fishing village of Quidi Vidi. It’s a tiny, picture-perfect village filled with colorful houses, small docks with fishing boats and, of course, the Quidi Vidi Brewery.
Next on the tour was the Government House. Much like the US White House, it is the home of the head of government who carries the title of Lieutenant Governor. The large home featured beautiful flower gardens and a number of formal public rooms on the first floor. It is always open to the public, no special arrangements needed. Imagine that at the White House!
Then it was on to visited Signal Hill. As the high point of the city, it was used for early visual signaling as well as a viewpoint in defense of the city. From this vantage point we took in beautiful views of the St John’s harbor.
Port wine comes from Portugal. But, beginning in 1679, with a Portuguese vessel loaded with port wine bound for London, port was aged in caves and then a special stone vault in St John’s up until at least 1893. It was then that Portugal decreed that true port wine had to be aged in Portugal. The Newman Wine Vaults, probably constructed in the early 1800s, remain as evidence of those times. Built using a Roman arch design, the vaults were structurally unstable and eventually had to be reinforced with large stone buttresses and tie beams. The vaults are an interesting place to visit, to have a taste and even to purchase a bottle or two of fine port.
Cape Spear is the easternmost place in Canada. Of course there’s a lighthouse on the point of the cape. It was constructed in 1893 and remained active until 1955. The original reflector-type light fixture, refit for electric lights, is still employed in a new tower built at that time. Unexpected was the old American gun battery. The battery is recessed in the hill, hidden from view by German submarines. The original concrete bunkers remain and are open to the public.
Our final stop on the tour was Petty Harbor, a perfectly protected, small fishing harbor. I got to talk to a couple of fishermen working on their gear. New to me were the traps used to catch snow crabs. The traps are in the shape of a truncated cone. They are attached to a long line about 150 feet apart and the ends of the line are marked by tall floats equipped with radar reflectors to make it easier to locate them when its time to pick them up. They are tended every day or two and can commonly catch 20 crabs each.
Wednesday, August 3, 2022
St John’s, NL
Overcast with some rain in the morning, high 60s
Oh, boy! It’s puffin day!
This morning we headed to Gatherall’s puffin & whale watch located in the town of Bay Bulls, NL. There was rain in the forecast so the smart ones among us all wore some kind of rain gear. We boarded the catamaran type tour boat that would take us out of the harbor to the waters around Gull Island, one of several nearby islands that serve as a protected refuge for sea birds.
More than 1.3 million birds are said to inhabit Gull Island. Of those, about 350,000 are Atlantic puffins. We also saw razorbills (a black-billed bird similar to puffins) and common murres. It was difficult to get good photos from the moving boat but it was certainly fun to watch them in the water, fishing, and taking off from the water. Puffins do not excel at walking or even at flying for that matter. Their tiny wings and feet that are set far back on their bodies are made for swimming.
Multiple whale species are common it the area. But we only got a very brief look at the dorsal fin of one minke whale. A disappointment but that certainly didn’t detract from the overall experience.
Although we had a brief shower on our way out to Gull Island, the heavens opened up on our return trip and almost everyone got a bit wet.
After the tour, Sandy and I set off to see some of downtown St John’s. We started with a walk along the shoreline of Quidi Vidi Lake. There was supposed to be a rowing shell race that day but it was postponed due to the weather. So, while we missed the event, we had a nice walk.
Newfoundland has become famous for its brightly painted houses. It is apparently a long-time tradition in St John’s but is now widely practiced in most of the island. We stopped, downtown, for a few pictures of those houses.
There is actually a COSTCO in St John’s and we stopped there hoping to get some of the gluten free pizzas we are so fond of back home. No such luck, but we purchased another GF brand and will see how well we like them.
Some general observations common to this area:
- The wind blows here. Nearly every day we’ve had relatively strong breezes. They are strong enough to discourage most people from paddling their kayaks.
- The wind is constant enough that most of the conifers we pass along the road are permanently bowed near their tops by the wind.
- Everyone uses trash containers alongside roads in front of their houses. They are long hexagonal boxes whose tops are hinged. The idea seems to be to discourage animal trash raids.
We cooked up some shrimp and had broccoli salad from a kit we bought at COSTCO. Afterwards Sandy joined in a game of Mexican Train.