Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Go West, Young Man. Again.

More photos, by the way. Of the out east part of the trip. May be more to come as well. I'll let you know...

From Fogo we headed south-east some more, to St John's, the largest town in the Newfie province. We spent a night with our friend Mike's sister and family, just outside the city proper, where we were fed the largest spare ribs meal of my life, and bloody good it was too! They certainly know how to put on a spread in Newfoundland, that's for sure!

From there, it was short drive to the main city, and a few nights with Andy and Lori Delaney and family. Andy is Rosemary (from Salt Spring
Island)'s son (and so my cousin-in-law), and they were, simply, awesome. Such a nice family, with 3 lads all about teenage status, and none of the sulky or belligerent or any of the other normal things you'd expect from 3 teenage lads. They were all at the top of whatever chosen pursuits they had (soccer, running and chess), and the home environment created by Andy and Lori was one of the most comfortable, friendly and welcoming I have ever encountered.

While in St John's we went out to Cape Spear, the eastern most point in North America, thus concluding my east-west challenge. OK, so I didn't get to the westerly most point of North America, but Tofino was a pretty good effort. Canada doesn't go much wester than that.

At Cape Spear, we watched from the cliff tops as numerous whales spouted, gannets dived, porpoises dodged, and puffins wheezed out at sea. Then the fog rolled in and hid everything.

It's an interesting place, though, St John's. It has burned down twice in its history, most recently in the late 1800's, and there are only a few original buildings left in a city that was first settled in the early 1700's. Luckily, one of these is now a micro brewery that runs out of a pub called Yellow Bellys and produces fantastic lagers, reds and stouts. Trust me, I did some research.

By this stage in the trip, I was over most stuff, so a trip out on a boat to see whales and puffins - which I had done already else where - was not doing it for me. Neither was walking around the streets for hours at a time. In fact a second brewery tour at the Quidi Vidi brewery was about all I cared to do, and that too was worth the time. I met the Newfie equivalent of a mate from work - Ollie Olsen - giving the tour, with the same exact mannerisms and cheeky patter that Ollie uses on his cruise ship tours. I would have given anything to see Ollie and and his Newfie doppleganger come face to face. Alas, it was not to be. I had another beer instead.

On the Friday morning I dropped Smitch off at the airport, and was sad to see her go. I had enjoyed her company a lot, even allowing for my growing grumpiness at having been on the road so long, and my dwindling energy levels, and I hope she realises how grateful I was for her company and organisation of this leg of the trip.

Without her now, I am high-tailing it to Montreal. So far I have stopped in Moncton to catch up on the Bay of Fundy and the highest tides in the world. It was an interesting place to visit - you have to go twice to see both high and
low tides - but I felt slightly misled by what I had read about the place. I had been expecting the flowerpot rock formations to get nearly drowned in the tide, leaving just the vegetative tops of the rock pillars on view, like a series of small islands, their rocky stalks being revealed at low tide. Instead, they were permanently on display, but sometimes had water around the bottom of them. No matter, it was a nice enough place anyway.

From there, I took the long way, via Fundy National Park, to Fredericton (don't bother, its not worth it), and today ended up back in Quebec for the night, in the middle of a thunder storm. Tomorrow I get to Montreal, where I have 3 nights of comedy shows to occupy me, and who knows what during the days. Sleep most likely. I should be back in Waterloo by Sunday at the latest, and will then have week or so to recover before my 8 day canoe trip. Bit nervous about that - I've never been on an 8 day camping trip before, let alone one that includes carrying boats when the water runs out. I feel a dodgy back coming on again.....

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Fogo Island Ate My Kite

The Ferry to Newfoundland was an over-nighter, boarding at about 11.30 and departing at 1am. The staff on board got very fussy about us trying to stretch out on the floor of the lounge to sleep, so it was not a restful night. Next morning was a fast dash up the coast to the Gros Morne National Park and a little fishing village called Rocky Harbour. It was to prove typical of the many coastal villages on Newfie, and very pleasant it was too. Friendly locals (just as we’d been told

there would be), fishing boats, and lots of scenery. We went on the Western Brook Pond boat trip that took us up a pond formed by the closing off of a fjiord millions of years ago, the fjiord having been formed by glacial excavation even more millions of years ago and rocks that are apparently some of the oldest on the planet. The water in the pond is so pure and ion free that it doesn’t conduct electricity, and it has taken several million years of draining out the sea water and replacing it with glacier melt and rain water to get to that state. It is a truly impressive landscape, and I’d recommend the trip to anyone thinking of coming out this way.

Apparently the land that makes up Newfoundland is actually part of the same bit of land that makes up Scotland, hence the remarkable similarity between the two places. When the original tectonic plates started drifting apart all those years ago, the two bits broke apart, Scotland drifted east and crashed into the rest of what makes up Britain now and the two fused together, and Newfoundland drifted west and settled off the coast of Canada. Not sure who you’d call the winner in that little scenario, but there’s not much we can do about it now.

After a couple of days in Gros Morne, consisting of the boat trip and a couple of extra mini-hikes, making a good 15km day of strange scenery and lookouts, we headed out early on the Sunday to get the short ferry over to Fogo Island.

I agree, it’s not somewhere I’d heard of either, but it was at the top of Smitch’s list of places she wanted to visit, so I guess I owed it to her to tag along. The name Fogo comes from the Portuguese word ‘fuego’, meaning fire. The Portuguese were the first visitors in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s, on account of the good fishing, before the French settled in the 1720’s and the English took over in the 1750’s. Its other main claim to fame is that the Flat Earth Society (who believe the world is indeed flat and the only reason governments don’t agree is because it would bring down society and education as we know them. Go figure….) recognise Brimstone Head in the town of Fogo as one of the four corners of the Earth (the others being…anyone…? The Bermuda Triangle, somewhere in Papua New Guinea and the Greek island of Hydra, of course). It is also the place where some massively rich woman decided to build a number of artist retreat studios for arty types to “get away from it all” and gain inspiration by working in the purpose built, stark and remote studios she built in a few locations on the island. These were another thing Smitch wanted to see, but I couldn’t really see why. The villages closest to where the studios were built were far nicer, and there was nothing to see other than the exterior of the buildings when you got there, but we went and looked nonetheless. In the end, Smitch and I agreed that, though an interesting idea, it was really just encouraging what was already a fairly pretentious group of people to be even more so, by giving them somewhere special to be pretentious. Like buying a drink for an alcoholic I suppose...

I have used the time on the island to try and get some artsy-fartsy photos of fishing boats and coastlines, but I’m not too sure how successful I’ve been. At least they are digital and easily delete-able!

As for the title of the blog…well, I took my kite

out today on a beach on Fogo, and it was AMAZING!! The wind was strong enough that I was forced to lean back into it to avoid being pulled over, and was still dragged along the beach by the pull of the kite, which was, itself, on dynamite form with its swoops and dives. I was holding it together pretty well, getting a workout into the bargain and decided to let Smitch have ago. Sure enough she crashed it (and she wonders why I don’t let her behind the wheel of the car) – although, fair dos, it was her first time flying this beast, and in extreme conditions to boot. I got her air-born again, and before I could cover the 30m sprint to where she was standing, she nearly took my head off with the strings, as she scythed it across the beach and crashed it again. A lesser man, or indeed a child, would have been neatly sliced in to 3 pieces by the cheese-wire effect. I, however, was left with only a couple of nice friction burns across my right cheek and forehead, which have been getting me some peculiar looks over the last few days as they have scabbed up rather more dramatically than the picture shows. I just hope they don’t leave a more permanent mark! I soldiered on, took back control, and 5 minutes later one of the strings broke, pin-wheeling the kite into the sand for the last time that day. Beaten by the wind and eaten by the beach!! I have now fixed the kite, however, and will be back for more somewhere else. Down, but not out. It’s back to the mainland of Newfie tomorrow, then down to St. John’s, so until next time, lets ALL go fly a kite.

New Scotland...a bit like the old one

Time has passed. It does that, so I’m told, but on this occasion more time has passed than I intended between blog entries. When last we met, I was still up on Gaspé Peninusla, hoping for a good night’s sleep, which I got. It took two more days of driving to get to Halifax, one along the last part of the peninsula, the second done almost entirely in the rain, causing us to bypass the Bay of Fundy (largest tides in the world) and head straight to Halifax and Smitch’s family cottage. I figured I could pop back up and do Fundy during one of the days we would be in Nova Scotia, or failing that, on my way back West from Newfoundland.

Smitch’s ‘cottage’ then…not so much a cottage as a mansion, with 5 bedrooms, several bathrooms, huge decks and lakeside views. It is actually her dad’s retirement home…or rather the second home he will move to when he retires and wants to get away from the rat race of Waterloo. Very nice it is too, and afforded us a few days off driving and just relaxing. There was other members of Smitch’s family to visit (a brother and aunt) nearby, where free meals and beer were on offer, as well as good company, and I took a day to try and get back to Fundy. It was looking to be about a 3-hour-each-way kind of trip though, so I stopped at a tourist info shop after an hour or so and asked if the impressive rock formations for which Fundy is most famous could be found elsewhere – or something similar, at least. I was directed to a small town called Kingsport, much closer and therefore more appealing, and away I went.

Alas, when I got there, the promised rock formations, about which I had been most specific in my request, were sadly missing, and only a red clay tidal bed was visible. Very disappointing, so I left and stopped in a small town called Wolfsville for lunch. A nice quiet lunch, I thought but, within moments of sitting down to eat, I was unexpectedly joined by a lady with fairly severe learning disabilities – meet Terry. She just sat herself down at my table with a big smile, a vacant stare and line of drool, and her carer politely apologised for the intrusion and tried to encourage her to go inside instead. She was having none of it, however, so after about 5 minutes of slightly awkward small talk between me and the carer (Caitlin), I did the chivalrous thing and invited her to join us, and we had lunch together. It went without a hitch, although I had to make sure I was looking anywhere other than at Terry, who had a massive appetite but not a lot of coordination when it came to targeting, or indeed much retention when it came to keeping the food in the required location for swallowing. She put away a double helping nonetheless, and there was far less collateral wastage than I had expected to see. Some how, her system turned out to be pretty efficient.

I got back to the cottage after another 8 hour day in the car, which was the last thing I’d wanted, and I hadn’t even got to see the Fundy rocks for my trouble, so that went to the return-leg list. The rest of the time at the cottage was far more restful, and by the time we set off for Cape Breton, I was feeling a bit more motivated once again.

Aaah, motivation and the lack thereof…The problem I was facing, it transpired, was that everyone who had suggested that so much driving in such a relatively short space of time would be bloody hard had been right, and I (who maintained it would be a breeze, I’d done South America after all, which was much bigger) had been wrong. My blasé attitude to the distances I would have to cover and the time in the car it would take to do so was wearing thin, and I was starting to hate being in the car. I was, however, too close to my goal of getting out to both coasts to be able to stop now, or even share the driving. How could I say I had driven from Tofino to St John’s if someone else had helped out? The outcome of this reality hitting home was that when I was faced with the choice of the long scenic way or the shorter more direct way, I was opting for the shorter way. It didn’t help that I’d used up the last of my free kilometres while in Halifax, so was now paying an additional 12c per kilometre, with about 5000km to go. It also meant that I was pretty exhausted at the end of each day and less willing, therefore, to go out and about and do things. When Smitch threw up the next idea of where we could go and explore, she was getting more and more sullen responses from me, until I eventually explained that I was rapidly “getting over it”. Luckily, Smitch had enthusiasm enough for two, and was usually able to get me out of the hostel and to a bar with a bit of gentle coaxing. I think her energy levels were enhanced by the naps she was able to take in the car, which I always missed out on, but I realised she had put a lot of work into picking places to go, and it would have been churlish of me to just say no and stay grumpily in whatever hostel we ended up in.

Cape Breton was great. We stopped in a tiny French town called Cheticamp and found a super-cheap lobster dinner deal that I tucked into, accompanied by a local fiddle/guitar duo and a dancing waitress getting in on the Irish vibe that is prevalent in these here parts. The restaurant had looked decidedly cheap and dodgy when we’d gone in, on the recommendation of our B&B hostess, but the food was great and it turned into a great evening.

Forgoing the full Cape Trail, we cut back to North Sydney (people – mostly Americans- have actually been to Sydney in Nova Scotia thinking it was the one in Oz. True story.) in time to take the 6 hour ferry to Newfoundland. Which I will talk about in the next entry, as other wise this one will become too long!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

On the road again…after a brief interlude.

First order of business: photos uploaded to flicker, see the link on this page.

So, a week of R & R in Waterloo, catching gigs, going on a date (Ooooooo), celebrating Hana’s birthday, getting enormous bolts removed from tyres and subsequent punctures fixed, trying to not drive too much, celebrating my first Canada Day, the normal kind of stuff, I suppose.

Also, spent some time doing some very minor preparation for the next leg of my trip – Waterloo, Ontario to St. John’s, Newfoundland and back. Luckily, Smitch (Sarah Mitchell to her parents...actually just ‘Sarah’ to her parents, but they gave her the surname too, I imagine), my travelling companion-to-be, had made plans to (and I’m quoting her here) “tour-guide the shit” out the east of Canada on my behalf, and had a lists of places to visit, including friends and family with whom we could stay, thus saving money and hopefully having proper food cooked for us.

In return for this planning, all I had to do was transport an entire Dodge Caravan load of furniture out to Halifax, via the long way round, ready for Smitch’s move there later in August. Oh, and take a bunch of Dani’s stuff too. Suddenly my cavernous vehicle didn’t seem quite so cavernous. Poor Flash Harriette has never had so much shoved in her back door before. There was, in fact, barely room for my small day pack, which was all I could fit in of my own belongings. The suitcase I had been living out of to date had to stay behind. No matter though, no matter.

The first day of the trip was Sunday 3rd July, getting to Ottawa and Smitch’s sister and brother-in-law’s house by about 5pm. We had a lovely BBQ that evening, then I spent the next day exploring Ottawa, while Smitch caught up with her sister and twin nephews. Seemed like fair exchange to me.

From Ottawa we went north to Quebec, by-passing Montreal to leave it for when I come back later in the month, on my own, to catch some comedy shows at the Just For Laughs Festival.

Quebec is a really cool city. It has a modern CBD somewhere I guess (it must do, surely), but I never saw it. We stayed in a small hostel in the old part of town, which was all narrow streets, tall houses and market places. Very touristy, but in actually quite a tasteful way. Heaps of places to eat and drink, loads to see and watch, and basically a very pleasant place. The only snag was that now we atre in Quebec, everything is in French, and the further away from the border with Ontario you get, the less English is spoken. This required all my high school French to be dredged up from where I had buried it 2 years ago while trying to learn Spanish. I never thought I’d find myself having to take a stepping stone through Spanish to get to a French translation, but I found my default foreign language was Spanish every time!

French is slowly coming back to me by day 3, and its actually quite rewarding remembering some of this stuff, but it will continue to be a struggle, and I’ll be relieved when we finally get back to the English-speaking part of Canada.

The hostel in Quebec was quirky and quaint, the only drawback – and it turned out to be a massive drawback- was that we were sharing our dorm room with 3 elderly (80 years or so old) tourists from France. They seemed nice enough, and even tried to chat in French with us, not having any English between them, but as Smitch and I headed in to town to look around, I joked that they would be trouble later, as I predicted that all of them would snore and the old lady would be the worse of the lot. Little did I know that I was to be right on the money. It was the noisiest night on record, sleep was nigh impossible and, what broken rest we could get, was made more difficult still by the oppressive heat wave we had stumbled upon.

The next morning was a sluggish one, and the drive out to Ste Anne des Monts was all the more difficult for it. Still, Ste Anne was on the Gaspé Peninsula and our next hostel was on the beach and all rustic and palm-frondy. This was more like it. Our accommodation was a yurt, the other guests seemed friendly, what could go wrong here?

Unfortuntely, the ‘what’ that went wrong was the earlier in the evening, conveniently located beachside bar. After about 11pm it turned into a noisy, rowdy beachside bar and stayed that way, just outside our non-sound-proofed, canvas-sided yurt, until about 4.30am. So, that was nice. Strike two for a good night’s sleep.

Today, we continued our drive around the Gaspé, getting as far as Anse-aux-Os, a small villagey type place with, hopefully, a much quieter hostel. Although, I think it would take a small explosion to keep me awake tonight. Not only am I two nights of sleep down, followed by two days driving, but also we went walking along cliffs today and saw maybe half a dozen hump-backed whales between 100m and 300m off shore. It was pretty cool actually, and the extra excitement wore me out just a little bit more.

Gaspé is definitely a nice place. It was sold to us pretty hard before we came here, and maybe that was over-hype, a little bit, but only because I have been all around South America and live in NZ, so have seen more than my share of outstanding natural beauty. This is certainly getting up there, but it’s not going to be taking the belt home just yet. There is still tomorrow, though, so who can say what might happen then?