Friday, July 31, 2015

Rooms with a view

St John’s, NL – With the RV at the dealer’s, and likely to be there for at least half a day, we decided to check out of our hotel and explore the city. Our cellphones were actually working here, so we could be reached if the RV was ready. And, if it was ready early enough, we could even hitch up and travel to our next destination, Argentia, and get there before nightfall.

It has been at least ten years since our last visit to St John’s, so we expected changes, but it was nice to see some familiar sights as well, such as the harbour, Jelly Bean Row (the brightly painted row houses in the heart of town), and Water Street and Duckworth Street.
One major “new” attraction was The Rooms, the city’s 10-year-old heritage museum. It was well worth the visit; the handsome building overlooks the downtown and is designed to resemble the fishing buildings of the sea-coast, which were called rooms. The displays inside provide a wealth of information about Newfoundland history, animal life, Irish roots and heritage, beautifully set out on different levels.

When we climbed the staircase to the second level, the landing opened out to a viewing area with walls of glass, with the whole St John’s harbour spread out below! It was a magnificent sight, and we just sat and took it all in for several mi-nutes. The opposite side of the building looks out on Memorial University, with a similar panoramic view.
That’s where we headed next – and we were impressed with its large campus. Pippy Park was right next to it, so we turned in to have a look at its RV campground. If we had our RV, it would have made a great spot from which to visit the province’s capital city.

By this time we were ready for some lunch, so we went back downtown to The Sprout, a vegetarian restaurant owned by Julia and Laura, the daughters of a friend in Ottawa. Both of them were away today, so we missed them, but our meals were outstanding.
Our cellphones were stubbornly silent, so we decided to drop by the dealership to see what news there might be about the RV. There was no news. They were very busy and hadn’t had a look at it yet. It was entirely under-standable; appointments were booked long in advance and we had just shown up at the door, so we were glad they were willing to fit us in at all.

To pass the time, we thought we’d go fur-ther afield and have a look at Torbay. It’s just up the road from St John’s – and we were treated to another lovely seaside vista when we got there. However, we noticed we’d gone out of our cell-phone coverage range, so we didn’t linger.
Back in the vicinity of the dealership, we ambled through the Avalon Mall for a bit and then just sat in the car, waiting.  And figuring out different scenarios depending on what we learned about the RV. Then we got the call: they’d had a look, and a part (which they had in stock) needed replacing, which they should be able to ac-complish by Monday morning. That would give us just enough time to make our ferry crossing at 5 pm in Argentia that afternoon! Whew!

We went over right away to gather up a few more items from the RV, and then headed back to the hotel we’d checked out of this morning. Would there be room for us till Monday morning? It didn’t look likely when we left after breakfast, but when we went in to check, the re-ceptionist told us some people had just canceled, and yes, there was one room left. Can you believe it?

Two considerably relieved travelers from Ottawa checked in once again, inwardly repeating that well-worn mantra: it’s better to be born lucky than to be born rich!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Plan B, plus RDF

St John's, NL -- Our trip has taken a slight 
deviation; we are here at a hotel, and from our window we can see the RV parked at the 
Mercedes-Benz dealer where it will be checked tomorrow.

When we left Bonavista the other day, Val noticed the yellow 'check engine' light on the display. With the bor-rowed cell phone from our friends Nancy and Morley, we made some calls, eventually connecting with this dealer. They kindly offered to squeeze us in tomorrow, to see what the problem might be.
So, today we set our course for Newfoundland's capital city. It wasn’t really our plan, since we’ve both been here before and we only have a few more days before we sail, but flexibility is the name of the game.

It was already raining when we got out to the main road, Val in the RV and me in the car, on our way to Nancy and Morley's house to return the cell phone with our heart-felt thanks. That done, we hitched up and headed north up the Burin Peninsula.
A stiff wind buffeted the RV and Newfoundland’s sig-nature sideways rain splashed across the highway. Val said we probably wouldn’t see any of those elusive caribou today – they’d be too smart to come out in this weather! Still, I kept my eye on the sweeping flatlands, ever hopeful.

Wouldn’t you know, a few kilometers further on, I spied three magnificent caribou drinking at a pond a few dozen yards from the roadside! Each one had a full set of ant-lers and looked as handsome as any I’ve ever seen. We both stared in amazement, and then we were past them – no time for a photo and no place to pull over for a longer look! Still, we were thrilled to have had this flee-ting glimpse, especially on such an unlikely day.
When we reached the town of Goobies (don’t you love these names?), we turned on to the TransCanada High-way in the direction of St John’s. For a time, the wind seemed to have calmed down a bit, and then the ceiling descended on the hilltops, shrouding them in fog. Our friend Morley told us the term is “RDF”—rain-drizzle-fog! Another addition to our Newfie vocabulary!

Believe it or not, a few kilometers further along the way, the fog lifted, the sky cleared to a bright blue and we were bathed in sunshine – for a good five minutes! And, almost as quickly, fog rolled in again even thicker than ever. It was the strangest weather sequence I’d ever seen.

We made it to St John’s without incident, and now we play the waiting game. We consider ourselves lucky though; the hotel two doors down from the dealership had only one room left when we walked in, and we’re now comfortably settled in it! Perhaps our RV problem will be a minor thing. Let’s hope!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

All the way to France and back

[Tuesday, July 28 and Wednesday July 29, 2015]
Frenchman’s Cove, NL – Our 24-hour trip to Europe was like stepping into an alter-nate universe and back out again! It’s good to be back in Canada again, and in our little home on wheels. I’m going to squeeze two days into one blog post to save you some reading time.

Yesterday the idea of traveling to France for a day did not appeal all that much, simply because we awoke to pour-ing rain and wind that kept on all morning. Our ferry ride wasn’t until 2:45 in the afternoon, but it sure didn’t look promising even by lunchtime.
On the way to the town of Fortune, where the ferry was, we stopped in Grand Bank to see the Seamen’s Museum. Housed in a building that looked like several triangular sails in a row, the collection of nautical artifacts was very interesting to look at. The instruments and boat equip-ment were set out on the floor within roped off sections, so you could have a close look. Similarly, upstairs we saw land-based items such as sleighs, printing presses and other equipment from bygone days.

The rain continued as we drove to Fortune, got our tickets and settled the car in the compound where it would stay till our return today. Our ferry seats were indoors, and the crossing was so rough that boat personnel were scurrying about with barf bags and paper towels for green-looking passengers. It felt like we were riding on a mechanical bucking bronco, but we were OK thanks to Gravol! Today, Val overheard a woman who goes to St Pierre frequently say it was the roughest crossing she’d ever been on.

To our relief, when we disembarked on the island an hour later, the skies had cleared. Our hotel was a short walk from the pier, so we got settled there before going for a short stroll. It was strange to see the French tricolour flag flapping on poles here and there, and all kinds of European cars on the streets.
The town looked rather scruffy, with public gardens gone to weed and buildings with peeling paint everywhere. The streets, sloping uphill from the wharf, were narrow, with brightly-coloured shops and homes tightly packed on either side.

We ate our dinner at the hotel’s restaurant – very tasty, but expensive. Our server, Aurélien, had just come over from France a month earlier, hoping to earn enough money to buy a larger sailboat back in Normandy. He hadn’t seen anything beyond the island of St Pierre yet, let alone had a look at Newfoundland.
He was back on the job this morning when we ate our “Frenchie” breakfast (cornflakes, baguette, croissant, orange juice and yogurt). We were planning to take a bus tour, scheduled for 11 o’clock, so we stopped by the tourist information office and got a map for a bit of a walking tour while we waited. We saw a Basque playing field with a high wall where they play “pelote”, involving bats, a ball and the wall – it will be a busy place next month when the Basque festival takes place.

We also had a look inside the large cathe-dral, and then headed back for the bus. It was parked near the square, so we went over to climb aboard, but the driver told us it was fully booked by a tour group and we’d have to wait till 1:15 for the next tour! Back to the tourist office we went, and they kindly called Le Caillou Blanc tour company to come and pick us up instead. So we got a personalized tour in a small van with Maryvonne, a very friendly woman whose “Anglophone” tour was 80 per cent French and 20 per cent heavily accented English, but very informative nonetheless.
It was great to go through the narrow streets with Maryvonne at the wheel, explaining everything we were seeing, and then to go around to the other side of the island to see where the fishermen used to sail off in their dories, where horses graze on grassy fields, and where more affluent citizens live in gracious homes. We could also see the islands of Langlade and Miquelon across the way. These are joined by a narrow isthmus which was formed in part by the accumulation of some 600 shipwrecks over the years!

We also saw the new airport, where 737 aircrafts can now land – though rare-ly – and the new hos-pital, built on the old airport location. Maryvonne drove us back into town in time for us to have lunch at Joséphine’s tea house, where we enjoyed quiche Lorraine, salad and tea, for 42 Euros, or about $60! Our neighbour at the next table was a young French woman named Aurore, who is an engineer in town for a week to check on the construction of the town’s water treatment plant.
In no time, it was time to board the ferry for the return journey, and this crossing was much calmer, thank goodness. We’re glad we went, but home is awful nice too.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The boot of Burin

[Post for Monday, July 27, 2015]Frenchman’s Cove, NL – One of the more pres-sing items on our list of priorities this morning was to get the car washed; it was streaked with mud, and the visibility out the side windows was almost nil. Marystown had a carwash, we discovered, so we emer-ged looking much spiffier, and rolled on over to Tim Hortons for lunch before we began our circuit of the Burin Peninsula.

Like Italy, the peninsula resembles a boot – or perhaps a Christmas stocking –  and our route took us down the calf and around the heel to begin with. The route includes some interpretive “parkviews” from time to time where aspects of local history and geography are laid out on storyboards, with viewing platforms and a couple of benches or picnic tables nearby.
When we got to St Lawrence at the bottom of the heel, we stopped to visit the Miners’ Museum – easily identified by a giant miner’s helmet and lamp set atop the roof. Inside, we learned about the mines that were started during the Depression, when the cod fishery was failing (a tsunami in 1929 had devastated the cod spawning grounds on the sea floor). A rich deposit of fluorspar, used in the chemical and steel industry among many other applications, offered a livelihood to local residents.

Few safety precautions were in place for the men who went underground, and in ensuing years many suc-cumbed to respiratory diseases. Compensation for the widows and their families was also non-existent until one woman petitioned authorities with such doggedness, they relented and paid her and other bereft families.

A marine disaster in 1942 demonstrated the community’s generosity, when two US military ships heading for Argentia ran into a storm and were wrecked just offshore. Townsfolk managed to rescue over 100 victims, under harrowing conditions, and cared for them in their homes. One survivor, a black American named Lanier Phillips, was deeply moved by their compassion. The women who bathed his oil-soaked skin had never seen a black person before. He said he had never been treated so kindly by white people, and maintained a longtime relationship with St Lawrence until his death years later. The US government also donated a hospital to St Lawrence as a gesture of gratitude.

The museum gift shop had lovely fluorite gemstone jewelry for sale. Our guide, Roberta, brought us into the workshop where the rough fluorspar stones are shaped, polished and made into the jewelry by workers with developmental disabilities. The stones come in some 30 colours ranging from blue-green to pink. Roberta cut a piece of stone and showed me how to polish it – and then let me keep it!
We continued our drive around the boot, enjoying glimpses of blue sky over the offshore islands of St Pierre and Miquelon on the horizon, and checking out the ferry location in Fortune for our trip across to St Pierre tomorrow. We’ll be spending the night there – so the next blog instalment will be a day late, as we’re making the crossing without the car, bringing hand luggage only. Au revoir!

 


Monday, July 27, 2015

The sunny south

[Posting for Sunday, July 26, 2015]
Frenchman’s Cove, NL – We’re on a new penin-sula tonight – the Burin – in a pine forest at Frenchman’s Cove Provincial Park. Once again we lucked out with an electrified site, after booking an unserviced one. Just as we drove up, an electrical site that can’t be reserved came free, so we got it. As my mother always says, better to be born lucky than to be born rich.
Our day started very early when the weather band on the radio let out a loud beep at 5:30 am and announced a weather warning for St John’s: “possibility of frost in low-lying areas”. We had some distance to cover, so the early wake-up call just got us going a bit earlier than planned.

We traveled southwest from the Trinity area back to the TransCanada Highway, turning south and eastward past Clarenville, and then onto Highway 210 onto the Burin Peninsula. The terrain was noticeably different, with wide grassy meadows dotted with ponds and only a few evergreens; quite a contrast to the mountains and dense forests we left behind. We fully expected to see caribou prancing through the fens, but I guess they were taking Sunday off.
After passing through one fishing village after another in the Bonavista area, this region felt quite remote, with few cars on the road and fewer towns. The sky was fairly overcast most of the way, with spitting rain in the earlier part of the day.

We had a dinner invitation at the home of Nancy and Morley, friends of Val’s brother John and his wife Fawn, whom they met in Florida. When they’re not being snowbirds, they live, oddly enough, in a town here called Winterland! John and Fawn introduced us via e-mail and that resulted in this kind invitation. On the phone, Nancy promised me there would be sunshine, after our many dull days.
We stopped briefly in Marystown to glean some information about the area at the visitor centre, and pick up some local maps. This large centre serves many of the communities further south on ‘the boot’, as this peninsula is sometimes called. Armed with fresh material, we managed to find the provincial park and our evening’s destination.

It was great getting acquainted and enjoying a delicious dinner with our new friends. And, as we sat looking out on their deck and lovely back yard, the promised sunshine came into view! After supper, Morley and Nancy took us to the Winterland Ecomuseum, where a boardwalk and walking path took us through forest and wetlands where migratory birds congregate and plants and flowers flourish. Built by members of the community, this park is a lovely resource for recreation, and also serves as an educational facility for school groups. By the time our hike ended, the evening shadows had crept in and a golden sliver of moon was peeking through the clouds.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Joyce's cod cheeks

Bonavista Peninsula, NL – A dull but much calmer day greeted us this mor-ning. For our last day on the penin-sula, we decided to have a look at a couple of movie sets. Trinity East was the location for a film with Gordon Pinsent called The Shipping News. It’s some time since we saw it, so the sleepy town on the cove wasn’t familiar, but it was picturesque just the same.

Salt box houses clustered by the shore and grassy yards were casually dressed in daisies, buttercups and purple lupines, against a backdrop of dark green hills sloping down to the water. Like nearly every town we’ve seen, it had a small white church and a graveyard with weathered, tilting headstones. There was even a clothesline filled with bright-coloured laundry drying in the breeze, and fishing boats bobbing next to the dock.
The second film set was where the mini-series Random Passage was filmed, an 18-km drive in from Highway 230, along winding roads with plenty of curves, potholes and blind hills. After covering some distance, we began to wonder if we’d missed a sign (we’ve learned that signage is not a strong Newfoundland trait), so we turned down a road where there were some houses.

I noticed a group of people on a wharf who seemed to be cleaning a fresh catch of fish, so we stopped and went over to see – and get directions at the same time. “We’re from Ontario and we’ve never seen a cod right out of the water,” I said. They were more than pleased to show us – and they had caught some big ones!
Glen and Jerry were busily filleting the fish on a table next to the water, while other family members watched. Once they dropped the fillets into a bucket, they tossed the heads and guts into the water where a strong current washed them back out to sea and the waiting otters and eagles that were awaiting a free lunch.

On the table were some triangle-shaped bits they told us were cod tongues. We’d sampled some at the Viking dinner theatre in St Anthony. I asked about cod cheeks, just as Joyce arrived – she confessed to us that she never liked fish even though she grew up here, but the one thing she would eat was the cheeks. She stepped up to the table and went to work on the cod’s severed head, jamming her fingers into its eyes to hold it still and slicing away the flesh on both sides in the hollows just below them.
Before we left, Gerry pulled several fillets out of the bucket and put them in a plastic bag for us to take with us. We were delighted to be able to bring them back to the RV for a fresh feed – and Joyce told us just how to do it: dredged in flour with just a bit of salt and pepper, and fried in oil – “but not for too long!”

With our lovely gift and clear travel directions, we headed on to the movie set. After enjoying lunch in the tea room where the tickets were sold, we went on to the site. Although it was built in 2000, the cluster of log houses looked weathered and old, and only a grassy footpath led from one house to another. We bought a DVD of the mini-series, since we haven’t seen it, so now we’ll recognize the setting of this tale of Irish immigrants coming to a new found land.
Our next destination was back in Trinity, where the Rising Tide Theatre group was putting on a pageant about the town’s and Newfoundland’s history. It’s a unique presentation that brings the audience on foot from one venue in the town to another, telling tales of the fishery, the church, the court and everyday activities with a cast of quick-change actors who are pirates, washerwomen, choristers and historic characters. There was lots of humor and pathos, and it was fun to recognize the actors we’d seen at the play a couple of nights before.
Back at the RV, Val donned his apron and tackled our beautiful mess of fresh cod, dishing up a delicious smelling feast, as fresh as it possibly could be. Thank you, Glen and Jerry!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Chills and thrills

Bonavista Peninsula, NL –It was so cold and windy today we needed sweater, scarf, parka and gloves. If we had them handy, toques would have helped too. As we drove out from the camp-ground, lashings of rain whipped at the car, and the pond near the exit was torn with whitecaps.

Undaunted, we continued northward, aiming for Cape Bonavista, at the extreme tip of this peninsula, where tradition claims Giovanni Caboto landed in 1497 in his ship, the Matthew. Ye Matthew Legacy is the name of the interpretation centre devoted to Caboto’s story. Visitors can follow the adventures of Jacomo, the ship’s barber-surgeon, as he journeys to England and meets our intrepid traveler, looking for the support of Henry VII for an exploratory voyage to find a western route to the Orient.
Sacks of cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, peppers and licorice root were on display – the sought-for spices from Cathay. So were navigators’ tools, such as an astrolabe, a special rope with lead weight to plumb the water’s depth and sample the sea floor at the same time, and a knotted rope which, used with a float and hour glass, could determine the ship’s speed – in knots, of course.

The final display was a full-sized replica of The Mat-thew that visitors could board and explore. The museum building had enormous back doors that could open and allow the ship to float in the harbour behind it, but it’s now kept indoors to keep it from deteriorating. In all, it was an excellent exhibit.
Fighting a fierce wind all the way, we headed for land’s end and the Cape Bonavista lighthouse. The gale ripped at our hair and clothes on the way to the lighthouse, but once we were inside it was quite cozy. The first two floors housed the keeper and his family, and then we climbed up into the light room itself. A revolving wheel of silver reflective dishes allowed lights to shine red or white in succession to beam out the signature flashes that would help sailors identify their location.

Outside once again, we battled the gale to snap a few pictures of the pounding surf and the tiny black spots in the sky that were puffins in flight! We could just make out the birds’ white bellies as they trotted about on the rocks, but they were too far off to see clearly.

Not far from the lighthouse was a statue of Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot) with a plaque in English, French and Italian explaining that this spot was a best guess at his landing point.
A little further around the coast – still broiling with frothy breakers crashing up against the rocks – we came to The Dungeon, a rock formation carved out into two arches by the sea over the centuries. We grinned at fellow tourists who struggled to keep standing on the way to the viewing platform. Brave souls!
Elliston, just south of Bonavista, was our next destination. “The root cellar capital of the world” has another attraction: a place to see puffins up close.  We found the place and, as we headed for the path, a man got out of his car to warn us about the danger when walking on the high cliffs in this wind. Val and I held hands tightly as we negotiated our way over grass, rocks and muddy bits out to the point of land, while blasts of wind continued to whirl around us.

There was the puffin colony, dotting the grassy top of a second cliff, sepa-rated from us by a deep chasm. It was too dangerous to get closer, so we were tantalized by their distance from us. I wanted to see their beady eyes! Just then, one small puffin landed on our side, just a few yards away! He was a darling little thing, strutting about, with his black feathers fluffed by the wind. He stayed for several minutes before leaping into the gale and flying away. We were spellbound and thrilled to have this special encounter.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Switcheroo

Bonavista Peninsula, NL – The steady drumming of rain on the RV roof drilled into our sleep overnight. When mor-ning came and Val swung his feet to the floor to get up, they landed in water! A small opening in the bedroom slide at the back of the RV was just big enough to let a trickle come in and seep across the carpet on his side of the bed. We placed the blame on Newfoundland’s renowned side-ways rain.

We were hitting the road today anyway, so I pulled in the slide and sopped up the water with our handy-dandy ShamWow, a great device for just such a purpose.
The rain continued to pelt down as we drove to the dumping station before leaving the camp. By the time we’d emptied the waste tanks, refilled the fresh water tank, and hitched up the car, we were almost soaked to the skin. Val was standing with the hose at the fresh water intake, dripping wet, when he grinned and said “this is one of those precious memories we’ll think of when our RV days are over!”

Our route today took us south, out of Terra Nova Park, and then eastward toward the Bonavista Peninsula. We had reservations at Lockston Path Provincial Park for three nights, but could only book a non-serviced site. However, our hope was that an electrical one might be available once we got there.
The “path” part of that park name referred, I think, to the 17 km gravel road that led in from Highway 230, which on this wet day spewed rain and mud at every pothole we passed. At least we only had to cover 5 km to the park entrance. When we pulled up at the registration office, the gents at the wicket were most kind, scrolling through the computer information to find us a free site with electricity, even for one or two of the three nights we’d be here.

We were pleased when they offered us one night at a serviced space, with the possibility of another that would become vacant tomorrow. So instead of our reserved Site 29, we happily went to Site 53.
We didn’t spend a lot of time setting up because we wanted to get in to Trinity as soon as possible. Our friends Len and Wendy had recommended a play at the Rising Tide Theatre there called “No Man’s Land” and the only show we could get to was tonight’s, so we wanted to be sure to get tickets.

Trinity is just 20 minutes from the campground, and it’s a small seaside town that has been resurrected from crumbling ruins into a vibrant history lesson, with restored buildings turned into mini-museums, such as a blacksmith shop, cooperage, general store and others.

By the time we got there, the rain had let up, so we could get out and walk in relative comfort. We landed the tickets right away, to our delight, and then went off in search of lunch. We spent the early afternoon ex-ploring some of the buildings and enjoying the old world charm of picket fences and bright clumps of wild-flowers.
As we drove back to the park and headed in to our campsite, two of the park staff were heading out in their truck. When they got closer they signalled for us to stop. Apparently a camper had given up on the weather, so his serviced site was now available for the entire length of our stay. We turned around to re-register our location and then moved from Site 53 to Site 38! Good thing we hadn’t settled in too much at our first stop! We were very pleased with their kindness, and with our new location. There’s a lot to be said for electricity, and for thoughtful Newfoundlanders.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A happy adventure

Terra Nova National Park, NL – Bob is an old friend of our friend Carl, and he lives in Gander but has a trailer at Eastport, which is near here. Bob invited us to drop in when we were in the park, so we gave him a call this morning and arranged to meet him at lunchtime.

Before we did that, we drove further into the park to see Ochre Hill, a walking trail that promised an excellent view from the lookout at the top. When we reached the end of the road and parked the car, we could see an observation tower that clearly would provide a commanding view. The daunting part was the hundred or so steps to get to the top – if indeed the public was allowed to do so; we didn’t hike over to find out.
Instead, we took the path to the side that started out with some gentle steps before depositing us on the rocky pathway upward. That was when we spotted a pair of bright red Adirondack chairs, set on a promontory, just asking for us to take a front row seat. Having read some of the park literature, I knew these were part of a project throughout Newfoundland (and national parks across Canada) where people are invited to take pictures of themselves with the chairs and send them in. We happily snapped ourselves with the automatic setting on the camera, and then had a seat.

It was delightful to be still and gaze out on a panorama of trees, meadows, lakes, mountains and sky, with no other sound besides the whispering breeze through the ever-greens and the lone piping tune of a woodland bird. As we sat, the cloud cover thinned, allowing beams of sunlight to play over the scene below. I don’t know how long we sat there, with the entire place to ourselves, but it was a magical visit.
With our lunchtime rendez-vous approaching, we headed north and out of the park, turning eastward toward the villages of Sandringham, Eastport, Sandy Cove and Happy Adventure. Bob welcomed us into his trailer for a chat, and then the three of us headed for the Happy Adventure Inn to taste its renowned fish and chips.

The hotel’s dining room windows provided a lovely view of the harbour below, where fishing boats were heading out to catch more of the fresh cod we were about to enjoy. The recreational cod fishing season has just opened, and for a limited time, so lots of people were out getting their allotted numbers while the getting was good.

Well-stuffed with our delicious feed, we headed out for a tour of the area with Bob as our guide. He’s been staying out here for years with his late wife Betty, so he knew all the twists and turns. We saw the beautiful beach at Sandy Cove, a soft arc of seaside dunes where kiddies build sand castles and older ones jump in the waves when the weather is hot – which it wasn’t today. We also saw the Eastport beach – and its more aggressive surf. Bob says the two venues usually have opposite swimming con-ditions, so if one is too rough, everyone goes to the other.
It was a pleasure seeing this little corner of Newfoundland with one of its own. We could certainly see why so many people come here every summer.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A big man with a small name

Terra Nova National Park, NL – Need to cool down? C’mon over to New-foundland! An ice cream shop in St John’s says this is their worst summer for business in twenty odd years, accor-ding to the local news. At least we aren’t getting rained on, though people are saying there’s a great need for it here. I must say it has sometimes occurred to me that, if something did fall out of all those grey clouds, it could be snow.

We’re settled in a lovely campsite at Terra Nova Park, after a fairly short travel day on the TransCanada Highway. We had a leisurely start to the day, arriving in the small town of Gambo just before lunchtime. On the TCH before the turnoff, we stopped at Joey’s Lookout, a viewing station that gave a marvellous vista of Fresh-water Bay, an inlet of Bonavista Bay. Then we drove in to the Smallwood Interpretation Centre.
The sign on the door, to our dismay, said “Closed daily from 12:00 to 1:00 pm”, and it was five minutes before noon! Still, we went inside, and the two young women inside said it would be no problem; we could go ahead and visit. When I signed the guest book and saw we were the first visitors of the day, their decision made sense.

The bilingual display panels described, in great detail, the life and times of Joseph R. Smallwood, first premier of Newfoundland, who was born in Gambo on Christmas Eve in 1900. He was the first of 13 children born to David Smallwood, an entrepreneur from PEI who built the first sawmill here, and when it burned down, the second one – this time powered by steam.
As we worked our way through the panels about Joey, we learned of a man who had enormous determination and drive, starting out as a newspaper reporter, branching into radio, traveling to Great Britain and New York to learn more about how Newfoundland could fit into the world of the ‘30s and ‘40s. At one point, he walked 700 miles from Port-aux-Basques to St John’s along the new railway bed, meeting rail workers all along the way and discussing the important changes he felt Newfoundland needed.

Joey Smallwood wanted to see an end to self-serving, corrupt practices that kept the people of Newfoundland from fulfilling their potential. He had a vision for his homeland that he shared tirelessly with anyone who would listen, and he overcame setbacks and defeats along the way. It was inspiring to see how devoted he was to making a better life for Newfoundlanders, and in making many of the hard decisions he had to make as premier – such as the resettlement of 30,000 people from isolated fishing villages to larger centres – he made enemies as well as friends.
We had a look at the statue of Joey Small-wood in the park across from the centre after we ate our lunch in the RV, and then headed out to Terra Nova Park.
The visitor centre of the park had some great displays of marine life, including a touch table – a shallow box filled with water and loaded with dozens of sea stars and crabs that people were invited to touch or pick up. There were also tanks with other sea creatures, and staff members had lots of little kids crowded around them as they presented their nature talks.

We have a full day here at Terra Nova tomorrow to explore some of its trails and sites of interest. We are hoping, as we are every day, for good weather.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Memorials and memories

Gander, NL – Our day was a bit diffe-rent today, because we divided it between seeing sights and seeing people we knew. When you’ve been engaged in brief conversations with strangers day after day, connecting with folks you know is a very pleasant change, and so it was today.

The sightseeing portion of the day took us to Gander International Airport, which in its heyday was the largest airport in North America. We knew quite a bit already from our visit to the Aviation Museum yesterday, but it was good to see the actual location.
At the reception desk, we chatted with Russ, an airport employee with a toothless smile behind a snow-white mustache and a shiny bald head, plus a twinkle in his eye. He directed us to the visitor viewing platform on the second floor, where we could see the international departure lounge down below and the impressive 72-foot mural that was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II in 1959.

There had been talk about refurbishing the lounge, but there was enough resistance that the large hall has been allowed to remain the way it was in the 1950s, with floor tiles and furniture of that vintage. “Those seats have seen a lot of bums!” quipped Russ.
We ran into Russ again as we were leaving, and he strolled out to the car with us as he headed out for a smoke break. It turns out he was on duty on December 12, 1985 when the Avro Arrow plane bringing US military personnel back home from peacekeeping duties in Egypt crashed, moments after take-off, killing all 248 military personnel and eight crew members on board. He spent three days collecting human remains and helping to clear the crash site, and he said the memory of that tragedy still haunts him to this day.

A memorial called The Silent Witness is located at the crash scene that we drove to next, south of the air-port, where all 256 victims'names are recorded on a plaque, and the flag of the 101st Airborne flutters in the breeze. Small American flags are planted all over the grounds, and a statue of a soldier holding the hand of a small boy and girl is on display. Each child has an olive branch in their hand, and they stand as symbols of a peaceful future.

Our evening’s entertainment was dinner at the home of Len and Wendy – Len was a troopmate of Val’s with whom we had reconnected last year at the troop reunion in Regina. They told us to get in touch when we got to Gander, where they live, so we did! It was great to see them again, and Val and Len had a great time trading tales of their early years. Wendy put on a lovely spread; a real treat after camp suppers and restaurant meals!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Crossroads of the world

Gander, NL – The wel-come sign to the town of Gander uses the above phrase as its subtitle, for the con-struction of the Gander airport was the reason the town came to be. Originally a swamp land, this region was chosen for its strategic location for planes to land from overseas when such travel was in its infancy, and for its wide expanse of flat land.

In the earliest days, air access was the only access to Gander, but it was nevertheless a bustling centre of activity, both during the construction phase and when the airport became fully operational. Refueling was a vital service here when planes were not able to go as far as they do now, so nearly every flight from overseas had to make a stop here before heading on to larger centres.
We visited the Gander Aviation Museum today after we arrived and got settled in our new location. It was a short drive, so we had all afternoon to explore. Since this attraction was right next door to the visitor centre where we made our first stop, it was an easy choice.

After reading panels at many museums on this trip as well as on others, I found it refreshing to absorb the information at this one through its breezy writing style, which combined facts and figures with touches of humour. For example, one panel about all the celebrities who had come through Gander was set up like a quiz game, asking “whose real name was Norma Jean?” for Marilyn Monroe or “who was the first human in space?” for Yuri Gagarin. There was also a photo of Fidel Castro trying out a toboggan outside the terminal as he encountered snow for the first time.
The military significance of Gander was particularly great, and the town still has a Canadian Forces Base. But the event that really put Gander on the map, at least in recent times, was September 11, 2001, when all US airports were closed following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Suddenly the tarmacs became airplane parking lots as dozens of flights destined elsewhere were forced to land here.

Hundreds of bewil-dered passengers found themselves stranded, but the people of Gander immediately res-ponded with open arms – bringing food, inviting strangers home, opening chur-ches where people crowded in and slept on the pews, providing toiletries and clothing and every kind of comfort and assistance they could think of over the several days before the travelers could get on their way. A display of heartfelt letters from people who received this support – and from others who were simply grateful that such kindness still existed in the world – were on display at the museum. There was even a chunk of steel I-beam from the World Trade Center that was sent by the people of the United States as a token of thanks.
It’s clear that this event had a big impact on the people of Gander. In 2011 there was a 10th anniversary comme-moration, and even today at the visitor centre there’s a notebook and pen set out for anyone who wishes to record their personal memory of that dark day in history – and lots of people have done so. The generosity and kindness triggered by 9-11 still reverberates in this small Newfoundland town.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

All around the circle!

Dildo Run Provincial Park, NL – The alarm clock went off at 5:30 this mor-ning, be-cause we had to be at Farewell a half-hour before the ferry was to sail for Fogo Island. It was about a 45-minute drive and we didn’t want to be rushed at a time of day when moose tend to graze onto the highway.

A stiff wind was thrashing through the trees as we headed for the ferry, popping seasick pills along the way in anticipation of a rough crossing. The boat did heave and sway, but we were fine and the trip only took about an hour. On display in the seating area were some lovely panels of pieced fabric, depicting typical scenes of the island. They were made by local seniors as part of a project to tap into the rich experiences and knowledge of this age group, and to encourage them to form a kind of welcome party for the many tourists who visit every year.
Alice and Phyllis, at the visitor information centre, were two such welcoming seniors who told us all about the highlights of the island, where we could eat, and general chit-chat. I could have listened to their quaint expressions and lovely accents for hours.

The town of Fogo was our first destination, on the north shore of the island. I wanted to complete my photo trifecta of me standing in front of the signs for Fogo, Twillingate and Moreton’s Harbour, since I got the other two shots yesterday.

After a lei-surely drive around the harbour, we proceeded on to Joe Batt’s Arm. Besides see-ing the town, we had another plan: to try and find Val’s friend Harvey, who worked with him in Kingston over 40 years ago and who came from Joe Batt’s Arm. Alice at the visitor centre said she knew him and that he did summer on the island, so he might be there.
First we stopped for a comforting bowl of seafood chowder at Nicole’s, to ward off the very chilly weather. Today was supposed to be the day for the Great Fogo Island Punt Race, an annual event where competitors paddle “to there and back” on the open sea in wooden punts – but it was too cold and rough, so it was postponed. It still meant a pretty busy day for the staff at Nicole’s, but we were able to ask Pauline, who’s from JBA, if she knew Harvey. Indeed she did, and she gave us directions to his house.

The other JBA must-see was the Fogo Island Inn, an ultra-modern, high-luxury hotel built on the rocks, where guests may enjoy a room for $1,000 a night! A shuttle service drives you to the hotel from a satellite parking lot, and you can drop in for tea if you’d rather not break the bank. We perused the lobby, admired the quirky décor and took our leave.
Finally, we set off in search of Harvey’s house on the off chance he might actually be there. We knocked on the door and, when he opened it, chuckled inwardly at his puzzled expression, which shortly changed to amazement when he realized who we were! His wife Barb was also there, and welcomed us with great hugs. We only had a short time with them, but it was delightful to catch up after four decades. It was also great to see what Harvey and Barb had done to the house, which belonged to three generations before him, and was now lovingly refurbished with original wide-planked floors, hooked rugs and scenes of the sea on the walls.

Of light and laughter

Friday, July 17, 2015 [Posted a day late.]

 Dildo Run Provincial Park, NL – Today was the day to switch from our non-electrified campsite to one with power. While we waited for the occupants of our new site to leave, we took a short jaunt around the western portion of New World Island (NWI) where our camp-ground is located.

Anyone who knows the song “I’se the B’ye” will remember the chorus, “Fogo, Twillingate, Moreton’s Harbour, all around the circle”. I had looked for what I thought was Morton’s Harbour on the Newfoundland map without success – until I found an inset map that enlarged the area around Twillingate, and there it was – spelled Moreton’s!
That’s where we went this morning, driving along curving roads, up, down and around, and dodging potholes all the way, as vistas of little fishing towns came into view – including Moreton’s Harbour, a lovely village in a sheltered harbour that led out to Notre Dame Bay and on to the great Atlantic Ocean.
Back we came to Dildo Run as check-out time approached. Our new site was just a couple of spots down the road from the old one, so I strolled by to check on the occupants. They looked decidedly settled. We were all set to go with slides in and hatches battened down, so we made and ate our lunch to help pass the time. Finally we saw the folks pull out, and we made our move.

Setting up was quick, giving us the remainder of the day to see more of Twillingate, and to stop at the visitor centre to see what other attractions we might enjoy in the area. Armed with literature, and after a great old chat with the two ladies at the centre, we headed in to Twillingate and on to the Long Point Lighthouse at the end of the road.
A stiff, chilly wind whipped at our clothes and hair as we stepped out of the car. We were at quite a height of land, with rocky cliffs that dropped steeply to the water below and offered a view far out to sea. The red and white lighthouse was built in 1876 and has operated ever since then, although with fewer personnel today now that automation has taken over.

Our ticket entitled us to a guided tour of the lighthouse tower. Suzie, our guide, led us up the spiraling staircase until we found ourselves inside the glass windowed light chamber itself at the very top. There at the centre was the revolving light, and out the windows we could see for miles. Suzie pointed out the narrow catwalk outside where the keeper would have to crawl out and paint the exterior from time to time, with a strong grip on the handrail all around. It was a fascinating visit to a place I never thought I’d see.
We also enjoyed the exhibit inside the former keeper’s residence, describing the art of wooden boat building before the arrival of fibreglas. There were also panels about how to make a birch bark canoe, and explanations of the different types of boats – dories, shallops, schooners and more.

After a rest at the camp-ground, it was time to head back for the Twillingate/NWI dinner theatre show. We’d managed to reserve tickets at the visitor centre earlier in the day, and selected lobster and mussels from the menu choices. The meal was delicious, and we had two couples from Newfoundland at our table, so the conversation was very interesting.
The dinner show left us clapping, tapping our feet, singing along and laughing as the troupe of musicians and performers entertained us with Newfoundland songs and silly skits. Professional performers they were not, but they more than made up for it with the humour, enthusiasm and charm that leaves anyone who “comes from away” completely smitten.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

On the Shoal Tickle Bridge

Dildo Run Provincial Park, NL – Tonight we will be dry camping – no water or electrical hookup! It was the only site we could re-serve, so we took what we could get. We did manage to switch for tomorrow and Saturday nights at a site just down the road that has electricity. And, we are allowed to run our generator, so we won’t have to freeze in the dark.

Freeze is a bit of an exaggeration; it was a beautifully warm and sunny day today, but as we approached the Atlantic Coast the temperature dropped perceptibly. We were glad of another nice day, anyway, as we left Grand Falls-Windsor and headed east on the TCH. After passing Bishop’s Falls, we turned north on Highway 340 in the direction of Twillingate.
A small museum drew us into the town of Lewisporte. Val said he really felt old when he recognized the wooden box telephone like his grandfather’s on the wall, and the wringer-washer like the one his mother used, and the same camera and typewriter he used in his youth.

The display also covered the First and Second World War years, including a part explaining that, when WWI broke out, local volunteers’ uniforms had to be sewn locally. Without khaki material, they made do with dark blue broadcloth to fashion their puttees, hence the name The Blue Puttees for the first 100 soldiers to come from this area. That’s now the name of the Marine Atlantic ferry we took here from North Sydney.
Our second stop was at Boyd’s Cove, where we drove in to the site of the Beothuk Interpretation Centre. In the 1980s an archeologist found a large flat clearing on the shore of the cove when he was searching for evidence of Beothuk habitations. As soon as he walked across the clearing, he knew he’d found remnants of a settlement, based on raised mounds of earth outlining two round teepees and an oval-shaped longhouse. Thousands of artifacts were unearthed at the site, from animal bones to arrowheads, plus iron tools refashioned from European objects that confirmed contact between the natives and the white man. The centre holds a wealth of information about this now-extinct society. One of the features of the centre is a Spirit Garden in memory of the lost tribe, where visitors are invited to craft tokens from natural materials and hang them in the trees.

Once we got settled at our campsite – pretty quickly when no hoses or power cords are required – we set off for Twillin-gate for a quick look. It’s special to us because our dear friend Carl lived here many years ago, and met his late wife Roslynn as she crossed the Shoal Tickle bridge. A painting of that very bridge hangs in Carl’s apartment, and when we rolled into town, I recognized it right away! We drove onto a dirt side road and I sneaked through a couple of back yards and past a garden patch, and scrambled over the rocks on the shore to get as close as I could get to the artist’s vantage point, and snapped a picture. It was a very special moment!
[P.S. Delighted to find a Wifi hot spot at this park!]

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Incommunicado

Grand Falls, NL – Before we left on our trip, we invested in a MagicJack phone with voice over internet protocol (VOIP). We took it along with us because we knew our cellphone service wouldn’t work in Newfoundland. With this new tool, we’d be able to make free calls whenever we had Wifi – a service which is fairly widespread.

It has worked by and large up to now, although sometimes a crackly reception impedes meaningful conversation. That was the case this morning, when we tried to reserve a campsite for our next destination. I dialed several times, but could not hear all the digits of the toll-free reservation number (a number not recorded in the campground blurb). It crackled out every time.
No problem, we reasoned; there was a pay phone at the comfort station we could use. So, with a handful of quarters and loonies, we headed over to try it. The melodious voice at the other end of the telephone, activated by inserting the first quarter, instructed us to insert an additional $4.25 for one minute of service.  We had enough change for that expensive minute, but not if the conversation went beyond that, which was highly likely.

No problem, we reasoned; we had to get a few supplies anyway, so we’d go to the shopping mall and ask for our change in loonies and quarters. Then we’d find a payphone there. Maybe it would be cheaper. With jingling pockets, we located a payphone. The phone display said PHONE CARD ONLY.
No problem, we reasoned; the Wal-Mart store had pay phone cards we could buy and then we would run no risk of running out of coins. With a new phone card in hand (having read the TINY instructions on the back and determining that this card worked in Canada), we returned to the pay phone. After inserting the card, a melodious voice told us to remove the card and try again. Then it said to remove the card and try again with another card. After several attempts, the display then said THIS CARD IS NOT ACCEPTABLE.

We wanted to stop at the bank at another part of the mall, and when we got there we saw some more payphones which accepted change. At last! In went our quarter, and our $4.25 for one minute of service, so I could hear ALL the digits of the campground reservation number. That number, mercifully, was toll-free, so we were finally able to make our call and secure a site – no water or electricity, but a site nevertheless.
This simple transaction had eaten up our entire morning. Ain’t technology grand?

Our afternoon activity was more rewarding; we went to the Mary March Provincial Museum in town, where 5,000 years of Newfoundland history were laid out in text, pictures and artifact displays, covering native tribes, Vikings, French and British occupations and more recent history about fishing and logging. The museum was dedicated to one of the last of the Beothuks, a woman who died of tuberculosis one year after being captured by the British. They named her Mary March, but her Beothuk name was Demasduit.
The other rewarding part of the day was the weather – truly summery, with a high of 27 degrees! It was lovely to sit outside with our evening cup of tea, and enjoy the sound of laughing children and chirping birds. It was the perfect antidote to our earlier frustrations.

[Note to faithful readers: we may not have internet reception for the next three days. As soon as we can get online again, we’ll catch you up on our doings.]

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The river's exploits

Grand Falls-Windsor, NL – Our map was refolded today to focus on central New-foundland, as we took to the Trans Canada Highway in just about every direction but west. The route on the map looks a bit like the letter M, beginning northward to skirt Sandy Lake, then southeast, then northeast and finally almost due south to reach Grand Falls-Windsor.

The lakes and trees we passed today were quite reminiscent of Ontario. Several times the road climbed to give us a wonderful panorama of mountains, covered in evergreens, and dozens of lakes, which for some reason are called ponds more often than not, no matter how big they are.
It was wonderfully sunny today and warmer than we’ve had it since leaving Ottawa. We are actually outside this evening on our lawn chairs, enjoying a lovely breeze. The Sanger Memorial RV Park here is right on the banks of the Exploits River, and beautifully laid out with trees and grassy areas.

It didn’t take us long to complete the 200 or so kilometers to our destination; in fact we got here by lunchtime, so after we had a bite to eat, we headed out to do some exploring.  The river defines the southern edge of town, and the TCH divides it into a northern and southern section. The homes look generally well-kept, and there are lots of parks and community facilities. A large paper mill stands, abandoned, by the river, telling of earlier reasons for the town’s existence.
Val earned himself some serious brownie points by waiting patiently while I sat in a local hairdresser’s chair for a much-needed haircut. The number of points climbed as he waited once again for me to pop into a grocery store for a few supplies.

Then we were off to see the Salmonid Interpreta-tion Centre, not far from the RV park, where we learned why so many vehicles were parked by the roadside on our way into town: it’s a salmon-fishing mecca!  The Exploits River was a natural spawning ground for salmon, but the activity was confined to the waters below the falls (which gave the town its name) because the rocks were too high for the salmon to climb.
Local townsfolk established the Environment Resource Management Association, or ERMA, to rehabilitate the river by attending to waste management, and clearing away abandoned beaver dams and old logging debris to improve the river’s flow. They also constructed a fish ladder and bypass to help the salmon reach the river above the falls, and established a fish hatchery. In 1978 there were about 1,200 salmon in the lower portion of the river; with their efforts, today the count is upwards of 30,000 fish!

The interpretation centre allowed us to view the fish traveling through the ladder through a Plexiglas wall, and we saw a video that explained the ERMA project from start to finish. We also learned that, unlike Pacific salmon that die shortly after returning to their birthplace to spawn, Atlantic salmon are able to spawn two or three times in their lives. Sounded fishy to me.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Rock bottom

Deer Lake, NL – The sun made an appearance today, much to our de-light after yesterday’s deluge. It hid behind great banks of cloud as the morning progressed, but finally decided to shine forth in earnest after lunch.

Today’s destination from our Deer Lake base point was the southern portion of Gros Morne Park that we hadn’t explored earlier. The road in to the Tablelands area was only a half-hour drive up from here and just inside the park entrance, and it took us past Bonne Bay Little Pond – really a substantially sized lake – and along the South Arm of Bonne Bay before climbing into the mountains.
We stopped in at the Discovery Centre first, where there were displays about the rocks, plants, animals and topography of the park as well as a 20-minute film about the park. It was only after the lights went out and the film started that we realized we’d seen it already when we were at Rocky Harbour, but it was good enough to watch again.

On we went toward the Tablelands proper, and the highway made a kind of dividing line between the sweeping, tan-coloured slopes on the left, devoid of vegetation, and the green densely forested mountains on our right. The barren rocks are actually the earth’s mantle, pushed upward half a billion years ago by the movement of tectonic plates, and so full of iron and magnesium that plant life can’t take hold. “See the Earth Naked” says the brochure blurb, and so it seems, except at the lower levels where a few grasses, stumped evergreens and wildflowers have managed to grow.
Our first look at this landscape was less than ideal because of a low cloud cover that curled mysteriously around the heights, so we continued on to the end of the road where a small fishing town, Trout River, beckoned with the promise of an excellent seafood restaurant. We were not disappointed, me with my scallops on a bed of greens, scattered with partridge berries, and Val with a freshly caught lobster.

A small museum in a wooden building by the shore held displays of fishing gear and mementos of the early times, such as school scribblers, faded photos and needlework. Young Kendrick, our host, explained how the now-illegal cod traps worked, allowing fishermen to haul entire boatloads of cod from the sea in one fell swoop. There were cod-drying racks on display as well. Kendrick told us about the morning last year when a huge blue whale washed up on the beach – an event so unusual that they printed up t-shirts and ball caps about it to sell at the restaurant gift shop.
By the time we were heading back toward the Tablelands, the sky had cleared and we had a much better view of the magnificent panorama before us. We pulled over at the trailhead and took the shorter of two trails to have a closer look at the rocky terrain. More ambitious hikers took to the higher path, a two-hour trek to the top, for what promised to be a breath-taking view.

On the way out, we took a gentle drive through Woody Point, on the banks of the South Arm of Bonne Bay. We’d seen it from the water when we took the boat tour from Norris Point on the other side a few days ago. It was just as charming from the land side, with neat little houses and gardens, a white-steepled church, and fishing boats bobbing by the dock.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Planes, trains and butterflies


Deer Lake, NL – If I were living in certain parts of Saskatche-wan, I’d be thrilled to have wea-ther like we had today. It probably would have stopped a forest fire in its tracks! On other days we’ve had a sprinkle or two, but I’d venture to say today is the wettest we’ve had yet. Too bad we can’t export it.

Before heading to Corner Brook for a look-see, which was our plan for the day, we stopped by the visitor centre here in Deer Lake for information about this area and places we plan to see later in our trip. Stephanie, at the counter, was pleased to show us highlights of her home town of Corner Brook and give us other useful material.
When we mentioned an interest in the French islands of St Pierre and Miquelon, the couple standing next to us told us that’s where they’re from, and proceeded to tell us all about restaurants, hotels and special features of the islands. Joelle kindly noted these in our newly acquired guide book, and added her and her partner Jean-Jacques’ contact information. The conversation quickly switched to French, and we learned that Jean-Jacques is a sixth-generation citizen of the islands and a philatelist by trade. It was a delightful and unexpected exchange!

Corner Brook is about 50 km southwest of Deer Lake along the TransCanada Highway, and a beautiful drive, not only for the grand scenery of mountains and the Humber River, but also for its welcome lack of potholes. The chief source of employment used to be the pulp and paper mill that still operates next to the river. A local resident told Val that it used to employ some 3,000 people in its hey-day; now there are 150 employees. The mill has a huge yard with more piles of logs than I’ve ever seen in one place.
The railroad history of Newfoundland is showcased in Corner Brook, with the last train on display and open to the public. Until 1969, this narrow-gauge railway served most of the southern portion of the island, and the not-so-swift pace earned it the name Newfie Bullet! The small museum had photos of long-serving railroad men, including Patrick Dwyer, who started out in 1922 at age 13 as a telegraph operator (yes, thirteen!) and held nearly every post in the hierarchy before retiring more than 40 years later. It was fun to tour the sleeping car, dining car, caboose and engine outside the building. Our guide told us the snow sometimes reached the top windows of the cow-catcher car in winter!

Next, we drove to the top of the town, where a lovely national historic site dedicated to Captain James Cook overlooks the whole area from great rocky heights. We were the only visitors on this rainy afternoon, but we learned a lot about Cook’s time in Newfoundland, where he first learned about the plane table used to map coastlines. His cartography and navigation skills were honed here and led to his appointment as Britain’s lead man in the exploration and mapping of the Pacific South Seas.

The best rainy-day destination, the Insec-tarium across from our RV park, brought our day’s explo-rations to a close. Housed in a reclaimed barn, this fascinating display of insects and butterflies drew large crowds today. We saw live but-terflies emerging from their chrysalises, and flitting about in their special habitat. I hope the scorpions, six-inch beetles and furry tarantulas in the static displays don’t emerge in my dreams tonight!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Ben and Colleen

Deer Lake, NL – The RV is festooned with drying laundry this evening; one can never be sure of campground dryers! One dried a load till it was nearly cooked and the other had damp bits after the same cycle length. Oh well, we’re clean again anyway.

It was a long driving day today, from the topmost tip of the western side to the city nearest what one might call the mid-point of the island – 418 km in all. We got a nice smooth portion of new pavement for part of the trip, but for the rest, there were a lot of dips, bumps and potholes to watch for.
As we made our way back down the same highway we drove up on, it was interesting to see the stark ruggedness of the land in the north give way to gentler, greener terrain as we re-entered Gros Morne National Park. Gone were the roadside garden plots and wood piles so prevalent between the fishing villages along the shore of the strait and the northern Gulf. Instead, we were treated with the magnificent views of mountains and lakes we’d passed before, only afresh, from the southbound point of view.

We had to slow down at one point because a Sprinter cargo van was pulled over with flashers going at a narrow section of highway, so as we passed I opened my window and asked the driver if they were OK. He nodded, so we continued on our way.
On a seaside turnout, beautifully trimmed with purple wildflowers, we stopped briefly for lunch and a stretch of the legs. Then we were off again, keeping an eye out for the Arches Provincial Park that we had passed by on the way up.

As I scouted out the route in to the Arches parking area, Val was engaged in conversation by the same driver of the truck we’d seen earlier. He noticed our RV was a Mercedes Sprinter, and he wondered if we had our vehicle manual with us. A warning icon had appeared on his dashboard and he didn’t have his manual to see what it meant. He was relieved to learn it wasn’t anything serious.
The driver’s name was Ben, and he and his wife Colleen were from Niagara Falls. He opened the back of the van to reveal an amazing refit job: inside were compartments made of presswood to hold tools, and a platform at the back end was made into a bed. The walls were decorated with a large zebra print, and various bins and containers clung to the walls with bungee cords to hold them up. He said he’d bought the truck second hand and made his own motorhome out of it! Only cost him $23,000! It even had a tiny toilet, fridge and microwave, with plastic drawers for cutlery and other kitchen items. It was wonderful to see his ingenuity and enthusiasm.

After a look at the huge arches of stone, carved by glaciers in the distant past, and the white twis-ted ghosts of trees on the hillside lead-ing to them, we resumed our southward route to Deer Lake and the Gateway to the North RV park which will be our hub for explorations over the next couple of days.