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.

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