EPISODE NUMBER SIX
ONWARD TO THE GASPE’
I’m a few days behind in my journal and have probably forgotten things, but I’ll do my best to catch up.
After my bout with food poisoning, I did a purge of the refrigerator just in case there were other bacteria lurking to strike. It will be great when the fridge is finally fixed so that I don’t have to worry about such things and waste food as well.
The scenery is changing so that just about around every curve in the road (which follows the seacoast) there is a breathtaking view. Magnificent hilly rocks descend almost perpendicularly down to the coast. I can’t imagine how the roadbuilders actually did manage to create the “highway” – a two-lane affair. I suppose a lot of dynamite was involved in blasting through some of the rocks. And every so often I come across a small village of houses that hug the coast or are across the road. Many are taking advantage of tourists like me to advertise “Gite” (which I think is the equivalent of a bed and breakfast) and “Cantine” (like a snack bar) promoting fresh seafood. Only French is spoken in this area and many houses flaunt the Quebec flag only.
August 15th, 2007
Today it is cold, overcast and rainy in the morning – more like a September day back in Ontario. When I got Ripley, she came complete with a care package including a Roots sweater. I’m not sure if she appreciated it, but today she is wearing the sweater. She does get cold easily, especially at night and enjoys getting under the blankets with me.
Unlike Ontario, in Quebec it is possible to buy beer and wine in a grocery store – quite a civilized approach. I was intrigued by the various brands and couldn’t resist buying a wine called “Monkeytail”. It turned out to be pretty good and I enjoyed a glass (in a crystal wineglass if you please) on several evenings.
The food prices seem to be slightly less than in the Pickering region and the variety is about the same. And, just as in Pickering, the produce in the grocery stores is imported from the US (except for local strawberries and raspberries). So far I haven’t come across any fruit stands. Lots of “poisonneries” that sell fresh seafood, but I haven’t bought anything so far (I’m a little paranoid after my bout in hospital).
I’m having a bit of difficulty in conveying my thoughts in my fractured French. The language spoken in this region seems to be a patois as I can’t understand it at all. And of course, the locals speak it at a very rapid pace. The only thing I’ve managed to understand is that “oui” is pronounced “wha” with a distinctly nasal tone.
Having said that, there have been some people who have been very kind. At one campground early on, I walked by with Ripley and a woman spoke to me in French. When I replied “je ne parle pas francais”, she switched to English and asked me where I was from, and wished me a good vacation.
At the same campground, I took Ripley up an old logging trail that climbed as we ascended. She always loves being off the leash and just tears around at full gallop, tongue lolling and looking extremely happy. She was fascinated by a squirrel who seemed equally fascinated with her. It perched on a fence nearby instead of running away, watching Ripley below her.
In reading my guidebook, I noticed that I had driven by Bic National Park which is famous for basking seals. Oh well. I expect there will be more opportunities.
The guidebook touted the virtues of Reford Gardens at Grand Metis, originally a fishing camp of a wealthy couple from Montreal. Mrs. Reford decided to convert it into an extensive garden and it is now one of the highlights of the area. The problem was that the entry fee was $15 for seniors. I thought this was a bit steep, so passed and bought the guidebook instead. I had a very tasteless lunch in their café. I had anticipated that a pasta salad and beet salad, along with a homemade vegetable soup would be delicious. Instead, it was dry, bland and one of the worst meals I’ve had.
The only good part was finding a meadow behind the parking lot where Ripley and I had a game of ball. She really loves to have a tennis ball thrown for her, which she races after and brings back for more.
After this disappointing stop, we drove on, stopping at a roadside rest area to walk along the beach. The geological formations are quite interesting, and I collected a small slatey rock sample as a souvenir.
The guidebook led me to a smaller gardens Les Jardins de Doris in Matane, also created by a woman. The site had previously been a garbage dump and has been transformed into a beautiful oasis composed of rock gardens, giant sundial, observation tower, fruit trees, shrubs and perennials, and is used as a place for recovering alcoholics and drug abusers, according to the guide, who was bilingual. The entrance fee was a more reasonable $7 here.
So far I have seen ravens, crows, herring gulls, black backed gulls, cormorants and heron – but no gannets, which I had expected to see. There are many cormorants and I wonder if they have over-populated this area, just as they have at Presqu’le Provincial Park in Ontario.
The highway (#132) is becoming very twisty and winding and it is difficult to maintain any kind of speed. I must be very vigilant and cannot really look at the scenery. It is the only through road in this area.
Tonight I am at Camping du Rivage at Ste Anne de Monts. It is very windy here, as the campground is right on the beach on a sideroad from the main highway #132
The Camping du Rivage is run by Diane and Normand, who were very hospitable. They have Internet so I was able to catch on up emails. When I arrived last night, I didn’t feel like cooking and asked Normand about nearby restaurants. He directed me to one just around the corner, but unfortunately it was just closing when I arrived. There is one disadvantage in having a motorhome and that is not having a car to drive off to nearby areas. As I starting to prepare supper, Normand knocked on my door and apologized for steering me wrong on the restaurant. He suggested ordering a pizza which could be delivered – something I will keep in mind for future use. However, I had already started preparing my meal, so I thanked him.
I got up at 5:00 a.m. to watch and photograph the sunrise coming up over the rocky promontory. The fiery red sky was worth getting up at that hour and walking on the beach with no one else awake is bringing me the peace that I had hoped for. I am still having trouble slowing down and not worrying about a schedule, but expect that with time I will get over this “big city” attitude.
Something that is quite noticeable here in the Gaspe’ is the desire of the locals to paint their houses in unusual colours. Perhaps this is to stand out against the grey elements, or to make a statement. Many tend to prefer blue with yellow trim, but the most spectacular house I’ve seen was painted a deep blue with a deep purple roof!
Camping du Rivage also advertised a hot tub and I wasn’t about to pass this up! For $3.00 I was able to soak for 45 minutes in a super deluxe hot tub located outside in a pine gazebo with a skylight and gazebo and adjacent to a zen garden with goldfish in a pond. The jets on the hot tub soothed my neck, shoulders, back and legs and was worth every penny.
Onward continuing along Highway 132, I am passing many giant wind turbines. The guidebook states that this area contains the tallest vertical wind axis turbine in the world. Certainly the hills are filled with these turbines and with the constant wind in this region, it makes sense to generate electrical power in this manner.
Every few miles I have seen signs advertising “Capitaine Homard” (Captain Lobster) as the place to eat. I expect it is an overpriced tourist trap, but the signs are quite colourful, featuring a giant lobster.
I’m pressing on making a slow progress towards, in the area known as Lands End. It is very tiring to navigate the highway here as the road is full if hairpin turns up and down mountains. Poor Philippa is having a hard time on the hills, pulling all 5,000 kg. up and down these hills and I’m getting impatient to get to a road that doesn’t suddenly surprise me with a “bump” that sends the RV skyrocketing into the air. It is no fun. By now, the spectacular views are so common that I am no longer impressed.
I was anxious to move on, so continued the ponderous and bone-jarring (at times) trip around Lands End.
The stop tonight is at Camping des Appalaches, at Riviere au Renard, in the northeasterly area of Lands End. The woman at the desk was bilingual and told me that two people had been killed in floods just a week ago. The river hearby overflowed and a house with the two people in it, was pushed down to a bridge. Then, some RV’s from a nearby dealership were also pushed down to the bridge and crushed the house. The body of the husband was found, but that of the woman was actually found in Shippagan, New Brunswick on August 21st (according to the news on the radio there).
I had hoped to get on a whale-watching trip this morning Grand Grave Harbour in Forillon Provincial Park, so was on the road early to cover the 35 km from the campsite. I had foolishly assumed that it would not be necessary to reserve, as I had not seen many RV’s in this region. However, much to my disappointment, the bilingual cruise leaving at 9:00 was fully booked.
So, I pressed on to Perce’, the famous promontory that juts out into the ocean and that has been photographed many times. I had to admit that it was impressive to see. My guidebook indicated that a trip offshore to the Bonaventure island is a must, so I am staying here tonight at Camping du Village. The town of Perce’ is the most touristy town I have seen, with many “souvenir” shops, restaurants, cafes and people. I checked the menu of a few restaurants, and they are definitely pricey. The radio stations in the Gaspe are all in French and mostly music that I can’t stand. I had forgotten that I had brought along my shortwave radio, so found myself listening to Radio Taiwan which was in English and was quite enlightening about local situations there.
It was time to do my laundry, so I took my bundle down to the “buanderie”. No one else was there so I put my whites in one and colours in the other washer. I had already added soap to my loads when a woman came in and jabbered away in French, demanding that I let her have one of the washers (there were only two). I tried to explain in English as best as I could that I had already sorted and put my soap in. She became very insistent saying “one for you and one for me” in English. I was equally insistent that she would have to wait. She made rude gestures at me and eventually walked out, continuing to argue and to give me more gestures. Quite an unpleasant experience.
Ripley and I found a nearby field, where she raced around smelling all the new and wonderful smells, and leaving her mark. I then walked down the main street to see about going to the island tomorrow, bought a ticket, found an Internet café and did my email. The marvels of modern technology!
I also heard from my friend Monika Harmathy, who is currently in Miramichi, New Brunswick with her husband Peter and son Phillip, on their way home from camping in the Maritimes.. We are hoping to link up in Campbellton.
August 18 – Isle de Bonaventure
I am so glad that I decided to take time to stop here. The small ferry left at 9:00 a.m. and took us around the rock first, and then slowly around Bonaventure Island. We saw basking grey seals, and the deckhand told me that the females are grey and the males are black, when I asked him if there were two species. And then, we saw a Minke whale! That really made my day.
The main reason for going to the island is that it has the largest colony of gannets in North America – 250,000 make this their home. The colony is accessible after a 2.5 km uphill hike, so I really got some exercise. But it was worth it. The island is a national park, and the rangers have built an observation deck that overlooks the gannets, so that it is possible to get good close-up photos. There is an information board that explains the various postures, so I was able to get some great shots.
Of course, I then had to return 2.5 km to the ferry dock, but at least most of it was downhill, through lichen-covered forest. I heard ravens, but did not see any other wildlife. Surely there are amphibians at least that live there, but I wasn’t able to ask anyone who could speak English.
As tired as I was after my hike, I was anxious to press on in order to meet up with Monika and Peter, and thankfully the roads improved and I managed to get to Sugarloaf Mountain Campgrounds in Campbellton, New Brunswick before dark. However, I couldn’t find my friends, even though I had been informed at the Information Centre that this was the only campground. Thank goodness for a cell phone. Monika called and said that they were staying in a cabin because their tent was leaking and it looked like rain. We arranged to meet for breakfast.
In the meantime, Ripley and I explored the paths in this lovely forested campground. I must say that the provincial parks are better because the campsites are larger and more private – and reasonable in price, at least here.
It is good to be back where English is the preferred language. In the Gaspe’ I really didn’t feel like I was in Canada at all.
Monika, Peter and Phillip arrived at what I thought was 9:10. Turns out there is a one-hour time difference when you cross into New Brunswick, so they were actually late, not early. It didn’t matter. It was great to see them. I first met Monika in 1991 when we both entered the York University Environmental Studies program as mature students. We have kept in touch ever since, and she has had many adventures since then, having spent a few years in the Northwest Territories working on various projects there. She and her husband Peter share a passion for wild places and they have canoed in many remote areas. With the birth of their son, they have continued their love of travel and have currently been traveling around the Maritimes, tenting as they go. They did seem a bit envious of my RV and its comfort compared to a wet tent and wet sleeping bags.
So, after returning me to my RV in the park, we said our goodbyes. They are heading to Riviere du Loup and I am heading to Miramichi.
I arrived at the Oak Point Campground on the shores of the Miramichi river, where Kevin was extremely helpful in getting me set up. Unfortunately, he put me in a spot that had been reserved by another family and was most apologetic when he knocked on my door to ask me to move. I was preparing supper at the time, so wasn’t too keen, but of course I did move. To make up for the inconvenience, Kevin gave me back the $24 I had paid him for the night’s accommodation.
I had noticed that my right rear tire was soft and that there was a tear in it. Kevin mentioned that the owner of the RV next to mine owned a tire garage just 2 miles down the road. Wallace came over and said he would bring his compressor back.
This campground has a pool and a hot tub! Naturally I took advantage of both.
Wallace showed up early with his compressor and told me that I had a leak in the wall of the tire and that it should be replaced. He thought that they had just got in a load of good used tires from Montreal, and drove back to his garage to check. He called shortly afterwards and said that they had one for $50. So, off I went. Ripley and I waited while the sons (Armand and Sons Tire) changed the tire at their own pace. An hour later, it was done. In the meantime, Ripley and I walked around this junk-filled yard. There were several old cars, containing old auto parts like radiators and tires. There were several old engines on the ground and a huge trailer filled with tires both inside and underneath. One of the sons apologized and said he would have to charge me $60 instead of $50 because his father hadn’t mentioned that I had an RV and not a car. It was a lot more difficult to jack the RV up and get the tires off. I thought it was cheap at that price anyway and was grateful for the help in avoiding a possible serious blow-out later on down the road.
So, off to the local shopping malls (Wal-Mart, Sobeys, etc.) to get some supplies. I was hungry and couldn’t resist eating at Jungle Jim’s Restaurant. It reminded me of a smaller version of the Rainforest Café in Toronto. The walls were decorated with plastic foliage, wild animals (many monkeys) and thatched roof. I ordered a Normie burger which came complete with fried onions, tomato, lettuce, mayonnaise and excellent sirloin burger, all for $5.99.
Back to the campground, which is about 10 miles from the city, and another walk with Ripley. There always seems to be somewhere to let her off leash, and this place is no exception. There is a large field in the back where a huge tent has been set up for the convenience of tenters when it rains. Ripley enjoyed playing ball and tearing around, smelling all the good smells.
I called my friend Gwen Smith, (my old roommate who currently lives in Gimli, Manitoba) who is traveling in Prince Edward Island with her boyfriend meeting his family. We had hoped to hook up, but she is leaving tomorrow, so it won’t be possible. However, she does promise to visit me down south next winter.
I am tired of traveling and will stay here for a day or two.
For supper, I whipped up a stir-fry from the supplies bought at Sobey’s – bok choy, onions, celery, mushrooms, tomatoes and steak, all done in a steak sauce. I got energetic and baked fruit muffins as well, made from Dr. Oetker mix.
I’ve found a local radio station here that actually gives news in English. It also announces residents’ birthdays and death notices as well – the difference between a large and small city, where individuals still matter and are not just statistics.
The people who had reserved the campsite that I had originally been in have five children from Hell. You can hear their screams and voices over the entire site, and they are monopolizing the pool so that nobody else wants to use it. They start at 8:00 a.m. and continue until dark.
I started reading my favourite books again. Some years ago my friend Vanessa Phelan, turned me on to Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles and every few years I take them out to read once again. Naturally, they had to come with me on this trip and I am thoroughly enjoying going back to the 26th century and following the adventures of Francis Crawford once again. I just love Dunnett’s language and metaphors that are sprinkled throughout the six books. The only trouble is that, once I start reading, I don’t want to do anything else!
I asked Kevin to remove the cover on the hot tub, and was immediately inundated by the five children from Hell, plus their aunt. Delores was very friendly and I couldn’t help liking her. She invited me over to their campsite for an ice cream cone and we chatted briefly. She is from Moncton and was accompanying her sister to look after her grandchildren. She tells me they are leaving tomorrow – but so am I, so it doesn’t help.
August 22, 2007
I have finally brought my journal up to date. I will shortly be heading into the library in Miramichi in order to copy this journal onto my blog, and maybe add some photos (although they may come later, as it is almost noon and I have to vacate the campsite here).