(Written July 11. 2013)
Frank, our bus driver (not George as I may have said), picked us up at the motel this morning at 8:00AM after a very good breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, pancakes, toast, and coffee. When we went outside to board the bus we were disappointed to find that the black flies had not disappeared during the night. They literally swarmed around our heads and got in our hair (well, not mine since I have a perfect head – no hair). It’s no wonder that only 30,000 people live in Labrador! Luckily, Carol Ann and I had head nets left over from our Mexico trip last year. However, the mesh may have been fine enough to block mosquitoes but not to block the black flies, which managed to find their way through the netting to make it very unpleasant to be outside.
The bus pulled out of L’Anse-au-Clair for Red Bay, about a one-hour drive to the north. Red Bay is a new UNESCO World Heritage Site. It only received that recognition within the past few weeks. Their claim to fame is that the village was once a 16th century Basque whaling outpost. The Basques sailed from Europe to hunt the whales. The whales were butchered on shore and their blubber rendered into oil. Whale oil was used in lamps all over Europe at the time. They would spend six or more months each year hunting the whales and filling barrels with whale oil for the return trip to Europe. These ships were the equivalent of today’s oil tankers. The business was extremely profitable, as long as the ships made it back to Europe. It was a very risky business.
In 1972 a small Basque chalupa (not the popular Mexican food product) was discovered. A chalupa held six or seven men and went out from the “mother” ship with a harpooner to hunt whales. This one was found buried under a sandbar in the small cove at Red Bay. Although it was 500 years old and had been flattened by the weight of the sand, the cold water and being covered by sand had preserved the wood. It was recovered from its resting place, reassembled, and placed on display in the museum along with many other Basque items found in the area.
There was some construction at the museum and I noticed that several men were wearing “bug jackets”, which were made of very fine mesh as a pullover that covered your torso, arms, and head. I asked one of them where I might purchase such apparel and was told that some should be available in the gift shop.
Before going through the museum I charged across the street to the gift shop. They did indeed have the bug jackets with mesh much finer than our head nets. I bought their last Large for me and their last Medium for Carol Ann. The rest were all Smalls. Let me tell you they were fantastic! We put them on and walked down the street amid swarms of the little pests and took photos of the icebergs in the bay.
We had an early lunch in the restaurant (in which the gift shop was located) across the street from the museum. We weren’t able have ice water to drink because of a “boil order” issued for the area. We were offered hot tea or coffee because the water had been boiled. We really wanted something cold to drink so elected to purchase a bottle of water and a Pepsi.
After lunch we turned back south and went to L’Anse-du-Mort (Cove of the Dead) and the Point Amour lighthouse. As we drove through the small coastal village, Frank informed us that the population had been only eight but was now growing. Lisa (the Mayor) had a baby not too long ago and the population was now nine!
There have been many shipwrecks off of Point Amour over the past couple of hundred years or so. The lighthouse began operating in 1858 and is still going strong, except the light is now electric and automated instead of being lit with whale oil and requiring a keeper. At 109 feet it is the second tallest lighthouse in Canada. The guides led eight at a time to the top. There were 126 narrow circular steps with the last section being an almost vertical ladder that had to be climbed to access the catwalk (it was glassed in so no worry about falling off) around the huge Fresnel lens. The lens was at least two feet higher than I am tall.
One thing about this lighthouse is that it was also the site of Marconi’s first wireless telegraph station, one end of the first transatlantic wireless message. Only the foundation of the wireless station remains. It was actually kept operational up into the 1960s.
Finally it was time to head for the ferry. The bus would not be going across with us but because it had started raining, Frank got permission to back the bus onto the ferry so that we wouldn’t get wet. We got a lot of stares from the people in the cars and trucks that were lined up to drive onto the ferry as we backed past them while they waited.
Frank was a great tour guide and bus driver. He seemed to know everyone in the small villages and everyone knew Frank. He not only drove the tour bus, he owned it along with 13 or 14 school buses that he contracted out to the county. He also purchases berries from the locals and sells them to companies on the mainland for making jams and jellies. I think Frank has a lot of fingers in a lot of pies! He is a very hard worker. Newfies can be a little hard to understand so when Frank was telling us about Labrador’s natural resources I wondered why he kept mentioning “R & R.” The only R & R with which I was familiar was the Army’s one week Rest & Relaxation leave we received while in Vietnam. Finally, I realized what he was really saying. It was “iron ore.”
Our drive tomorrow will be very short. It is only 72 miles to St. Anthony’s where we will stay for two nights. Our visit will include a Viking Feast in a Viking village replica and iceberg viewing. I THINK they will have Wi-Fi.
(Written July 12, 2013)
Well, they claim to have “Wi-Fi access available.” It is if you take your computer and stand outside of the RV park’s office. This post may have to wait another day. Maybe we will go to Tim Horton’s for coffee and a donut in the morning and use their free Wi-Fi. There is a Tim Horton’s in just about every little town up here. It’s kind of a cross between McDonalds and Starbuck’s, but perhaps a step down in quality.
Today’s drive was only 70 miles and there were no problems. During the first half of the drive there was quite a bit of fog but almost no traffic. The highway could use some improvement but it got better along with the weather after we turned eastward and away from the coast about halfway to St. Anthony’s. All 22 of our RVs are crammed into one section of the park (Triple Rivers RV Park) with no shade, no sewer, and poor power. I’ve already mentioned the absence of Wi-Fi. The voltage on the power drops every once in a while to the point where my electrical management system decides it is too risky and shuts it off. When we first arrived it kept going off and on and off and on. Now, about five hours later it seems to be OK.
At 1:00PM we drove out to Goose Cove in hopes of seeing some whales and/or icebergs. Rich and Helen went with us and we saw Thursa, Dottie, Dan, and Stacha. Thursa had a huge 200mm - 400mm telephoto zoom lens that she let me take a few shots with. Now I know what I want for Christmas! We never saw any whales or icebergs but the scenery was terrific.
Eight people from our group went on an optional whale watching boat ride this afternoon and did see whales. Howard and Stoney related how rough the sea was and how many people got seasick and were “calling Ralph” over the side of the boat. Carol Ann wants to go tomorrow so I hope the ocean will be a little calmer.
We went to a Viking Feast this evening for dinner. It was in a building “disguised” as a large Viking sod hut. It was actually a dinner theater in which the wait staff dressed and role-played as Vikings. After we had eaten and the tables were cleared the Viking chieftain held court. Several people in our group were singled out and accused of committing a “crime”. They were called up front to defend themselves. “Witnesses” were called who would testify for or against the accused and then the chieftain would call for a vote. If the accused was found guilty (most were) the chieftain would decide the sentence. Dottie accused Thursa of drinking too much Screech at the Screech-In a few nights ago and various witnesses were called. When asked if she had anything to say, Thursa said she wanted more Screech. Additional witnesses were called and then Goodman, one of the wait staff, surprised everyone by brining out a shot of Screech for Thursa, who downed it without hesitation. She was found innocent and Dottie, her accuser, was found guilty of making a false accusation. Her punishment was that she would have to forfeit her next shot of Screech to Thursa. Another funny “case” was when Larry accused Harvey of being a messy eater because of an incident on the ferry with a hotdog and spilling mustard on his shirt. His wife Barbara testified that the accusation was true. Harvey was found guilty and as his punishment the chieftain sentenced Harvey to purchase a washer and dryer for their RV.
Let me backup for just a moment to relate this interesting bit of information. When we (Stoney, Claudia, Howard, Diana, Carol Ann, and me) first arrived for the Viking Feast we stopped to pose under a “Viking Feast” sign. So that all six of us could be in the photo, Howard stopped a pickup truck that was passing by and asked the man to take our photo. The man was quite pleased to do so and Howard introduced himself to the man and his grandson, thanking them profusely. While we were standing there I did a double-take when I saw a fox nonchalantly trotting by us on the road, perhaps only eight or ten feet from us. The fox paid us no mind and proceeded right to the back door of the restaurant where she sat and waited. I found out later that she is a silver fox and a mother that some of the restaurant staff are feeding with leftovers.
(Written July 13, 2013)
This part of Newfoundland is where the Vikings discovered North America about four hundred years before Chris Columbus. The Vikings stayed no more than ten years before pulling up stakes and returning to Greenland or Iceland or wherever they came from. Nobody knows for sure why they left but speculation is that that they never intended to be here permanently. They came for natural resources, such as furs and lumber, but eventually they began trading with the closer European continent and had no real need to stay in North America. They may have also had some problems with the Native Americans who vastly outnumbered them.
This morning we car pooled to Norstead, a replica of a Viking trading port, and then drove to L’Anse Aux Meadows, which was the actual site of the first Viking settlement 1000 years ago. A Canadian National Park docent gave us a walking tour of the area and told us about the archeological excavations. This was a great experience after last night’s Viking Feast.
A rumor got started at lunch today. Supposedly, a 175-foot tall iceberg had appeared in St. Anthony’s harbor and was grounded. As soon as we finished the tour at L’Anse Aux Meadows several of us high-tailed it to the harbor but there was no iceberg to be seen. We should have known better. An iceberg that size would be the equivalent of a 17 or 18 story building (above the water) and about twice that below the water. It would have been a real monster. Still, you never know, so we had to go and check it out. On the way down to the harbor we did spot some icebergs in a small bay between L’Anse Aux Meadows and St. Anthony’s. I found a dirt road that seemed to be going in that direction and followed it out to a point from which we had a great view of three small icebergs.
After the iceberg hunt we stopped at Foodland to buy a few groceries before returning to the RV Park. We entered the RV and found it a stifling 85 degrees. As I have mentioned, the power here is unreliable and because of low voltage my “smart” electrical management system had shut off the power to prevent any damage to appliances. The cats were glad to see us, especially after we started our generator and let the air conditioners cool down the coach.
Tomorrow we have to backtrack along the same highway that brought us to the northern tip of Newfoundland. It will be 215 miles to Rocky Harbor and Gros Morne RV Park where we will spend three nights, giving us a little break. While there we will go out on a whale watching boat and also visit the Gros Morne National Park. There will be no cell service and the Wi-Fi is said to be “spotty”, which probably means non-existent. I hope to find Internet access somewhere along the way in order to get this posted before it becomes the length of “War and Peace.”
(Written July 14, 2013)
We arrived at Gros Morne RV Park a little after 1:00PM today. Almost five hours for the 215 miles. Not too bad considering we stopped twice. Once for fuel (3/4 of a tank for $312 Canadian!!) and again at a scenic overlook for some photos and lunch.
The RV park looked really nice when we pulled in. We drove by a lot of nice wooded sites with lots of shade until we came to what amounts to a large gravel parking lot with electric, water, and sewer hookups. We have a picnic table at each site but not one single solidary tree in the entire parking lot. At least we aren’t crammed in as we have been in some parks. Plenty of room in this one.