Wednesday, July 30, 2008

New Found Land!

Newfoundland native Alfred with the gigantic iceberg we
saw in Trinity Harbour, Newfoundland.
(click on any image to see a larger version)

Thursday, July 7, 2008 L'Anse aux Meadows, NFLD

Today dawned beautiful and sunny, the third in a row after many days of rain, and the first without high winds. We took advantage of the break in the weather to book ourselves on an iceberg, whale and birdwatching cruise out of St. Anthony, high on the west side of Newfoundland. The icebergs were easy--there were two just outside the harbor. We were impressed, although our guides told us that a couple of weeks ago they were 8 times as large. The ones were were looking at now had been on their way for up to three years, and would be history in another month. In the meantime the water (we tasted a chip) and oxygen they contain had been frozen for 1000 years and was the purest on earth.

We had just about given up on sighting a whale and were returning to port when one blew about 1/4 mile away. We gave chase, and the whale obliged us with several flipper waves and a full broach before we had to turn away. Unfortunately the boat was gyrating so much to keep in touch with the whale and to give everyone of the 50 of us aboard a view that we were unable to get any really good photos.

Cape Bonavista Harbour with a replica of the ship Mathew that
John Cabot (an Italian, real name Giovanni Caboto, Angie points out) landed from in 1497 (the first European to set foot on the American continent since the Vikings).

There have been quite a few surprises in Newfoundland. For one thing, where we expected to see weathered shingle sided buildings such as are common in Maine and New Brunswick, here on the western side of the island all of the houses were neat, mostly white, vinyl sided bungalows.
Wood and paint do not stand up well to the weather here, and for the last 30 years (shortly after the first highway connected all of the fishing villages), all the the new houses have been built with vinyl siding and most of the old ones have been resided.

The highway has brought another interesting feature. In most places, the soil is too thin over the rock to allow cultivation. So people plant gardens along side the road, where the ground was broken up to create the roadbed. They stake out their rectangle (it's Queen's land, we were told, but she doesn't seem to mind), build a fence to keep out the moose and caribou, and plant their potatoes, carrots, rutabaga and cabbages. Also along the highways we saw huge stacks of firewood. Men go into the bush in the winter time, cut their wood and haul it to the side of the road on sleds pulled by snowmobiles. Each stack is marked with the owner's permit number--and nobody bothers it.

Tickle Cove (A tickle is a narrow entrance to a cove or harbor where
the rocks are said to tickle the keel of the boats as they come in).
Be sure to click on this image to see the full panorama!

July 10, 2008 Twillingate, Newfoundland "Death of an Iceberg"

Highway 1 stretches from Port aux Basques, on the southwest corner of the island, 550 miles to St John's, on the far east end. It is the aorta from which secondary arteries stretch out to the southern coast and north up the peninsulas that reach out toward Labrador and the Atlantic Ocean. In Twillingate, an archipelago of islands jutting into the Atlantic from one of these peninsulas, we get directions to the town dump. We follow the pavement almost to the end, then turn down a gravel road that winds through rocky crags with glimpses of the ocean in the background. What a place for a dump! "It looks like Corsica," Francoise had told us at the campground. (Francoise, petite, 60 years old with jet black hair, had hitched here from Quebec City carrying her 35 pound pack.) Acrid smoke from an incinerator and a congregation of gulls told us we had arrived at the dump, and we pulled La Gitana off to the side of the road and followed a path over the rocky hillocks toward the ocean. Suddenly we saw it, looking something like the turret and superstructure of a dazzling white submarine that had somehow drifted into the bay and foundered.
Rockscape at the dump, Twillingate, NFLD

The iceberg began its journey in Greenland maybe three years ago, splitting off a sea level glacier that had already spent a thousand years working its way down to the sea. The water frozen into the ice and the air bubbles trapped in it are the purest on earth, uncontaminated by polymers and preservatives. You can buy the water in local shops for a couple of bucks a bottle. After breaking off from the glacier, the iceberg drifted across the sea and down the coast of Labrador and Newfoundland, until it was pushed by wind and tide into this bay. While we are watching and photographing it, we hear a tremendous crack, then another. The iceberg is beginning to break apart. One end seems to be rising and falling with the waves, independently of the other. It is obviously aground. The next morning we think the iceberg has disappeared; we don't see it until we are at the edge of the cliffs. What is left of it has been pushed up into the point of the bay. Pieces of it dot the harbor. In a few days it will be gone completely.

A panorama showing Norris Point on a fjord near Gross Morne National Park, in the west of Newfoundland. (You may have to use your slider to see all of this one!)

July 19, 2008

On our last day in St. John's we went to the top of Signal Hill, the only point from which you can see both the ocean and the city, one of the oldest European settlements on the continent. From here, in the days of sailing ships, merchants' agents were stationed to fly signal flags when a ship bound for that particular merchant was approaching port. A character in a novel (The Navigator from New York) takes her nephew/foster son up signal hill and points out to him the directions of England, Canada, The United States. "They don't know we exist," she tells him. We felt a little the same way. Before coming here, Newfoundland seemed a wild, remote place. Once we arrived we found it full of surprises. For example, where we expected "quaint fishing villages" we found settlements of neatly kept houses.
In this region on the west side of Newfoundland, nearly all of the fishing dories are painted this same orange color. "It's tradition," a fisherman here in Little Cove told us. "It's an easy color to see if the fisherman has trouble at sea and needs to call for help. But the orange paint has become scarce, and now some of the new boats are white or blue."

As you travel from the west, the sparsest settled and most "unspoiled" (if such a term can be applied to Newfoundland) side of the province, the terrain and the nature of the towns change, as do the accents of the people, but one thing that doesn't seem to change is the friendliness and openness of the Newfoundlanders.
When we went down to Dunfield, near Trinity, to see the huge iceberg we had heard was there, we ran into Alfred, who was sitting of a log talking to a couple of other tourists. "Is this your land we're trespassing on to take our photographs?" we asked him. "In Dunfield, you can walk anywhere you like," he replied.

Street in St. John's, Newfoundland

Fish houses and lobster pots. The yellow wildflowers covered the island!