Aug 7, 2008
|An introduction to the beauty that is Newfoundland - Thursday, August 7
We got up at 5:30 and broke camp by 6:00. The ferry is scheduled to leave at 8:00 and you have to be there and checked in by 7:00 or they give your place away to someone on standby. From the campground it’s only a short drive to the terminal, so we made it with time to spare.
This ferry is huge and by the time we got there at 6:30 at least a hundred cars and trucks were already lined up. The passengers included everything from motorcyclists in full leathers, to eighteen wheelers carrying every kind of cargo imaginable. We took our place in lane 7 and got out to stretch and get some breakfast in the terminal. We spent the next hour and a half eating, taking pictures and talking to a German couple who are traveling the United States and Canada in a pickup truck and camper. We meet some of the most interesting people on these trips.
We got the call to load so we returned to the RV and I turned off the propane. Several other lanes went before us, but our lane finally started moving and before long we were on the ramp and boarding the ship. The ferry is built to load and unload at either end. At the present it is loading through the bow in Nova Scotia and unloading through the stern in Newfoundland. The ship is built so that they can raise the bow while they’re loading and unloading, so the ship resembles some giant sea monster with it’s mouth wide open, gobbling up cars and trucks.
We ended up somewhere amidships on the main vehicle deck. There are two decks where they carry vehicles and they are also entered from ports on the sides. No one is allowed to board on foot, so passengers without vehicles are boarded by a shuttle bus that runs back and forth. We were packed so tightly that the car next to us was only an inch or two from our awning strut. We had to pull in our mirror on the passenger side to squeeze by him.
We took the stairs to deck 6 and went out on the deck to take pictures and look around. Several hundred more cars and trucks had lined up behind us so the ship took another half hour to finish loading. Finally the whistle blew one long blast and a moment later the water on the port side developed a whirlpool as the ship backed away from the dock. As it backed and turned the bow began to lower, and by the time we were ready to steam forward the bow was in place and we looked like a real ship again. It’s a fascinating process to watch.
The trip across to Port aux Basques is 100 miles and takes about 6 hours. They said yesterday’s crossing was rough, but today the sea was calm and there was only a slight roll to the motion of the ship. We spent some time exploring the ship and checking out the cabins and dorms for the sleeping arrangements. Our trip back will be from Saint John, and that is a 266 mile trip that takes about 16 hours. You board at midnight so we have opted for sleeping space in one of the dorms.
The ship has a nice cafeteria and a lounge. There is live entertainment in the lounge, and a compartment where they show movies. We spent most of our time in the main lounge, going up to the outside deck from time to time to look at passing islands or ferries and to take pictures. In the lounge there is a monitor that gives weather information for both sides of the channel (we are crossing the Cabot Strait on the Atlantic Ocean) and from time to time it shows the ship’s position relative to land.
Newfoundland came into view as we were losing sight of Nova Scotia, and I went up on deck to take pictures as the ferry entered the harbor. Port aux Basques is a small town on the southwest corner of the island. It is picturesque, with clean wooden homes and buildings. There are few trees and it has the look of a typical coastal fishing village, businesslike and devoid of ornamentation. The town is built on and around outcroppings of rock, and from the sea cliffs to the darkly forested mountains in the distance, you know immediately you are not in Kansas any more - or Nova Scotia either.
We drove first to the Visitor Center a few kilometers inland, and there we were helped by several very nice ladies. I asked one of them how Newfoundlanders pronounce the name, because I’ve heard it pronounced in several different ways. She said it is Newfoundland. I later heard many locals saying it as Newfoundland, so I don’t know much more than I did before, except that they do not say it Newfoundland as we usually do.
Loaded down with a ton of brochures and information, we got back on the road and went looking for a campground. In the rush of unloading it looked like the island would be overwhelmed with incoming vehicles, but Newfoundland absorbed them quickly and by the time we headed north on the Trans Canadian Highway there was so little traffic that sometimes we would drive miles without seeing another vehicle.
The country is exquisite, green and lush from the rains and so unspoiled by human activity that you feel you are seeing it as it might have been hundreds of years ago. The sky was a mix of clouds and blue, with a heavy cloud layer blanketing the tops of the mountains. Wildflowers of every color beautify the roadside. This is only a first impression, but I can not imagine a better place.
An hour’s drive north we came to two campgrounds Madolyn wanted to try, and we skipped the first one to check out Crabbe River Park. It’s a cozy little place, nestled in a meadow beside the river. The sites with hookups looked pretty full, but a woman showed us to one marked ‘Reserved’ and said we could have it for the night. She was living in a trailer and she was in the midst of cooking dinner, fish she was frying on a grill outside in a gazebo. We settled in and I went back and paid her 18.00 cash and didn't even have to register. They are pretty laid back here and I know we’re going to love it.
At the risk of making this too long (if I haven’t already) I have to mention our evening, because it was the nicest introduction to Newfoundland we could possibly get. It was dark outside and we were thinking about fixing dinner and going to bed, when outside we suddenly heard music. Not just someone’s radio turned up too loud, but music that was coming from some serious speakers. There was singing and playing and we couldn’t tell if it was recorded or live, but it was like it was in our living room and I went outside to find the source.
As I was standing on the road peering into a lighted campsite a man came along and asked, “Is that bothering you?” I said, “No! We love music. This is a real treat for us!” He reached out to shake my hand and he said, “I’m the owner of the park. Come on - I’ll introduce you to the ‘boys’!
The ‘boys’ turned out to be a group of men and women of all ages, sitting around a campfire with drinks in their hands, singing and listening to recorded folk songs while a man about my age played the accordion. He introduced me to the accordion player and said, “This is Joe - he had the best band in all of Newfoundland!” Joe grabbed my hand and his wife Marge came up and offered me a drink. They told me to go get Madolyn, which I did, and we were off and running for an evening I’ll never forget.
I felt a little timid at first, but the people were so funny and friendly and sincere that we were soon singing along with them and having the time of our lives. When Joe took a break he came over and sat down beside me and we had a great conversation. He said they do this every weekend and he shrugged and said, “This weekend we just got started a little early!”
There was a lot of drinking and several of the people had a little too much, but they were friendly, happy and joking drunks and everyone around the fire had a big smile on their faces. They told stories and kidded each other unmercifully, and no one took offence or got mad. The banter back and forth was sometimes hysterical, and the singing usually was too. Accents were English and Irish flavored Canadian with a special Newfoundland lilt.
Roger (the drunkest one) would hold his mop handle up like a microphone and start off, “Just walk on byyyyyy - wait on the corner - “ . Joe would pick up the chords on his guitar and everyone who knew (or thought they knew) the words would chime in. Sometimes we’d manage to get it right and it would sound pretty good, and other times we’d blow it and end up in a laughing argument. Good or bad as the music might be - the fun and companionship were wonderful as these people took us in and welcomed us to their group of friends. The party was still going strong when we toddled off to bed a little after midnight, and we went to sleep to the sounds of the music echoing over the river.