These places sound so far away and so foreign. And they are. Way up the coast in the North Atlantic close to the arctic circle and Greenland. Cold and isolated.
My friend, Judith Roales, and I spent a month there. Newfoundland and Labrador is a province of Canada and, believe me, Labrador is not happy about it. There are t-shirts, cups and flags that say "Free Labrador" all over. Labrador is 113,641 square miles with 29,000 people. Newfoundland, an island, is 42,031 square miles with 485,000 people.
We rented a car at St. John and drove all the northern coastline of Newfoundland and then took a ferry to Labrador and drove the length of their highway, which sometimes was a gravel road. But it was a good gravel road, better than some of the paved ones. We drove about 3000 miles.
On one road in Labrador we drove 125 miles and saw only 2 cars and one bird! We expected to see many moose; however, we didn’t see one until we got almost full circle and back to St. John. We had despaired of seeing any moose by that time. But there he was on the side of the highway. He posed nicely for our pictures.
We stayed mostly in B&Bs. Everywhere we went, it was spotless and the people were so very nice and welcomed us in their homes. We listened to how it was and how it is in Newfoundland and Labrador. In a word, hard. Young people are leaving because there is no work.
The older people stay and eke out a living fishing although there are severe fishing restrictions. Forestry, logging and paper manufacture is a big factor in the area’s economy. Tourism seems to be catching on, but slightly. As a matter of fact, last year’s visitors declined slightly from the year before. But B&Bs are springing up in hopes of a tourist increase in the coming years.
We noticed in the few hotels we stayed in and in the restaurants, the hostess or receptionist would also work in the kitchen, wait the tables and do room service. They have taken cross-training to a new level and, I suspect, because there are few people to do these jobs.
As a tourist in their land, I was awe struck by the beauty of the land and the work ethic, gentleness, and good humor of the people. Without exception, the roadways, communities, ocean and lakes were spotless. The water is fabulously clear and unpolluted. (Except for maybe around St. John’s.)
The restaurants and B&B’s serve fish, fish and more fish. Mostly cod but salmon, mackerel and cod tongues. Yes tongues. Everything is pretty much fried, served with french fries and homemade bread. I ate more bread in this month and ate more fried food than I have in years. At breakfast they served homemade partridge berry, bakeapple, squashberry and marshberry jam and home made bread. Man, it was good!
As for cod tongues, we eventually ordered some as an appetizer. They were small (thank goodness) and, of course, fried. I managed to eat one. I can’t say it was awful, but I will probably never order them again.
We had traditional dinners at some of the B&B’s, which is a boiled dinner with salt beef, potatoes, turnips, carrots, cabbage and dumplings served with coleslaw and peas pudding (mashed yellow split peas) and homemade bread. Very good and I went for seconds. They also have scrunchions in restaurants. These are small pieces of pork fried very crisp sprinkled on salads, potatoes and anything else. We would call this streak of lean or fat back. I thought at one time the closest we were going to get to a moose was a moose stew we ate at a restaurant. Happily that turned out to be false.
I have to say I enjoyed the food and my waistline shows it! Back to the gym and Nutrisystem.
We went on several whale watching trips in Zodiacs. On one trip in Trinity we saw several whales and the first one came up right by the boat. If I hadn’t jumped out of my skin, I could have reached out and touched it. The best trip was with Peter Beamish, who claims to be able to communicate with whales and other animals and preached that "the only time is now," whatever that means. I tried to follow, but he lost me.
With Peter we came across one whale that breached 15 times and most of those breaches were completely out of the water. This goes so fast you can’t aim or focus your camera – especially me.
My pictures are mostly of his splashdowns, but Judith, being a professional photographer, got some great shots and has shared with me. The last trip in a Zodiac was just Judith and me and the guide. He was most confident he would find whales and thumbed his nose at Peter. However, he found no whales after much hunting and staying out an hour longer than we had paid for. I don’t know if Peter communicated with whales or the whales just did what whales do. In any event the trip with him was the best. I probably will never get so up close and personal with whales again.
The coastlines of Newfoundland and especially Labrador are simply fantastic. Rocky high sheer ridges, very little beach, many caves and the North Atlantic pounding a constant rhythm against the rocks. The rocks are millions of years old and you can read the strata, if you are a geologist. This place has to be a geologist’s dream. All I can say is that the geography is spectacular and breathtaking in its awesome rugged barren beauty.
We saw "flowers" called Thrombolites and they are a unique geological feature of Newfoundland and are the ancient growth structures of millions of tiny algae and bacteria. They are believed to be 650 million years old and thrived in the tidal and sub tidal zone of a warm, very salty sea, some being exposed at low tide and covered at high tide.
We saw our first iceberg in Spaniard’s Bay, Newfoundland. This is an awesome sight. Huge blocks of ice floating in the water, so white they hurt your eyes when the sun is on them. We saw several when we took the ferry from Newfoundland to Labrador which was a 25 hour ferry ride. Once when we stopped to photograph an iceberg a local man said he thought the iceberg would soon melt because of the heat from all the flash photos taken of it. And as you might expect, anytime a tourist sees an iceberg, out comes the camera.
The most memorable iceberg we saw was in Battle Harbor, an island off the coast of Labrador in Mary’s Harbor. We spent the night there and the owner took us out for a ride to the large iceberg just out in the bay. The closer we got the bigger it got. It was a wonderful sight – the top above the water was gleaming in the late afternoon sun and below the water it was a beautiful blue. Icebergs are mostly under the water which makes them very dangerous to ships and small boats. The boat operator scooped up a big chunk of iceberg ice that had broken off and we had (dare I admit it) martinis on the iceberg rocks. I also melted some and put it in a water bottle in my suitcase to bring home so my family could taste 10,000 year old water.
The Humber River at Corner Brook, Newfoundland, is a famous salmon river. I thought if it is so famous, maybe I could catch a salmon or two. Wrong. I went fishing one afternoon and one morning. Had not a bite – but neither did any of the men I saw lined up standing waist deep in the very cold water. I did see one trout caught, but not by me. It was beautiful anyway – fish or no fish. My guide tried his best, but the closest I came to any salmon was when they jumped all around me but not anywhere close to my hook.
This is one of the places I have visited that I would return for another visit. It’s a great country.
And, by the way, if you want to buy a summer home there, a three bedroom, two bath place on the ocean can be had for $100,000 give or take a few thousand. This may mean you are all by yourself on a rocky ridge or in a town of 200 or so and I expect come September you will head back to Bryan County where the warm breezes blow.
For more information go to www.roalesusa.info.