Tuesday, June 30, 2009

6/29/09 Hello from Newfoundland! Yes, we made it over here on the ferry and have been having fun exploring ever since. The ferry was pretty big but not very full, and took about 15 hours, so we were on it overnight.

There was a very talented, and nice, Newfie couple, Bugs and Debbie Greene, performing a mix of music in the pub, so we spent the evening in there.

Then we tried to get some sleep in the recliner chairs but mostly weren’t successful. Most people had a cabin so they were all booked up. As we left North Sydney, there was a beautiful sunset, and it was not even very cold outside.

When we landed in Argentia, it was overcast and a little foggy. After going to tourist information, we drove to Placentia, a nearby community, and stayed in the Sobey’s parking lot, which is a supermarket chain here. Even though there were signs posted about not staying there overnight, the manager was VERY nice and said we could stay as long as we wanted.
Down the peninsula about 50-60 miles is the Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve. Here there is an excellent visitor’s center and a hike of about a mile out to the area where murres and kittiwakes are nesting on the cliffs overlooking the sea, and gannets by the thousands are nesting on a huge rock right off the cliff where we were standing. It was a foggy and rainy afternoon but we could still see them fairly clearly.

The hike out there was across pastureland where there were a few grazing sheep. After going out there, we watched the excellent video in the center and looked at the exhibits. Then we went back to the RV and fixed a quick dinner so we could get to bed and catch up on some of the sleep we didn’t get the night before.
The next day was again foggy with occasional rain but we didn’t let it stop us. We drove up to Castle Hill Interpretive Site in Placentia and did some more hikes to see the old fort walls and bastions. Part of it was through a beautiful forest with thick, lush moss. On a clear day, the whole town of Placentia across the water is laid out before you, but we could see nothing because of the fog. Needing a few more miles, we went back to town and walked a mile or so down the wooden boardwalk along the river, then a mile back. We also went to the library and tried to get on the internet. Newfoundland has a whole network of libraries which have public internet access 24/7 but we were unable to get the log-on to work. This is something we will get cleared up in St. John’s at the main library. Then we left Sobey’s and drove a gravel road towards the town of Colinet. There were 2 spots where huge waterfalls were within sight of the road. At the first one, we just parked right on the road and hiked down the wooden staircases to see them, since there was so little traffic.

At the second set of falls, there was a paved parking area near a small building which is the visitor’s center during the summer season. But it wasn’t open yet, so we decided it was a perfect boondock place and we set up there. It was so relaxing to go to sleep with the sound of the waterfalls in the background. Before that, however, we fixed mussels for dinner because Sobey’s had them on sale for 99 cents a pound. Delicious.
Saturday arrived with overcast but no fog. Hooray. On our way to Witless Bay, we stopped for a hike at the Salmonier Nature Reserve. This place has 2 miles of boardwalk through a beautiful forest, with mesh enclosures scattered along the way in which there are animals that have been injured and cannot be returned to the wild. So there are informative placards about them and with some luck, you can see the animals if they are out in the open. And it is free! They have meadow voles, snowy owls, caribou, great horned owl, Newfoundland marten, peregrine falcon, mink, moose, river otter, snowshoe hare, lynx, red fox, and arctic fox. Because it was morning on a cool day, quite a few of them were out. Some, like the lynx and marten, were so active that we couldn’t get a good picture of them! Some, such as the moose, mink and beaver, were not out where we could see them. Here are a few pictures:

When we got to Witless Bay, we found a flat area for parking right next to the rocky beach and within 30 yards of the water. There is a big island offshore where boats take people to see the largest nesting colony of puffins in Newfoundland (500,000), and also look for whales. It was sunny by this time and just beautiful.

We then drove the car down the Irish Loop about 12 miles to the trailhead for the La Manche hike. La Manche was a village right on an inlet on some cliffs which was totally destroyed by a tidal wave so all that is left are the foundations or basements of some of the houses. There is a spectacular suspension bridge over the inlet which provides a great view of a beautiful waterfall, and allows hikers to continue up the East Coast Trail. It was so enjoyable to be doing this hike in sunny and warm weather!

Yesterday we decided to drive part of the Irish Loop in our car. Again it was cloudy at first, but then it burned off by about 10 AM. Just driving along these peninsulas, the scenery is incredible. The topography changes from evergreen forests, to scenic coves, to what the Newfies call The Barrens. This is land that has no trees, but is covered in low-growing grasses and other plants, with lots of little bogs and ponds. They call bodies of water that are not the ocean, ponds instead of lakes, and they are all over the place and of every size. Unexpectedly, we came upon a female moose right alongside the road, but she turned and melted into the trees, and we didn’t get a picture.
When we got down to Portugal Cover Visitor’s Center, the ranger, Julie, told us that we could no longer go out to Mistaken Point to see the fossils on our own, because they are on the short list to become a UNESCO world heritage site. We had to go with her on her guided hike at 1 PM. We used the intervening time to drive all the way to St. Shotts, in an attempt to see some of the caribou that live in this area because it is the most southerly reserve for them in the world. But we didn’t see a one. Later Julie told us that the herds have been decimated by a brain worm parasite, which is probably why we didn’t see any. So at 1 PM we joined Julie for the drive to the trailhead. Brandon, a recent high school graduate who just started working there, went too. It was a 14 km drive on a gravel road to get there and then a 2 mile hike across the barrens out to the site where the fossils were located. On the way they pointed out some of the interesting plants, and showed us the dwarf trees that grow there in a dense stand called tuckamore.

The very harsh weather conditions keep all the plants very low growing, so even though the trees might be hundreds of years old, they are barely as tall as I am, and some are shorter! There were other interesting plants too, such as this one, cotton grass. The little tufts were really soft.

When we got to the fossils, which are located on several big rock slabs jutting out from the cliffs towards the sea, and slanting, we had to take off our hiking boots and put on a pair of booties so we didn’t damage them.

These fossils are believed to be between 560-575 years old and are only found in a few places on earth because the organisms were soft-bodied and normally didn’t leave fossils. This time they did because they had been covered with a layer of ash while they were still viable, and this preserved the outlines of the animals.

Today we drove the car into St. John’s, which is only about 25 miles from here (Witless Bay). St. John’s is the largest city but still only has about 200,000 people, I think. We checked out the library, did a little shopping, did a hike in Pippy Park around a big pond, and asked at the Wal-Marts if we could park there overnight (yes). Tomorrow we will be moving so that we can spend Canada Day, July 1, at some of the celebrations in the city.
Can’t end this blog update without commenting on something that every traveler reports on when they visit here – the extreme friendliness and hospitality of the Newfies. They are unfailingly nice, but they also go the extra mile for visitors. For example, two of the days that we boondocked at Witless Bay, there was a newspaper outside our door in the morning, in a plastic bag to keep it dry. We were parked near a convenience store and when we went in there to get some ice, they gave us what we needed with no charge, since we had no room in our freezer for a large bag which they sell. Our friend Chris stopped by our rig looking for us while we were on a walk, and the lady who works at the store drove up the hill to find us to tell us that Chris was there. Today at the library they called a guy from IT to come and help us get hooked up to the WiFi on our own computers, and they moved a table and chairs near an electrical outlet so we could plug in. The guide who took us on the fossil hike was so great about answering our questions and giving us information on Newfie life and food, etc. EVERYONE has been so nice!


TravelingGrammy said...

Great travelogue-you always make me wish I were there with you....How did you plan this trip? I mean where to go when, etc...

Kenjotay said...

I am sooo jealous, only a month to travel and you guys have all the time in the world and obviously are making the most of it! Looks so beautiful up there!