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!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Blog Update June 23, 2009
As I start to write this update, we are parked in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Port Hawkesbury, across the Canso Causeway in Nova Scotia. That is the waterway which separates Cape Breton Island from the mainland. It was raining so hard yesterday afternoon when we arrived here that we decided to stop even though it was early. And it has been raining hard ever since. No surprise, because this is the fourth straight day of this. Our friends, Mick & Ann Mielike, traveled to Newfoundland last summer and in reading their blog, we were surprised that they weren’t washed away because of all the rain they had. In fact, we laughed out loud when we read Ann’s quote: “I’m never going east of the Mississippi again!” We are hoping that better weather will be arriving soon.
In the meantime, we are proceeding slowly towards the ferry terminal in North Sydney where we are due to leave tomorrow evening. After checking the schedule for festivals and events, and taking a good hard look at the map, we decided the long ferry which lands us near St. John’s would be the best, and then we can return on the short ferry in a few months. So we changed our reservation. This will also put us over there in time for Canada Day celebrations on July 1.
When I last wrote, we were driving through New Brunswick and having some nice sunny weather. Everywhere we have been in Canada we have noticed that there are extensive and well maintained trail systems, and we have been trying to take advantage of this whenever the weather allows. One place we quite enjoyed was Edmunston, which has a lovely riverside park area and marina, and extensive trails along the river. Not far from there, we stopped at Grand Falls, where again we took a walk on the riverside trail, only this time there were falls and gorges, right in the town. The surprising fact we learned here was that 9/10ths of the water that flows over Niagara Falls passes through these falls. I’m sure it looks quite different in the early Spring, because right now it doesn’t look like that could even be possible.

Fredericton, which is the capitol of New Brunswick, was our next stop. It has quite a few old buildings and has a charming and walkable downtown and historic area. The tourist info office is in the old City Hall with a whimsical fountain in front and very helpful and friendly staff.

They not only gave us maps and info but also parking passes for the city lot, and a three day pass to park our RV in the large vehicle lot just down the street and near the river. Rain was threatening the entire time we explored the historic area and did a walk along the hiking trail and old railroad bridge over the river.

So we decided to move on and didn’t take advantage of their offer of parking hospitality.
Many of the old buildings here are from the times of conflict between the French and English in the 1700’s, and they have lasted because they were built of stone. These buildings from that time are the old enlisted men’s barracks, which have been converted to a crafts studio and stalls to sell them, and the officer’s quarters, which has become a museum. There is also a huge cathedral with a spire that towers over everything, even the trees.

One of the old houses was also being restored:

Our time in Moncton was very much affected by the constant rain. There is a beautiful walking trail along the river, which even has a small grandstand built there so people can watch the tidal bore. This area is not far from the Bay of Fundy, which has the highest tides in the world. As we walked along the river here there was no river – the tide was out and all we could see was muddy river bottom. However, the walk didn’t last long because the rain returned. Moncton has free wireless internet coverage all over the downtown area so we took advantage of that instead of sightseeing.
One thing Elaine had been greatly looking forward to ever since our last visit to these parts 11 years ago, was the availability and affordability of lobster. She has not been disappointed. If memory serves me well, I believe we paid $5 to $5.50 per pound for lobster on our last visit. This visit we have hit a sale at the Atlantic Market Superstores and managed to have lobster for dinner twice already, and maybe tonight too, because the sale price is $5.77 a pound. Not much inflation has hit the lobster market, apparently.

Upon entering Nova Scotia, there is a large, well-staffed and well-equipped tourist info center. They have wonderful printed materials and go out of their way to give help and advice about your every interest. The grounds are beautiful with a lovely picnic area which we would have enjoyed if the weather had been better.

They had a girl playing bagpipes, so I spoke with her a bit.

Since I started this update, the rain has stopped and we have headed north towards Sydney on the Bras d’Or Scenic highway. The countryside here is very lush and green and there are lots of cute villages and lakes scattered along the roadside. Our next update will be from Newfoundland!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

June 17
What a wonderful time we have been having in Canada, and it is all due to the generous hospitality of the Canadian friends we have been visiting. It is natural for Canadians to travel south in the wintertime, due to their horribly cold winters, and many prefer Mexico to the United States. This is where we have met many Canadians in the past and always found them to be friendly, genuine, warm, caring people.
On our very first trip to Mexico, in 1994, we were at a campground in Mazatlan where we met a couple from Quebec, Gaetane & Sylvain, and their children: twin boys age 9, Christophe & David, and daughter Chloe, age 4. Having just sent the last of our 4 kids off to college and feeling very free, if someone had said that we would spend the next 9 months or so traveling with this family, we would have thought, “No Way!” Well, that is just what happened because they are an exceptional family. We traveled with them off and on for 3 months in Mexico, then they drove to Costa Rica while we went back to California to deal with vacant rentals. As soon as we could, we drove down to Costa Rica to be with them and we spent the next 6 months there and traveling back with them to the USA. Since then, we have visited them when they lived in Edmonton for a year, and also the last time we came to the Maritimes, in 1998. This trip, seeing them again was of course, a priority. But we were having no responses from them to our e-mails, and when we called last weekend, were told that we had reached the wrong number. So, we drove up to the Quebec City area, parked our rig in the WalMart in Levis, and drove over to their house. Hooray, they were home and they warmly welcomed us. Turns out that our e-mails must have been automatically being dumped in the “spam” folder and it was their daughter who didn’t understand our English on the phone, who had said “Wrong number”.
After spending the first evening catching up on each other’s news, yesterday they picked us up and we took the ferry across to Quebec City, and then drove for an hour to the new chalet they are building on the St Lawrence River. Here is a picture of it and the inside is just beautiful too.

And they have fabulous views over the St. Lawrence River. It was a gorgeous sunny day and we had a delightful time with them as they toured us around the area. When we returned to their home, a marvelous dinner of raclette had been prepared by the now 24 year old Christophe, and 18 year old Chloe. They have a raclette pan, which is like a large hot plate grill that can sit on the table and it has little individual scoops which slide underneath. You can put various meats and veggies on the top grill, and things like bread or potatoes with raclette cheese on top in the scoops, which melt when you leave them under the hot grill for a while. With some good red wine, it makes for a very social experience as you cook your own dinner and chat. You can see from the pictures that we had such things as pork tenderloin, chicken pieces, shrimp, sliced potatoes, slices of sausages, Lebanese cucumbers, tiny carrots, sliced French bread, etc. along with several tasty sauces.
Raclette items:

Gaetane, Sylvain & Elaine with Raclette Grill

After dinner the kids demonstrated their new Wii game, and Elaine decided she wants to get one. Humm, I wonder whether we have enough room in our RV for that??!! They also showed us a video of their chalet in Costa Rica, where we hope to visit them next March.
Here is a picture of Gaetane & Sylvain with Christophe & David:

Chloe is studying to be a graphic artist and here is a picture of her with one of her drawings:

The weekend before we were in Quebec City for our visit with the Drolet-Tremblay family above, we were in North Augusta, Ontario having a visit with Rob & Lynn Archer. This is a delightful couple we met last year on our trip to South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zambia. Their lovely home has lots of yard and here is a picture of these cuties out in the back:

They treated us royally, fixing great meals for us and allowing us generous use of their infrastructure. Part of the time their one year old granddaughter was there, and she was such a great baby we can see why they are so happy to take care of her at any time. Here is a picture of Elaine holding her. Her name is Joselyn.

On Sunday they took us to the nearby largest town, Brockville, for some sightseeing and a nice walk through the greenbelt and along the marina on the river. This is called the Thousand Islands area, with New York right across the river, and we could see some of the islands. There are so many large and stately homes in these towns, we can hardly believe it when we drive through. When we got home, it was pouring down rain but Lynn picked rhubarb from their garden and made us a fresh pie. Probably the best one we have ever tasted!
Hospitality is not just limited to Canadians; we have had wonderful socializing with friends all along the way. Just before crossing the border into Canada at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, we drove 150 miles south to meet up with Elaine Lewter, who lives in Lansing. She had to drive 150 miles north to meet us too. She is an old friend of Elaine’s and in fact, the two of them moved to California together when they were 20. We had a great lunch with her and caught up on all the news about her twin sons, age 24, and her husband, George. Here is a picture of the two old friends:

And on our way back to our RV, we stopped in St. Ignace, the small town on the north side of the Mackinac Bridge, to visit with Doug & Willie, 2 RV friends whom we met in Quartzsite several years ago and haven’t seen for a very long time. We just happened to be in the same area, for once. We had a nice walk along the charming marine there and then they took us out to dinner at a local cafĂ©. Of course, we also made the acquaintance of their 2 new kitties, and saw their oldest cat too. It is clear that the cats are the top “dogs” in this RV!!! Here is a picture of Doug and Willie on the waterfront:

Now we are proceeding on our way to catch the ferry from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland. Our reservation is for June 30. So we are stopping along the way for some hikes and local experiences. More on that in the next blog entry. Happily, summer has finally started to happen up here and the last few days have been sunny and warm and quite conducive to these kinds of activities. The roads have been pretty good, especially in New Brunswick. In Quebec, we had some difficulty with road signs because they are only in French, something which greatly annoys us since other provinces have them in both languages. The roads were also worse there too. But Quebec City is a beautiful city and well worth the trouble to get there, even if you don’t have friends nearby, as we do. Some cruise ships are starting to come there now, and we can see that this would be a perfect place for them to stop for a day. Everywhere we go we see Tim Horton’s, which we thought was like McDonald’s but we hear that they mostly have coffee and doughnuts. They were all absolutely packed in Ontario, not very busy in Quebec, and look somewhat busy here in New Brunswick. We have been trying to take advantage of other differences between Canada and the USA, such a buying pate’ because it is so much better and cheaper here. And soon we are going to start buying lobster for dinner, when we get to some areas where they are plentiful and less costly.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

6/9/09 A True Fishing Story
While we are driving along the highway towards Sault Ste. Marie on a foggy and overcast day, I will update you if my internet signal holds up. When we last wrote, we were having a sunny and warm day in Michigamme and preparing for a fishing trip the next day. Lucky for us, the weather held up, although it was cooler and partly cloudy, so we were able to go out on the lake. George has a 4 wheel drive truck and a small bass boat so we went to a lake that was fairly difficult to get to and thus not over-fished. He said that if we told anyone the name of the lake he would have to kill us, so you won't see it here! I mentioned the black fly problem and yes, they were still very much in evidence. In fact, the night before I had cleaned our windshield and by the time I was finished, I had a whole row of bites on my neck along the hairline. So we dug out the hats we bought in Australia in 1999 that have nets sewn into them which drape down all around our heads and necks and we wore these while helping George get the boat launched. He used an electric trolling motor which was quiet and non-polluting. The lake was just beautiful, with forests all around.

He showed us how to cast the lure into the areas where he was pretty sure there were large mouth bass, and then told us to quickly reel it in. Of course, because he has been fishing this area since he was a boy, he really knew the best spots, and because we were new to this type of fishing, we were pretty erratic at casting! He easily dropped his lure right where he wanted; we, on the other hand, managed to "catch" quite a few bushes and trees which grew right down to the water's edge. George was also an expert at jerking them out for us, thank goodness. Elaine was sitting in the front, which George said was the best for catching fish because she got to the best spots first, and indeed, she did catch the first fish and the most fish. Here is a picture of her first fish:

Then I caught the second fish, by bouncing my lure off a log and when it landed in the water, a fish grabbed it. Hooray! So my success was attributable to dumb luck and not skill, but being a pragmatist, I didn't care.

George was very gracious about letting us cast into the good areas he identified, and occasionally he got a chance too. Of course, he caught the largest fish and here is a picture of him with it:

The funniest thing happened when I had a fish on and George pulled his lure in and set his rod down so he could get the net to land my fish. His lure was kind of hanging down alongside the boat about a foot and as he was helping me, another fish jumped right on his lure! Because he had my fish in the net, he couldn't use that to get his fish so he just lifted up his rod and brought the fish into the boat, whereupon it jumped off his lure and he didn't even have to extricate it from the hook!! Now that was a fish that was really eager to get caught!
By the end of about 4 hours, we had caught over 20 fish, but didn't keep them all of course. Here is the stringer of fish that we took home with us:

Then the real work started because Elaine and George filleted them in the basement:

Later on, George fried some fillets up for dinner and they were just delicious! Now we have enough in our freezer for another dinner, and so does George. It was a wonderful fishing experience which we know we never would have had without George - so THANKS George!!!
The next day we were supposed to go out on Lake Michigamme in his larger boat, to do some sightseeing and also try to catch some northern pike or walleye, but the weather turned ugly and we spent the day inside. George has a beautiful fishing lodge right on the shores of the lake with an incredible fireplace, which came in quite handy during this cold snap. Here are a few pictures of it:

Yesterday, Monday, we left so that we could have the RV serviced at the Chevy dealer in Marquette. Again it was an overcast and cold day and midday it started to rain. We did some shopping and got a haircut and by the time the RV was ready, we were very glad to park at the Super WalMart, start the heater and make some dinner because it was really raining hard and the fog was coming in. The last time we were in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan we had this same experience: a few nice days and then lots of cold and wet weather which caused us to move along and not enjoy the wonderful scenic and recreational opportunities that are up here.
In Sault Ste. Marie we are hoping our mail has arrived. Then a few last minute chores and a visit with Doug & Willie, other RV friends who are in the area, before we cross the border into Canada.

Friday, June 05, 2009

6/5/09 This morning began with a beautiful sunrise over Lake Michigamme. We are parked right on the shores of the lake at the local boat launching site:

George's cabin is about a mile from here so later today we will walk up there to help set up the boat for tomorrow's fishing excursion. Because this lake is fairly accessible, George wants to take us to a different one where, he says, even inexperienced anglers such as myself can catch fish. The weather has been warm and sunny for a few days and we are enjoying it, but the down side is that the bugs are now out in force. George's cousin told us that this is the time of year of the annual black fly invasion. They are little, like mosquitoes, but their bites get bigger and last longer. Because they are so little, they manage to sneak in here through tiny cracks around the screens. It certainly reminds us of the midgies in Scotland, something we were hoping to never experience again!
In our last post we mentioned that we were going to explore the Apostle Island area. The day we did that started out really cold - about 40, but we went anyway. There were some picturesque little towns along the scenic drive but they really haven't geared up for the summer yet. The biggest town was Ashland. They have quite a number of nice murals painted on buildings all over town:

Additionally, they have an artesian well in the beachfront park which is free and we filled up a 5 gallon container for drinking water. There are artesian wells in several towns all along the drive around the peninsula. One of the places we visited was the Apostle Islands Visitor Center, where they had a very nice film about the area and history. Of course, the Chippewa and Ojibwa indians played a big part here. This area also sells a lot of wild rice, which was a staple part of the diet of these tribes. At this center we found out that there are 22 Apostle Islands, not 12. When we asked about it, they said that the Jesuits named the islands and from where they saw them, only 12 were visible. Many are accessible by kayak, power boats are allowed, and camping is permitted with a permit. Several have been set aside as wilderness areas and have old growth forests. Most have been logged at some time and now have younger forests covering them. Since it was too cold to take the excursion boat through the islands, we were glad the film showed so much about the them.
Our drive took us to Meyers Beach, where we took a 4 mile hike to get to the spot where some of the sea caves in the sandstone cliffs in the lakefront cliffs were visible. Most people see these from a sea kayak, and also are able to kayak right into some of them. Several of the islands also have these caves.

After we relocated to the Ojibwa casino in Baraga, we explored the Keeweenaw Peninsula. Now we were in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where mining has been a huge part of the history and development here. On the Keweenaw it was copper mining, and of course, logging, which you see all over northern Wisconsin and Michigan. In the late 1800's and early 1900's there were quite a few huge mansions built in the Calumet area by the mine owners called the Copper Barons. One of these mansions, the Laurium Manor Inn, has been preserved as a working hotel, but they allow self-guided tours.

Although it has had many owners through the years, and several of them were antique owners who stripped out the furniture, a lot of the original opulent touches were still there, such as the elephant hide walls in the dining room, the push button light switches and elegant chandeliers, the marble and glass fireplaces by Tiffany, and the handcrafted woodwork.

The current owners are from the Bay Area near San Francisco, and they have done a great job of restoration and refurnishing with elegant antiques. Originally, in 1908 when the house was finished, it cost $50,000. Today the restoration cost much more than that!
There were lots of huge houses in the neighborhood, some of them converted to B&B's, and the Lutheran Church down on the corner reflected the fact that this area was the home of many Scandanavian people as well as 30 other nationalities. The church really reminded us of the stave churches we saw when we were in Norway:

In our quest for fitness, we also found a trail system where we took a 4 mile hike and then had a picnic at the nearby pond.

Later we took another hike which supposedly went to Hungarian Falls, but when we got to the water, it was a piddly little trickle. On our drive here yesterday, we stopped at a highway roadside park where there was a short hike to Canyon Falls. Now these were real waterfalls, and the hike was through a pleasant forest along the riverside. Delightful.

I'm sure we will continue to enjoy the outside pleasures of being in such a heavily wooded and rural area as we proceed across Michigan and Canada - provided the bug situation improves!