Prince Edward Island, Eastern P.E.I. (Prince County) July 17 and 18, 2008

4 10 2008

Morning Step

Morning Step

Not a Corporate Franchise Ice Cream Snack

Not a Corporate Franchise Ice Cream Snack

We drove around a lot while on P.E.I., which as I’ve mentioned is small and mainly rural. Who hasn’t seen their famous images of rows of potatoes growing in the bright red soil? Mitch had told us all the really interesting sights were on the back roads, and we went down quite a few of them. The main roads are also pleasant, with non-corproate, non-franchised ice cream stands, and of course the omni-present red cliffs and beaches.

When we had first arrived on P.E.I. and Step had bought the 100% legal Shine at the liquor store, I had been very surprised not to see potato vodka. It seemed like an obvious product to produce locally, since P.E.I.ers are so into thir potatoes, but there was none to be had. While driving down the roads of Eastern P.E.I. we saw Prince Edward Distillery: Open, so in we went. And there were shelves full of potato vodka. We asked for a tour, and even though Julie, the owner, was very busy she gave us one.

Julie of Prince Edward Distillery

Julie of Prince Edward Distillery

There’s not a lot to see in the distillery, except, you know, vats of mash and a giant still, but that didn’t stop it from being interesting. It turns out the reason there’s not a lot of potato vodka, despite it being the best vodka, is because it really takes a lot of potatoes to make it, relative to grain vodka. Julie distills other kinds of liquor, but vodka is the flagship product. Julie had once trained as a dental technician, but she and her partner had vacationed on P.E.I 10 years ago and had fallen in love with it. They opened a B&B but the work was too seasonal so Julie had to think of something more year ‘round. Well, her family had a rumrunning history, and many of the farmers around P.E.I. still make their own (don’t put that in your blog) so a micro-distillery was the obvious choice. It’s doing well and she’s loving it, and that Prince Edward vodka is premium, yes! I sure wish I could drink a lot of it, but because of medical reasons I can only have a bit.

Singing Sands Beach at Basin head Provincial Park

Singing Sands Beach at Basin Head Provincial Park

I wanted to go to Basin Head Beach because I knew that Singing Sands was a very popular beach there, so after driving around the northeast tip of the island (more wind farms) we went there. At first we were put off because the big parking lot was full and the beach looked much more crowded and developed than other beaches on P.E.I, but we carried on down to the water. And Mama Mia, what a beach it is! It’s not so much that there’s a huge sandbar that creates a massive natural warm water pool, or that beyond that are warm water waves high enough to body surf (but not high enough to be dangerous), or that the pristine white sand “sings” when you walk on it—because really it just squeaks loudly—that makes it so great. No, it’s the abandoned fishing wharves that set it apart and make Singing Sands a truly special beach experience.

 The wharves flank both sides of a river or outtake going into the ocean, with walls maybe 25 or 30 feet high on both sides, and a metal foot bridge spanning it. There’s a sign that says “No Jumping Off the Wharf” that is for liability purposes only, because jump people do, as soon as there’s a gap large enough to be safe, or, not to put too fine a point on it, not that dangerous. Plunk, plunk, splash, plunk plunk, splash. One man told us on the weekends the rows of crowd were 6 deep waiting for a turn. And people jump off the bridge as well, which is nerve wracking to me, because once in the water there is a strong current which carries you out into the sand banked ocean pool, so anyone jumping before the bridge floats out from under it, and you can’t see them when you’re actually on the bridge, until it’s too late. We were there mid-week, so while it was crowded it wasn’t crazy (in these pictures the sun had gone behind a cloud and so they show far fewer people jumping than when we first got there). The tide was low and there was a sign posted saying the water was 19 degrees. 19 degrees! Most people heat their house to about 20 or 21 degrees so that’s almost room temperature!

If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you, too?

If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you, too?

Singing Sands' wharf

Singing Sands Wharf

Step had to get something from the van so while I awaited his return I watched people jump off the wharves and eventually got really nervous about doing it myself. Would I get water up my nose? Cannonball? Belly flop? Or—horror of horrors—give myself a highboard enema? By the time Step returned I was a bit of an internal wreck. I knew I must jump off this wharf or forever hold regrets, but how to work up the nerve? And I felt that was silly because little kids and old people were jumping. A guy next to us told us the water was so low we would hit the bottom, but it was deep loose sand, and the water was really warm (19 degrees!). Finally Step and I counted 3 and jumped together. I did get water up my nose, but other than that it was like jumping into a liquid down pillow, and our feet sunk into the warm sandy bottom and it was soft and when we surfaced we were caught by the current and that was fun, too. The first time I jumped I swam to the side and climbed up the metal ladder, but the round rungs hurt my feet so after that I would just float out to the ocean. I was nervous every time I jumped but that didn’t stop me from doing it, and Step did it more times than me, even. I would have been happy to never leave, but eventually I went and got the camera and took a few pictures and then we drove down the road to Red Point Provincial Park to camp for the night.

On P.E.I., even the Moon is Red

On P.E.I., even the Moon is Red

Because of our self-sufficiency in the Boogie Bus, we were able to get another premium site right on the cliff over the ocean. The next morning the sun wasn’t out for the first time since we got to P.E.I., but that didn’t dampen it’s charm one bit, and we walked on a red rocky stretch of shore and saw sail surfing on yet another sandy beach. I can’t put my finger on why P.E.I. is so lovable. I’ve gone on and on about its beaches, its pastoral scenery, its nice but somewhat reserved peoples, the slow pace of life, the excellent garbage management (even the campsites had composting), its rural socialist attitude, its tongue in cheek Anne of Green Gables broohaha, I just love it so much! (Someday I will visit the Ile de Madeleine, off the coast of P.E.I., which is where P.E.I.ers go for magical vacation time). Maybe it’s the fact that until 3 months ago you couldn’t buy beers in cans? And then there were many things we did not get to enjoy, such as the free daily concerts at the College of Piping, and biking along Confederation Trail, which extends fully across the island and is almost all flat—yes Prince Edward Island is a mecca for the long distance cyclist, as well.

I don’t know what or combination of what makes P.E.I. so fucking special. I only know I never wanted to leave, and I was mopey and teary by the time we got to the ferry port to go to Nova Scotia. The ticket lady asked how we liked P.E.I and Step told her we didn’t want to leave, and she replied “We’ll keep ya!” and that only made it that much harder to get on that ferry.

Better Than T.V.

Better Than T.V.

 





Prince Edward Island, Central P.E.I. (Queen’s County) July 15 and 16, 2008

22 09 2008

 

The Beach at Malpeque Bay

That night we camped at Malpeque Bay and worked on the awning project, and in the morning we went to the beach there. This was the first time I went into the water at P.E.I., and was pleasantly surprised by it’s warmth. The water was soothing on my mosquito bites, and when I said so to Step a nearby lady laughed and said that was what she had just said. Malpeque Bay is famous for it’s oysters, but we didn’t have any.

Water-Prince Corner Shop

Water-Prince Corner Shop

Then we drove to Charlottetown for lunch at a place called the Water-Prince Corner Shop, which isn’t a corner store at all, but a café on the corner of Water and Prince. Reasonably priced, the seafood chowder was still about 10 bucks a bowl (or 10 clams, depending on how confusing you want your slang to be). The menu claimed they made the chowder with the “good stuff”, and I ordered it and they did. It had big chunks of halibut and salmon and lobster and crab—all of my favourites! Step had a scallop burger which was also tasty.

Downtown Charlottetown

Downtown Charlottetown

One thing P.E.I does make a big deal about is Anne of Green Gables. I mean, they really go on and on and on about it. The middle of P.E.I. used to be called simply Queen’s County, until they divided a big chunk around Cavendish out and made it “Anne’s Land”. That portion is really touristy with attractions like “Anne’s House”. (She was a fictional character, how can she have had a house?) 2008 was her 100th birthday, so there was even more huzzah than usual. Step and I kind of skirted “Anne’s Land”, but you still see Anne of Green Gables stuff everywhere, including whole stores devoted to her, and people walking around dressed like her.

Don Herron

Don Harron

Anne of Green Gables: the Musical, has been playing at the Confederation Centre for the Arts since 1964, so long it has become the longest running musical in Canadian history. We went in there to get tickets for The Ballad of Stompin’ Tom at the Mackenzie Theatre (known by P.E.I.ers as “The Mack”—I guess since AGG has monopolized the other theatre they needed a second one), and I saw the best Anne of Green Gables thing, ever. It was this guy, Don Harron, selling his book “101 Things You Didn’t Know About Anne of Green Gables—The Musical!” (I mean, they really go on about it), and he was wearing a braided red wig and straw hat! I could feel my eyes doing that cartoon thing where they pop out of your head and boggle around. “I’m getting a picture of that!” I said to Step. I asked Don Harron if I could take his picture and he said “That’s what it’s all about”. I then felt a kinship with Don Harron, in a reductio ad absurdum kind of way, and I felt as long as the locals can be tongue in cheek about it maybe even Anne of Green Gables was okay. Plus, I found out later that Don Harron is Charlie Faquenson! So I met Charlie Farquharson and I didn’t even know it.

 Don Harron Charlie Farquharson was also wearing a Cows t-shirt, which is another P.E.I. thing you see all over the place in that part of the country.

Confederation this, Confederation that, Confederation Trail, why Confederation? Because Charlottetown, P.E.I. is where Canada was confederated, that’s why; it’s Canada’s birthplace! So Charlottetown has all sorts of buildings and history that are of National Importance. We only saw them from the outside, because of course we got there after they were closed for the day, but we did read the plaques. The only detail that really stuck in my mind was the Fathers of Confederation all had to sleep on their boats or couch surf before the meeting where they confederated Canada, because all the hotel rooms in P.E.I. had already been booked for a circus.

A Beer Aficionado in Action

A Beer Aficionado in Action

Charlottetown today is pretty funky, albeit small, with more than one shop that combines local fashions with food service, a comic and games shop, and several bars and live music venues. We had to try The Gahan House, because they brew their own beers, but of the 7 tasters tray Step got, only the stout was good.

The Ballad of Stompin’ Tom is based on Stompin’ Tom’s autobiography, which I have read the first half of. The first half was entitled “Before the Fame” and was about the same length (and as dramatic) as “Gone With the Wind”. Fortunately, Stompin’ Tom is a pretty good writer and his story is interesting. For example, he traveled back and forth across Canada 17 times before his big break came in Timmins. I didn’t not read the second half because the length was daunting; it was because at the time it hadn’t been published yet. Anyway, The Ballad of Stompin’ Tom is a musical based on his story, which was not developed in P.E.I., but is a natural summer production for them. I do not know how they got the license to do it. Stompin’ Tom is old and he’s always been ornery. You can’t blame the guy as he’s had a very hard life, at least before the fame. (Step knows some guys who tried to produce a documentary about him, but the deal bogged down in negotiations). The play was quite enjoyable, and the Mack is a nice cabaret style theatre, where you sit at a table and can have snacks and drinks during the show. We were seated with 3 P.E.I. natives who said they were so sick of seeing Anne of Green Gables: The Musical for the 30th time they came to this, instead. I seized this opportunity to question them about life on P.E.I., especially during the winter months. I kind of got the feeling they didn’t want to admit that winter on P.E.I. is quite pleasant—please don’t crowd up our province! So one of them told me last winter they had had no power for 10 days. As this is a common occurrence in much of rural Canada, because of weather, that didn’t seem so awful to me, as long as you have a wood stove and generator (and you’d be a fool not to).

 After the show we went down the street to Baba’s Lounge, which is upstairs from Cedar’s Eatery, as they were having an open mic night. Open mic was what you’d expect if you’ve even ever been to one other open mic, but we did have some really good food which came from downstairs: falafel and minty tabouleh (that’s a parsley salad with bulgar wheat, not a bulgar wheat salad with parsley), and some tasty hommous.

Wildflowers of Prince Edward Island

Wildflowers of Prince Edward Island

Our friend Mitch is from P.E.I. and he has a Stompn’ Tom tribute act called Stompin’ Mitch. He also has a family cabin on the north coast of P.E.I., and we decided to go there and spend the night in his yard. He would have been okay for us to go in the cabin, but it had not been hooked up for electricity yet this season, nor had the toilet pump been put in. That was fine with us as we are usually more comfortable in the Boogie Bus, anyway. It was a bit of a drive and then it got to be country roads and then country paths and then the trees were scraping us and we were not really sure if it was a road. We saw what we thought was it but went a bit further to be sure, until the overgrown path ended in a sand bank. There wasn’t enough room to turn around so we had to back up. I was driving and it was a stressful situation for me. Step wanted to get out and guide me, but remembering the extreme mosquito and black fly situation of our first night I just wouldn’t allow it, even though we have mosquito head nets and the like. I don’t want Step to get eaten alive—I love him! After much slow maneuvering we came back to the driveway of Mitch’s cabin and then into the yard. I was all like “no one gets out of this van until morning” but Step said he would pee outside instead of into our chemical toilet. Well, about 10 seconds later he came back in and said he would use the toilet after all. I used our most useful bug zapper to kill all flying things that had gotten in the brief moment the doors had been open, and we had a very good night’s sleep.

In the morning the bugs were mostly gone and the yard was beautiful with long grasses and wild flowers. We stood on Mitch’s porch and admired the bay. After coffee, we walked down the country lane to the beach and surprise, surprise, another sandy P.E.I. beach with no one else on it. I’m telling you, that island is filthy with pristine beaches. The lane was charming, too, being overgrown with wild flowers and full of butterflies. We saw that the night before we had cracked the mostly useless decorative piece of red plexiglass on the top of the Boogie Bus, but otherwise had  got through the lane unscathed.

Mitch's Childhood Beach

Mitch's Childhood Beach





Prince Edward Island, Western P.E.I. (King’s County) July 14 and 15, 2008

16 09 2008

Cedar Dunes Provincial Park

The Long, Long Confederation Bridge

The Long, Long Confederation Bridge

I don’t know exactly how long Confederation Bridge is, but it’s really, really long. For a bridge, anyway. I think it might be the longest bridge in the world. On one side is New Brunswick, and on the other side is Canada’s smallest province, speaking in terms of square footage, which is not big in population either, that being about 130,000 all together. At the foot of the bridge is not a Visiter Welcome Centre. No, Prince Edward Island has a Visitor Welcome Village, with a mini-mall that has an information counter in the middle and local-centric shops all around. I can’t put my finger on why, but we both instantly liked P.E.I., even before we left the Welcome Village.  I bought a P.E.I. T-shirt, and Step bought a bottle of 100% legal P.E.I. Shine (and we are not exactly souvenir buying types). Step had at some point realized he had left his hat in the rain on the picnic table in Beaumont, Quebec, so a new straw hat was also purchased.

P.E.I. has Red Puddles

P.E.I. has Red Puddles

We asked the lady at the Welcome Desk to recommend a campsite to us, on the western end of the island. Of course, she is not allowed to recommend one, so I said perhaps Step and I could look at something yonder, and while our attention was turned her highlighter could accidentally slip out of her hand and make a mark on the map. She said she couldn’t do that either, but, oh, she was subtle, and after a few minutes it became clear the place to go was Cedar Dunes Provincial Park, which has the only black and white striped lighthouse in the world (but only on 3 sides, as there was a dispute between the province and the keeper and the province only got ¾ of its way). I asked what would happen if someone else painted their lighthouse ¾ black and white striped but that line of conversation never got off the ground.

Prince Edward Island is so small that the tourism map actually showed every single road on the island. It takes maybe 3 or 4 hours to go from the western most point to the eastern most, and only about an hour to go from south to north. But here’s the thing; PEI has a shallow shelf all the way around it, which means it’s completely surrounded by warm seas, sandy beaches, and dramatic sandy cliffs. In other words, when it’s summer and sunny, P.E.I. is basically paradise. Or it would be if it weren’t for the infernal bugs—the bain of Canada. (I keep hearing this summer is particularly bad for bugs, which I hope is accurate, because Ey Chihuahua, some places were pretty unbearable, but only during certain hours of the day).

Another Abandoned Lobster Trap on the Red Sands of P.E.I.

Another Abandoned Lobster Trap on the Red Sands of P.E.I.

The beaches on the north side are white sand, and the beaches on the south side are red sand. Cedar Dunes is on the south side, and shockingly red and a marvel to behold. It took us an hour or so to get there, and true to our summer tradition set up camp at twilight, just in time for a walk along the beautiful beach, which for some reason we had all to ourselves. We walked towards the lighthouse and climbed up onto the lifeguards’ chair. I looked at Step. His canvas hat and back were completely covered in mosquitoes! (Dramatic musical sting). It was like Creepshow, where the guy’s apartment is overtaken by cockroaches. Because of my previous mosquito experience in rural Ontario, I was horrified. “We have to get out of here” I yelled. We quickly jumped down and half ran back to the Boogie Bus. The mystery of the abandoned beach had been solved.

Grassy Dunes

Grassy Dunes

After the strips of wonderful beaches along the shores are strips of grassy dunes, which are delicate ecosystems that P.E.I. tries to protect by installing pathways and boardwalks so people can access the beaches. The mosquitoes and blackflies live in the grassy dunes. Fortunately, the vast majority of the day they are not a problem, as they only get bad at twilight and if there’s no wind from the sea. The next day I woke with 2 black fly bites, but from then on we practiced preventative measures and the bugs were not (much of) a problem.

It’s sweet to wake up on bright green grass next to a red beach surrounded by a blue ocean and a turquoise sky, even with the 2 black fly bites. (P.E.I. is all about the primary colours. The soil has a lot of iron oxide in it which makes it turn a vivid red when the air hits it, and P.E.I.ers claim the soil is what makes their potatoes so good. Man, they are proud of those potatoes). The bugs were doing whatever they do during the day and people were enjoying the beach. For such an exceptional beach it was not very crowded, and as one mother of two called out to us “It doesn’t get any better than this!” (which, actually, turned out to be not true).

Potato Fields Forever

Potato Fields Forever

Seaweed Pie

Seaweed Pie

After a leisurely morning we checked out and drove north up the side of the island, stopping at the Seaweed Pie Café for fishcakes (excellent!) and of course some Seaweed Pie. The Seaweed Pie Café is a collective founded and run by Woman in Support of Fishing, and is a popular eating spot, as well as the home of the Irish Moss Interpretive Centre. You’d be surprised at how many things contain Irish moss.

Childhood Schoolhouse of Stompin' Tom Connors

Childhood Schoolhouse of Stompin' Tom

Skinner’s Pond is way up on the northeast tip of P.E.I., and was the childhood home of Stompn’ Tom Connors, the legendary Canadian music icon. I thought Skinner’s Pond would make more of a big deal about that, but they just had Stompin’ Tom Road and then his old schoolhouse with a plaque in front of it saying how Stompin’ Tom had bought it and donated it to the town. It was sort of nice and weird at the same time because he had been so unhappy and poorly treated there. You couldn’t go into the schoolhouse, just look at it from outside. I didn’t see a pond at Skinner’s Pond, but they did have an awfully nice beach.

Robin at Skinners Pond

Robin at Skinner's Pond








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