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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.