Newfoundland, the boat to Argentia and the Burin Peninsula, July 23-25, 2008

2 01 2009

Fortune Head barrens on the Burin Peninsula

Fortune Head barrens on the Burin Peninsula

View from the Ship

The boat ride from Sydney to Argentia was a whopping 17 hours, but it did cut as many hours off Newfoundland driving had we taken the alternate boat to Port aux Basque. And as far as really long boat rides go it was not unpleasant. The MV Joseph and Clara Smallwood is a fine ship with a fairly decent cafeteria, a bar with live entertainment, and several television lounges. If I were to ride it again I would book a dorm bunk, or a private cabin, but we just booked EZboy chairs in the “quiet lounge”. This turned out to be great because the quiet lounge also had WiFi—a very gratifying circumstance not common to the whole ship. It was a double edged sword, though, because people also kept sneaking into the lounge to use the WiFi, including a couple who wandered in at 2am and conversed in a normal tone of voice, thereby waking a lot of people who had paid extra for the quiet, EZboy haven. (It’s mind-boggling how inconsiderate some people can be). It would have been worse, but the boat ride was almost over, so we all would have been waken in the next 20 minutes or so, anyway.

Waking Up in Chapel Arm

Waking Up in Chapel Arm

We disembarked about 3am to a very foggy Newfoundland. We were reluctant to pay to stay at the RV park by the ferry (we had certainly smartened up about such things in our travels) but on the other hand we had heard a lot about how many moose there are in Newfoundland and didn’t want to run into one of those in the dead of the foggy night (all puns intended), so we decided to drive on but stop and sleep at the first likely spot. This turned out to be much more troublesome than we imagined, and we drove and drove, finally turning off into a small fishing town named Chapel Arm and eventually parking in a pullout next to another parked car and sleeping. Step felt a little paranoid, but I didn’t.

In the light of the next morning we discovered the paranoia was completely unfounded, and on this sunny day we also discovered we had passed really numerous spots where we might have parked the night before. Some places, like say Alberta, really do a lot to ensure there are no places you can camp for free. Newfoundland, however, has a completely different attitude, and doesn’t care where you camp as long as you aren’t in anyone’s way. Often while traveling there we would see RVs parked by lakes and once we even saw a tent set up in a rest stop!

We wanted to go the St. Pierre et Miquelon, two small islands about 25 kilometres off the coast of Newfoundland that are part of France, but we were concerned on how to get there. St. Pierre, the island where there’s actually a town, is pretty small and we didn’t want to have to stay overnight, but according to the SPM Express web site (which we had checked on the ferry) the boats only come in every couple of days. In order for us to go we would have to kick around until Friday and stay until Sunday, which we totally did not want to do. We considered flying but that was equally problematic. Bart, our Newfoundland connection, had phoned the Mayor of Fortune—Fortune is the Newfoundland town you take a boat from to get to St. Pierre—and had gotten the numbers of a couple of fishermen who might take us over for a fee. We called all the numbers but unfortunately all the fishermen were out, you know, fishing.

This seemed like an unsolvable dilemma, so we decided not to go to St. Pierre and just head straight to St. John’s, but first, we stopped by the visitor’s centre.

Well, it turns out St. Pierre’s Express’ website is woefully inadequate, and there are actually return trips to St. Pierre daily, leaving Fortune at 9am and returning at 4pm. This prompted us to reserve tickets, and turn around and head back down the Burin Peninsula.

"The Rock"

"The Rock"

Newfoundland is affectionately nicknamed “The Rock” by its inhabitants, mainly because it is a giant rock. It has not much topsoil, so any trees are mostly very short, and mostly “tuckamores”, which is not a species of tree at all, but a tree that has grown stunted and leaning to one side due to its exposure to a hostile environment coupled with strong and frequent winds. The Burin Peninsula is mostly bogs and rolling heaths which are often referred to as barrens. I have never been to Scotland, but just as I was thinking “this looks a lot like Scotland”, Step, who has been to Scotland, said to me “this looks like Scotland”. Ironic, because the people of Newfoundland are mainly of Irish descent, since the Scottish went to Nova Scotia. The peninsula is also peppered with glittering fresh water lakes, which Newfoundlanders refer to as “ponds”. They must be full of fish, because we often saw Mo-hoes camped out around them.

"The Rock"

The Barrens

The drive was fairly long but pleasantly beautiful, with the occasional chip truck and a largely disproportionate amount of police car sightings, which would be speeding down the highway with lights flashing. We never found out what the policemen were going after, or if they were just joyriding, or what.  For a long time there is one road, but at Marystown it splits into two which circle around the bottom of the peninsula. Apparently the most dramatically beautiful part of the peninsula is the southern east coast, along the Grand Banks, but that is the bit we didn’t see as Fortune is on the western coast of it.

Horsebrook Campground

Horsebrook Campground

After doing a bit of food shopping in Marystown we made it to Fortune in the late afternoon. Fortune is a pretty big fishing town, Newfoundland speaking, that had suffered economic blows when the fisheries collapsed in 1992, but had mysteriously managed to survive and even thrive, due to perhaps, (and of course I’m speculating here), rumrunning from St. Pierre et Miquelon. Booze and cigarettes are a lot cheaper in France than they are in Canada. Anyway, there’s not much for a tourist to see or do in Fortune, so after we purchased our tickets for the next day we went about 5 minutes down the road and camped at Horsebrook Trailer Park. There was hardly anyone else there, and it was right on the edge of a barren with paths in it so we went awalkin’. It was charming but as it got dusky I started seeing blackflies so we went back to the van for dinner.

We had to get up really early for us, to make the 9am sailing. St Pierre et Miquelon may be only 25 kilometres from the coast of Newfoundland as the crow flies, but because a boat has to sail from port to port it takes 1 and a half hours to get there.

Newfoundland Chip Truck

Newfoundland Chip Truck




One response

21 02 2009

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