Long May Your Big Jib Draw

Trip Start Jun 17, 2008
Trip End Aug 31, 2009

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Where I stayed
Peytons Woods RV Park

Flag of Canada  , Newfoundland and Labrador,
Saturday, July 18, 2009

Wow, what a beautiful place!! That may not be the first thought that comes to mind when someone mentions Newfoundland, but methinks it should.  Yes, it's a little cold, and yes, we have seen more than a few icebergs (despite it being the middle of summer), and yes, the locals talk a wee bit strangely here, but this place, with its Alaskaesque rugged beauty is a national jewel.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…what’s an Elop Canadian blog entry without an RV mishap or two.  When we last blogged we were on a ferry from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland (…remember the "pillow" incident?).  All was well until we tried to disembark.  The ferry guy directing traffic was waving his hands about, and yelling a lot of instructions in a foreign language (which we later discovered was the Newfoundlander version of English).  I decided his directions were a little less than ideal immediately after I scraped against the neighbouring Winnebago.  While I felt bad, little harm was done to his side view mirror as they are built to absorb bumps, aren’t they? (or am I confusing side view mirrors with bumpers?)  I could tell that the other RV driver wasn’t a local Newfoundlander as we could clearly understand what he was yelling.  Regardless, it did spawn a great business idea… a series of high contact, NASCAR-like races with recreational vehicles (presumably held in the southern US states).  It would include mandatory pit stops where the driver has to empty his sewage tank without splashing fecal matter on his shoes (again!?!) while his three children laugh at him safely from within the confines of the RV.  

Not satisfied with a simple scrape, the Big Zeke had more destruction planned for the day.  In navigating through the narrow campground road that night, I encountered a parked car that was sticking into the road.  As I commenced avoidance measures Tracy said with a little panic in her voice, “Are you sure you have enough room to get past?”  A few seconds later, and after a huge bang and a shudder, I realized that she was referring to the dirt and rock embankment that was sticking out from the other side of the road.  Oops, I guess my answer to her question should have been “No”.  Nothing too serious, however, which means mechanically the Big Zeke is fine, but aesthetically, a little plastic surgery may be required.  And fortunately, we bounced away from the big rocks before they had a chance to puncture the propane tank (which happened to be lit at the time for the refrigerator).

And now on to Newfoundland.  One of the first attractions of this province is the incredibly friendly people.  For those of you unfamiliar with this easternmost province of Canada, the people are very welcoming but many of them talk with a strong accent.  The best description we heard is that it sounds like a combination of Irish and English, spoken as if one had a mouth full of cod.  Regardless of how it is described, Tracy and I have spent countless hours in the RV perfecting our own Newfoundlander accent while talking nonsense to each other…after 13 months on the road (24X7) it’s not like we have anything else to talk about.  The accent just adds to the charm and friendliness of the locals.  Some of the characters we have met include:

-    The fellow RV traveler who got very animated telling us about the RV park in Nova Scotia that doubles as the set for the cult classic Canadian TV series, “The Trailer Park Boys”.  “Ya, dat Bubbles fella, he be thar!  You jus gots to go see it, me boy!”  I’m not sure why this place wasn’t mentioned as a “gem” in the official government travel literature we received (or mentioned at all, for that matter), but, in spite of Tracy’s protests, I have added it to our “to-do” list;

    The lady working in the grocery store that spent a full 30 minutes with us explaining all the local food that was foreign to us, such as partridgeberry (good pie!), bakeapple (which is a berry, not an apple) and moose stew (which really didn’t require an explanation, but I guess she figured that since we live in Ontario, simple concepts require clarification);

    The gas station owners who proudly told us (and, by the way, all Newfoundlanders like to talk) that they had been to Ontario once to see their teenage son sing in an early round of Canadian Idol.  When Tracy asked whether he had always sung, the mother replied, “Sing?  We didn’t even know he could talk!!”;

    The staff of our whale watching tour boat that put on an impromptu, foot stomping concert for us during the trip back to shore;

    The guy just sitting in a pickup trip near a bay packed with icebergs.  “Have you ever tried some iceberg ice in your whiskey or screech”, he asked Tracy as he swirled some around in his cup.  Of course when Tracy said no, he quickly offered some up to her.  If it were past 10am, she might have accepted;

    And my personal favourite was the local we read about in the Geo Center in St. John’s.  There was a display about past earthquakes, and there was a newspaper article that proudly told the story of a resident who, after a moderate sized earthquake, and remembering the Newfoundland tsunami of 1929, rushed down to the harbour to see if another tsunami was coming.  I don’t want to question the intelligence of Newfoundlanders, but personally if a tsunami were coming I might be headed in the other direction.

The wildlife is also quite exceptional in Newfoundland.  On our first day on the island we stopped at Cape St. Mary’s, an ecological site that is home to thousands of birds, including 40,000 good looking Northern Gannet’s.  The more popular bird, however, is the Puffin which is heavily promoted as a tourist attraction (including the “No Puffin’” signs in restaurants).  These cute guys, with their colourful beaks and feet are also known as the “atlantic parrot”, or more descriptively as “a potato with wings”.  Our whale watching boat tour took us past the aptly named Bird Island to see these guys.  As part of the running narrative, the guide mentioned that the blackbacked seagulls eat Puffin eggs and small Puffins.  Her joke of the day was that for breakfast these seagulls eat Egg McPuffins…those crazy Newfoundlanders!

I mentioned the whale watching tour.  This was an absolute highlight.  About 20 minutes into the trip, the captain spotted some water spouts so we quickly made our way in that direction.  As we were getting closer, there were more and more spouts and the captain was getting increasingly excited, “I think thar be two of 'em out there, no, it be four…oh my cod-kissin’ grandmama, there’s a whole wack of ‘em!!!”  When we got to the area, we were rewarded with the sight of numerous humpback whales continually jumping out of the water (“breaching” if you want to get technical), including a mother and baby.  It’s amazing, first of all, just to spot these behemoth’s, but then to see them get their whole bodies out of the water on a jump is simply remarkable.  And all just a few meters from the boat!  One of the children even said that “watching the whales dance was better than seeing a lion in Africa”.  Chalk one up for good ole Canada!

I guess we were still early in the whale watching season as there hadn’t been consistent spotting thus far, but the capelin (the little fish that attracts the whales) were just starting to come into the area.  We thought the captain might be more excited than normal but when he yelled out a mighty “Cha-Ching” after a particularly good whale jump, it was confirmed.  He said that the “cha-ching” referred to the “money shot” of the whale jumping, but I’m thinking it might have more to do with the start of his profitable busy season.  And just to put a cap on the trip, the boat even sold screech in the galley. 

[Cultural time out:  For the uninitiated, screech is a particularly strong type of rum that originated in Newfoundland, and is iconic in the province.  'Screeching' someone visiting Newfoundland is a longtime custom, in which the person is to drink a shot of screech, kiss a codfish on the mouth, and answer the question "Is ye an honourary Newfoundlander?" with the phrase " 'deed I is me old trout, and long may your big jib draw.”  As an FYI, that last part can be translated into “I hope you have good luck fishing”.]

And to close out the commentary on local wildlife, the resident moose population is very large, and we have seen many of these huge animals (and in fact eaten some of them in stew…and, by the way, it doesn’t taste like chicken).

I mentioned the Geo Center above.  For the mandatory educational point of this blog I’ll point out that the rocks of Newfoundland are considered to be some of the oldest in the world (in fact several hundred million years older than the Rocky Mountains).  The Geo Center, which is actually built into the ground with natural, glacier-scarred rock walls as its actual walls, was an enjoyable attraction.  Once again, however, the “informative” parts of this attraction didn’t interest us as much as the offbeat ones:

    In the section on icebergs there was a classic example of how Canadians differ from Americans.  Since the Titanic disaster (which occurred off the coast of Newfoundland), there has been a lot of interest in preventing similar accidents, with a special focus on how to prevent icebergs from running into the huge oil drilling platforms that were being built off the Newfoundland coast.  The American approach?…drop huge bombs on the icebergs (which apparently “was fun, but totally ineffective”).  The “nicer” Canadian approach is to loop a huge rope around the iceberg and then tow it slowly away with two tugboats, while apologizing for taking it off of its intended course.  [Somewhat related tangent:  we were playing a family game called “Camp” that includes interesting animal facts…after a nice fact about moose antlers, we were hit with this one:  In World War II, the Americans tried to train bats to drop bombs for them…I’m not making this stuff up!];

    One of the “interpretive guides”, a proud 3rd year geology student at the local university, was giving a talk on different types of rocks.  Her explanation of the layered sedimentary rocks was that, “they formed in layers of old organic matter, rather like a stack of Oreo cookies…a layer of black, then white, then black, then white.”  I only got a blank stare back, when I pointed out to her that if they were really like a stack of Oreos than it would be a layer of black, a layer of white, than two layers of black before another layer of white.  I guess they don’t teach “oreo analogies” until the 4th year of the Memorial University geology program;

And now some miscellaneous observations from our previous week in Newfoundland:

    They have a provincial park named Dildo here, as well as towns called Blow Me Down and Shag Island…and the Newfoundlanders wonder why people sometimes poke fun at them;

    You have to wonder about your spouse when you go into the store with the sole purpose of buying some salt, and the first product that she picks up is something called “No Salt”.  As a corollary, you know you’re in tune with your spouse when she can then take one look at your little smile and correctly deduce, “You $%#!@!  You’re going to put that in the %!#$@ blog!!”;

    Signal Hill in Newfoundland’s capital city of St. John’s was pretty impressive with its views over the town and harbour, and for its historical re-enactment of wars gone by;

    We went into a small grocery store in backwoods Newfoundland looking for some luncheon meat.  They only had bologna, but 10 different varieties!  When Tracy thought she had found another section with luncheon meat, it just turned out to be more bologna, except this time with macaroni and cheese chunks in it….those crazy Newfoundlanders;

    The town of Twillingate (one of the multiple towns we found labeled as “the iceberg capital of the world”), really did have some kick-ass icebergs in their harbour.  Apparently there had been one huge iceberg when it first arrived, but it had since broken into smaller, but still very impressive, chunks prior to our arrival.  We are now the proud owners of a freezer full of freshly cut iceberg souvenirs.  I knew that the axe in the back of the RV would eventually come in handy.  And thanks to the drunk guy in the harbour who was peddling iceberg ice and whiskey to Tracy, we now know what to do with it.  Apparently, when you put it in a drink, iceberg ice lasts four times as long and you hear it constantly cracking as you drink.  Kind of like Viagra meets Rice Krispies;

    Sticking with the “capital of the world” theme, we went into the town of Elliston, which has billed itself the “root cellar capital of the world”.  It initially called itself the “root cellar capital of the province”, but when no one questioned that claim (and I ask why would anybody bother?), they got bolder, and claimed global domination.  For the record, Elliston has a population of 350 people, and there are 140 root cellars.  This might have proven amusing until we found out that these townspeople were double dipping with our tax dollars…receiving government dollars not to fish for cod, and receiving more government grants to restore old root cellars.  We only went there for the close up views of the puffins (although I admit, we did stick our head in a root cellar…surprise, it was dark, damp and cool and looked like a root cellar).  Incidentally, we missed the Elliston Puffin Festival by one day…damn!!;

    Laura’s quote of the week came after I did something that she deemed to be not so bright.  She simply turned to Tracy and with a knowing nod, whispered, “You shouldn’t have married him.”  Thanks for that, sweetie;

    Adding to our “checked-off locations”, we visited Cape Spear, the easternmost part of North America.  We also stopped in Bonavista, from the famous Canadian song.  You know the one… “From Bonavista to Vancouver Island, This land was made for you and me”…check went the pencil, and by the way, seeing more whales and icebergs off of the coast of Bonavista was a bonus;

    Acceding to Laura’s 10th birthday wish, we stayed at an RV park called Funland.  She had seen their advertisements for a pool, a water slide, and a petting zoo among other goodies.  (Their heavy advertising budget should have been a tip-off to stay away).  Upon arrival, we were disappointed to see that you had to pay for absolutely everything including the small pool.   In 13 months of travel, this is the first pool that wasn’t included in the price of our stay.  The only item that was free, besides the “open concept” design (i.e. you park the RV in a big field), was the view of the lone calf and the lone piglet in the “zoo”.  At least it was a chance for a life lesson for the kids;

    I don’t know if they are being sold in Ontario, but I couldn’t resist trying the Doug Gilmour chocolate bars…even better than the moose stew!!

We are now off to the northernmost part of the province, where the Vikings landed 500 years before Christopher Columbus “discovered” North America.  More moose stew awaits us at the Viking Feast buffet, and perhaps some bologna…
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