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Rocher Percé

This morning started in dense mist and sea fog, visibility was about twenty metres. Undeterred we had breakfast al fresco, witnessing the arrival of Robert and Patricia at our campsite. Stef had only today recovered from his hangover and is not ready for another one yet.

Boat tours around Ile Bonaventura which also give views of Rocher Percé are the main thing to do here. We have no information on times or prices, just a leaflet for one of the cruise companies in town. As our campsite is only a kilometre or so outside of town we decided to walk in so we had the option for a drink or two before heading back tonight. Canada is not big on drink driving and we were warned by Robert and Patricia that people get an instant ban as well as some time at the pleasure of the Government.

As we finished our breakfast the sky started to clear. Within the space of five minutes cloudy skies were burned away leaving a bright, hot, sunny day. We stopped at the office for Bateliers de Percé and checked their information on tours. There seem to be lots of companies in town but the campsite gave us the leaflet and we decided there was probably little merit in shopping around. We bought tickets for today (Rocher Percé and Ile Bonaventura) and tomorrow (whale watching) working on the basis that trying to do both in the same day meant we would skimp on time and probably not get the best out of either. Stef still has a mental bloc on deleting crap pictures from his memory card and he is running out of space again so we toured through most of the shops in town for a new card. Although they had them they were not big enough so we left with nothing.

At the end of town a flight of steps leads down to the beach so that at low tide you can walk across to the Rocher Percé. It is a huge outcrop of rock with a big hole in the middle. Scientists say it will probably last for another one hundred and fifty years, or maybe just to tomorrow!

As it is one of the few things here to do it was pretty crowded with people. We were close to low tide when we went across so there was probably about ten to fifteen metres of uncovered rock to walk on. No rock pools to speak of were visible, juts a few mussels and a fair amount of seaweed. While the views of the rock itself were obviously not great from here as you are too close to it there were great views across the bay itself to Percé, we could even just make out Mortimer in the campsite.

A Parc Quebec guide was on hand giving an explanation about the marine ecology and different types of seaweed. There was one variety that looked a bit like lettuce and was quite a deep green. Another large, flat, brown and leaf shaped with lots of holes was called the Devil's Cover. An old tale says that the Devil visited a couple of fishermen but for some reason he was naked. He pulled some seaweed out of the water to cover himself up but stood too close tot he fire so it caught light and ended up with lots of holes. To me the best way I can describe it is that it looked like a big, rubbery, flat brandy snap. The third seaweed was called sea lasagne. It had big long "leaves" about ten centimetres wide and a few metres long that were curly at the edges. A rubbery stalk connected it to roots (called crampons) that attached it to the rocks.

As the tide was low we walked back around the shore line into Percé rather than retracing our steps and then headed to the quayside to get our boat trip. The boat went out to Rocher Percé to give you close up views of the hole through it from both sides. You can see that the rocks are very crumbly and warning signs to this effect were also posted along the beach side walk. Even our local guide booklet warned that there was some ris in walking to Rocher Percé - pretty obvious as you have to walk across rocks and pebbles and if you do not keep an eye on the time you could get cut off by the tide. It is really just another reminder that we are now on the North American continent!

Our trip then took us around Ile Bonaventura before setting us down on land. We had seen seals swimming in the water and loads of gannets (the colony is three hundred thousand strong) resting on the rocks. The seals were pretty playful and with some of them it was if they were coming out to say hello to the boat. Four companies run multiple boats each on the same route so they must get pretty tired of hello's. With the birds it was more a matter of making sure we were not in the line of fire!

The island itself is quite small, just a few kilometres long and a few kilometres across. It used to be settled by a fishing community but is now protected as a national park. There are a few walks you can do to see the island and its flora and fauna. The first trail takes you back across to the other side of the island. It passes through colourful meadows and winds up through woodland. Many of the trees have either been burned or stunted by disease. They are covered in a mauve/grey almost moss like "stuff". Plenty of new saplings and young trees were growing around them so the forest did not feel in danger of dying out!

The closer to the other side of the island we got the stronger the smell we had first encountered on the boat became. Gannet droppings in the quantity they get here absolutely stink. As we reached the edge of the forest the volume also increased - the noise a few hundred thousand birds can make is staggering. The sight of them was also surreal and a bit unnerving. It had a similar effect on me as seeing a swarm of bees. As far as you could see from left to right the floor was full of gannets. The air all around us was also swarming with flies.

Information panels gave some basis information about gannets (territorial, aggressive) and their mating habits (partners for life, a couple of young per season). Although aggressive they also seem to be affectionate. Their behaviour of rubbing each other's necks has been put down to simple pleasure rather than any necessary grooming routing. Watching them was quite entertaining as they are quite comical birds, especially when they launch into flight as they sort of hop across the ground before taking off.

Rather than taking the same route back we followed the Chemin du Roy around the end of the island. This tool us down and along the full length of the colony and to a high viewing platform, again covered in flies! Winding down there was one point of access to a small beach. Stef tested the water, cool but inviting. Unlike others, we have not come prepared for a swim. The swell of the water was pretty high and with a steeply sloping beach I expected a strong current. Thinking about it now though if it was dangerous to swim here warning signs would have been posted everywhere.

A couple of people had braved the waters and gone for a swim. They were soon joined by a gannet who got increasingly cross that someone was in his territory. Rather than moving our it its way, one woman in particular decided to stand her ground. She started flicking water at the gannet, not really sensible and only retreated when it started to peck at her feet and legs. Incredibly, someone else who had watched all of this from the beach then went in to continue to tease the gannet after the first woman had stopped!

Gannets galore

We followed the trail back round to the start, neither of us really wanting to keep walking but there was no option to stop. It was not really a long walk, only about 7.5km but we had not come with a walking mindset and it was pretty hot. I am glad we did though as the trail went past some of the old houses from the fishermen who used to live here. In one house an Irish man and his wife raised their eleven children, It was basically just one room, in size probably less than half a tennis court. Other houses , where men came on their own, were no larger than a big garden shed. It must have been a hard life.

Waiting for the boat back to the mainland Stef spotted a whale swimming just off shore. It stayed around to put in a few more appearances before disappearing off. It had a single fin running down its back and a sleek black body. I have no idea what type of whale it was. Back on land we stopped for a beer at a waterfront bar, a staggering £13 for two beers and a water. We had thought of treating ourselves to a meal out rather than cooling but Stef totted up that a basic meal here would have cost over £70. We are not sure if we just picked the most expensive place in town to stop at but needless to say we did not eat out.

We went via the Coop and the bread shop for a few basic supplies and walked back up to the campsite. The sea mist had started to roll in again and by the time we got back it was totally foggy. By the time we had unpacked the shopping it was raining again, quashing thoughts of a barbecue.