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- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
Today has turned out to be the most expensive day of my life since we bought our house. We are now the proud (stupid?) owners of a GM/Chevrolet Roadtrek 170P motor-home. It has been a tortuous process over the last week getting the cash and insurance sorted but finally we did. Today itself though was also long winded.
|A crash-course in motor-homes|
Stef spent the morning looking at his watch, his body language showing he was getting irritable that it was 10:00am and we were still in the hotel. He called Roulottes Gilbert to see if they had received the money (it has definitely left our account). I had no idea at the time if they had received it but we headed out there anyway. Once there we were back in the hands of Michael Hubbard, their Commercial Director. A retired cop (as he told us more times than I can remember) he was a car sales man for a year or so before ending up in his current job. I have met some slow workers in my time but this guy was one of the slowest yet.
Having told him we would be here today to pick up the motor-home, and having given him an hour's advance warning of our arrival, you would think that he would have had all of the paperwork ready to go. Not so. We had a painful process of form filling, cheque raising (we have to give the sales tax to the registration agency when we get the motor-home registered as ours) and photocopying (each piece separately rather than all in one go!) that took about an hour and a half. He then took us to the agency to register the vehicle as ours, another hour or so. Apparently they would get twitchy if we were not permanently resident so as far as they are concerned we have just moved to Canada, living at Roulotte Gilbert's address.
With all of the paperwork finally sorted we then got our "lesson" on our new home. We were shown how to use the battery, generator and propane, how to top up the water and empty the waste etc etc etc. Some of it stuck but a while load more was instantly forgotten. It was rush hour when we left and Stef drove expertly through the busy streets in what feels to us like a tank (its just under nineteen feet so probably the size of a transit van or minibus).
Our next stop was Ikea (one of my most hated shops but somewhere we knew we could get what we needed under one roof) to buy essential bits and pieces like cookware and towels. It was exactly the same as Ikea in Croydon. Same layout, same stock (we resisted the Billy bookcases), same lack of staff to help you. We tried some Swedish meatballs and I cannot say I would rush to repeat the experience, while watching the car park gradually fill up with Friday night shoppers. That was our signal to get going and we beat a hasty retreat.
|And then he's ours!|
The motorway back into the centre of Montreal was still really busy and a little bit too hairy so we turned off and wiggled our way through the back streets. This took us down and around the Mont Royal itself. We passed through some very nice looking residential districts, strengthening my feeling that Montreal is somewhere I would like to come back to to spend more time - only downside is the French arrogance! Annoyingly the petrol tank was not full (one of several basic questions we had forgotten to ask) so we stopped to fill up. Canadians think petrol is expensive here, which it probably is compared to the US. I think it is about half the price of petrol in the UK.
By the time we got back to our hotel it was about 9:00pm and we were both glad we had opted to stay here tonight rather than heading out to a campsite (Stef's idea). We ambled downtown for dinner and were both surprised when at 10:00pm they started to turn people away saying the kitchen was closed. A storm moved in bringing with it some heavy rain - useful for us as it kept a few other diners at the restaurant longer than they would otherwise have been so we were not the only people there.
- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
We checked out of our hotel, dumped our stuff in the motor-home and then headed out of Montréal. We have no idea how far we will get and the next few days will be a steep learning curve - not only on how to use all the bits and pieces but also about living in such close quarters.
|Blessed are the cheesemakers|
Wanting to see the countryside as we go we chose not to head up the motorway but to go along the river on route 132. We drove through charming little villages with neatly manicured lawns, a real contrast to South America. In some ways the driving was easy, long mainly straight roads and as the van is automatic there is no gear changing. In other ways it was hard work. It is obviously much bigger than anything I have driven before and it is also relatively slow going. There is usually a steady stream of cars waiting to overtake but they are cautious drivers and need to long space for such a manoeuvre.
Along the way we stopped briefly at a cheese making factory and from a glassed in balcony watched the process. There was one huge oval shaped vat of milk being churned and then a smaller one with what looked like lumps of doughy plastic. This was the cheese and was put into square shaped moulds for the final stage of pressing before being sold. The whole process was very boring to watch and lacked the flair of the fromagerie we went to in the Jura region of France. We tasted a few cheeses in the shop and left with a couple of small blocks.
Time was marching on by this stage and we needed to find a campsite for the night. We ruled our our first choice at Saint Vallier when we got there to find that their water had high levels of arsenic. It is OK for a shower but not for drinking! We have an empty tank and need a clean water supply. We turned back onto the 132 and headed back towards Beaumont and Camping Carol. On the way we had to stop at a cross roads for the local freight train to go by. It must have taken about five minutes as wagon after wagon after wagon went by - the longest freight train I have ever seen.
|We're still new to all this!|
At the first site we had tried the people were very gruff. At Camping Carol they were very friendly (she was Belgian) and quite happy to help out a couple of novices with problems. During the day we had tried to get the fridge going but failed. It seemed to be OK but would then konk out. As we were hooking up to the water and power help came by in the form of two other campers. One was a wizened old man who looked like he had been camping for more years than I have been alive. They were very friendly and helpful and got the fridge going. As we expected it was something simple, we just needed to open the valve to the propane tank!
Knowing that the fridge was not working we had not bought any food so we had to go in to Beaumont to eat. Seeing us unhooking the power etc so soon after we had arrived, the people behind us and the old guy whop had helped us looked concerned and asked if we had a problem. In my pigeon French I explained that all was OK we were just heading into town to eat. The old guy had come by with another chap who works for a motor-home company, just to check that the fridge was still OK. They exchanged lots of oohs and aahs at our Roadtrek. Not only is it nearly new but the original owner seems to have invested in quite a few added extras - it even has a generator was one comment.
In Beaumont there was a small pizza pasta place. The food was OK but by that time I just wanted to eat and crash out. It had been a long day and we still had not unpacked our stuff or made up our bed. Six hours of driving today in total was far too much. I reckon that by 4:00pm we need to head for a campsite irrespective of where we are or where we planned to be.
- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
Considering that the bed is a little short for both of us I slept reasonably well. It was hot when we crashed out but I was cold during the night and hot again this morning, We woke up early, about 6:30, and headed for the showers then spent an hour or so unpacking our stuff. I had thought that we would pretty much fill up all the space available but there is still loads of room left. Over the last couple of months every time we have checked into a hotel we have played the Beccie game. This morning I Beccie'd Stef, the last time we will play until we are back into hotels again.
The Beccie game is a new one, named in honour of my sister Beccie because of whom it was invented. Last year, I went away for a weekend with both of my sisters Caz and Beccie. As we were only away for two nights Caz and I both lived out of the small bags we had brought with us but fell about laughing at Beccie. Everything in her bag was unpacked and put away even though it was just for two nights. Early on in our trip, when we checked into a hotel Stef put his toilet bag in the bathroom and proudly declared that he had "done a Beccie" because he got there first. Since then, we've played the Beccie game each time we have moved on - you win if you get your toilet bag in the bathroom first. Silly I know but those of you who know the yellow car game, or the guess the nationality of the truck when you are driving through France game, will know that its right up our street.
Still with no food we headed back to the cafe in Beaumont for breakfast. My poached egg and muffin was dwarfed by a mound of fresh fruit. There was melon, water melon, orange, apple, banana, kiwi and grapes - a real vitamin C boost. Fruit seems to accompany al breakfasts in Canada even if it is an English style fry up. Refreshed we headed out aiming for somewhere up the coast but in fact ending up only about twenty kilometres away.
The road took us past Berthier sur Mer from where you can get a boat across to La Grosse Ile, the quarantine station for Quebec used from the 1830's to 1937. The next boat doe not leave for a couple of hours and does not get back until after 6:00pm so we whizzed up to Montmagny. Stef dropped me at the supermarket to do the food shopping while he went amnd booked the campsite. He had tried by phone but he did not understand their French and they did not understand his!
In less than half an hour I tazzed round the supermarket finding pretty much everything we needed, not bad going when none of the labels and packaging were familiar. They seemed to have different sections selling the same stuff, some from a cooperative, other bits organic. I despaired when I got to the milk - so much choice but it all looked the same and looked different at the same time. I picked one and hoped for the best. My next panic was at the cash till. Although most supermarkets take plastic cards I did not have any cash and thought it would be just my luck that they were a cash only shop - they were not.
Stef was waiting, in the car park, campsite booked and I quickly stored stuff away. Time was tight to get back for our boat trip but we mad it OK. The boat was a small river cruiser owned by the Lachance family. Our destination was Grosse Île, one of twenty one in the Isle-aux-Grues archipelago. Most of the islands are privately owned, one by the Lachance family, it is now worth so much that Grandpa Lachance is not selling it. They are strung out through the St Lawrence river and are mainly used for hunting. This area is a migratory stop off point for snow geese. The crossing from the south shore to the island took about half an hour. From the islands to the north shore of the St Lawrence is twice about twice as wide again and takes you through the main shipping channel.
At the island we were met by guides from Parks Canada. We had checked before coming that the tours were in English as well as French. For once my basic French paid dividends. We were the only people on the island wanting English speaking tours so we had a guide to ourselves all day. The information for the trip says that you spend about three and a half hours on the island. Neither of us had though we would need that much time but in fact I left wishing we had had an extra hour. I think that being in a group of two we had asked more questions than is usual.
The island was first used in the 1830's when immigrants started to come to Canada to escape the disease (cholera and typhoid) that was rampant in Europe and later to escape the potato famine in Ireland. Its purpose was to check the health of immigrants before allowing them onto Quebec with the aim of keeping Quebec free from disease. Due to the lack of medical knowledge at the time, they thought these diseases were airborne so did not have the in place the right preventative measures. As such, cholera still hit Quebec wiping out about 10% of its population.
Initially they had made preparations to house two hundred and fifty sick people and two hundred healthy people. The first four boats brought four times that many and there were another three hundred and ninety six boats en route. In the early days only the west sector of the island was used (the island had been bought from a farmer who had agreed to relocate) and at its peak this area housed twelve thousand people. As a forested hill takes up most of this area there was not much space for accommodation and it was not long before the healthy people were also sick. The then Superintendent of the island extended the site further along the south shore of the island and over time full faciliites developed. Only the south of the island was used. The north shore was too rocky for safe landings but the south shore also gave views up the St Lawrence so they could ensure all boats stopped As Canada was still a British colony the base was initially set up by the British military and they had three canons trained across the river to catch out captains who failed to stop.
When boats landed, the people on board were subjected to a medical exam. If everyone on board was healthy the boat was allowed to continue to Quebec. Just one ill person on board was enough to quarantine the boat. After 3 months at sea, it must have been rare to be on a totally healthy boat. The sick were landed at the eastern wharf in the centre section of the island. The healthy were taken to the Disinfection building in the west sector. Their belongings were taken from them and steamed clean, they were showered and had another medical exam, repeated twice daily for between five and fifteen days before they were declared disease free and allowed on to Quebec. This routine was only implemented in the late 1800's after Pasteur discovered the true form of typhoid and cholera and how they were spread. People not vaccinated before they left to come to Canada were vaccinated on the island.
|Say "aaah", Canadian style|
We were put through the medical exam. First our tongues were checked to ensure they were not black or covered in postules. Then we had to "say aahh" so they could check our throats. Next a temperature check with the back of the hand on the forehead to see if it was unusually hot or cold, then finally a check of glands under the armpits, at the throat and behind the ears. Not at all scientific by today's standards but of the four million people who passed through here during its one hundred and five years of use only seven thousand died, five thousand of whom died in 1847 at the height of the cholera pandemic and potato famine. A pretty impressive record.
The usage of different parts of the island changed over the years but generally the healthy stayed in the west sector, the ill went to the east sector and the staff lived in the central sector, also known as the Village. A guard post ensure that people from the west could not get to the centre and a similar lookout ensure the ill could not wander from the east sector to the Village. The family of those declared ill could choose to go to the East sector with them or go to the healthy west sector.
Many of the island's buildings still exits toady and a little trolley bus takes you along he shore to see them. Most of the immigrants were Catholic but there were also some Anglicans and Protestants. This mix is clearly seen in the Irish Cemetery in the west sector, used for the dead in 1847, where the Catholic part is at least thirty times bigger than the Protestant part. The Catholic chapel in the village is also bigger than the Anglican one and has a separate presbytery which was itself expanded from a one storey to a two storey building.
One of the buildings has black and white photos of the island at different times of its use and showing the buildings that no longer exist, either due to fire or because they were replaced by others for different purposes. It also houses an horse drawn ambulance, which doubled up as a hearse, and a thick hulled ice canoe used to get across to the mainland for provisions during winter, itself a treacherous journey.
The Village sector for the islands staff had all the facilities you would see in a normal village. The Superintendents house (no longer there) was a luxurious mansion with twenty four bedrooms, a tennis court, green house and his own private wharf. The size reflected his importance and the need t house his many children. There is a Marconi wireless telegraphy station, houses for the physicians, nurses, public works officer (needed as the facility was continually being expanded and upgraded), a bakery, school for the village children as well as buildings to house the military.
Dr Frederick Montizambert became the Superintendent in 1869 and with his medical knowledge was responsible for modernising the facility in light of Pasteur's discoveries. At the time it was the most modern quarantine station in the world. New brick hospitals were built and it was at this time that the inspection and sterilization process in the disinfection station was introduced.
For me one of the most interesting buildings was the Lazaretto. Initially built in 1847 to house immigrants under observation it was converted in 1848 to be a small pox hospital as this was then the most common disease on the island. The buildings were needed quickly and were prefabricated in Quebec. Of the twelve built, only one remains to tell the tale. They were made of wood, in essence big garden sheds. Each housed 300 people in four "rooms" of seventy five people each. Fifteen single beds were lined up against each wall and double rows of bunk beds running down the centre of the room housed the rest. Initially there were no windows just a door at either end. Over time, shutters for ventilation were added and finally windows. To maximise heat retention, dummy ceilings were added to reduce the internal height of the building.
In the late 1800's it was discovered that viruses like small pox flourish in UV light. Whilst removing the UV light does not cure the illness it helps to reduce the severity of the condition. The windows in the lazaretto were changed to red glass to limit the UV. It creates an eerie atmosphere in the room and strange "martian" views when you look through the windows onto a red world.
The site has only recently (twenty years ago) been owned by Parks Canada and has only been open for visits since 1996. They are gradually restoring the buildings back to show what life would have been like. The setting is beautiful but conditions, particularly during the 1847 potato famine high influx, were tough. It was not necessarily any better than being in Ireland.
In the west sector only the disinfection building has been restored but we ran out of time to see it. By 1914 there were three different hotels reflecting the class of passage people had had on their boats. The third class hotel built in 1914 also now houses a cafe. I think the toilets are still the originals from when the hotel was built, the round wooden loo seat was very well polished and smooth! The second class hotel (1893) and first class hotel (1912) have yet to be renovated.
The quarantine station closed in 1937. The site was then used by the military during World War two to develop biological weapons and then as as animal quarantine station (which is when some of the original buildings were destroyed).
There are three memorials on site. One, above the Irish cemetery, commemorates four doctors who succumbed to typhoid in 1847, the busiest and worst year for the station. At the height of the epidemic forty to fifty people died here each day. Trenches were dug in the cemetery and the dead were buried side by side in mass graves. Priests only came to bless the graves when a trench was full. There are no individual gravestones.
A second memorial, built I thin in 1998, looks out over the cemetery. It comprises a series of tall glass panes onto which are engraved the names of the seven thousand people who died here. It also records the unnamed dead who made it up to Rimouski further up the coast but did not make it alive to the island. Before Rimouski, any dead were buried at sea. After Rimouski, their remains had to be brought to the quarantine station for burial due to concerns that the coast would otherwise become infected.
The final memorial is a large celtic cross built high on the western corner of the west sector. On one side is engraved the names of the Catholic priests who had looked after the parish on the island (no mention is made of the Anglican priests). The three other sides all carry similar messages but are not identical. The message is to commemorate the number of Irish people who died here. The cross was built and paid for by an American Irish Catholic organisation (the Order of Hibernians) and their inscription in English makes reference to the priests. The side in French refers to the priests of Canada, their way of reflecting both religions.
On the final side the message is in Gaelic and has a very different tone. Here it makes inferences about the lack of aid and assistance Ireland, not yet an independent country, was given during the potato famine. The final line reads not "god save the King" as on the other two sides, but "God save Ireland".
After the tour we headed back to our campsite for our next big adventure - our first "home" cooked meal in two months. Getting back into the harbour we had a chuckle at one of the boats moored off a buoy. This morning it was in deep water, at low tide it was in deep doodoo's. What was meant to be a quick and easy spaghetti Bolognese seemed difficult and time consuming to do. It probably was not really, it is just a mater of getting used to all our new bits and pieces. By the time we were ready to eat, the wood in our wood pit was all burned out and the mossies and midges were out in abundance so we ate indoors.
The campsites so far have come with more bits and pieces than we had expected. Water, electric and waste water/sewage hookups we had expected. What we had not also expected to get was our own picnic table and metal brasier to burns logs in. All in all it makes for a very cosy atmosphere. We celebrated our new nomadic lifestyle by naming our van Mortimer the Motor-home and toasting its health with the cider we had bought at St Benoit du Lac -which was a bit ropey!
- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
Today did not start well. We both in each others way wanting to do different things at the same time in the same place. Getting dressed next to a pan of boiling water with Mortimer rocking as Stef got in and out was not my idea of fun but Stef did not seem to understand why! Things improved with an outdoors breakfast and before long we were back on route 132 heading north with no particular destination in mind. We drove on to Kamouraska where our local guide indicated there were interesting places to stop - an eel farm and a micro brewery.
|Tasting a couple of Belgian brews|
The eel place was disappointing, especially as we had to pay $5 each to get in. Eel catching season starts in September so there was not much to see except models of the fishing nets and boxes used to catch the eels, some photos and a few preserved eels at different life stages.
To catch the eel, nets are used to steer them into big wooden crates that are put on the river bed weighted down with concrete blocks. On their best day ever they got twelve hundred eels in one catch (they check the nets twice daily). Hauls seem to be reducing these days due to a new hydroelectric dam up river which prevents the eel coming down this far (so why do they not move the eel farm up river was the question that sprang to mind). Of the catch only 2% is eaten locally in Quebec, the rest is exported.
Year old eels are tiny, like thin worms about two inches long and white. Apparently in Europe they are eaten as a tasty morsel deep fried but because of the volume needed for a meal it is threatening the eel population. By the time the eels are six they are the size you can buy smoked in Holland. Fully grown and aged twenty plus, they are black, the thickness of my arm and a couple of feet long.
The method of catching the eel dos not seem to be very friendly to other animals. At high tide, baby seals can swim into the cages but as the tide turns they get trapped and suffocate from the lack of water. For birds, low tide pickings result in high tide drownings as they are trapped in the nets. We got to try a bit of eel - the tiniest bit possible on a Ritz cracker with the cracker overpowering the taste of the eel. We bought a small piece for tea, again highly priced for what it was but it was very tasty.
At our next stop, the Breughel micro brasserie of artisanale Belgian beers, the very offhand family who run it said we could not get a tour of the brewery because they only did it for groups of five or six. Undeterred we decided to sample some of their local brew but were surprised we had to pay for it. At the vinyards we went to in the Canton de L'est the sampling was designed to encourage you to buy. Here it was almost as if it was too much trouble for them.
|Walking along the beach|
A small painters palette with five different tasters was plonked down in front of us with a bowl of what looked like seaweed. No information was given on the brewing process or why they had focused on the particular types of beer they had when there is such a variety of Belgian beers to choose from. The only information we had was from a leaflet (in French only) which we had to pick up ourselves. The "double" beers were OK, the rest not, including a very insipid framboise (raspberry beer). We bought a due of doubles and headed back along their unpaved and bumpy track back on to the 132.
We bypassed Riviere du Loup heading for the smaller and nicer sounding Trois Pistoles. The scenery here is changing, becoming more hilly and with more pine trees in evidence. With the hills our fuel consumption rocketed raising concerns that the leak we seem to have developed could be petrol not water. At the campsite we had a good pitch with a view onto the St Lawrence River.
Both wanting a faster cooking experience we opted for a barbecue for dinner. The only problem is that we do not have one! The local supermarket where we got the bits I could not get yesterday and food for tonight was a non started on the barbecue front but they pointed us in another direction. At the garden centre shop we got a disposable barbecue as the only other ones they had were monster size gas fired jobs. The next stop yielded the all important citronella candle. On our way back we passed a GM garage and stopped to ask about our "leak". They reckon it is probably just the air conditioning unit and that it is nothing to worry about.
Back at the campsite Stef tried to empty the waster water and sewage, another new experience. He got very frustrated because the simple "pull out the hose and open the valve" instructions we had had did not seem to work. I asked if he had pulled out the hose correctly to be told "yes", the "of course" was silent. All the instruction books (a couple of inches of A4) came out - no good. I persuaded him to leave it until tomorrow to sort it out.
- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
We are both quite chilled and have decided to stay at the campsite another day. We washed up from last night, had breakfast and washed up again. We need to pay for the extra night and buy some more wood for the fire.
|Quiet day at the campground|
Not wanting to be asking stupid questions for the third day on the trot I had a quick look to see if I could sort our waste water and sewage problem. It was a simple matter of gravity. Rather than putting the outflow pipe under the hatch i.e., straight onto the floor, Stef had pulled it through the side compartment hatch on the van. This meant the waste had to flow uphill to get out which it obviously cannot do easily. The problem is not entirely sorted though. Our outflow pipe is only about six inches off the ground, the same height as the entry into the drain so we still have a gravity problem. Most of the trailers and vans have a much greater ground clearance so no doubt we will have this problem a few more times yet.
As we are staying for a catch up day we put a load of washing on while having showers and then had our next challenge - fixing up a washing line to dry our clothes. Our awning provided a great place until the wind got a bit high. Seeing others around us take down their awnings we decided to follow suit and I made up a makeshift line across our bed for the bits that were still a bit soggy.
We spent most of the day writing our diaries, updating the web and enjoying the sunshine. At around 4pm we finally dragged ourselves out to the shops to get some food for dinner and a few other bits and pieces. When we got back to the campsite someone had pinched the fire wood we had bought this morning. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, people must have though we had left the site leaving the wood behind us. It only costs a few dollars a bundle but its the principle the really narks. We have been back for an hour and as yet no one has come forward to return our wood - bloody Frenchies!!
- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
|Looks like he's been here for a while|
Before leaving Trois Pistoles we went and checked our email quickly. We have not come across many places with internet access so as well as being behind on updating our website I am also well behind on emails - sorry all!
We had a slow, easy, pootle north along the coast stopping for provisions along the way at Rimouski. The St Lawrence River is now so wide that it is a struggle to see the north shore. It is probably now sea rather than river. The light here reminds me of St Ives in Cornwall - it has a magical quality that gives an enticing edge to everything we pass along the way. The colour of the sea changes from black to slate grey to a deep purple/mauve colour. In the early afternoon we stopped at a little village, pulling in to a roadside rest place and has some lunch. It was cool and pretty windy but with the benefit of cooking facilities on board we were soon warmed up with soup and hot drinks.
At Rimouski we went in search of a small portable barbecue. We have disposable ones but would prefer a small one that we can re-use and stash in the back of Mortimer. The supermarket sent us to Wal-Mart who had one that looked guaranteed to fall apart after one use. All the others that were small and would fit the bill were propane fuelled gas burners, in effect a hob for ouside use. Lots of RV's (recreational vehicles) have them but it is not what we are after. They sent us on to the Carrefour centre and with no luck at Zellers we went on to Canadian Tire. With a name like that I had expected I had not expected success. The shop was a mix between Halfords and a sports shop/outdoor shop. They had the same selection of mega grills that we had seen in other places but also had a cheap portable one with detachable legs. I joked to Stef that having now bought the barbecue the weather would probably be too bad to use it.
We called it a halt for the day at Cap Chat. The wind had picked up and our campsite was right on the sea. As we drove in we followed another Roadtrek, older but bigger than ours. As Stef booked us in for the night the other Roadtrek was driving back out and I though they had decided it was too windy to stay. They did come back though.
|In contemplative mood|
The campsite was small but had everything we needed. There were a couple of other motor-homes and a few people camping in tents. Rather them than me - the wind by now was pretty fierce. We decided it was a bit too blowy for an al fresco dinner deiipte having a brand new barbecue and just made it comfy indoors. The view out to sea was undisturbed, apart from the clouds and the storm rolling our way. When it came, the rain was pretty fierce but it only lasted for fifteen minutes or so. The strong winds quickly blew the storm inland and I watched the skies ahead getting darker and darker as those behind and above us cleared to yield a crisp night sky.
I started the mammoth task of getting diaries up to date but abandoned it as Stef started cooking. What was meant to be an simple dinner resulted in too many questions for me to concentrate. We tried a couple of new games from the card games book we have bought in Montreal. Tablanette we decided was not much fun, it ends up being too one sided, but we quite like California Jack, a trick taking game. I really need my sister Beccie for this game as she always seemed good at remembering which cards had been played when we played card games at home (or was it, as with Monopoly, just more cheating on the sly -only she knows!!).
With the landscape becoming more hilly we again seem to have problems with the fridge. It could just be that the gases it runs off need time to settle but we are not sure. We opted to run it off the mains until morning and then see what happens.
- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
We woke pretty early to a cleat but windy day. A little after 6am I was by the shower block washing up from last night and waved hello to Mr Roadtrek. As we sat catching up on stuff and enjoying the morning sun ne wandered over for a cat, seeming to enjoy the opportunity to practice his English (a first so far for Canada). We talked about our plans for Canada and he gave us some hints and tips of must see places, one of which, parc Bic, we have already passed without stopping.
As the conversation turned to motor-home travel and Roadtreks in particular it was obvious that he wanted to see inside. His face lit up when Stef said to come and have a look. Five minutes of comparisons between his and our ensued. I found that, as in South America and most of Canada so far, I was slightly excluded from the conversation. It is very definitely a place where people address men first, their accompanying females only if it is absolutely necessary. I find it all very frustrating, almost more so because I have no choice but to accept the state of play!
Once chappie number one had disappeared, another one turned up. A quirky, semi retired travel agent from Montreal who is traveling with two teenagers who he hardly knows. Odd! If we are ending up back in Montreal he said he would consider buying Mortimer from us. He could not get his head round the fact that we would not leave Canada via Montreal. He has left us his phone numbers so if we do go back to Montreal we can call him and he will show us parts of the city that are not in the tourist guides. By this stage it was around 8am and we were both ready for breakfast. Still Madre Tierre style - fresh fruit, yoghurt, granola and maple syrup.
Our first stop of today was Eole Cap Chat, a near by wind farm. It is quite an interesting site to visit and has very enthusiastic and welcoming guides. We sat in on the introductory chat given by a very excitable French speaking guy. The only bits I understood were a few numbers and Stef, fluent in French, also struggled with the Quebecois accent. The English speaking guide was equally enthusiastic as he took us through his explanation.
The first windmill on the site (1988) was experimental and used for research purposes. Costing over $30m it is the tallest vertical axis wind turbine in the world. It looks like a giant beater for a food mixer. Built in collaboration between Quebec Energy and a private company it has not been used for twelve years. Contract renegotiations failed when Quebec energy only wanted to pay five cents for each kilowatt of electricity rather than the twenty five cents they had paid under the first contract. At the same time an iron disk got into the oil supply (perhaps conveniently?) which meant that the turbines had to be shut down, needing repairs.
It is huge, standing one hundred and ten metres tall. The tour takes you to the base of the mill and shows you the turbine, brakes, machine used to clean the electricity before it goes into the national grid etc. When it operated the lead used in its construction created electromagnetic fields so it resulted in health concerns for workers and visitors.
Around Eole (as the vertical turbine is called, after Aeolus the Greek god of wind) has now been built a modern wind farm. The turbines are horizontal axis and computer controlled to turn as the wind direction changes and to stop if the wind speed gets too high. To allay environmental concerns about noise pollution as well as health concerns, the blades are now built from fibre glass. All you can hear is a swishing as they turn ad there are no longer electromagnetic problems. Although the turbines themselves are ugly individually the wind farm in its totality has a strange form of beauty, especially when viewed from a distance. We had great views of it this morning from our campsite.
As it was English speaking the group was small. Two Brits who moved to Canada in 1969 and two Americans here looking for information. A wind farm is planned near to where they live and people are not happy about it. Their trip seems to have convinced them that wind power is a good thing!
A little farther up route 132 we turned inland,. heading for the Parc National de la Gaspésie. Since we have been in Canada we have spent many days sitting in a hire car or in Mortimer driving around and we need to get back out walking again. Heading inland, we were driving through mountains covered in fir trees, a solid wall of green and more the typical views of Canada we had been expecting.
The information centre gave us a booklet on the park with details of the different walks available. The information was given in a functional way and the woman behind the desk gave the impression that she could not get rid of us fast enough (French speaking again!). We booked our campsite for the night and as it has no facilities we filled up with water and dumped our waste before heading further into the park.
To get ourselves back into the walking habit we decided to do one of the shorter, easier walks this afternoon and a longer one tomorrow. Our walk today took us up to the tope of Mont Albert. The path led through pretty fields full of colour with wild berries growing all along the way. This must be seventh heaven for botanists. I wished I had a guide or a leaflet so that I could work out what plants we were seeing along the way. The higher we got the more the wind picked up. At the summit there was a small viewing platform offering 360 degree views of the park. It is the type of view you cannot do justice to with photos and I have no chance at all of capturing it in writing.
The air is fresh and clean and invigorating. We had both been feeling a degree or two under and this helped to blow away the last feelings of "unwell". On the way back down after a "there are no mooses here only Caribou" conversation, we saw a moose. It was grazing about twenty metres away from the main path. It seemed totally oblivious to the people getting close to take photos and happily carried on munching away. A truly spectacular sight.
It was a good warmer up walk which we did well within the expected time listed in the guide book. Good to know because our planned walk tomorrow, to the top of Mont Jacques Cartier (a tiddler at 1268m compared to South America) has an ascent three times higher and a pretty good wind chill factor!
The route through the park to the campsite is a little white road on our map, a wide non paved road in reality. With so many trees around there are warning and indicators about the risk of forest fire so I suppose the road serves a dual purpose as a fire break. Unlike South American dirt tracks, this one is well maintained with few pot holes, lumps and bumps and it is not long before we are at the campground.
Each of the sites is pretty well secluded and they are big plots with a fire pit and picnic table. The campsite is quiet, just us and a few other sites (all tents) are occupied. The wind up here is pretty strong an in the shade it is cool, enough so that fleeces were our and we kept on our socks and walking boots, the first time in weeks they have been needed. It really is in the middle of nowhere. With the luxury of having a generator on board we decided to give it a go (Stef's camera batteries are about to konk out and the rechargeable back up ones are flat). I had a flick through the manual. It is boring stuff and the previous owner had not even looked at them (no creases on the spine). It is as simple as flicking the switch but I suspect we should pay some heed to the "do this and that after every x hours of us" style warnings.
With the generator switched on the peace and quiet of our surroundings were shattered I found i noisy and wondered what our tent based neighbours thought, probably "lucky buggers have electricity and heat". As we were christening our new barbecue we also went for a wood fire which took two attempts to get it going. The wood we had bought at the national park information centre was damp and simply smoked a lot. Fortunately we still had dry wood left and the combination of the two worked.
We had another charcoaled feast, watching the full moon rise through and then above the trees. As with so many other things we are seeing here it has a magical quality. We have found ourselves just sitting and staring at sunsets, moons, water, the sea, just pondering life, the world and the universe and thinking about how lucky we are to have this opportunity. Even with our wood fire, the cold edge to the wind drove us back inside Mortimer. We dropped a couple of buckets of water on the fire to stop any sparks flying, cleared away dinner and shut the door to the outside world.
It was only 9:30 by the time we were tucked up in bed - early by normal standards but we had been up and about at 6am this morning so not so bad! With no-one else around we had left the curtains open and were swathed in moonlight. Being full, the moon was so bright that it was hard to see the stars as there was too much light. Racing by overhead was one very bright spot of light that Stef had also seen a night or two ago. It is definitely not a star and we think it is probably a satellite, or maybe the space shuttle or maybe visitors from Mars!!
- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
We woke early again this morning. It was warm and snug under our sleeping bag but the outside air felt cold. Not wanting to put on clothes and walk for five minutes to go to the loo I, for the second time (first yesterday) benefited from the luxury of our on board facilities then crawled back under the sleeping bag and zonked out again for half an hour.
There is absolutely no noise here and we could be the only people left alive on earth. I have lost track over the last few days of how many times Stef has enthused about this lifestyle and said how much he is enjoying it. I keep reminding him that with a motor-home you are not really camping and that in any case you have not really camped until you have had days where it has been continually peeing down with rain, you are soaked, as is all your stuff and you have no hope of drying out. Now that is camping!
We had a leisurely breakfast enjoying the view and I tried to suss out how cold it would be on the walk today The wind still has a cool edge but the sun is strong and warm. At the top we know there will be a wind chill factor but I heat up quickly when I walk and suspect the wind chill will not be an issue for me. As ever we opted for layers.
As we are unlikely to be back down from the walk before we need to vacate our campsite space we drove down to the car park where the showers are and parked up there. Even though we were up early, by the time we had showered, made sandwiches for lunch and washed up we only had a few minutes to spare before the bus left (at 10:00am!) to take us to the start of the walk. This area of the park is home to a herd of one hundred and sixty caribou, a species under threat as their natural habitat is eroded and their young, easy prey for boars and wolves, have a low life expectancy. To help protect the caribou, a shuttle bus runs from the campsite to the base of the walk up Mont Jacques Cartier.
The bus is a school bus, the typical yellow ones you see in American films. There is a short, inaudible tape of information but the on board Parc Canada guide repeats the information also - stay on the paths, do not pick flowers etc and if you see a caribou stop and give them right of way and use it to get good photos. Apparently they are very short sighted and you startle them if you do not stop as they cannot see you are there.
With an ascent of 450m, the 4.5km walk to the top is harder than yesterdays. Average time to the top is two hours and that is what we did. The first section was uphill through forests all the way. The air was heavy with the scent of pines and there was the constant sound of running water from the mountain streams trickling by. With only one stop to catch my breath, and one to peel off layers of clothes we reached the half way point at Lac Rene, one of many dotting the surrounding countryside. Here the wind chill kicked in and layers of clothes and a hat were donned for the rest of the walk. The last section is through alpine pampas so there are no trees to provide shade or to act as a wind break.
The winds were pretty strong, reaching up to 50km/h and the wind chill took the temperature at the top down to -5C. It was worth it though for the views. Again I cannot do it justice, you will simply have to packs your bags and come and see for yourself. Years ago the Canadian Army had a communications post here but now only the concrete foundations remain. Manned throughout the year, I reckon you must have played up pretty badly to get yourself stationed here through the winter.
Grateful that we had taken a picnic we sat and enjoyed the view and I finally cooled down to such a degree that I finally had to succumb and put my fleece and gloves on. The wind chill was incredible. At the small observation post Stef walked out of a sheltered part into the wind and his clothes all billowed out as if he was on a parachute jump.
|Diaries at dusk|
The way down was faster with us slipping an stumbling over the loose rocks that form most of the path. Strangely, it seemed to take longer getting down than coming up as there were no obvious mental staging posts that I remembered from the way up. When we got back down, the bus to take us back to the campsite was due in twenty minutes and we both sat and chilled. I had a battle with a persistent bug which kept crawling up my leg. It looked like a meatier version of a daddy long legs but had a two inch spike sticking out from its rear which, if it was a sting, looked as if it would be nasty. The bug won and I left my perch in the shade and went to join Stef in the sun.
We had seen no caribou today but I am sure there is still time left to see them before we leave Canada. Back in Mortimer, we headed again for the coast and for route 132, the Route des Navigateurs. Running through Mont-Saint-Pierre, which had nothing much going for it we carried on to Mont Louis, a small village stretching one block deep around a wide bay. The campsite is on a small promontory and its cafe is a great spot for watching the maritime world go by.
Having set Mortimer up for the night, we headed to the cafe (which also has internet access, although it was slow) for a coffee and to catch up on diaries. While Stef was inside getting drinks I looked out to see three whales cruising the bay, well really I saw their water spouts and a small part of their backs. This again prompted time just gazing and watching the whales - fabulous. As time moved on it started to get cold so we headed into the cafe, switched to alcohol and Stef set to work uploading photos. I now have my written diary up to date again - just eighty pages to put onto the web! - and have just enjoyed yet another spectacular sunset.
- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
|Mont Louis Fishing Fleet|
As the campsite cafe opens for breakfast we succumbed to temptation and spent a leisurely couple of hours over bacon, eggs, coffee and tea, watching the sea in the hope of seeing more whales and thinking through plans for the next couple of days. Mont Louis is a tiny village but it, and the campsite, have captured us and we have decided to stay another night. The only minor potential drawback was that as we had breakfast a big trailer parked next door, slightly blocking our view. We had the option to change sites but chose not to, as it later turned out a wise move on our part.
We headed down to the beach to explore the rock pools. With the tide out wide expanses of flat black rock had been exposed. It was almost like flint. In a few parts grey (granite?) and marbley strata were visible. We crunched our way over the rocks trying to avoid as many shells as possible - we probably decimated thousands. The whole area was strewn with tiny mussels, either in clusters at the dge of rocks or strung out in lines along the faults in the rock. Apart from the mussels we only saw a few starfish and some seaweed. The pools did not have an obvious (to us at any rate) variety of marine life.
As the rise slowly came in we worked our way around the bay stopping off to do some local shopping along the way. At the camping shop Stef bought a new flask (he had left the last one somewhere in South America not expecting to need it) and we also got a new barbecue, our last one died being dismantled - so much for portable and re-useable! We stopped at the grocery shop for food for dinner then carried on around to the other end of the bay to the fishing harbour and fresh fish shop. I think I had expected to see a wider choice of fish but it could juts have been that we were here too late in the day. The people in front of us bought two carrier bags of dried, salted cod. I am intrigued to know what they will do with it all. Our final stop was at the smoke house. Not really needing any more food by that stage we bought a token tub of smoked trout paste. The woman in this last shop had watched us walking around the bay, past her and then back to her and commented that it was a long walk. No-one else here seems to walk, they all get in their cars to drive even if its just for a short distance.
|Gone to the woods with my chopper|
Rain had been threatening all afternoon but thankfully had not arrived. It was hotter than yesterday and also slightly humid. The skies were leaden and full of black clouds. When we got back to Mortimer our new neighbours were relaxing in sun loungers and we quickly got chatting. They live not far from Roulottes Gilbert, the company we bought Mortimer from, and confirmed that they are a good dealer.
They, Robert and Patricia, were impressed that we had taken a year out to travel. They like to travel too, many by boat and coach cruises. During the rest of the afternoon and evening they took us under their wing and into the comparative luxury of their trailer. Robert is a well equipped traveler and after a couple of minutes watching us trying to assemble a mini hibachi barbecue with a penknife he produced a full set of screwdrivers etc all neat and tidy in their purpose built carry case. Next we had tomatoes from their garden and then big shrimps with a chilli sauce.
We had all off and on been dodging the rain showers that started but lasted only a few minutes each. Finally it rained persistently and we succumbed to the indoors. As we were getting ourselves sorted we were summoned across to take more comfortable refuge in their trailer. With the biggest rum and coke I have had in years in hand, we settled down for more friendly banter. Their trailer was incredible. It had a proper double bed in a bedroom at the back. The bathroom had a corner shower cubicle, bigger than we would be able to fit into our bathroom at home! The rest of the trailer, including the bits that extend out on the side, had a dining table and chairs, three seater settee, two armchairs, full size kitchen and big TV/DVD/stereo centre. Their previous trailer, that they part exchanged because it was too big, also had a washing machine, tumble dryer and ice machine and god only knows what else!
Stef downed his rum pretty quickly and was given another one so by the time we left about an hour later he was a bit squiffy. As we were pondering what to do for dinner Patricia was back again insisting we went to eat with them, which we did. More rum and coke, red wine and sambuca for Stef meant he was well and truly pickled by the time we got back to Mortimer. We have exchanged contact details and are welcome to stay with them when we pass through Montreal again in a few weeks.
- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
|At Cap des Rosiers|
|Cap des Rosiers|
Not surprisingly, Stef had a bit of a sore head today and was slow getting up. The weather was pretty grotty and it was too damp for an al fresco breakfast. Fried eggs and a Alka Seltzer started the recover process but he was not really himself again until late in the afternoon.
It was late morning by the time we were on the road heading around Lands End. The landscape on the north shore of this part of Gaspesie is more rugged and the coast road follows a windy path up and down some pretty steep hills. The steepest was a 17% downhill incline. Not too steep in a car but for me I was conscious of the weight of Mortimer and the fact that late braking was not an option. There were few spaces for overtaking and most of the time I had cars behind me. Frustrating to them but for me also because you know you are holding them up and feel pressured to go faster (which I did not). I will probably have more sympathy for people towing caravans in the UK now!
Although the rain held off for most of the day the mist never went away. Out to sea it looked as if there were white hills in the sea. On land the tops of the hills were shrouded in low handing mist. We passed through tiny little villages along the way and finally stopped at Cap des Rosiers hoping to get a tour of the lighthouse, the tallest in Canada. We could see the outside but were not that interested to wait for thirty minutes for the next tour to toe top. Looking our to sea there was a lone sea lion dipping and diving through the waves, at one point almost surfing across the top.
We took a brief detour down to Cap Bon Ami, part of the Parc National du Canada Forillon. If the weather was better we would have stayed and gone for a walk but with more superb parks yet to come we wimped out and opted to stay dry. This area is the most easterly point of Quebec and has been a key lookout post It is also a site of many shipwrecks, which is why the lighthouse was built.
Having decided to keep going, we stopped briefly at Gaspé. We need batteries for Stef's camera, found easily (and surprisingly cheaply) at Zellers. Also a hairdryer for me in the hope that not leaving my hair wet every morning will cure the bad attack of dandruff I seem to have (I hate dandruff!). Although Gaspé is a large village it lacked charm and we decided not to stay here but to head on to Percé another seventy kilometres further on. Percé's population of just under four thousand is mushroomed by visitors. Off the shore there is an unusual rock formation that you can walk to at low tide. This and whale watching trips makes Percé a tourist hub.
As we drove through town it is just motel, hotel, campsite and places to eat all the way. We looked at a couple of sites before opting for Camping Cote Surprise, a little way out of town but with clear views across the bay and to the rocks. We set Mortimer up for the night and abandoned attempts at a wood fire - it is simply too damp and the wood will not catch. Stef is still not 100% and we opted for a quiet and relatively alcohol free night tonight so that we can make the most of tomorrow.
- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
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!
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.