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Yesterday's weather forecast of a dry and sunny day today was ill founded and we woke to dark skies and rain. Aubrey is using the quiet season to make improvements to the campsite and his team that were due to be outside today were instead inside doing work on the the shower blocks we were shown last night. The alternative showers were probably better and for the first time in weeks I had a shower with no mossies, spiders, daddy long legs or woodlice - luxury!

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Stunning autumn colours

Heading back down from Twillingate we stopped at Boyd's Cove where there is a Beothuk Interpretation Centre. The Beothuk were one of the indigenous Indian tribes. Small, they numbered between five and seven hundred, and were in this area circa 1650 - 1720. A historian uncovered this site and the resulting finds from the archeological dig has now resulted in this interpretation centre.

There is a short walk through a forest to take you down to the site, which is based in a small clearing on the sea shore and next to a fresh water river. Along the way there are signs telling you the names of the flowers, plants and trees you pass. You can get down to the beach but as it has been raining pretty hard it was a bit boggy and we opted not to go for a walk along the shore line. The beach is shallow so it made a good landing stage for their fishing boats.

The path them winds on and over the stream which has very dark water and then on and down to the village site. From the eleven buildings they have found on the site they estimate that this village never had a population of more than ninety people. The Beothuk people were short lived though, their extinction being due to a combination of starvation, disease (tuberculosis) and warfare (although they were generally a peaceful people).

Before the tribe became extinct, documenters of the time were able to record details of their way of life and customs. This was mainly due to two Beothuk women,  Shanadithit who was the last Beothuk, and her aunt Mary March. At separate times, they were both taken to live in St John's and sadly both died within a year of reaching that city. There is information at the centre about their lifestyle, hunting techniques and dress but the key part of their culture that is covered is a practice that is responsible for all American Indians being called Red Indians.

The Beothuks mixed ground red ochre with seal grease to form a paste which they then spread all over their bodies. This was partly for ceremonial purposes but also acted as insect repellent and sun block. Obviously it also changed their skin colour, hence the term "red Indian". Each year in May they would have an Ochring ceremony to apply a new layer and this was also a rite of passage for young children who were ochred for the first time.

The Interpretation Centre was busy when we got there with three bus loads of school children. Learning about the Beothuk culture is part of the school curriculum for children aged around ten so schools come up to this centre so the children can see and learn first hand. They run a short video with some basic background and also laid on a flint napping demonstration by one of the local archeologists. It took about half an hour for him to produce an arrow head. This was the first time in Canada that we have had a positive experience of people passing on the history of the native Indian people. Normally our questions have been met with a very dismissive response.

It was an interesting place to stop off and I now wish that we had found the time in Twillingate and Grand-Falls Windsor to visit their Beothuk museums. The Interpretation Centre had books for sale but they were pretty heavy looking tomes so this has now been added onto my "look up on the internet" list.

It had been raining off and on all morning, not good for us as we had a long drive ahead of us. Our plan for today was to head back across Newfoundland ending up in the Gros Morne National Park tonight, about a 400km drive. We made it but it did not rate as one of our more pleasant drives. It seems that most of the time we have spent in Newfoundland it has been very wet and windy. Every time we ask someone local if this is the normal state of play we get one of two answers. Its either the tail end of the US hurricane season or normal for this time of year.

Half way across we stopped for petrol and the lady who served us was in the former camp saying that they normally get crisp, clear and sunny autumn days at this time of year. It is hard for us to believe because we were continually driving into thick low handing cloud. You could see that there was no prospect of the situation improving. Any slight clearing in the cloud was quickly dispelled and the thickness soon came back. We drove through some pretty bad conditions but we fared better than the people of Stephenville, about 100km further south from where we turned off the Trans Canada Highway. The wind and rain had been so heavy there that people were flooded out of their homes and some of the roads were also blocked. Many of the people in these places are elderly so it must hit them even harder than most.

I was really glad when we made it to Deer Lake (our turn off the TCH). It meant the end was in sight but we still had about 60km to go to get to Rocky Harbour and our campsite for the night. Even though Stef was driving I was focused on the road as moose and caribou are added potential hazards, although sightings of these so far have been moose 1, caribou 0. Of what I did see, the Gros Morne National Park has stunning scenery. With the heavy rain you could see water cascading down the sides of the mountains, still very brown looking. The road followed the mountains round and down some very steep inclines. We had swapped driving by this stage and I was secretly glad that Stef was driving this bit and not me.

At Rocky Harbour we found our campsite easily (Gros Morne RV park) and were met by a very friendly chap. Unlike last night there were other people here but still not many. I think probably five of his ninety-ish sites were occupied. Having had such a long and tiring drive neither of us felt like cooking so we asked about options for eating out in the village. We were sent in the direction of the Fishermans' Landing Inn on the sea front. It was simple but effective. We both had pea soup to start which was more like carrot, swede and turnip than pea but still very tasty. I played safe and had cod, Stef tried another Newfoundland speciality, Cod Tongues, and was not really very impressed. They were gelatinous and not very nice so he compensated with a chocolate fudge pudding which was very tasty.

Tired out we headed back to the campsite only to find that they had a very fast wireless internet connection. We spent a while checking mail and looking up really useful (or useless?) stuff on the internet before crashing out.

Happy 0th Birthday Woody!

Yet again the weather forecast had been for a clear, bright and sunny day and yet again we woke to grey skies and rain. It is also noticeably colder and for the first time in the morning we put on our furnace for a bit of morning warmth. It heats up the inside quite nicely and it was not long before we had roasty toasty warm feet again.

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Picture doesn't do this grand place justice

We headed out to the National Park information centre to get details of the local walks. It seems like we have spent days driving and traveling around and not really doing much else so we are both ready for a good walk. The only downside is the weather. It seems to have finally stopped raining, although clouds still threaten, but the wind has a definite cold edge to it. Our walk of choice would be the 16km hike up to Gros Morne Mountain but this is not recommended due to the weather. Instead we opted to do a few short ones, starting with the walk to the Western Brook Pond about half an hour's drive away up into the park.

This walk starts by the sea and heads back inland. Dominating the view is the mountain range that runs down to the far end of the pond (which by the way is 16km long so a pretty big "pond"). The whole area was carved out by glacial activity so the pond is technically a fjord, although technically not so because it is now land locked. I learnt something new about glaciers today. The weight of the glacier crushes the underlying land and pushes it down. As the glacial waters melt, the land gradually rises back up again and this is what happened here.

There is now a strip of boggy land about 4km long from the sea to the edge of the mountains. The water trapped between this land ridge and the mountains was originally sea water but over the years has been flushed out and is now fresh water. The Western Brook pond is also now fresh water but unlike other lakes its size it has few streams running and feeding into it and only one outlet to the sea. As such, it takes about fifteen years for the water to be completely cycled through, a process which happens three or four times a year in other similarly sized lakes. Not only is it 16km long, it must be three or four kilometres wide and at it 170, deep at it's deepest part.

The route was board-walked for most of the way and as ever there were information panels to explain what was going on with the landscape as well as to tell you about the local plant life. Little oxygen is present in the bog water so not much grows here. Plant life has adapted and become carnivorous and I was surprised to see pitcher plants here. I have only previously seen them in botanical gardens and had thought they were tropical.

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Brrrr ...

Part of the geology of this region is (I think) limestone strata. The limestone has risen more quickly than the surrounding land so running parallel to the sea are three or four ridges of land that are forested. In the dips between these ridges are the bogs. The bogs have been formed by successive layers of plant debris collecting and mulching together so the dips are not as evident as they were a long time ago. With all the rain in recent days, the water level of the bog was pretty high and in some parts came close to running over the boardwalk.

It was a really strange landscape. Behind us we could see the Gulf of ST Lawrence stretching out for miles to a cloudy horizon. All around us were vast bogs stretching left and right. All of this was set against the back drop of the Gros Morne mountain range which, being glacial end in a steep cliff face.

When we reached Western Brook Pond we were in time to book for a boat trip which takes you along the length of the pond along the glacial valley. Hanging valleys, caused by smaller glaciers joining on to the main one, really showed up the shape of the valley created by a glacier. Steep sides join into a gradual sloping "u" shaped valley. The boat trip was pretty cold as we were sat outside on the top deck of the boat but it was well and truly worth it as the views were incredible.

Its hard to paint a picture with words so I hope you enjoy the photos. There is some life in the dark, cold waters of this pond but not much. As you go along it you feel the temperature drop, almost as if the spirit of the glacier is still there chilling your soul and warning you to beware what lies below! The sides of the valley above the water line are sheer faces of rock with here and there evidence of rock falls. The most recent was in 1997 and they know the exact time and date because one of their other tour boats was out on the lake at the time and saw and heard it.

The views are stunning. The boat goes really close up to the rock walls and at times I thought we would crash but the water is so deep there is no bottom to scrape up against. Along the way they pointed out different rock formations that look like a lion (or the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz) and an old man. There are also "chimney stacks" of different rock that look like seams of charcoal. From the end of the pond it is hard to believe that a boat could go all the way through the valley because of the twists and turns of the glacier. When you are at the other end it is hard to believe that the sea is just 2km away.

Where plant life has taken hold it is forest. At points where the slopes are more gentle there is a migratory trail for caribou. They come down the north side of the pond, swim across to the other side and then climb up the southern side to a plateau which they use as their mating ground. Looking up you cannot see a trail that they can follow but they obviously know the route. They must get pretty hacked off if they climb up at the wrong spot and have to go down and back up again!

After the boat ride we drove down to Norris Point to look across the bay at another geological marvel, a piece of the earth's mantle (inner crust?) which was pushed up by tectonic plate movement millions of years ago. It is in this area that geologists confirmed that the earths plates do move.

This whole National Park is full of stunning scenery. The best views can only be got on four to five day hikes that you need to be an experienced hiker/climber to do, well beyond us. We also really needed to spend more time here. We are moving on tomorrow up to the north of this peninsula but have really only scratched the surface. The boat ride was unplanned so we did not have time to do the other walk to Berry Hill which also sounded spectacular. We will just have to come back again another day.

Back at the campsite we got set for a night in with better weather (it has not rained for a while at least, but still a cold night). Bob from work bought me an inflatable globe before we left. We now have this blown up and hanging up inside Mortimer. At night, it hangs down by the dashboard so its an easy point of reference. By day, its relegated to the back as it would make seeing out the front a bit tricky. Looking at this, where we are now is further south than London. I meant to check the BBC weather site to see what the temperatures are back home but I am pretty sure it is much cooler here than in London. To me that is odd and I have now added it onto my "check on the internet" list.

We woke to clearer weather this morning but it was very cold. We were all steamed up inside Mortimer and it took quite a while for the windows to clear fully. We left our campsite at Rocky Harbour and headed north up through the National Park. It was still overcast but we had clearer views of the scenery as we went. It really is something quite special and rates highly on my list of spectacular "aaahhh's".

We were set for another long day in the car. Our aim is to get up to the north western tip of Newfoundland to L'Anse aux Meadows. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as they have found here the ruins of a Viking settlement, the only one on North America.  It is about a 370km drive, a long way to go to see a museum but hopefully if will be worth it.

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Vikings. Unfortunately we had to turn down their invite for a little impromptu plunder

I hate driving in silence and today managed to get Stef to tolerate the radio. This was in part because he was fiddling around on the laptop as I drove. We listened to CBC1, part of Canada's currently beleaguered national radio network. There is an on running dispute between management and part of the unionised workforce. From what we have gleaned so far it seems to be that the former want to change working practices to gain a more flexible workforce so that they can easily tap in to the skill set they want. Understandably, the latter are not happy as it means their employment basis would be changed from permanent to contract, therefore resulting in less security. Its a classic dispute and not an easy one to resolve. Its been running for longer than we have been in Canada and there is as yet no sign of a resolution.

Because of the dispute they do not have a full schedule of current programmes and are running repeats. The first programme we listened to was, I think, current. It was similar to BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour. The presenter, Sheila Roberts (?), had three interviewees all women in their sixties and seventies. The first was a home economics/cookery guru who had just won a competition dedicated to cooking with buckwheat. She was passionate about it espousing the health benefits as well as trying to convince us all that it was tasty. Her winning recipe was a buckwheat, fruit and nut salad "which is great for snacking straight from the fridge". She is the author of an award winning cookery book, From the Ambassador's Table, so I suspect she must know what she is on about.

Her second guest was seventy seven and a Union Psychologist. I am not sure what that means but she seemed to be well and truly into self discovery, inner strength, building self esteem and self worth. She was talking about workshops that she runs that are about six or seven days long. We both decided she was a bit of a cuckoo who had hit on a great money making scheme. The final guest was an ex-politician who has spent the last thirty years or so travelling the world supporting aid projects and generally being a good egg for mankind. She sounds like she would be a fascinating person to meet and to talk to and that she has great tales to tell. Her thoughts on India mirrored my own from when we visited there a couple of years ago. Watch out US and Europe, India is coming and the energy and drive the people there have will mean they will triumph in due course.

The repeat was a programme all about workplace stress, the problems it can cause and the stigma associated with it. A guest then joined the show who traces the roots and origins of words and phrases. His choice for today was "work life balance" which was first used in the 1970's but did not pick up steam until around 1970. This chap, referred to as the Word Spy, then talked about other new work related phrases.

Down Shifting is what people do when they want to have a less demanding job and readjust their work life balance. The Rat Race Membership Fee is all the stuff (clothes, cars, houses etc) people have to buy and accumulate to show that they are a high performer. (By the way, did you know that the phrase Rat Race originally comes from a dance in the 1930's!) The Joy to Stuff ratio measures the amount of enjoyment you forgo to acquire the stuff required to be part of the rat race. Many people are now becoming Soul Proprietors, setting up their own businesses but running them on their terms which enable them to have the lifestyle they want.

He was an entertaining person to listen to and we will be checking out his website (www.wordspy.com) to find out more. He also has a daily email service which I reckon would provide a welcome bit of light hearted relief on a daily basis.

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Weather-beaten shed

These programmes kept us entertained a fair amount of the way to L'Anse aux Meadows. Rather than carrying on up the coastal route we turned inland and cut across on the 432. This was a totally deserted stretch of road. For over 100km we saw a few other cars and trucks on the road but that was it. We passed no settlements and apart from the road itself there were few signs of human habitation. The whole area is full of more beautiful trees all now starting to change colour. Patches we passed along the way have now turned into a bright golden yellow, more evidence that a stunning autumn is just around the corner.

As we passed Main Brook we did start to see signs of life. Along the side of the road small plots of land have been marked out as allotments and there were people tending their patches. The soil looked rich and peaty and it must have been naturally moist as there were no signs of any form of water supply for the gardeners to use.

The road to L'Anse aux Meadows wound through small villages until finally we saw the sign for the Viking Settlement site. Here there was a small visitor information centre with an exhibit and a video explaining how the site was initially settled and how it was rediscovered in the 1900's. The Vikings had basic navigational tools. They would know roughly which way they were headed but would never be more than two days from land as landmarks were central to them finding their way.

Viking saga's, stories told and handed down through the generations, told of how a Viking looking for Greenland got blown off course by a storm and saw new land. He returned and told his tale and later Leif Eriksson set off to try and find this new land. From the coast of Greenland he knew he had to sail for a certain time and then he would see land, a large beach that takes a day to sail from one end to the other. At the end of the beach, another two day's sailing takes you to the new land. This he found at L'Anse aux Meadows and established a small settlement here. It was only populated for a few years and historians and archaeologists believe that it was little more than a staging post en route to somewhere further south.

In the late 1950's, a Norwegian historian, Helge Ingstad, decided to pursue a theory he had built from reading the Viking Saga's. He was sure that the new land they talked about was on the coast of North America and set out to find them. He spent years touring the coast asking the local people if they had seen any old ruins. When he reached L'Anse aux Meadows he got his first positive answer and set about finding out more. His wife, Anne Stine, was an archaeologist and led international teams at the site for four years. Parks Canada then undertook a few more years research before they closed the dig, leaving 75% of it for future archaeological research.

The dig confirmed that this area had been a Viking settlement. They found evidence of a smelting works, forge, large house and some work sheds. The settlement was small, probably just consisting of the crew of one boat. From beneath the peat the Vikings were able to find small deposits of iron which they smelted into ore. The archaeologists estimate that only 2kg of ore was ever used at the site and as soon as I commented that it seemed a lot of work to construct the smelting and forge sites for such a low quantity I had the feeling it was one of those stupid questions. On the site they found about one hundred iron nails, but the iron was of European origin. Here they think that nails were the only thing made in the forge and that they were needed for repairs to the boats to enable them to make the return journey.

The peaty landscape has preserved archaeological finds well and they could establish that at the site ship building or repairs was a key activity. From wood shavings they have found they could establish that metal tools were used. They knew that women were on the site from remains of spinning wheels and needles. One thing they did not find was human remains. This could either be that they were burnt or that they were returned to their original homelands for burial on consecrated ground (some of the Vikings were Christians).

Our guide for the first part of the tour was local, born and bred and lived all his life in a house on the small peninsula which is home to the village. It is a tiny place with probably no more than fifteen properties. He could remember playing as a boy on the area which is now the Historic Site and was himself involved in the archaeological digs. He is very proud that one of the items on display in the information centre is one that he found. It added a note of reality to the tour. Often with things like this you are believing what you are told but there is no actual connection between the events and the person replaying them. Today, you could almost sense our guide reliving his childhood as he shared his knowledge and experience with us.

On the site they have recreated some of the buildings that they found at the dig. They are simple structures with a frame made of tree branches. On top of this was put a layer of peat bricks and then a layer of turf so the outside of the buildings was green. The peat was a fantastic wind barrier. Having been blown about for a while outside, inside the building it was very warm and dry. The real log fire has been replaced by a gas one (health and safety rules) but you could sense how warm it would be inside the hut with a couple of real fires burning. In true Canadian style they had a few guides dressed up in Viking costumes explaining more about what life was like back then.

We had made it to the museum knowing that we only had two hours left to see it. This was just about enough time but it would have been good to have a bit longer. As we were gently ushered out one of the Vikings spied two moose, mother and calf, sitting at the edge of an open area of land just watching us all go by. That has now taken our wildlife total up to moose 3, caribou 0.

Leaving the site we drove down to L'Anse aux Meadows village. Very small and simple it has fantastic views and a real end of the world feeling. The skies had finally cleared and there was a promise of a great sunset. We decided to explore more locally and went down past the campsite to Quirpon, looking for the ferry that we had seen signs for. Later I found the reference to it in the guide book. The ferry goes out to Quirpon Island where there is a luxury B&B ($200-$450 a night) which you can only get to either by the ferry or by landing on its helipad!

By the time we had got back to L'Anse aux Meadows the clouds had rolled in and the sunset was not to be seen. We headed for the campsite which was totally empty. We did not even get the expected visit from the owner to collect our fees for the night. We hit bed early, knowing we had an early start tomorrow and listened as the wind started to pick up.

What a night and what a day we had to come!!

I do not really feel as if I have slept much. The wind picked up through the night and what started as the odd gust gently rocking Mortimer grew in strength and frequency throughout the night. Stef woke up too but soon was back to sleep, snoring quite contentedly having, he thought, reassured me that all was OK. It took me ages to get my brain to accept that we are in a 3,900kg van and that as the picnic tables on the campsite were not flying around left, right and centre it was highly unlikely that we would be!! I would not say that I was scared but I was definitely uneasy.

We had set our alarms for an early start as we had about an 140km drive to get to St Barbe by 9:30, in time for the ferry across to Blanc Sablon on the Quebec/Labrador border. It was still really blowy but as the skies lightened it did not seem so bad. The only omen we had of what was to come as the sun came up was the tinges of red throughout the clouds. No-one had been to collect our site fees so we wrote a note enclosing them and stuffed it through the door. Hopefully it will not blow away when the door is opened!!

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"Red sky in the morning, shepherd's warning"

Wary of the wind, we set off on our way. We have driven through blowy weather before on Newfoundland but this was the windiest day yet. When they came the gusts were pretty powerful and I was very grateful that Stef was driving. When I heard him taking a very sharp intake of breath I looked up to see a moose on the side of the road also struggling with the wind. It was definitely a very close encounter of the moose kind. If we had been a few seconds later the moose would have been on the road and we would have crashed into it. They are big, sturdy animals and people die in moose collisions. I am glad we did not have to find out which one of us was the tougher. Our animal count has increased from moose 1, caribou 0 to moose 4, caribou 0 in the space of 24 hours.

Our route back tracked the way we had come yesterday for about 60km before we headed across to the coast. Every time I had convinced myself that the wind was dying down it picked up again. As we headed coast bound the rain also started and it seemed that the closer to the coast we got the heavier the rain became. It really was a horrid drive.

Along the coast we passed Eddie's Cove (I want to know where Clarrie and Joe are - a part time Archers fan even to this day!), Savage Cove, Nameless Cove and then went on to Deadman's Cove. The names seem to imply a rough history. Having thought we would reach the ferry port at St Barbe in ninety minutes it actually took us two hours so I was glad that I had built in contingency time. We were there to check in by 9:30 for the 10:30 ferry but were not surprised to find that the ferry was not running. They do not know if the 3:30 ferry will run either. It is just a mater of waiting to see what the weather is doing. If it clears up and the wind drops it will go, if not we will be stuck in St Barbe.

The ferry terminal has a motel next door and we went in for breakfast. It became a ferry refugee site as people gradually came in to check on the ferry and then also came for breakfast. Sitting inside still hearing the wind I almost felt as if I was still on Morty being rocked and buffeted all night, a feeling similar to ship roll. The ferry has not been wind bound all summer and this is the first of several times that this will happen during the next few months. We chatted off and on to other people in the dining room. A trucker does this route two or three times a week and is used to getting holed up. Another couple about our age, are Canadians on holiday for a month hoping to head up to Cartwright in Labrador. They are using Lonely Planet and raved about it as it gives much better information than the Frommers guides (the latter are American and pretty bad in our view).

After a couple of hours Stef got bored and went to check on progress for both this ferry and the one we are meant to get tonight from Blanc Sablon to Havre St Pierre. We are a bit concerned that if this one does not run we will miss the second ferry. Despite the sun breaking through the clouds in places, there are still loads of dark clouds around and the wind is still high. The ferry across to Blanc Sablon may run later today but it looks more like we will be here overnight. The good news though is that our connecting ferry is still stuck in Havre St Pierre so we will not miss it. If we are lucky it will be delayed a bit more and we will have time to make it up to Cartwright also.

As the day wore on the wind slowly dropped and we kept getting promises of updates of whether or not the ferry would run. The 3:00pm update was still a "holding for the weather" and the same was true at 4:00, 5:00 and 6:00. Finally at 7:00pm they said the ferry would be running at 8:30pm.  We joined the queue to get on board and I wished I had not sat looking out of the window. Even in the sheltered harbour you could see how strong the wind still was with the water being whipped round.

We had decided to get across to Blanc Sabon tonight if we could rather than running the risk that the ferry would still not be running in the morning. It was not long after we had set sail that I think we both wished we had stayed overnight in St Barbe. By ferry standards, this one was small and it was well and truly rocked and buffeted by the wind and the waves. I was sat with my eyes closed so that I could not see the swell out of the window. I was anxious and tense and was trying to do controlled breathing exercises to relax myself. These worked until I could feel Stef's grasp on my hand getting tighter and tighter. The mad fool was looking out of the window!! (to make sure he didn't miss anything and felt the terror all the more immediately!)

I have to say that this crossing rates as the worst ferry trips I have had in my life. As we set sail there was a fair amount of banter on board but not long after we left harbour, with the exception of the sound of the engines, you could have heard a pin drop it went so quiet. Everyone was in the same state of quietly sitting it out putting their trust in the captain and crew that they had not made a bad judgement call about the weather. My only consolation was that it was a relatively short journey at ninety minutes so we knew it would be over before long.

Outside it was totally black. All we could see were the boiling seas that came up to meet the boat as it heeled perilously. Every time the boat righted and you relaxed a bit, the next crash sent it heeling over even further than the last time. The whole boat shuddered violently as it smashed into the waves. Didn't think the ship could withstand much more. We thought the wind and waves outside the harbour were  violent but it was nothing compared to the conditions further out were much worse. Afterwards we wondered what must have been going through the captain's mind and how close we got, but we'll never know that.

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Waiting at St. Barbe

Needless to say we made it safely across to the other side, and with Morty parked right at the front of the ferry I was pleased to be one of the first ones off and onto terra firma. No doubt what was a hairy crossing for us was just business as normal for the crew but we were grateful we had made it safe and sound. We dropped in to the ticket office/information booth at Blanc Sablon to get an update on our next ferry, which is still a long way away, and also to check options for parking up for the night. There is no RV park here but they said the Northern Lights Inn up the road at L'Anse aux Clair may let us park.

Stef drove which again I was grateful for. It was pitch black and still windy and as this is a bit of a deserted part of the world there were no street lights so it was difficult to see which way the road was going. It was not long until we found the motel and we both agreed to splash out and have a room for the night. We were not alone and as we checked in everyone else we saw had come from the ferry and we all had a common "we made it" sort of feeling. We dumped an overnight bag in the room and then hit the bar both feeling like a drink to calm slightly frayed nerves.

The bar was an interesting introduction into remote community life. Loud music was blaring, the TV was on, pool was being played but all the people in there looked like closely related locals rather than hotel residents. It was not quite the atmosphere that I was after and I do not think it was Stef's cup of tea either. We had a quick beer and then went and crashed out in the luxury of a room with two double beds.

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At remote Red Bay, Labrador

This morning we woke to bright blue skies and no wind. We would have been better off staying in St Barbe and crossing on the 8:00 ferry this morning. Especially as we were not particularly quick at getting up and out so we were probably no better off time wise either. Stef rang Relais Nordik to get an update on the ferry down to Havre St Pierre, still not due in until early tomorrow morning.

We met an Alaskan couple at breakfast who had also been on the ferry. They are traveling in a larger RV than ours and we had seen them on the road yesterday as we drove down to St Barbe. In my view they were doing the sensible thing and they had pulled up and turned around to find somewhere safe to wait out the storm. It turned out that they did this four times along the way and that when they finally hit the coast line they were only doing 20mph because they were being buffeted so hard.

As we were packing our bits away in Morty the Canadian couple we had met at the ferry terminal pulled up and stopped to chat. I had chatted to them on the ferry about the information we had been given for onward travel to Labrador, mainly on unpaved roads some of which is not great, and they had been mulling it over overnight. They are traveling for about a month, sleeping in their car at any place they find where they can stop. I am not sure what they did in the end but we did not see them on the ferry down to Havre St Pierre which was also an option for them.

Today is the only day we will spend in Labrador. It is again a vast province and  it would be good to have the time to head up to some of the more remote northern areas but that will have to wait until another trip, and be done at an earlier time of the year. We set out to explore what we could easily do within a day, without having to drove too far over bad roads.

Leaving L'Anse aux Clair in daylight we could see that it is a small community nestled at the end of a valley along the coast. There is not much here to see or to do but that was part of the attraction of coming here. From here, a paved road runs north as far as Red Bay, about an hours drive away. After that it is unpaved up to Cartwright from where you have to get a ferry if you want to continue through to Happy Valley-Goose Bay (great name!). The road from Happy Valley-Goose Bay back through Labrador to Labrador City is unpaved but a tarmac road then winds back down to Quebec.

The road winds up and down the coast over hills and down into valleys. It is as if the sea has taken a great knife and carved off the edge of the land revealing cliffs along the way. Looking inland on tope of the hills, the land is bare and barren, rocks covered with low bracken type bushes and trees. Its a very remote and rocky landscape and again we found ourselves saying "its just like Scotland". There is still water around everywhere in small lakes and rivers running to the sea. In the valleys there are forests and woods and where the rivers run through there are idyllic views, the kind  that you see in marketing material of wooded hills surrounding sparkling dark blue lakes of water. One of the bridges we crossed had this type of view up and down stream and it was a common stopping point for photos.

Generally the road was good. We passed over one bridge where the top layer of planks had eroded in some places but it was still sturdy and strong. It is a bit disconcerting to see but I am sure it would be closed if it was dangerous, they would not risk the legal suit that would follow otherwise. We would down and though a few more coastal villages, each getting smaller the further north we went. You could see signs of people getting ready for winter as the wood stockpiles are starting to grow. Here though, as on the north coast of Newfoundland, they do not have piles of chopped wood. A few times we have passed whole tree trunks bundled together teepee style awaiting use in the winter.

Before long we arrived at Red Bay. There was a power cut in the village so we carried on north for a while on the unpaved road to Cartwright. We have driven on our fair share of unpaved roads but this time I was wary and I do not really know why. It could be the memory from a few days ago of seeing a car with a puncture about 100m after joining an unpaved road in Newfoundland (it was being re-tarmaced). Although we have a spare wheel and all the kit required to change it I call out VW Assistance at home if I need to do things like this and do not relish Stef and I trying to work it out for ourselves. On our way back to Red Bay we passed a pick up truck with a puncture. For the couple inside it was just part and parcel of everyday life and the husband had put on his overalls and was ready to get to work to change it.

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Stocking up on wood to keep the home fires burning

The route from Red Bay to Cartwright is a new road, only opened four years ago. No doubt its expensive to do but I cannot understand why they had not also taken the trouble to whack a layer of tarmac on top. It would make such a difference! It took us out and through remote landscapes, beautiful views with just occasional signs of habitation. Every now and again we would see small cabins just off the roadside and always near a lake or stream.  Not houses, we reckon they are used as hunting lodges or as stop off points in the winter when people are out on their ski-doos.

We drove along for about 15km or so before deciding to turn back to Red Bay. We knew we did not have time to make it up to Cartwright and wanted to make sure we had enough time to see the Basque Whaling historic sight, the main attraction of Red Bay. The Bay allegedly got its name from the wreck of a tanker which is rusting in the harbour but I suspect the name has an older history than that.

At the historic site we learned about the history of the bay, which was an important Basque Whaling village. Apparently the Basque people were the first to hunt and catch whales and they then taught their skills to the English, Dutch and Spanish. Red Bay was one of many sites along this coast but to date it is the only one where there has been extensive archeological research. A historian based in Europe spent many years trawling through old legal papers piecing together the history of the whaling industry here and from this work they pieced together that Red Bay was the location of a major whaling port.

The underwater excavations have identified the wrecks of eleven different vessels in Red Bay harbour. These include the main ocean going ship that was used in effect as a floating warehouse and hotel and the smaller chaloops that the whale hunters used to do their trade. Considering the size of the animals they caught, the chalops were not very big.

Once their target was in sight, the hunters would harpoon the whale and then bring it along side to start the process of stripping it down. Its flippers, fin and head would be cut off and then its blubber was removed in large strips. The skeleton and internal organs were originally used by the Basques but in the whaling fleet here they were just discarded. The large strips of blubber were then brought on shore and cut into smaller pieces for the rendering process. In effect all they did was cook the whale blubber in big copper vats until the oil separated. This was then scooped off and put into another vat with water, which cooled the oil and separated out any impurities. The pure whale oil was then stored in barrels and the remaining blubber meat was used as fuel for the fire.

The sooner this process took place after catching a whale the higher the quantity and the better the quality of the oil that resulted. At Red Bay alone they have so far found evidence of sixteen different sites for rendering whales. The smell must have been incredible, not just of the rendering process but also of rotting whale carcasses and a thousand or so men who had not had a wash for about six month!

Once produced, the oil was then sent back to Europe where it was used for heating and lighting. The baleen from the whales, the "gills" they use to filter their food from the water, was the only other part of the whale used. Soaked in water it becomes very pliable and easy to shape but once dried it is tough and durable. The whale bone used in corsets, dress hoops and for hair combs and slides is not whale bone at all, it is baleen.

The guides who showed us around the displays were both about the same age as us. They confirmed that life here can be tough as work is only seasonal and lasts for about four or five months of the year. The rest of the time they live off government assistance programs. The male guide, an ex fisherman, confirmed that the situation got worse in the 1990's when fishing came to an end. About 75% of the people who live here are retired and everybody knows everybody else. In Red Bay there are about 210 people and they are all related or friends with each other.

In winter, it is common for them to get between twelve and fifteen feet of show. In the local restaurant they have a photo album with pictures of people digging out their houses and their cars as they have been totally covered in snow drifts. Before the road to Cartwright was laid, people wanting to travel north would do so by ski-doo stopping at the little cabins we had seen along the way if they needed to warm up. Whilst they do not necessarily get ice-bound here in the winter they do rely heavily on the supply boats that work their way up the coast.

Driving back to Blanc Sablan we passed a well trained dog on important dog business. Not the morning, or evening, paper for this pooch. He was walking along with a polystyrene take out box clasping gently between hit jaws. As we slowed down to watch him and take a picture he slowed down to watch us. If he could have talked I reckon we would have got a "what do you think you are looking at" comment from him!

Back at Blanc Sablon we went to check the latest on the ferry. Stef had called again at lunchtime and we were still none the wiser. It was about 6:00pm when we got to the port, good timing as the man who organises the proceedings on land had just turned up, also to get the latest update on progress. We paid our fare, got our tickets and he confirmed that the ferry would probably arrive at about 5:00am or 6:00am tomorrow. We decided to stay at the terminal for the night and he kindly let us fill up with water and hook up to electricity overnight. I though the electric hookup was a bit dodgy as we had to use an extension cable which was open to the elements.

With our bed for the night sorted we went in search of food. At the junction of the road leading down to the ferry terminal we had passed the Corner Cafe, with a sign outside saying "breakfast all day". It looked like a place where we would get a quick but good meal, an assumption reinforced by the trucks outside. In practice it was a bit different. It was full of truckers and their conversation stopped as soon as we walked in. We were definitely interlopers and it took about five minutes before they started chatting to each other again. The truckers were getting a three course meal of soup, fish, chips and veg and a slice of pie. For us this was not an option. Their all day breakfast sign did not mean that you could get breakfast all day it meant that all day, all they served was breakfast!! It was odd eating eggs, bacon and toast with strawberry jam at that time of day. It took away the hunger but did not really hit the spot for either of us!

Back at the ferry terminal we hooked up to the electric and tried to watch a film for a while but by 9:00am we were both nodding off. The last couple of days have been long and tiring and we were both ready to crash out for the night.

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Euargh, early start (5am Newfie time, 3.30am Québec!)

When we checked in at the ferry last night I asked about the weather forecast and was told it was going to be good for the next few days. I was relieved as it meant we should get a good ferry trip but the night did not bode well. The wind picked up and it started to rain. At 2:00am Stef woke up hearing an alarm  going off beneath our bed. Neither of us had a clue what it was but when he tried to turn the lights on and they would not work we knew something was up. Stef went outside to check the electrics and I checked the inches of papers we have on Morty to find out what the alarm was.

The alarm was our LPG alarm, implying we had a leak in our propane system somewhere but that was a red herring. Stef came back saying that where our electric cable was plugged in to the extension lead was wet and the electrics had probably shorted. He had unhooked us and the alarm then also stopped. This also turned out to be a red herring. There had been a power outage covering all of the ferry terminal so hopefully all our electrics should still be OK. We went managed to get a few more hours sleep before a knock on the door at about 5:0am, our wake up call to tell us to get ready for the ferry.

It had not yet arrived in port but as it is more than a day behind schedule they want to make sure that they can turn around and get out again as quickly as possible. It was still wet and also a bit windy. We drove Morty into the warehouse where he was given a once over to check any current bumps and scratches and then queued up behind the other cars getting on board.

The Nordik Express, operated by Relais Nordik is a passenger and cargo freighter. Neither of us had much of an idea of what to expect or how many other passengers would be on board. It plies the coast of Quebec, in the north connecting villages which are only accessible by boat as there is no road, so it plays a vital role in keeping these small villages supplied.

Designed for freight it only takes containerised cargo so all cars on board have to be loaded into containers. These are essentially just the container frames, the sides are left open to the elements. As soon as the ferry arrived, the harbour sprang into life. The on board crane swung into action and a complex dance followed ensuring that as containers were off loaded and loaded the ferry maintained balance. We got on board and the Purser rattled off information in very fast French, confirming that we were now back in Quebec time, five hours behind the UK. We checked out our cabin, small but comfortable, before heading back on deck to watch the proceedings and to make sure that Morty was safely loaded.

It sounds simple, take off one container and put on another, and the crew on board made it look simple but they are skilled at their trade. The chap operating the crane gave just enough clearance over buildings and other containers to swing his loads around and into place. I am intrigued to know what supplies were in the containers and how long they would last for in the local villages. The men guiding the containers have a high risk job too. Any miscalculation by the crane operator could end up with a container mashing them well and truly. They have good balance and seem unperturbed to be standing on the edge of a container three storeys up guiding the next piece of the puzzle into place.

We stayed and watched until Morty was safely on board. He is out on the edge of the boat and as we left was the only container on the third layer up. Once he was safely stowed we went and had long hot showers in our cabin, got changed and went down for breakfast. Our fare is an all inclusive full board fare something we were both glad about having seen the on-board cafe.

At breakfast we were joined by a couple who live in Montreal, Guy and Lise. They are both of the eccentric professor genre, chattering away at fourteen to the dozen and both talking at the same time. Despite speaking English, Lise still spoke in French being a typical Montrealer. When he could get a word in, Guy spoke in English but he was still difficult to understand. They were enthusiastic conversationalists and when people had left the restaurant after lunch they were still happy to be chattering away. I finally had no choice but to disrupt the state of play, the ferry had left port and it was windy and feeling a bit queasy I needed to get up on deck so I could see the horizon and cool down as it was really hot below.

On deck I started to feel better. The air was fresh and cool and I could start to reset my internal balance. It was still windy and the ferry was rolling and swaying as we went. Getting cold, we went inside the upper deck lounge. A good idea to keep warm but not a good idea when you are feeling queasy. The lounge has big windows all around so you get great views outside. The only problem is that the handrail around the edge of the ferry outside is just at eye height when you are sitting inside. As such, instead of being able to focus on the horizon all I could see was the handrail swaying up and down and rolling around in the waves.

When we have sailed in England I have often felt queasy but not actually been ill. Not so here. Stef was doing his best to take my mind off it but after two trips to the loo upstairs I finally admitted defeat and accepted I needed the privacy of our cabin. Once there, standing in front of a large unobstructed window I started to feel a bit better but knew that the cure all of sleep was the answer to my woes. Lying down, I felt OK but if I stood up it resulted in yet another trip to the bathroom.

They have a regimented schedule for meals on board (breakfast from 7:30 to 8:30, lunch at 11:30 and dinner at 5:00pm) and Stef came to check on me to see if I wanted lunch. Not surprisingly my answer was "no". I slept a while longer and then suddenly found myself awake and feeling better, probably in part because we had come into a harbour along the way and there was no more motion.

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Loading Morty

I went in hunt of Stef and found him downstairs in an almost deserted restaurant. He had been trapped by Lise and could not easily get away. Her husband had also been struck down with motion sickness. When we docked we excused ourselves as we wanted to see the harbour.

We watched the same process of unloading and reloading and before long we were off again. Our route now takes us closer to shore and there is a string of islands between us and the sea so it should be a calmer voyage. In the TV lounge The Motorcycle Diaries film was playing, a film about Che Guevara as a young man going on his travels through South America with a friend. We have it on DVD and watched it again, this time not only reminiscing about Chile and Argentina but also revisiting some of these places we have seen in Perú on this trip.

For the rest of the afternoon we watched the world go by from the upper deck. Its a very slow pace of life, with the exception of the hour or so spent in harbours and watching the crew at work. One of them got slightly stir crazy and started to bounce up and down on the top of one of the containers, using it as a mini trampoline. He grinned as first he saw us watching and laughing at him and then saw is colleagues laughing too. They seem to work long hours in a tough job but enjoy it at the same time.

At 5:00 we went down for dinner, taking a table set for two so that we could people watch during our meal. I had the feeling that most of the other people on board were either traveling in groups of four or had also quickly forged friendships with other passengers. I cannot say that the food was great, and it certainly did not live up to the marketing hype in their literature, but it was not a bad three course set. One of the other passengers entertained us for a while with a tune on his accordion. It was obviously a local favourite in Quebec as most of the passengers and the waitress joined in and sang along while he played. We and a few others really stood out as foreigners because we were not able to join in too!

We headed back up to the main lounge after dinner and watched yet another glorious sunset. With nothing on shore there was no light to distract from the view and the sky was almost cloudless. The red, bronze, and orange glow on the shore stretched as far as you could see in either direction fading into bright clear daylight when you looked further up beyond the horizon.

I tried to spent time catching up on my diary but found the motion of the boat was starting to make me feel queasy again. Turning to speak to Stef he had nodded off where he sat. It was only 6:30pm (8:00pm Newfoundland time) but we were both shattered and headed back to our cabin and got tucked up in bed. Within half an hour I could no longer read my book, and I turned my light off and settled in for a good night's sleep.

I had a great night's sleep. Despite going to bed so early last night, and waking up a couple of times during the night when the wind had picked up, I slept through to about 6:00am and feel well rested for the first time in a few days. We had stopped a couple of times during the night at ports along the way and as we went to say good morning to Morty we found that he had got neighbours during the night. No longer does he have a 360 view of the world, he now has containers next to him and in front of him!

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WD40, industrial size

Still having bad memories of yesterday's breakfast I opted for an alternative and went for French Toast. It tasted like bread which had been dipped in eggs and cinnamon and then fried. It was pretty good but even better with a splash of maple syrup across the top!! Today has turned out clear and bright and the sea is very calm. We went for a bit of a walk up top and then holed up in the lounge to catch up on diaries and this really set the scene for the day. We lunched at 11:30 (an odd time and a bit early) and then spent more time just watching the world go by. The shore line has changed from a rocky, barren wilderness and there are now sandy beaches dotted along the way. During the morning we pulled into Natashquan, the point where the road to the south of Quebec starts. Even though it is a large town for this area it is still a tiny little place.

This short two day hop on the ferry has given me a taster of what cruising is probably like. When I was feeling ill yesterday, cruising was definitely off my agenda. Now I am still hankering to maybe try it out. There is not much to do on board here except read, watch the world go by or watch TV if you want. As we are behind schedule due to the bad weather each stop is turned around as quickly as possible so there is not really enough time to go onshore and look at the local villages. This means that the most popular on board activity is chatting to other passengers.

It is a real people watchers paradise with a definite split between those who have opted for the all inclusive package and those that are sleeping in the seats and eating from the canteen. The former group, which is then split between French and English speaking passengers, pass the time of day and chat over meals and in the lounge whereas the latter tend to keep themselves down in the canteen. Stef is getting frustrated that his attempts to strike up a conversation with some of the local indigenous Indians on board is not working. They seem to be a very private and reserved group of people and almost wary of making contact. There was not even a smile or a return of a "good morning". They have the facial features that we would typically call Eskimo.

As well as Guy and Lise, there is a couple from Ontario, Rose and Robert,  who were really friendly and we have chatted to them off and on. Over lunch today we talked for a long time with a man called Larry who is traveling on his own. He is in his mid-fifties and has been retired for about five years. He and his wife had no children but have traveled extensively, something he has continued to do since his wife passed away (his eyes welled up with tears a little as he told me that). He has been all over the place and spends between a third and a half of his time away from home. Much as he loves the travel he seems sad that he has no-one to share it with.

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Aboard the Nordik Express

Most of the other people on board are a little older and very definitely French Quebecois. There is one lady who looks a bit like Vanessa Feltz and is immaculately turned out, no mean feat in these cabins. I think we have one of the biggest and there is not a lot of room in it. She came down for dinner last night dressed up in an electric blue dress, the only person who had changed for dinner, and today is in an all black outfit. Most people seem to have come on board with just the bare bones basics but I suspect she may have a whole suitcase with her.

Also on board was a young couple with a large-ish dog. The poor thing had to be locked up in a kennel on deck while we were sailing and was only allowed out when we were in a harbour. As he was let out of the kennel, the couple had difficulty keeping him under control, so keen was he to get out and about and stretch his legs as the kennel was pretty small for his size. All morning he was whining and crying so loudly that you could hear him from a fair distance away.

We lunched at 11:30 and then spent the rest of the afternoon whiling away the time. It was a beautifully warm day and most people were just out on deck enjoying the sun and trying to spot the very elusive whales that populate this area. At 5:00 we went for our last meal on board, today's fare being better than yesterday's and we both had a very tasty meal. As we were eating we came into Havre St Pierre, our final destination which marked time for us to leave. Both of us really enjoyed our time on board and in a way I wished we were carrying on to the final destination at Rimouski.

Knowing that Morty had neighbours we went up on deck to watch the containers being unloaded to ensure that he was not bashed and banged along the way. Guy, Lise, Rose, Robert and Larry also came up on deck to say goodbye which I thought was great bearing in mind we had only just met them. We were anxious about damage to Morty and we had been able to see him the whole time. Their cars were buried deep down on the bottom somewhere and had had at least one, if not two, full containers on top of them for the whole trip.

Even though we had only been on the ferry for less than two days we had quickly adapted to a totally different pace of life. It was a strange feeling being back on land knowing that we were back to a somewhat nomadic existence not really knowing from day to day where we would end up. We checked Morty over and confirmed that, apart from a bit of sea salt, all looked OK and then headed up and out through Havre St Pierre in search of our campsite for the night.

As it’s now the end of the season finding open campsites is becoming harder. Out of a listing of ten, maybe only one or two are open. Fortunately, there was an open site at Longue Pointe du Mingan about 40km along the coast in the direction we want to go. It was a pitch black night with not a lot of traffic on the road. From the little that we could see it looked like we were driving along very flat countryside but that will have to wait until tomorrow.

When we arrived at the campsite village there were no obvious signs in sight to tell us where to go. Stef stopped and asked at the local chip van and was told it was back the way we came and we had to turn right. Stef asked where we had to turn right and she simply said "when you come from the other side you turn left", so not really a lot of help. We backtracked, stopped at a petrol station where we got better directions and found the site. It was a small campsite with un-serviced plots on the beach and serviced plots just the other side of the beach road. As we hooked up for the night I saw lights out to see. I cannot be certain but as there were no others it must have been the Relais Nordik steaming ahead on its was to Rimouski. Having eaten on the ferry we simply crashed out for an early night.

Happy birthday Mum!

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Stroll by the St. Laurent at sun-rise

Still in the rhythm of the ferry we were awake early. Our prize for this was to see the sun rise, the first time we have managed to see a full sunrise on our trip. When I woke I could see a small sliver of orange glowing on the horizon. Within about five minutes an orange ball was gradually getting higher and higher in the sky. It was pretty spectacular to see but I think sunsets do more for me than sunrises.

We clicked back into routine easily this morning and were out on the road a little after 9:00. Last night we had passed through Mingan, home to an Innu population, one of the local First Nation peoples. Wanting to see it in daylight we backtracked and stopped at the petrol station, more to have an excuse to make contact than that we desperately needed petrol. Stef went in to pay while I waited outside. The people I saw looked resigned to a life of little opportunity and low income. Stef had a similar experience from the people inside the shop. They did have a local artisanale with typical arts and crafts but it was shut. The shop itself looked disorganised and generally reflected a low standard of living. All in all we were left with an impression that the people here are not happy with their lot but are not inclined to proactively do anything about it. This seems to mirror the feeling we have picked up along the way from Canadians and is probably why there seems to be little interest in the first nations peoples.

With a long drive ahead of us we soon got going. It was a calm clear day, a good last day on the ferry for those heading down to Rimouski. Our expectation of the landscape from our short drive last night was correct. The road is long and straight, running along pretty flat scenery. There are small villages along the way, literally just a row of houses either side of the road. Stef worked out that the next nearest houses if you travelled northwards would be somewhere in Asia.

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The corner atautshuap in Mingan

At lunchtime we arrived in Sept-Iles, with a population of around twenty five thousand it is the largest town for a long way. We stopped here to do some shopping and, most importantly, to phone my Mum to wish her Happy Birthday. Still with no mobile reception we tried the local pay phone which for some reason does not like our credit cards. Wal-mart came to the rescue with an international calling card. It was great to have that contact with home and to chat with Mum and Dad.

From Sept-Iles to Baie-Comeau the scenery changed and became more hilly with more twists and turns in the road. It made for more interesting driving but the wind also picked up again for a while. Driving through forested areas when its windy is actually quite handy as the trees and grasses along the road tell you when you are going to get to a really strong gusty bit.

At Baie-Comeau we stopped for petrol and Stef took over the driving again. There was not much traffic on the road but enough for there to be other people around most of the time. Huge HGV's and petrol tankers came thundering past us, overtaking us on uphill stretches and definitely going faster than the maximum speeds advertised. We have both recalibrated our internal speedometers. For us going at 100 seems fast but this is kilometres so its only really 60 miles per hour. Most of the time we are cruising at 80kph, a sedate 50mph.

The places we passed along the way were tiny and there were no campsites for us to stop at. Even though we can be totally self sufficient in Morty, and as such could just pull up on the side of the road for the night, Stef wanted to make it down as far as Tadoussac. Despite the warnings we have had about not driving in the dark, the last ninety minutes of our journey were in pitch black conditions. I kept telling myself that there was still enough traffic on the road to keep the moose at bay but I did not really believe it.

We made it safely to Tadoussac and drove through the village to the campsite. Again its a small place but there were coaches in evidence reinforcing that this is a tourist trap that people come to for the whale watching. The campsite, Domaine des Dunes, has chalets for rent as well as sites for tents. There are only about eleven serviced sites for RV's and we were surprised that most were full. Its a sign that the remoteness we have felt in Newfoundland and Labrador is coming to an end and we are working our way back towards people. Quebec is only a two hour drive away.

Yesterday's long drive took its toll and we had a slow start this morning. Tadoussac is a very small village with a permanent population of less than one thousand people, but it is where the well healed Quebecois head for at the weekend and has been a bit of a tourist trap since 1864! The area is a great spot for whale watching and attracts tour buses and motor homes galore.

We dropped in to Tourist Information to get the low down on what there is to see and do. The main activity focuses around boat trips to see the whales but we both have had of fill of whales for the moment. We asked about internet access and then camped out in the local cafe, Cafe Boheme, to check our mails for the first time in quite a while. The cafe was very French in its style, ambience and the staff but it also had a homely feel to it. Upstairs they had internet connections so armed with coffee we set to work.

Picking up our mail we learned that Stef's sister Mischa and her husband Greg had had their first baby, a boy called Woody. He arrived last Wednesday, just one day later than expected. All is well and they are now coming to terms with a bit of a change in lifestyle! Stef went to phone Mischa and his Mum and when he eventually got through had long chats with both. I finished checking the other bits and pieces we needed and went to find him by the phone. Stef was still in mid-flow and looked as if he would be for ages. As other people came up to use the phone I explained in my best French that he would probably be a long time and they shrugged and walked off. The calling card we bought yesterday has more than paid for itself already and we are both kicking ourselves that we did not think of them sooner.

We popped back to the cafe for a late lunch before heading out to see the sights of Tadoussac. It was still busy with coach loads of tourists (I dread to think what this place gets like in the summer) and there were also still a fair few RV's around. A quick count showed that there were more RV's than places available at the campsite and, as we had decided to stay here for a second night, we called to reserve a spot. It was just as well that we did as we got the last place with services.

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Lovely soft furs

Ambling down towards the lake we passed The Tadoussac Hotel, a grand old white building with an impressive view across the bay. I could picture a swanky party being held on the lawns in day's gone by with ladies in their finest and men in blazers and boaters all drinking copious amounts of champagne. Tadoussac Bay itself is part of the select club of the World's Thirty Most Beautiful Bays, and I can well understand why. It is nestled in green forest land just where the Saguenay River Fjord meets the St Lawrence River. The dark blue colour of the water reflects the tree line and, as it has a small population it has an unspoilt charm and a slow and relaxed pace of life.

Around the bay there is a boardwalk which in effect takes you past the main sights. The Petite Chapelle was closed when we went by so we did not get a chance to look inside the oldest existing log built church in Canada. It was built in 1747 and the first mass was celebrated there by Jesuits in 1750. We did, however, make it into the Trading Post, a reconstruction of the first trading post built in 1600. I obviously had not read the information we had about this museum before we went in because I was expecting it to be all about the fur trade.

It did have a selection of different furs and a few bits of information on trapping and preparing the pelts. The main focus though was to give a potted history of the First Nation tribes, European settlement and the growth of the oil and whale industries as well as fur trapping. The building itself bore little resemblance to anything other than a garden shed so I left with no real feeling of what a fur trading post in operation would look and feel like., You may have already guessed that I did not think it was really worth paying $3 each to go in.

Following the bay around we were already too late for the Whale Interpretation Centre and will come back tomorrow to visit that. Instead we went for a short walk around the Pointe de l'Islet from where you can see out to the St Lawrence as well as up into the fjord. The trail took you along flat sloping rocks along the fjord side where the sun had finally come out and it was warm to just sit and watch the world go by. A few metres further on around the point and it was a different story. The sky was dark and cloudy overhead and the wind was up, whipping white flakes onto the surface.

As we watched we saw a couple of fins gliding gracefully by. I am not sure what type of whale they were, and they could have been porpoises, but people coming of the whale boat tours must be pretty miffed to see them in the bay that they left a few hours ago. We had hoped to see beluga whales as well but that was not to be. This area is renowned for its whale population due to its geographical features. Where the end of the fjord meets the St Lawrence there is a ridge of land under the sea, almost as if it was a hilltop between two valleys. This becomes a natural feeding ground for krill and plankton, in turn the food of whales and this is why the area is so good for whale watching.

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The Saguenay fjord in the afternoon sun

Walking back around the bay the sun was starting to set. The autumn colours are really starting to turn and the falling sun lit the trees with a golden and rosy glow making an already beautiful bay even more beautiful. A sign along the boardwalk thanked us for watching whales from the shore as it is the most ecologically sound place to watch them. This really became clear as the tide turned. What looks like a nice sandy beach is a nice sandy beach but it has dark grey sand, stained with the oil from all the whale watching tour boats.

It was still busy in the village as we stopped to get some drinks from the local shop. For a small village it had quite a wide mix of bits and pieces, again a reflection that this is weekend break territory for the well heeled of Quebec. We headed back to the campsite as it got dark to find that lots of our RV neighbours were people who had rented them from Canadream. They, and 1-800-RV-to-rent seem to have cornered the market on RV rental on the east coast of Canada.

As the temperature fell outside we made it warm and snug inside, glad again that we have on board heating. It still makes me chuckle that people call the heater a furnace. To me, furnace conjures up images of big industrial plants where metal ores are smelted down with iron and steel coming out of the end of the process. Its a far cry from the result we get from our furnace!

We were up and out and about quite early today, both knowing that we had a long drive ahead of us to get to Quebec. Before leaving Tadoussac we went past the campsite and down to the dunes. Although these are drifts of sand I think they are technically not dunes because they were created by waves not wind. Unlike the dunes we had seen in Greenwich, PEI these were not highly protected behind fences and with boarded walkways.

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Massive chain-ferry across the Saguenay

Driving back through Tadousac it was already busy with tour buses on their way to the whale cruises. We went to look at the Sea Mammals Interpretation Centre but had forgotten that in the off season it does not open until midday. For once we were too early! The weather was still pretty foul so we decided not to go up the Saguenay fjord valley and instead headed on to Quebec. At Tadoussac the tarmac road is transformed into a little ferry across the fjord to the other side. We timed it just right and rolled onto the ferry before it headed off. The crossing was a short ten minute ride but with the wind up it was quite a bumpy ride. The ferry is a chain link ferry and took a bit of an odd zig zag route to get across. The whales were all somewhere else today and we saw none along the way.

On the other side there was a noticeable increase in population. The villages were still really only a block deep along the side of the road but they were longer and more drawn out, almost running one into the next. Again there was a real feeling that this is a holiday home destination and that the wealthy and affluent passed away their summers here. This was even more true when we reached Malbaie. Most of the town was a fairly standard run of the mill place with malls with the usual high street names. But if you follow the 362 instead of the main route 138 it takes you through a part of town that looks more like an English village.

I would be intrigued to know what the local residents here think of what has happened to their part of town. ON the bay is the Fairmont Hotel Charlevoix, a big concrete looking place that has been designed in the same style as the Hotel Frontenac in Quebec. The hotel will have brought trade and business to the town but the key draw here is that it is home to a large casino. The roads have been converted into one way streets to ease the traffic flow, something that it needed based on what we saw.

It is still off season so the casino itself was quiet. We got there at about lunchtime, strange to be in a casino at that time of day. About 90% of the building is full of row after row of slot machines. There is a small area for high roller gamblers and the rest is card tables and roulette. We set ourselves a limit and played a quick game of roulette, quick because Stef opted to bet either on red or on black whilst I picked off different individual numbers. It pains me to say that Stef's tactic worked. It was a bit of a shit or bust approach as he put his full pot of money on in one go. The croupier did a very good job of not looking down her nose too much at our betting tactics but I do not think we were her most exciting customers of the day.

Being up on the roulette we changed some of our winnings into a small bucket of quarters and headed for the slot machines. I am sure these have in built sensors so that they can detect that a new person has come to play. Each time we changed machine we won slightly to start with but the casino soon got its money back. Had we not given a tip to the croupier we would have been about five dollars up. As it was we left seventy five cents down, Not bad really. The biggest surprise was that in the short time we were in there it had become packed out - full of senior citizens. I am not sure if this was the day after pensions had been paid but they were all avidly gambling away. Interestingly though all they played were the slot machines, the card tables were well and truly left alone.

Before leaving we went to have a quick look inside the hotel. I do not know why, because I have never seen one, but it made me think of an Austrian hunting lodge. It is owned by the Fairmont chain, the company that built grand hotels across Canada following the path of the railway. There are pictures along the wall of how the hotel looked in its heyday. The main hall was full of paintings and hunting style trophies. These are well and truly gone and there is now an empty and anonymous feeling to it. They use the Tea Room for wedding ceremonies. It is a beautiful English style parlour but with four big columns in the middle of the room there cannot be many guests who get a good view of the proceedings.

Rather than following the coast road we headed inland on the main 138 route. The area from here down to Baie-Saint-Paul is a large 65km crater formed by a meteor that landed here millions of years ago. With the weather still be wet and murky it was difficult to get any feeling that we were in a crater, it was probably also so big that you would not get a sense of it anyway.

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Erm, flowers eh? Intense fall colours.

Our route took us into Quebec and we got there a little after four in the afternoon. We found our way into the centre and parked up near to Place d'Armes to go to Tourist Information. Our initial reaction to the old town of Quebec was that we could have been transported a few thousand kilometres away and now be in a small village somewhere in deepest darkest France. The only thing that gave it away was the number of Japanese tourists with cameras hanging from their necks photographing everything in sight.

Tourist Information confirmed our suspicion that the nearest campsite was some way out of town so we opted to stay in a hotel instead. It goes against the grain but is the best way to make the most of our visit. They had told us where the main streets with hotels and B&B's were and we headed off in search of a bed for the night. At the first small hotel we came to, the Marie Rollet, we asked if they had a room. They can accommodate us for three nights but we will have to change room each night, not ideal but they said that as it is Thanksgiving weekend all of the hotels are very busy. Not wanting to hunt around we registered and then went to get our stuff.

We did a quick pack on Morty and drove up to the hotel. I hopped out with our bag and a man from the hotel went with Stef to park Morty up. He is too tall to fit in their underground car park so we have had to leave him down by the port. I checked in to our room. They had told us that for the first night we would have a separate bathroom across the hall. What they had not told us was that the bedroom itself was tiny, about the size of two double beds, and that the loo and shower were two separate rooms at the other end of the hallway. It was not quite what we had expected but we had little option.

Settled in, we went for a bit of a wander around town. In amongst the French style building are a few typically Irish and English style pubs. They seem oddly out of place here. The old town centre seems quite small and it was not long before we had a feel for it. We opted for typically Canadian fare for dinner at Aux Anciens Canadiens. The restaurant is based in the Maison Jacquet. Built in 1675 it is one of the oldest buildings in Quebec and was one of the largest houses in the upper town in its day. The menu was also from a previous age. My Country Platter had Quebec meat pie, meat balls and salt pork. Stef's Trappers Treat has Lac St-Jean meat pie and pheasant and buffalo casserole. It was old style country cooking with hearty portions, the type of food you want on a cold winter's day. Next to us was a Japanese couple and I wondered what they made of it as it is was at the other end of the culinary extreme from typical Japanese food.

The benefit of a small town centre was that we did not have far to go to get back to our hotel. We were both pretty tired and there was a cold wind blowing so we were grateful for a short walk. With both of us in our room it was cosy. We were looking out onto the main street and having spent most of the last few months on campsites on the edges of town it was strange to hear the noise of traffic outside.

When we were leaving the Relais Nordik ferry Stef had a close encounter with another passenger and a door, the net result of which was a big rip in the arm of his jacket. He was not a happy chappy about this and it took a while to persuade him that it was something that could be repaired. The hotel had tracked down a repair shop (Les Ateliers Forest) for us and this was our first stop of the day. It was in the lower part of town and they looked like they could fix pretty much anything to do with outdoor activities. We were met by a very friendly Springer spaniel, the same colour and mad behaviour as my sister's dog Bud. With reassurances that they could fix the rip we left in search of breakfast.

The hotel do not have a breakfast room but gave us a voucher for a 15% discount at a nearby café. It was in an old building but inside it had a cheap plasticy feel. The food did not taste of plastic but it was not one of the best we have had. Outside there was a group of Japanese tourists taking photos, each swapping in and out of the group so that they all had a picture on their camera. Following one of the groups were two men with professional looking video equipment, all covered up and protected from the rain. They looked like they could have been from a TV company but we reckon they were probably filming the video as part of the overall holiday package. As well as taking lots of still photos they would all also go home with their own personal video of their holiday!

Not long after we finished breakfast Stef got a call to say his jacket was ready to pick up, good timing because it was starting to rain. We whizzed back out and Stef is a now a happy chappy again, he has grown quite attached to his jacket over the last few months. The rain stayed with us pretty much throughout the day which was a bit of a pain as we were walking around a fair bit and got a little bit wet.

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This group of people squatting in the rain had us puzzled for a little while

We started off by walking up to the Citadel, an impressive fortress dominating the Cap Diamant cliffs. It will have provided and effective view point and strong hold but it was closed to visitors unless you are on an organised tour. We stopped at the nearby bandstand to admire the view, dry off a bit and decide where to head for next. Not wanting to get totally soaked walking through Battlefields Park we opted instead to go to the Parliament building and have a look inside.

The tour in English did not run for about an hour but the friendly security guard told us about the parliament's library just around the corner. We took refuge from the rain there for a while and Stef was given a lengthy introduction in French from the main librarian who was keen to show off the library. Its origins date back to 1802 when it was the library for Lower Canada. After Confederation, the main library transferred to Ottawa but a library was maintained here for the Quebec parliament. Its open to politics students from the university to use as a reference source but only members of the Quebec parliament can take books out.

It houses a strange old collection of books including summaries of the law in different countries, international treaties and yearbook style information full of facts and figures. Many of the books on the main shelves look very old so it would be interesting to see what their archives also hold. One of their other main attractions is a big stained glass window, which on a sunny day brings multi coloured light into the library. It was made in 1915 and represents the Ouiatchouane waterfall in Lac-Saint-Jean. It has a young Canadian woman with a big water bucket in the foreground and its motto is "I draw out without ever emptying".

At the Parliament Building we went through airport style security and into a small waiting room where they had parliament TV showing. As the parliament is not sitting it was a looped tape running through all the different members of the parliament and explaining what positions they held. There were a few very odd looking characters and we started to play "guess the alcoholic drink they prefer". It would be interesting to be able to check to see if we had guessed correctly or not.

The Parliament building was built between 1877 and 1886. The motto of Quebec, Je Me Souviens (I remember), appeared for the first time in the plans for the building and was subsequently adopted for the province. It is a building that makes a statement. It has understated grandeur and throughout remembers the influences that resulted in the establishment of Quebec. The decorations include the fleur-de-lis of France, the golden harp of Ireland, the British Lions, and the red lion rampant of Scotland.

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In the Parliamentary Library

The National Assembly chamber was reminiscent of the one we saw in Charlottetown, PEI but on a much larger scale. They followed the British Parliamentary model here too so the leading party sit to the right of the speaker with the opposition across the room. Even TV has influenced the chamber. Originally green it had to be redecorated to blue as green is not a TV friendly colour. The Legislative Council chamber is exactly the same size and layout as the National Assembly chamber, except it is pink. The exact match of size was to demonstrate that both chambers, one elected the other nominated, held equal power.

On the ground floor, one of the corridors has portraits of the Presiding Officers of the Assembly. It was interesting to see the change in style of the portraits. The older ones were very traditional portrait poses but they became more modern as time progressed through the twentieth century. Some of the paintings were quite entertaining and you could imagine what type of a person they were. The most recent one was a bit more abstract being a mix of images of the building and the head of the Presiding Officer repeated several times in a montage style picture.

Walking back to the Place D'Armes we then took the funicular down to the other part of the old town. It was a tiny little funicular and we did it more for the novelty factor than because it was a long downhill walk. The views were worth it though as it gave us a birds eye perspective on this part of town. Here the historic streets have unfortunately been turned into a little quarter packed full of shops selling tourist tat. We had thought in the upper part of the old town that there were not many people around and that was because they were all down here. Now there was more of an international mix of tour groups balancing out the Japanese domination we had seen earlier.

The Petit Rue de Champlain and the surrounding streets are like a step back in time. They are well preserved and very picturesque and quaint. Some of the buildings look like they are still private houses but I think the residents must get frustrated with so many people peering in through their windows. The Place Royale was the site where Champlain first settled when he founded Quebec. It is a small square with the site of the original building marked in coloured stones on the floor. Where Notre Dame meets the Cote de la Montagne there is a huge mural painted onto the side of the building depicting life in Quebec through the years. It was a great collage with scenes from the founding of Quebec through to the modern day. As we did, many people were taking pictures of themselves assimilated into the collage. Can you spot Stef on our photos?

From here we went to do a quick check on Morty to make sure that he had not been vandalised or broken into overnight. As expected he was OK. Our next stop was then the Museum of Civilisation. Its a fairly modern building on the waterfront with several different exhibition rooms. Because we got there within an hour of closing, our tickets allow us to have a return visit any time within the next six months. This probably worked in our favour because there is so much to see here we would get brain overload if we tried to do it in one day.

One of their special exhibitions, God, the Csar and the Revolution, was a history of Russia through to the present day. As you walked into the exhibition there was a huge screen overhead playing a performance of a Russian ballet. The accompanying music was riveting in its own right but the performance of the dancers on screen was incredible. I was tempted just to stand and watch without going any further but curiosity got the better of me and I went in.

The information panels at the start of the exhibition focused on Russian religion and how it developed from Byzantium. There were religious icons and some pieces of silverware and other artifacts which got my taste buds going wanting to know and see more of Russia. In a small corner they had an exhibit about Russian folk tales. One of the Tsars liked to have a bedtime story told to him each night. Whether this prompted new tales or whether he was just told existing ones is not clear but they had some audio tapes that you could listen to. The first story was about a Tsar and his three sons. The Tsar has an orchard with trees that grew golden apples. A golden bird kept coming and stealing the apples and the father was understandably not happy. He sent his sons out to find the bird and bring it back. As it unfolded the story was one of brave heroic deeds and nasty goings on between the siblings but true love reigned supreme in the end. Part way through the second story the guards came round and kicked us out as the museum was closing so I will have to listen to that one when we go back.

After the museum we headed back to our room to rest our weary feet. Tonight's room was all wood paneled and spacious compared to last night. There were still signs that it was an old house that had been converted into a hotel, the sink was just behind the door in and separate from the tiny bathroom with the shower and toilet. Here though there were no signs of the original tiles on the walls which had been present in this morning's bathroom. That was a funny affair. It looked like an original bathroom with access at the back via servants quarters as well as in the main part of the house. To maximise on rooms for rent though the doorways had been opened up and a simple wooden partition had been put up, not all the way to the ceiling. In effect we had a shower in a corridor between the front and back of the house!

We went out for another tasty meal at the Conti Cafe, opposite where we had been last night. It had looked full then so knowing it was a busy weekend we had booked a table earlier in the day. It paid off, As we strolled in, others were being turned away as there were no more tables available. Stef enjoyed his meal more than I did but it was good al the same and the restaurant ha d a great ambience to it. It was in an old building but was decorated in a fairly modern bistro style. At the table next to us was a young couple and I reckon that they were early on in their relationship and were out to impress each other. We had a standard bottle of vino, they must have gone for an expensive one as it had been decanted into the biggest decanter I have seen in my life - very swanky.