September 2nd to 4th
Sunday morning I was still at Sue’s place in St. Phillips/Portugal Cove suffering a pretty good hangover as expected. My plan today was to rent a car and drive back North to Fogo Island which is about 80 kilometers North East of Gander. What I didn’t expect was that all of the taxi companies where closed because it was Sunday. Fortunately some of the airport taxis where open but only Hertz answered the phone. The next dilemma was to get to the airport oh but before that pick up my credit card from a pub in St. John’s-whoops!
I had left it with the waitress at Christians Pub but only realized it when I paid the cabbie last night. Going back an forth into town for it would have made for a $150 cab ride so I decided to wait until the next day. Now being the next day I couldn’t get in town at noon when the manager was there so the next earliest time to pick up my card was 2pm. I ran into a bit of luck here since the gardener (I am so sorry I forgot your name but it may have been Jeff) offered to drive me into town, get the credit card and then drive me to the airport.
I got my gear organized but had to leave my stuff here until I came back with the rental. Jeff was nice for helping me out and we got a bit of chatting done since it was a long ride. He had been in the Canadian Navy for some time and had even worked inside a submarine before which I could not handle. By the time I was ready and the car packed it was 4pm. The last ferry from the mainland (about 5 hours drive from here) was 8:30 so it was cutting things close.
Out on the highway was like the Autobahn. Vehicles of all types but mostly pickups fly down the highway around 120 kilometers an hour. I was going between 100 and 140 all the way to Gander. Unlike other places in the country there isn’t that much traffic so there is less danger with the speed. However I was told again and again that the number one highway fatality was from hitting a moose. At Gander since I turned onto a smaller highway I was now paranoid and drove with two hands on the wheel which I never do normally. I can honestly say I drove like a maniac that day but I made it 3 minutes before the ferry left and was the last car on. One thing I forgot to mention when I first posted was “Night Moves” by Bob Seger came on the radio just when I was contemplating the trip. I always liked the song but this time I really heard it and how well the music is arranged even though the parts are very simple. It was just one of those moments that struck me for the timing of it and realizing I had completed the trip and was now in my downtime.
The ferry was small and quaint and had no food services other than some vending machines. Instead I ventured onto the deck to watch the last remnants of a summer sunset followed by a glowing orange moon which shimmered over the dark waters. Out here there is not much light even in the little villages which is great for star gazing but not so good for navigation and driving.
On the other side we docked and I really took my time and even pulled over to let some traffic past me. I didn’t care how long it took, I was on Fogo island heading for Joe Batt’s Arm. This is really not an odd name since it is name of an early settler and a body of water however Newfoundland is famous for strange names: Hearts Content, Conception Bay, Seldom Come By to name a few. Along the way I passed a few miniscule towns, made a few turns onto different roads here and there but really could tell where I was going. I drove for a good half hour before entering Joe Batt’s. After a few texts with my friend Bill I drove to Joe Batt’s Arm South where the Penton’s were have a bonfire on the rocky shoreline behind one of their houses. There were at least three or four uncles and aunts there plus Bill, his girlfriend Natalie and his parents. They had cooked up a pot of crab legs just as we finished the introductions I had a beer in one hand and a crab leg in the other. There were many questions about my trip which I enjoyed answering. The fire was nice and warm, the beer cold and I was getting a small fishing village experience.
After a while it was time to start packing up, we made our way across the street to Bill’s uncle Andre who still runs a fishing boat from this harbour. He figured I needed a sandwich so I had two! He kept poking fun at me but I rolled with the punches for a few good laughs. As with any family gathering the goodbyes take some time as conversations keep popping up but I really loved the constant bickering and prodding they did to each other all in good fun.
The next day I finally had a look at the town. For the most part one or two layers wrapped along the entire rocky bay with the harbour being out on the South part of town. There were several fish huts near the water where they clean the fish before drying them out in the sun. They still catch cod here although sometimes they venture all the way up the Labrador coast to do so. We were staying in a little bungalow that Bill’s parents used to own until they recently sold it for I believe $25,000.
The next morning Bill’s parents had made breakfast for us before we all made our way out to Fogo which is a town on the North East corner. This is where Marconi had built a huge wireless tower to communicate with ships near the entire Newfoundland coast and had a range of 280 miles in all directions. Eventually it was dismantled in the later century when radio transmission used different technology. Today we were climbing BrimeStone Head which is a huge slab of rock a few hundred meters high jutting out of the shoreline behind the Fogo Harbour. There is a wooden step pathway built up to the top so most anyone can go up without any problem unless they have a fear of heights. Bill’s dad on other hand has a debilitating eye problem and does not see very well so we had to give him vocal cues on the terrain. That being said he handled it no problem and Bill’s young cousin Kaitlyn was close behind. The surrounding area at the base of the rock is covered with many types of flora and fauna including what looked to be mini Juniper, blueberry bushes, lichen and another red berry bush I could not identify. All of these shrubs are no taller than 4 inches off the ground and the blueberries are the size of a small pea. The layers of rock are surely a geologists dream as there are many layers exposed that are eons apart in age. When you get to the top there is a lookout platform that allows you to see in all directions. It was warm today and I could have literally stayed up there for hours looking at the little white houses dotting the rocky harbour or the ocean breaking on the rugged shoreline.
Back in Joe Batt’s Arm South it seems that everyone knows Bill. We would see someone walking down the street and that would be his cousin or driving by a house with people outside and that would be his uncle. We would usually stop and start an almost never ending conversation. That night however we were going to Island Harbour to meet his mom’s side of the family, the Lynch’s. II was also going to have a true newphie dinner: Jigg’s dinner! His Grandma did all the cooking and there were a lot of people there for the feast. There were turnips, baking powder puding with fresh blueberries, salty beef, chicken, potato, cabbage and carrots topped all off with gravy. It was a very filling meal and I had seconds. Half of us ate outside watching the sunset over the ocean which was only 40 meters away. There is a small island which used to have a fish plant which made the sunset even better. It was still warm even with a breeze and it was another unique and special experience to share a real Newfoundland dinner with a fun loving family who just like the Penton’s liked to poke fun at each other and have a good time. It reminded me of the Glen Christmas dinners which are totally chaotic and loud. To top it all off we had blueberry cheese cake which was made by one of the neighbors, it was incredible! Back at Joe Batt’s Arm Bill and I put everyone to sleep with our political ramblings and maybe we had a bit too much wine but it was a great end to the evening.
The next day was all about exploring the rest of the island, specifically Tilting which is a small Irish fishing village at the southern tip of the island. Bill’s mom had to help her sister so it was just Bill, Natalie and Bill’s father. We drove out to Tilting which is your classic fishing village wrapped around an almost totally enclosed bay with a harbour near the exit to the ocean. Most houses are a classic white but there were a lot of newer looking ones which were red and colours like it. The one thing about these towns is there are almost no run down houses, only the fish cleaning huts are left to collapse year after year. There were no boats in the harbour but we went down anyway just to take a look. The water is clear to the bottom and there is lots of kelp growing around the dock. We also spotted a school of a few hundred fish about the size of a pinky cruising around. Right in the middle of Tilting is a little hidden road to goes to Oliver’s Cove which is roughly the size of Tilting where I got some beautiful shots of the worn down rock in the middle of the beach.
The other reason to see Tilting was for me to get in the Atlantic at Sandy Beach Cove. There is no parking lot per se but you just pull of the road and walk across 50 meters of grass to a gray sandy beach. The sand is nice and soft until you get near where the waves wet the sand which is hard pack. Just to prove it is a beach there was a young lady here sun tanning in a bikini. Not that I would have noticed normally but it was pointed out to me. Well it was time to the walk the walk so I got undressed and venture out into the frigid waters of the Atlantic. My usual pattern is to keep walking until it is waist deep and plop in. Any deviation to this pattern such as stopping allows me to rethink my position. So in I went and the immediate feeling is: holy shit I’m gonna die. But I fight through it and within a minute…. it is still bloody cold. I swam out about 100 meters, floated on my back for 10 seconds and then same back in. That was enough for me!
We also checked out the river at the other end of the beach and saw the elusive Caribou tracks. I want to see one and apparently there are lots on the island but nothing so far. Bill and I were responsible for dinner tonight so we went to pick up vegetables since we had cod defrosting in the fridge. For the most part Bill did fuck all (I can’t stress this enough, he was a total dog fuker for dinner) as usual but he was off the hook since I was having a hell of an experience. I made roast potato wedges, lightly steamed broccoli and butter stir fried mushrooms and onions. Bill’s mom ended up frying up the cod in a simple egg flour batter with salt. Dinner was again excellent but I should not be the one to judge here! After we went back to Brimstone Rock to watch a sunset.
What an incredible experience, I can’t thank the Penton’s and Lynch’s enough for the experience. If you get the chance you must see fogo island although there are not many accommodations so make sure you reserve something. I feel now that I have had a real Newfoundland experience and also a better appreciation for life in fishing village.