Thursday, August 17, 2006

Adventures in Newfoundland: Piss clams, Whales and a Crisis Day 3

Breakfast today was nice. Of the six of us at the table, five were teachers. A nice couple from PEI (Angelie and Gilles Robichaud – we are to contact them if we ever decide to visit Charlottetown) talked up a storm with us. Gilles was an interesting character with a passion for clam digging and golfing. He told us how one goes about digging for clams. He said the locals call soft shell clams ‘piss clams’ because when you walk near them, they squirt water up into the air through their little valve. Apparently the population of all of PEI is only about 150 000! And the length of the island, according to these nice folks, is 100 miles. 40 miles wide at its widest and 4 miles at its narrowest. Gilles also liked to tell jokes. We weren’t totally adept at interpreting what Gilles was saying all the time, but he’d wink and laugh at the end of every joke so Mark knew when to start laughing too. Apparently he also made himself a home-made putter once too. Interesting.

* * *

A lot has happened since my last entry, about 12 hours ago.

I’ve thought about being vague and using words like “misunderstanding” and “miscommunication”, however, the truth is that we booked a rental car several months ago – a fuel-efficient Nissan Sentra – from the Alamo rental car company in St. John’s (Jolly Harbour) in ANTIGUA. Oops – wrong country. In retrospect, there were a lot of hints:

a) a local taxi cab driver on Wednesday gave us a very puzzled look when we mentioned the Alamo car rental place and he had no idea where Jolly Harbour could be
b) on the receipt we printed off the internet, the prices were in US dollars, and the policy information stated that we could only drive in Antigua (wherever the hell that is). I thought maybe it was another word for a region in Newfoundland – like the Avalon region. I even put a little question mark next to it when I read it.
c) But what finally clued me in was when I phoned the Alamo (and it was long distance – curious) and the guy on the other line mispronounced Newfoundland as he repeated it with puzzlement when I asked him where in Newfoundland he was located. Also, he had a heavy Jamaican accent. There are VERY few Jamaicans in St. John’s.

SO, we are problem-solving people, and we spent three and a half hours calmly then furiously phoning every car rental location on the Trans-Canada highway between the east and west coast. Every SINGLE car on the island is booked for the next two weeks. And we couldn’t just stay in St. John’s because every single hotel and B&B is also booked. Buses could work, if they ran every day or if our accommodations were flexibile (which they aren’t because, as I said, every bed has already been assigned a tourist on the surface of this crazy rock). Maybe we could fly home early – but our lovely friends at Air Canada decided they would charge us each an additional $1000 per person if we flew out as early as Monday or Tuesday, and only $350 per person if we flew out Wednesday or after.

Finally, we re-adjusted our trip cutting out L’Anse aux Meadows and spending a few unplanned nights in Deer Lake. We were able to salvage the Gros Morne and Grand-Falls Windsor portion of our trip. Tentative smiles crept timidly across our faces as we secured roofs over our heads and wheels under our feet for the next week and a bit. The relief was tangible.

Then we grabbed some big pizza slices at the Big Bite pizza place (the size of the pizza slice will become important to me later, as we are out on the extremely wavy sea). I took a picture of the Iceberg Quest II, our host vessel, which was far smaller than I’d expected it to be, before we hopped on. Of the approximately 20 of us on board, I’m pretty sure all of the other passengers were in the American Army. I’ve learned that it stops at St. John’s and the men and women seem to have one memorable (I won’t say ‘last’) hoorah before they ship out.

A boat truly is a wonderful way to truly appreciate the Newfoundland landscape – especially to tourists who had been exploring on foot before. The harbour is the most protected harbour in North America, apparently. In fact, once you leave the narrows, from many angles you cannot even see the entry-way into the harbour. The cliffs are sharply angled treacherous rock faces and mostly uninhabited. I looked over the side of the boat (we were up on the top deck so we could easily see into the water) and saw a purple jellyfish with long tentacles. It seemed very odd to be seeing ocean-life in such untropical conditions. Our tour was the third of the day and apparently the calmest. I cannot imagine how this was considered any shade of ‘calm’ as I constantly felt I’d slide right out of my seat and across the deck until I got used to the sway of the boat. It was terrifying at first, then I became entranced with whale watching.

It was an incredible rush when we saw our first fin out in the waters. “WHALE!” someone shouted. The captain laughed and said, “That’s just a minky.” Mark turned to me sheepishly and whispered, “I’ve eaten a minky whale before.” We saw many minky whales and sei whales (or the same ones over and over again). They seemed to be hanging out near the puffins; I guess they eat the same types of food. The puffins weren’t perched on rocky ledges like they are on postcards. Apparently their young are all grown this time of the season, so they float around in the water like weird little ducks.

Then finally the moment we’d been waiting for. Someone saw a fin far off in the distance and the captain identified it as a humpback. He steered the boat in that direction. Apparently they stay under for about 10 minutes, so we waited patiently. And if no one saw it flip up its tail, it should surface again. When it flips up its tail, that means it’s diving deep and you likely wouldn’t see it again.

Sure enough, the humpback that the captain and his first mate loving call “Bob” showed himself again closer to the boat. He seemed to be coming straight for us and we were trying to guess which side he would pass on. When he did pass on our port side, I tried to catch a picture, but either the digital camera or my fingers were too slow. I have about 15 pictures of where a whale used to be. Luckily, he came back on the starboard side for a dramatic showing – he came so close and so high that I could see the white patch on his side and the aquamarine of the water as it passed over his back and side fins. I even saw the humped part of his back. And because he made such a big show that last time, as he flipped up his tail, I finally caught a picture of a whale’s tail.

The boat tour took us to the most easterly point in North America – Cape Spear. I stared off into the nothingness of the ocean east of that point and felt like we might fall off the edge of the earth. Then instantly and suddenly, motion sickness overcame me and I had to quickly scale the rocking ladder to the main floor and head for the loosely named washroom. It’s a weird toilet – you have to pump the handle 8 or 9 times to make it flush. Bye bye pizza.

We finished the day of ups and downs with dinner at Oliver’s. Thank goodness it was easier to find a place to dine tonight – I didn’t have any extra energy to expend.

1 comment:

Deaner said...

Melissa Loftus, you must be the only person I know that would book a rental car in the wrong country...and that is why I love you.

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