We left St. John to head toward Quebec. Oh my. My six years of French is not adequate for this. Once we got to Quebec, all the signs were in French. In the other provinces, the signs are in both languages so I was practicing by reading French first and then reading the English if I couldn’t understand it. Now, I have no English translation to fall back on.
I feel a little isolated. Everyone around us is speaking fluent French. (One exception I will describe later.) I think most folks know we speak English and avoid us. The professional tourist people are very kind, but everyone else ignores us. It’s a weird feeling. Dart is wearing his USA bandana, but I suspect people know we are from the US without us understanding why.
This turns out to be a decent campsite that is a short walk away from the coast. It is an amazing view. We can watch Beluga whales from the beach.
I immediately took a whale watch tour leaving at 9:30 am the day after we arrived. While I was doing that Regis set about fixing our newly broken table. This is another one of those situations where there was a lack of quality in manufacturing. Our dining table collapsed and was no longer usable. While fixing it, Regis determined it was not adequately glued in the first place. Apparently, someone noticed that in manufacturing and caulked it which was a temporary solution. This is our second season in the motor home and it was time for the caulking to fail.
While he was working, I was enjoying a 3 ½ hour boat tour on the St. Lawrence River. The guide spoke fluent French and then gave us an English translation. His French accent was strong enough, along with the wind, sound of the motor, and other people talking, that I had a hard time understanding what he was saying even when he spoke English. Nevertheless, I understood some of it.
Not long after leaving the dock, we saw Beluga whales. Click here for a short video. (It’s not great but look for the white whales. Belugas are white. We continued to see them. We arrived at the whale hot spot, which I think is where the water from the Gulf of St. Lawrence meets the freshwater of the St. Lawrence River. We saw LOTS of seabirds. So far, on this trip, we haven’t seen that many seabirds. I think that’s because they are all here. My goodness. I saw thousands of cormorants. It was amazing. We saw several Minke whales where the water mixes.
On the way back, we encountered a gazillion seals. Okay, I don’t know how many seals there were but I have never seen that many seals swimming in the water at the same time. The amount of sea mammals and birds is astonishing.
On the way back, I felt my fingers getting numb. I was cold. As I was trying to get circulation back in my fingers, I saw a young boy and girl come up on the top deck with me. The young boy was wearing a short-sleeved Toronto Blue Jays shirt. The young girl was wearing a sun dress. They showed no indication that the cold breeze on the top deck was anything more than lovely. I was wearing five layers – a shirt, a polartech top, a wool sweater, a sweatshirt, and a gore-tex rain jacket. And, I was cold. Jeez.
There were lots of people on our whale tour that probably spoke neither French or English. When they gave the safety instructions, they gave them in French, English, and another language. After that, it was all French and English with an accent. I am exhausted trying to figure out what the guide was saying!!!
I have to tell you what happened after we arrived at our campsite. After setting up, the skies opened up and it poured. After it stopped, Regis decided to do a bike ride through town to check things out. Dart and I stayed behind keeping each other company. About 45 minutes after Regis left, it started pouring again. Dart and I looked at each other. Should we try to rescue Regis? We don’t know where he is. Dart and I decided to give it a try. We took off trying to figure out where Regis might have gone. Miracle of miracles!!!! We found him. He was wet and bedraggled, but we picked him up and brought him home. Dart was happy to get everyone back together again.
We are camped in St. John, so we spent the day mostly in the city. I wanted to get my hair cut. I tried to get it cut in Nova Scotia, but the only local hair salon said they didn’t take walk-ins and couldn’t fit me in. I looked up local hair salons in St. John and we went to the city so I could give it a try as soon as they opened. The first salon said they don’t take walk-ins and couldn’t fit me in. If I hadn’t already had similar problems in the US, I would have take it personally.
We started off to the second choice but had no idea where Union street was. Regis noticed a WIFI antenna on a street pole. Out came the cell phone, open the WIFI hot spot finder app, and boom found an open WIFI. Good job city of Saint John! Free WIFI in the down town area. Next was a talk with google maps and we were off to the next hair salon place. A block this way, two that way another block to the right and ta-da! BUT looks like the hair salon has been over run by the BREW PUB next door! Not a bad use of the space, but no hair cutting getting done there.
We started walking around the city and came upon another hair salon. They said they could accommodate me in an hour and a half. I was happy with that. But, we walked around the block and I was able to find someone willing to take me right away. I went to get my haircut and Regis let the other salon know I wasn’t coming back. Then, he went across the street to sit out of the sun waiting for me. He noticed someone on an electric wheelchair at the back end of a parking lot. After giving Dart some water, he noticed she had crossed the parking lot, maybe to get a closer look at Dart. Regis crossed back to the parking lot and started chatting with Donna.
After several minutes of chit chat, a second wheel chair person arrived, Brian. Soon there were three “scooter” people, Donna, Brian, and Barb approached and Regis began a lively conversation, while I was getting my hair cut. When I came out, I found Regis and Dart camped out with a lady in an electric wheel chair in a deep political conversation. Others joined before I left. They were an entertaining and delightful group who gave us some good information on what streets to visit to see good architecture.
Regis is a great fan of what I call “creepy” architecture. It isn’t always dark and gloomy, but often is. Anyway, he was happy to see it.
We went to the downtown area with lots of restaurants with outside dining and found they are pet friendly. We were able to have lunch outside with Dart at the table. They provide a bowl and water. We had the bowl, so we just needed the water. The weather was astonishing and the food was wonderful. So were the local brews!
After we left, we visited the “reversing falls”. The St. Johns River flows into the Bay of Fundy here. The St. Johns river maintains it’s height, but the tidal Bay of Fundy waters change by at least 24 feet between tides. We arrived about two hours before the lowest tide. Click here for a short video. High tide was at dark, so we couldn’t get back to see how it works when the tide is higher than the river.
Regis has been fascinated with watching the ship activity in St. John from the overlook at our campground. Tonight, we both grabbed a glass of wine to go sit at the overlook and watch tugboats, ships, etc. There was also a local ball game visible from the overlook. When Regis took to cheering at the game, Dart was not pleased. I left with Dart to go back to the quiet of the RV. Regis says the red team was decimating the black team.
I wish I hadn’t said anything negative about our Halifax area campground. We arrived in our new campground this afternoon. Although the park is nice, the campground is not very nice. The bad news is that this is the worst campsite we have ever had. The good news is that it has decent WIFI access that we can get inside the RV. This is a first on this trip!! The other good news is that there is an overlook a short distance from our campsite with views of St. John. The bad news is that it is so foggy, I can’t see anything.
We had some nice wildlife encounters today. As we were leaving our campsite this morning, we came across a doe with her two fawns. When we arrived in our new campground, we took a walk through the park in which it is located. We saw a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers. We haven’t see Hairy Woodpeckers in years. We saw a couple of bucks. And we encountered a groundhog on the trail. Dart went nuts because he thought it was a squirrel. The groundhog paid him no mind.
Dart is one of those dogs that doesn’t bother with most animals. When we encounter rabbits or chipmunks, he doesn’t care. For the first 5 years of Dart’s life, Regis encouraged him to chase squirrels. (There was never a danger of him catching one even though he is very fast.) Dart loves to chase squirrels. We encountered lots of these little reddish squirrels that are not much bigger than chipmunks at many of the campgrounds. In fact, a pair of them may have been stashing things in the RV at the last campsite. Dart does not consider them squirrels and pays no attention to them. At our current campsite, we encountered a gray squirrel at the beginning of our walk and that got Dart going. He was on high alert. Then, when he saw the groundhog, he was convinced it was a squirrel and wanted desperately to be freed for the chase.
Note to my personal trainer: Please don’t read this post.
We are staying in a campground about 25 kilometers from Halifax. We originally planned to go into the city but decided not to do that with the dog. A local I met in Shediac recommended we visit Peggy’s Cove, so that’s what we did.
We arrived in Peggy’s Cove along with every other tourist in the area. It is a very small, cute little town that was overwhelmed by the tourists. This is not what we like. Instead, we drove up the road for about 10 or 15 minutes and stopped for lunch at the Finer Diner. They had free WIFI access, so Regis took advantage of it to upload some video. After we finished eating a delicious lunch, Regis said he needed more time for the upload. So, he ordered a beer and I ordered a Coconut Cream pie. It was the best Coconut Cream pie I have ever eaten. I may never be able to eat this kind of pie again because it will not be possible for it to live up to the standards of this pie. (My favorite personal trainer. I told you not to read this. Anyway, I wouldn’t have gotten desert but I love Coconut Cream pie.)
The next day, we went to the beach which is a few kilometers from our campsite. The Atlantic View Trail runs along the beach and we thought we would hike a portion of it. The fog was very thick at the beach. There were many surfers and a few companies renting surf boards. I can’t understand how people can surf when you can’t see a thing. I saw more surfers within a few kilometers on this stretch of beach than I have seen in one location before. The non-surfers on the beach were enjoying it fully clothed while sitting in the thick fog. I much prefer Florida beaches! I can’t even see the beach here.
We gave up on the hike after a short way because the fog was so thick we couldn’t see much. But, back at our campground, it was nice.
This campground is having infrastructure issues. The water pressure dropped so low the first day we were here that the water was inaccessible. Regis was smart enough to realize there was a water pressure problem and put as much water in our tanks as he could before the water basically shut down. It was eventually fixed but broke again the next day. The electricity has gone out a few times also.
This campground is the most self-service we have seen. If you arrive without a reservation, you must pay cash. With a reservation, you can go straight to your campsite. There are only 10 full hook-up sites here. On our second day, our neighbors took off for the day leaving their trailer and belongings. Apparently, they were supposed to leave that morning. The campers who had paid and reserved the site for that night arrived. There was no other site for them. They waited several hours in hopes that our neighbors would return and vacate the spot, but the neighbors did not return until 10:30 that night. The park personnel let the other campers park somewhere else in the park and use their generator. I hope they got their money back.
I am not fond of this campground. Add the weather issues to the mix and I am ready to move to our next location.
We left Cape Breton and headed to the Halifax area. We had great luck with the weather while in Cape Breton. The mosquito abatement plan continues to be effective. Buy an expensive screened room to keep away from the bugs and they disappear so you never need to open the box!
We learned something from the children in the campground. A bunch of the little boys inserted plastic water bottles between the frame of their bike and the back wheel. When they ride the bike, they sound like little chainsaws rolling through the campground. They call them “motors”. It is great fun for the kids but can get a little annoying for the adults. We noticed that the parents would step in after a while and make the children remove their motors.
As we were traveling on the Cabot Trail heading to Halifax, we put the camera in the windshield to record a view of the scenery. When we were descending a hill we had climbed, we came upon a switchback with a large truck with heavy equipment on it stuck on a hairpin turn. This, of course, stopped all traffic in both directions. We got video of the situation for those interested. Click here. The video is about 11 minutes. If you are not interested in how the truck gets out of this mess, you should still watch the beginning of the video to see the views on the road. (Special note to Jeff from Regis. The hills here are massive with 13% grades.)
We also came upon this water truck transporting a small swimming pool. Oddly, the pool was full of water.
One of the things we noticed when we first arrived on Cape Breton Island was that the signs were no longer in English and French. They were in English and another language. We thought it was language from the First Nation people. When we passed the Gaelic College, we realized that it was probably Gaelic. These signs stopped our French lessons. We thought we were doing pretty well learning French by seeing all the dual French/English signs. Throwing in the Gaelic was too much for us to handle!
We managed to get some internet access which has not only allowed us to upload this road/truck video, but we were able to load some wildlife video. Click here to see some video of a Guillemot with food. Click here to see video of Gannets feeding. They are a little hard to see against the stunning background, but if you watch closely you can see them occasionally plunge into the water. If this video is not satisfactory, I recommend coming to Cape Breton yourself and hopping on a whale boat tour. Also, watching on a bigger screen will help. Here is a video of the nesting bird colony. Click here.
Here is a video of Common Terns feeding while we were at Kouchibouguac National Park. Click here.
I came upon a mother grouse while walking in Kouchibouguac National Park. In the beginning of this video, notice the small thing run across the path after mom crossed. I thought it was a mouse at first. Eventually, a few more chicks cross. Click here.
Our last day on Cape Breton Island was fairly lazy. Cleaned up the RV a little, drove up the coast to check out some scenic overlooks, and most important, stopped at a little bakery/cafe Linda found on the way back from whale watching.
I got one of “those” looks from Linda after I ordered a sausage roll thing and THREE pastries. While Linda ordered, I went out to the car to keep Dart company as he was not allowed in the cafe and no outdoor seating. Linda came out shortly, bags of lunch filling her arms, and we headed back to the RV. It was a nice day and we sat outside to eat. I was unpacking the bags and sorting out dishes for each of us. There’s my sausage and three pastries, there’s Linda’s soup and salad, of course, but what’s this… THREE more pastries! And she was giving ME the look?!
It was all good and I even saved the brownie for later. After letting the lunch goodness settle for a couple of hours I thought it would be a good idea to go on a hike.
Just across the road was a trail up to the top of Broad Mountain. I grabbed the pack, some water, the camera and got on the bike to peddle over to the trail. As I was warning up during the first 100 meters or so, I found myself thinking about the nice smooth carriage roads of Acadia. This trail was rough, probably the roughest one so far. Most of the geology “up here” is granite rock with a very thin layer of dirt, well just dust really. Anything that needs roots to grow will need to send them out along the ground not down. This causes many roots to be exposed when a path is repeatedly walked on, as well as various sized granite rocks. Not smooth walking at all! At about the half way point there was a bench with a view point. It seems no matter the trail, there are always benches placed along the way.
Time for a break and to snap a picture. As I was putting the camera back into the pack, I remembered how, on this trip alone, we have missed several photo opportunities because the cameras where not readily in reach or we just didn’t bring them. Hiking with a camera in hand is not comfortable but if I’m going to turn a corner and surprise a moose, I want to snap the photo of the goofy look on the moose’s face as he watches an exhausted hiker fall backwards, down the hill, while snapping pictures.
Well I didn’t see a moose but no more than 50 meters later I turned a corner and spied a bird in the trail. Camera at the ready I snapped away. The bird was wary but did not bolt. I got some shots but most were in shaded spots. Maybe Linda can work some Lightroom magic and make them usable. I continued to the top where I found some great views!
The views were great. I could stand in one spot and see Warren lake, which we hiked around with Dart. I could see the town of Ignoish, Broad Cove, the Keltic lodge, Middle head, our camp ground, and Smoky Cape. All of these places, we had spent time at and loved every minute. I wanted to stay longer but there was a brownie calling my name from the campground!
On the way down, camera still at the ready in my hand, I ran into that same bird! The lighting was still bad, this time with the sun behind the bird. I slowly walked closer, snapping photos step by step. As I crept along the trail, the bird would keep a distance of about 1.5 meters. I crept closer, he would move away. This went on for about 5-6 meters, I would take a few steps, snapping photos and the bird would take a few steps until the trail widened a bit.
I think by this time the bird did not think of me as a threat and as the bird went wide right on the trail, I went wide left. The closest we got was just 1 meter between us and I was snapping photos all the way! Now with the light behind me and shining on the bird, I was hoping to get some very nice shots. Well they turned out ok, not NAT GEO stuff but we should be able to identify the bird.
The rest of the way down I started to worry. You see, Linda is the Photo editor and I was thinking I just ripped off 70-80 photos of ONE bird. Good thing I kept a brownie in reserve! As it turns out, a day later when she got a chance to download the pictures, I had taken over 200 shots of just that one bird!
As I write this, one of the things that occurs to me is that trips like this are make up of small, unforgettable moments. I will not remember all of this trip but I will remember this bird. I will remember carrying the kayaks across 50 meters of mud flats because of the tides. I will remember the crab we saw, on the same mud flat, making his way back to deeper water wearing a long piece of seaweed like a scarf. I can just hear him saying “don’t mind me, just a bit of seaweed floating on the tide”.
I went out on another whale tour out of Bay St. Lawrence. I went on a boat named Oshan. I thought it was another way to spell Ocean but it is a Gaelic term meaning “standing tall or above”. It is operated by a family that has lived in the area for over 5 generations.
The tour was incredible. I can’t begin to describe what the northern tip of Cape Breton Island looks like, especially from the water. It is stunning. The captain started the tour by giving the usual safety guidelines like how to put on a life preserver. He demonstrated putting it on, said tie it the best you can, and then said the next step was to pray. He told us it was the only life preserver on the boat and he would throw it in the middle of the boat and probably the quickest, strongest person would wind up with the preserver when needed. After that he told us there were enough life preservers to probably float the boat.
Okay, this captain was hilarious but he was also quiet. Here’s my thinking. This is a guy who was a fisherman most of his life (a life that doesn’t require interacting with people) and then turned to whale watching tours. With fewer fish and more tourists available, it’s probably a good choice. But, this is a quiet, introverted fisherman who has turned into a whale tour guide. He spoke very little and once we got out to “sea” he said “okay you can start looking for whales”. He turned out to be a great captain and we saw lots of pilot whales, grey seals, seabirds, and great coastline.
The pilot whales were a blast. There were many whales swimming together and coming up for air at the same time. It was like watching a group of dolphins except they are bigger than dolphins. It was an amazing experience for me. I hit the jackpot on this trip. This tour would have been amazing even without the incredible pilot whale encounter.