And how to miss a whale completely
31.08.2007 - 02.09.2007 23 °C
Map? Check. Suitcase? Check. Food? Check. Now, what's that nagging feeling, hmm...
Turns out it was me forgetting sunscreen and cream of any sort, but no matter. I wouldn't find that out till we were 5 hours and 500 km away, in remote l'Anse-Saint-Jean, tucked into a small chalet/condo at the end of a busy pier. Debby and I'd planned this road trip for weeks - me with my usual itching-to-go and Debby with her "do it! do it!" turned into a trip to kayak up the Saguenay fjords and catch a glimpse (or, hopefully, an eyeful) of one of the species of whales that live the length of the Saguenay river. I'd printed the itinerary, bought a Quebec road map, packed the food, double-checked directions. And still, still, we were in for surprises.
On the way to the Saguenay:
We started out late morning of Friday, dropping Cléo the basset hound off and heading to Tim Horton's for the obligatory Road Trip Cappuccino and muffin. Debby dubbed this the 3W weekend - Wayland, Whales and Wetsuits. So after Christening her Webby we were off to Quebec City, the first leg of the trip, choosing the long way around just cause and getting lost in some boonie part of the suburbs and finally winding our way back to the riverside. It's always so beautiful, the river, where it begins to widen out. The dirty St. Lawrence around Montreal stretches into this vast, clear-blue field - cut in two by Ile d'Orléans near Quebec, then growing wider and bluer and catching your eye, always, as you round each bend. From Quebec City it was a long ride to St. Siméon, then up the remote highway into l'Anse-Saint-Jean - St. John's Harbour - where we arrived near supper time. We unloaded the car into our conpact condo, then headed out to see the boats on the pier, the mountains, the beginnings of the fjord, the water, the clear-cut land across the harbour. All of it familiar, in that rural-Quebec kind of way, yet different. The cut of the mountains, carved by glaciers, unlike any we'd ever seen. We looked, took pictures, then headed back to make supper, catch a quick swim in the heated pool, brave the what-if-they-peed-in-it jacuzzi, then off to bed.
The next morning, ever the early bird, I got up and tip-toed out to see the place in the sunshine. The water had that diamond-sparkle look, quiet and peaceful. I popped by the kayak place to see what we should wear that afternoon, then peeked out at the boats waking up, and finally headed into town on foot. There were tourists everywhere, easily spotted by their English, their Montreal French, their quiet speech. The locals, friendly and accommodating, spoke with flat, broad accents at the top of their lungs - "des bleu-ah" for "bleuets" and "saaah-lu!" for the simple "salut". It was odd, and endearing, and Debby and I spoke together in broken, horrific Italian because everyone seemed to be fluent in English, everywhere.
I headed back to find Debby ready to go, and so we headed out to a few local artisan shops, bought a few things for our homes, then crossed the river over the covered bridge to the other side of the harbour. The 30+ year old pottery shop had closed for good the day before, so we settled on a few pictures and went back to change for our kayak trip.
The covered bridge:
We'd started the planning as a 3-day trip by kayak up the fjords, but expense and inexperience got the better of us, and we opted for a three-hour beginner course around the area. Our guide Louis (dubbed Luigi in our attempts at Italian) dressed us up in neoprene pants, jacket and booties (Debby nicely matched, me looking like a fashion catastrophe) and stuck an oar in our hands, pointing down to the tandem red kayak stuck in the sand. Twenty minutes and 5 more people later, we were ready to be instructed - here are the pedals, here's how you paddle, here's how to tie and pull off the skirt, here's where to lift, carry, put the kayak down in the water, and finally, finally we were off. The wind was strog and relentless, tricky. Louis promised us a reprieve at every turn, but still the wind was there, and we fought against it, shoulders burning and stitching up until Louis told me to paddle in smaller movements. Very unDraonboat-like. Much easier.
First we crossed the harbour, then we hugged the side, and then we went out into the open water, the fjord walls rising straight and high and the waves crashing over the sides of the kayak. It was on the edge of scary, yet exhilerating. We looked for white seals, and Louis told us stories of sharks caught in ice-fishing season, glacier waters flowing hundreds of metred down, just-pregnant first colonists waiting impatiently for the priest to show up when the ice broke in spring. The couple from France who were on a tedem next to us commented on the scenery, how beautiful it was - how unlike anything they'd seen. And it was true - this extension of home, this 5-hour trek from Montreal, more beautiful and inspiring than things I'd seen far, far from home.
Wetsuits drying on the line:
The weary paddlers return!
The next day we were up and out early, car packed and ready to drive the hour and a bit to Baie-Sainte-Catherine to board the cruise ship to see the whales. And so down the windi groad we went to the lonely highway, and I pointed right, Est, east - the logical way, in my head, to head back down to the St. Lawrence. But a half hour in there was something wrong, nothing familiar, and a too-late check of the map told us we'd gone the wrong way. And although we tried, and hurried, and made up for lost time, it wasn't to be. We'd missed the boat by 10 minutes, despite the rare buffer we'd given ourselves.
Still, there it was. The St. Lawrence. Blue and wide and dotted wth rocks at low tide, the sun shining off the waves, the houses srtung with washing lines, running up the coast. Home, depite being hours away. All we have to do is come back.
The only whale we saw on this trip: