Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Jim & Sarah Road Trip: Victoria to Cape Breton

Day One

The day we left Victoria was such an ordinary day that it was very hard to believe we were flying to Halifax that night. But we did. Ben picked us up and dropped us off, and we checked in, got on the plane and took off with a brilliant red sunset over Georgia Strait out our window. It was followed just a few hours later with an equally brilliant sunrise over the Bay of Fundy. The only things that punctuated that long sentence on the plane was a fast trot to make our connection in Calgary, and a wonderful thunderstorm over - what else - Thunder Bay. Flashes of light in the dark sky and occasionally one that lit up the whole thing. We were glad we weren't down there, but i guess we soon will be. At the Halifax Airport we made a brief search for Janice and Terry, whose truck we were to pick up at their hotel, and though we thought we had missed them, they were there to greet us as we got off the shuttle van at the hotel. They switched to a later and more reasonable flight. We exchanged stories, got a few reminders about the camper on the truck and said our goodbyes.

And there we were, with a Ford 350 truck and a camper on the back of it, with some 10,000 km to get back to Vancouver Island.

It was a little intimidating to drive that rig first thing on a freeway, and even more so that we were headed for the big city of Halifax, but it turned out to be fine. We took basically one road all the way to within a block of our destination, over a bridge that turned out to have a toll. Oops! Thank you, nice toll person who let us through without paying! Our "payment" was Sarah giving him her middle name.

Halifax is like a smaller version of Victoria, with the harbor and university. But the houses - the houses are very different. Pam was a Kaleo 1 student and she has been studying fabric design and living in Halifax for six years now. She lives in the lower floor of a typical downtown Halifax house - tall, boxy and painted a brilliant shade of color among the many bright colors on the street. She introduced us to Rufus, who would spend the day with us, and who is from the Ivory Coast and is studying toward becoming a doctor. She gave us a marvelous breakfast at what was to us only 5:00 am, but there already 9:00 am. Home-made granola, hard-boiled brown speckled eggs, berries and fruit, yoghurt and blueberry green jasmine tea. After a too-brief nap for Sarah and I, the four of us loaded into the truck and headed for the famous Peggy's Cove under gorgeous blue skies.

First impressions of Halifax were that it is very flat, though really it is quite rolly, and that the trees are very short and densely packed together. As we neared Peggy's Cove the trees disappeared almost entirely, and we drove around ponds and lakes surrounded by bedrock outcroppings with huge boulders strewn randomly on top.

Peggy's Cove is... I don't know... Picturesque. I sure took a lot of pictures, and it is considered to be the most photographed lighthouse in Canada. It is surrounded by bare granite bedrock, which was covered with people. All of our photos have strangers in them, and by their voices they are from all over the world. The town was a scattering of more tall, brightly painted boxes and many art galleries, gift shops and a place that had nothing but fishing floats. We are tourists. Pam, Rufus and I clambered all over the rocks, which were too much for Sarah's knees. But she did get around to some of the shops okay. This is Pam:

We went back to the Halifax waterfront to meet Autumn (Kaleo 4) for dinner at an Italian restaurant, which was very good. Had my first Atlantic seafood in a pasta, and it tasted just like Pacific seafood. Except the scallops, which were amazing melt-in-your-mouth good. Autumn invited us back to her suite, downstairs in an up-scale part of town lined with mansions on tiny lots. She thought we might be able to park our rig nearby at a park for the night, but that proved to be against some long-numbered bylaw. Since it was late, we said farewell and sought out the nearest Wal-Mart to spend our first night in their ever-welcoming parking lot.

Day Two

So you can see why Wal-Mart lets people park overnight in their parking lot. For one thing, it fits their theme of "Save Money - Live Better," but they also know that people who are traveling buy food and stuff nearly every day. Even people who hate Wal-Mart, like us.

Another beautiful day. We love driving along the coastline, but we took a short cut, since our destination was past Peggy's Cove and we had already been there. But we were glad to get back off the freeway and wind our way along the coast again. They call this the "West Shore" even though it is decidedly facing South, to distinguish it from the "East Shore" which is everything east of Halifax. We came to Mahone Bay, which is set off by three tall church spires rising just across the road from the waterfront. Anglican, Lutheran and Baptist. We are amazed at the number of churches here - every tiny village has one or more, always with tall steeples, sometimes big enough for not much more than a dozen people. Only the Lutheran one was open, and as we entered the organist was just closing up shop. She asked us if we would like to hear the organ - a beautifully ornate pipe organ - and she played two wonderful pieces for us as an audience of two. Gorgeous stained glass all round the sanctuary, and a hardwood ceiling a good fifty feet above our heads.

Sarah spotted a quilt shop, and we did a quick U-y so we could check it out. Amazing. They are very good with color here - bright but not tacky. The best was a huge king-size quilt with the words, "He is the Rose of Sharon, The Lily of the Valley." $650 beautiful.

My turn next. We were a little bewildered with the next town, Lunenburg, with its 18th century buildings leaning over the narrow streets, crowded with tourists. But we ended up on a side street where we discovered the parking for "Visitors of the Bluenose II." Very cool. It turns out that the Bluenose replica they have been using for years was taken out of the water and stripped down, and now they were building a new one that would use everything from the deck up of the old one. And the shipyard was open for viewing! I took many photos, which I think will be of interest to our friends at SALTS, since they too are getting ready to build a new schooner. The workers were on a break and I got to talk with one of the builders. I gave him my camera so he could take a few photos in places I couldn't go. Sadly, as with its predecessor, the boat will be only used for tourists, not sail training. She will be 178 feet sparred length, about 40 feet longer than the Pacific Grace, and will cost $14.5 million dollars, in spite of the spare parts!

It was time to find a campsite. I had spotted Ressers Beach Provincial Park. At first we were dismayed to see the typical wall-to-wall open RV site, but then found unserviced sites in the trees. We found a spot with an amazing sheltered view of the wide Atlantic. First order of business: down to the beach to plunk our feet in the Other Ocean. To our amazement, it's warm - much warmer than the Pacific. People were actually swimming in it without wetsuits, and we could stroll in the water and never feel like our feet were about to fall off. I'm guessing 18 degrees or better. Like I said, a great campsite, but we forgot that without electricity we can't use the microwave to cook the food we had picked up. So salad for dinner.

Day Three

We woke up the next morning to the booms and crashes of a thunderstorm, but it subsided by the time we ate breakfast. We drove to the area of the campsite that had showers, and it felt good to be clean again. Today was to be a travel day: we headed north (or is it east?), bypassed Halifax and journeyed through unending rolling hills covered in thick, short forest. It was a relief to see the North Shore and blue waters again - Northumberland Strait and our first glimpse of PEI. We were amazed that all that separates Cape Breton "Island" from the rest of the continent is a short bridge at the end of a long causeway. My dog could swim across.

The nice lady at the Info place told us that it is best to go clockwise around the Island, as then the view is always in front of you. So we headed up the west coast, the Ceilidh Trail. It reminded us often of the far north of New Zealand, with rolling hills and narrow, windy roads, except many of these were paved in red! We were not too sure of finding a campground here, and took a chance on one that was several kilometers off the beaten track. It was nice, but like camping in someone's backyard, as many of these sites are. A girl who could not have been more than 14 signed us in. The same girl later made us a couple of hamburgers at their take-out, since we still had no electrical hook-up for the microwave. And later I saw the same girl waiting to clean the washrooms. I trust she washes her hands, but she seemed like a very competent 14-year-old who I would refer to any major corporation. Needing a walk, I discovered that there was a nice beach not far away, so I came back and collected Sarah, and we walked the soft, red sands and watched the sun set into the water. Hard to imagine that it is the same sun we have often watched set into the water in Ucluelet.

Day 4

This was to prove to be one of our favorite scenery days so far. We got up early, picked up a few groceries along the way and headed past tiny coastal villages for Cape Breton Highlands National Park. I wish we had roads like this in BC - the Sea-to-Sky Highway to Squamish is a little like it, but fails to have the breathtaking, edge-of-the-cliff feeling of the Cabot Trail. We climbed up, then down, then up the steep slopes of the highlands, which plunge into a deep blue sea. You would hardly think Nova Scotia to be a place with steeper roads than any I have seen in BC - 10-12% grades were common, and some were more than that. The Park is beautiful, and there were ridges and escarpments I would have loved to hike.

We decided to leave the park and go up to the villages at the very north tip of Cape Breton. We had no intention of staying there overnight. In fact, Sarah saw a sign advertising the "Jumping Mouse" campground and commented that she would not want to stay there. Curious names up here. You are either driving in Scotland (Dunvegan, Inverness, Creignish) or France (St. Joseph du Moine, Grand √Čtang) or Hicksville (Meat Cove). Anyway, we came to beautiful little Bay St. Lawrence, and I saw the rough little road to the Jumping Mouse Campground and said, let's take a look. So glad we did. We came up over the hill, and there was the broad Atlantic spread out below high, grassy bluffs, and we could camp nearly on the edge with an unobstructed view.

We set our chairs very near the edge and heard the waves breaking on the beach far below. I saw the back of a whale rise out of the water through my binoculars, and we both saw several spouting far off. We ate dinner with the same view from our picnic table, and watched the sun set and sky turn darker and darker red for almost an hour. When we went up to the very quaint and very clean outhouses, we saw the space station pass overhead among limitless and brilliant constellations. A great day.

Day 5

The morning broke warm and nearly clear, in spite of news of a hurricane headed our way. We showered in a very unique shower house attached to a large wooden boathouse, and got ready to go. We were sad and reluctant to leave our beautiful campsite and the top of Cape Breton. Listening to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader on the way down helped. We stopped at Ingonish Beach for lunch, which is like French Beach near Sooke but red, red sand and two lifeguards, including one on a surfboard. There was surf, and I could imagine riding it, though they broke fairly close to shore. Again, people were swimming in the warm waves without wetsuits and I thought again of our frigid waves on the west coast.

We somehow ended up on the wrong road that turned out to be right, cutting off a big chunk of driving with a 200 meter ferry ride that cost $5.25, no matter how big your vehicle or how many were in it. We bypassed the city of Sydney and went straight to the Fortress of Louisburg, a Parks Canada Heritage Site. Really, we got in there much to late in the day to take in a lot, but we did get to see some Pride-and-Predjudice style dances, catch some tunes in a local pub and watch the flames spouting out the barrel of a huge cannon they set off. We will go back again tomorrow (yeah National Park Pass!).

We had done nothing about figuring out a campsite, turned into the first one we saw a few minutes after leaving the Fort, and found ourselves again on the oceanfront, which we could see if it wasn't for the fog that rolled in. But we can hear the waves on the beach, and bigger waves on some sandbar further out as Hurricane Irene makes herself known from several hundred kilometers south of us. All calm here, so far.

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