To read Week One first, start here.
Day Eight — Lion’s Den Hike, Fogo Island Inn, local music
Hands down, this was the best breakfast of my life! Cod fillets we caught ourselves the night before, fried in butter in our little Air Bnb cottage. On the side was watermelon — we’d had a big old melon rolling around in the back seat of our rental car ever since our first grocery shopping trip in St. John a week ago.
Then we went for a hike. Lion’s Den was a loop trail of 5.5 km, most of it along the north coast of the island. The views were so stunning that we took our time.
Along the way we hiked past the remains of several communities — the largest of which was Lion’s Den. About 5 families lived there once although there’s nothing left now. They were dutiful Catholics and apparently living along the sea tested their faith so they named their hamlet after the biblical story of Daniel and the lions.
At 2:00 we went on a (prearranged) tour of Fogo Island Inn which is a really unusual place. The owner, Zita Cobb, grew up on Fogo then made millions in the dot com era in Toronto. She bought a yacht and sailed around the world, then came back to Fogo. She set up a foundation called Shorefast and established an arts program. Then, wanting to help Fogo Island rebuild it’s economy, she built the inn. Along the way she held lots of town meetings and involved the local people. She sourced absolutely everything locally and it’s all ethically produced. We were told that she poured $39 million into the inn. Now it costs a minimum of $1600 to stay there for a night. There are only 29 rooms. It employs 250 people for up to 100 guests. Add in the 50 people employed by Shorefast, and you realize that 300 people — 10% of Fogo Island’s population of 3,000 — is employed by the Cobbs. (There’s a picture of the Inn in Week One.)
After the tour we got permission to have a drink at the bar. (We were unable to have lunch because there were no reservations left.) We split a beer called Beau’s 49 54 (the island’s coordinates) made out of local items such as partridgeberries and sea salt. It was very refreshing and just a little bitter.
At 5:30 we went back to Joe Batt’s Arm for the Fogo Food Circle. It was an interesting experience. I estimated there were 200 people in attendance, sitting in chairs set in concentric circles. Some luminaries were there, all food-related. Zita introduced the event, so it was interesting to see her in action after hearing her history at the Inn.
Each of the luminaries began by telling “food stories”. Bonnie Stern, one of Canada’s foremost cookbook authors; Jonathan Gushue, Fogo Island Inn Executive Chef; Mitchell Davis, Executive Vice President of the James Beard Foundation. The two questions posed were:
How are we going to feed the 8 or 10 billion people on the planet by 2050?
What are we having for supper tonight?
And are the two questions related?
Then the circle was opened up to anyone. The question was:
If someone was coming to Fogo, what dish would you serve them as being most intrinsic to this place?
These are the dishes people mentioned:
- fish and brewis with scrunchions
- fish cakes
- cod fried in cornflakes
- salt beef
- pea soup
Then we were served food provided by the Inn. The main item was sandwiches made from puffy bread and roasted pork. There was also a spinach and strawberry salad, cooked greens, and crackers.
We saw Victoria who we met on Brimstone, who told us about the food circle. It was fun to run into a friend in a place so far from home.
Then we thought we’d get in one more hike as the sun was setting. We didn’t make it too far because the mosquitoes were becoming fierce, but we did see some caribou.
Then we went back to the town of Fogo to hear some local music playing at a bar called Beaches. The band was called Rubber Boots Boys — made up of three people, one of which was a woman, despite the group’s name. The three of them exchanged instruments a lot, playing a guitar, accordion and something called an Ugly Stick — which is a homemade rhythm instrument that looks like a mop covered with bottle caps that you hit with a stick. Newfoundland music appears to come in two flavors — mournful ballads or lively Newfie jigs.
After the intermission they did a “Screech-In” which is when people “from away” can become honorary Newfoundlanders.
Much hilarity ensued — the locals obviously love this tradition and look forward to bringing their guests. The fella doing the honors wore a yellow waterman’s hat and slicker, and went through all six steps:
- eat Newfie steak (bologna)
- drink Screech rum (islanders used to trade cod for rum)
- repeat Newfie phrase incl. “don’t let your big jig drop”
- kiss an actual cod fish on the lips
- dance a Newfie jig
- get a certificate
Day Nine — ferry, then lots of driving to Gros Morne Park
We took the ferry back to Newfoundland. Met a couple who had come over to be part of the Food Circle. The man works for Atlantic Mushrooms and the woman teaches all grades in a little town on the northeast side of island. We had a lively conversation.
We drove about 6 hours to get to Gros Morne. Stopped at a Tim Horton’s for bathroom and coffee, also got a “Canada Day” donut (a long john with decoration) because it was Regatta Day. Ate our picnic lunch at the side of the TransCanadian Highway in a tiny spot of shade. Not too pleasant. Very hot and sunny.
Arrived in Birchy Head/Shoal Cove at our Air Bnb around 4:00, at a brand new little suite on the Waters Edge. Logged into my email and found an email from agent with contract language for my next book. Am I really going to write this? And when?
Drove through Gros Morne Park to a town called Trout River to have supper at Seaside Restaurant. Walked up a hill for a view. Lots of children around. Restaurant was in its second generation of ownership and the owner greeted us. A harp player provided dinner music, which was unexpected. Yes, the kind of harp with strings. I got the signature dish of sea scallops (harvested near St. Anthony) and Doug tried cod tongue and cheeks, plus a few capelin, which are like an oily herring.
As the sun was setting around 9:00 we walked on the Tablelands, where a person can actually walk around on the earth’s mantle, which has been exposed by the shifting of tectonic plates. Very cool. Like the surface of the moon, only full of rubble.
Pretty pooped so early to bed.
Day Ten — Tablelands hike and local music
We began the day at the Visitors Center to learn more about the geology, then went on a Tablelands hike for about an hour and a half. The color of the rocks is very golden, and nothing grows on them.
Instead of a picnic lunch we went to the little town of Woody Point and ate at a tavern on the water. It was lovely enough but took forever, which is why we usually do a picnic option. We had caesar salad and fried cod bites. Explored the little town and heard about a concert tonight.
Took a nap in the afternoon while it rained. Went to supper at a place higher up the hill with a great view of the water. The view was entirely socked in by fog. Surprisingly nice place with white tablecloths. Saw a young couple who were probably honeymooners. We had seafood chowder and “steamed bread” and also a couple lobster ravioli. Shared a “Newfoundland Jam Jam” which is a few molasses cookies stacked together with partridgeberry jam.
Attended a concert at St. Pat’s, part of Gros Morne Summer Music, a 4 piece group called Rum Ragged — guitar, drum, bass/banjo, mandolin/accordion. Traditional music in a great space.
Before we went to bed logged online and found an email saying that my Mom had fallen and broken her left wrist. Oh no!
Day Eleven — Western Brook Pond boat ride
Very foggy when we woke. Visited the Visitor Center again and saw the movie. Then went up to Green Gardens to hike at least an hour or so, but it was very foggy and the path was rocky and wet, plus there were tons of mosquitoes. So we turned around after 15 minutes or so and drove to Western Brook Pond.
Good thing we did, as it took a while to drive in the fog —such winding roads. Ate a picnic lunch before we walked out to the boat, it’s a good 2 miles on a gravel road. The boat ride was stunning. Wreaths of fog around the mountaintops. The cloud cover breaking made it spectacular. Lots of waterfalls running down the fjord. Boat held about 80 people. The water itself is pristine — too pristine to support life, which seems like something to think about.
Coming home stopped at about 5:00 to eat in a town called Rocky Harbour. Split a salad and Doug had fish brewwis, I had clam strips and french fries. Brought a piece of “matrimonial cake” home to share later — a date bar. I had noticed that the grocery stores, even small ones, are well stocked with dates, so now I know why.
Day Twelve — Happy 34th Anniversary to Us! — Thrombolites & Lanse Aux Meadows
We went out for breakfast in Woody’s Point. It was the only time we ate breakfast out on the whole trip, but it was our anniversary! Before we left town we had a long convo with our Air Bnb host Rodney, and his mother. Learned all about the economy of the island.
Then we drove north toward St. Anthony, a very curvy road with beautiful views. Saw some cormorants along the waters edge,
a bald eagle overhead.
Stopped for lunch at a place along the road connected to a gas station (pictured below). Doug got a pork chop, I got fishcakes and salad. Struck up a convo with an older fella, a local, who had worked in timber until the industry collapsed, which happened to be at the same time that fishing collapsed. When I asked him if he still works, he said he now has cancer. He gets a shot every month with a huge needle, takes him 6-7 days to feel decent after that. He was very matter of fact and obviously enjoyed talking to us. Before we left the restaurant, our waitress insisted that we sign the guest book.
Near a place called Flowers Cove we stopped to see Thrombolites which are very weird and very rare.
Thrombolites are ancient forms of microbial communities that photosynthesize. They are clotted accretionary structures formed in shallow water by the trapping, binding, and cementation of sedimentary grains by biofilms of microorganisms, especially cyanobacteria. They are now only found in a few places in the world.
It was about 2:30 so we pushed on to get to Lanse Aux Meadows site before it closed. We arrived at 4:00 so we only had 2 hours to see the site. Yet that was enough. It’s actually a very small site on the very tip of the peninsula. Very peaceful, surrounded by water, with a gorgeous blue sky day. The visitors center is quite small. The main thing to see are a few recreated sod huts with costumed interpreters. I thought it was pretty silly that 3 out of 4 interpreters were women. This was a Viking camp! They inhabited the camp for a period of a few years a thousand years ago. I am not a fan of the bloodthirsty Vikings.
A fabulous hiking trail went all around the perimeter of the site and took us about an hour to hike. Lovely to be walking through the tundra — we were that far north, because the elevation was not high. Tundra is my favorite ecosystem and it is rare, so this was a real treat.
Drove to our next lodging, at Tuckamore Lodge in Main Brook. It was not what we expected. Because it was our anniversary I had chosen a “nicer spot” than the usual Air Bnb, but this was the smallest and least nice room we stayed in. There was nowhere even to set a suitcase. The bathroom was so small that at one point I caught my foot on something and actually collapsed into the shower, which had folding doors that I crashed through.
We arrived at the tail end of the dinner hour. The food was served family style, and was plain but good — cod gratin, with vegetables, plus salad and dessert and coffee. The eight people at our table seemed quite drunk. (You could bring your own booze to the table.) Not what I had anticipated! (a lovely ribeye and a martini) Oh well, there are plenty of other days to do that.
After dinner we went for a very brief dip in the beautiful cold lake, then took a quick sauna.
Day Thirteen — Grenfell Exhibits & Burnt Cape tundra flowers
We drove to St. Anthony’s, which is the largest town in the area. It was very very foggy so we decided to go to the hospital first to see some Inuit art in a foyer. The woman at the restaurant yesterday had told us not to miss it. Had a chat with a fella named Donald — about the state of medical insurance, cremation, corporate greed. Fascinating because he appeared to be homeless, but was quite knowledgeable. He did attribute the decline of the world to homosexuality, however, right at the end of the convo. Um, no, Donald, that’s not the problem.
Meanwhile the Inuit art was quite stunning. We learned that the art tells the story of the Grenfell legacy. Since it was still foggy, we went to see the Grenfell home and learned about this doctor who came to Labrador in 1892 when there was no doctor for 30,000 people. He visited people all along the coast using a medical boat. Went to the Visitor Center and saw a film about him. Grenfell was quite an adventurer and evangelist, affected by the sermons of Dwight Moody. He founded 3 hospitals and 2 orphanages — endless good works.
Bought our souvenirs at the Visitor Center. Labradorite is a beautiful local stone with a blue-green color and hints of gold. I bought a pair of earrings and a pendant. The origin myth says that Labradorite was formed when the northern lights got trapped in rock. Also bought a small stuffed puffin. Some sea salt and a hat for Doug.
Went to a restaurant called Lightkeepers for a late lunch at 2:00 and had a very hearty seafood chowder. Still very foggy, but went for a hike on Fishing Point. I’m sure the view is lovely when you can see it. The fog horn was sounding the whole time we were there.
Then we headed to Burnt Cape to an ecological reserve for tundra flowers. There are some very rare species there. Turned out to be quite remote, on very bad gravel roads. Quite an adventure to get there. Only a couple other vehicles and people.
But the view was absolutely amazing as the peninsula projected out into the ocean. They say it’s a great spot to see Iceberg Alley (if we come back in the spring sometime).
Underfoot was a whole world of tundra flowers. Imagine huge barren rocks with tiny dense flowers growing in crevices.
Then we drove toward Lanse Aux Meadows for supper and ate at a place in Griquet. Live music playing when we arrived (upstairs), a very small, bustling place. Had fish brewis and dessert — carrot cake with partridge berries and gooseberry pie.
Drove back to Tuckamore Lodge past 9:00, getting dark. Never did see a moose, this would have been the spot!
Day Fourteen — Gander
We left early for a 7 hour drive to Gander. After checking in at the Sinbad Motel, we took a nap, then went exploring. It was “Gander Day” pure dumb luck. We went to some local festivities at Cobbs Pond. Walked around the pond, about 2.5 km and had a chance to chat with one of our daughters by phone while we hiked, the joy of being near cell service. We bought sausages on buns from a little truck, definitely the worst food of the trip. But there was a stage with local music and lots of people enjoying themselves. Like small town Americana, not a thing different.
We met a family and chatted for a very long time. I asked about 9/11 because I had heard the story about the airport at Gander being used by something like 37 airplanes that day. There were more passengers on those aircraft than lived in the town. The hospitality of the Newfoundlanders proved to be legendary.
Day Fifteen — Zodiac Whale Watching in Trinity, Puffins in Elliston
Drove about 4 hours to get to Trinity, and on the spur of the moment signed up for a Zodiac whale watching trip through an outfit called Trinity Eco Tours. We were able to have lunch there before the ride — a Caesar salad and fish chowder, which was very good. The ride was 3 hours long, from 1:00-4:00 and we saw lots of humpback whales — at one point a pod of three of them. I’ll put a little video of those three at the end. Wonderful to be so low on the water, especially when the captain shut off the motor and you could hear the whale noises.
Then we drove to Elliston to check out the puffin viewing site. A bit late in the day, and too many people for the puffins to hop across onto the mainland. They say the thing to do is go there when it’s raining. Had a convo with a group of 4 Canadian women traveling together because one of them complimented my footwear. Ended up discussing Trump, I think it was the only time I thought about him for the whole 2 week vacation!
We checked in at our Air Bnb, the only one we stayed at with a host. Gord and his wife Betty are very affable human beings. Betty had a heart attack 7 weeks ago and Gord took care of everything for her, and for us. As a former Air Bnb host myself, I realize that this is significant. Grabbed a quick supper at a local cafe because most places had already closed down. The cafe was full of old men wearing suspenders and eating sweets. We were able to Face Time with my Mom and one of our daughters, who had flown to Grandma’s assistance.
Day Sixteen — a Whale Tale Goodbye!
Before we left, Gord made us a Newfoundland breakfast — baked beans, toutons, fried bologna, scrambled eggs, fruit. The 3.5 hour drive to St. John to catch our flight was uneventful. Toutons are basically fried bread dough.
Flying home a flight was cancelled, we ended up spending an extra 24 hours in Toronto. Worse things have happened. We were lucky to get a decent room, after 1:00 at night.
What a wonderful trip! Full of natural beauty and little doses of adventure. Great conversations with locals. And the whales! I’ll let them say goodbye.