We hit it lucky. Had no idea that Canada was celebrating its 150th anniversary. That means free admission to all National Parks and National Historical Sites all year. Our costs have been cut in half.Upon our return from Labrador, we backtrack to Gros Morne National Park, and catch the last campsite available on this busy Labor Day weekend.Onward to the east coast of Newfoundland. Near the town of Twillingate, we camp in the rain at Dildo Run Provincial Park. From there we hike to Nanny’s hole. Some dirty minds are at work here. We must ask about this.“You’re the first ones to ask me how we got the name,” the ranger jokes. “Dildos are the pegs around a ship’s steering wheel.” I didn’t want to ask about the nearby Nanny’s Hole or Cuckold trails. I read that Captain James Cook had a sense of humor back in 1763. On the way to Butter Pot Provincial Park, we stop at England’s first colony in Canada. The town of Cupids boasts the gorgeous Burnt Head trail, (I’m not making this up), lined with billions of wild blueberries, upon which we walk and feast.Instead of Cupids, it’s the nearby town of Brigus that grabs our hearts.Full of historical significance and charm, (during WWI Rockwell Kent the American painter lived here, before being deported for suspicion of spying) we marvel at the waterfront and the Brigus Tunnel.Constructed so that Arctic explorer Captain Robert Bartlett, the town’s most famous citizen, could easily access his ship, the tunnel was cut through rock in the 1860’s. Driving around this Province we notice huge and abundant piles of wood along the road. “What is with the wood?” we ask a local man.He explains that each “NewfenLander” gets 10 cords free yearly, with permits for specific areas. Yes, they must chop, stack, and haul their own.Back at the Butter Pot campground, moose roam in the fog of morning mist.On the way to the city of St. John’s, we fulfill our fascination with extreme geographical points. Cape Spear marks the most easterly point in North America. (Nome, South Africa, Portugal) A trail hugs the cliffs and weaves inland where again, wild blueberries abound.After all this camping and hiking, it’s time for a hotel splurge. Besides, the truck needs servicing and the rain has returned. The JAG Boutique Hotel in the city of St. John’s is the hippest place we have ever stayed. What could be better than a hotel filled with images and uninterrupted music of an eclectic array of musicians and bands?It’s hard to pull ourselves away from the JAG radio station on our TV to watch football. Now that is saying something!We fall in love with the city of St. John’s immediately. An attractive city with a small- town feel. Colorful houses sit on hilly streets surrounding a sheltered harbor. Full of innovative restaurants, friendly pubs, and live music, what’s not to love?
Our guidebook describes the Labrador Straits as cold, wet, and windy. Even so, we could not drive this far north in Newfoundland without seeing it.After a turbulent ferry ride, thanks to remnants of hurricane Harvey, we can’t wait to drive off the boat. Bring on the wind and rain.We quickly abandon plans to camp, and wild ideas about driving the 775 miles on the mostly gravel road to Labrador City.Instead, we find a cottage with a sea view. There must be a sea out there somewhere beyond the rain and fog.Fortunately, the beauty of this pristine, rugged land reveals itself to us the following morning when the skies clear for several hours.Let’s drive north as far as the paved road permits, which isn’t very far.Artifacts from Basque whalers at the Red Bay National Historic Site describe how this area was the largest whaling port in the world during the 16th-century.Hard to imagine how fishermen braved the wind in these icy waters. Many shipwrecks lie under this ocean. Shoot, even the mud puddles have wind-blown whitecaps!Few restaurants in these parts, so we cook comfort food in our cottage. Fresh cod tongues sauté with scallops in the kitchen tonight. Melt in your mouth.Labrador’s population is under 27,000 people. We think half of them attended the wedding held in our hotel. As the party spills into the parking area we receive numerous invites to join the celebration. Time to catch the ferry this final morning. A clear, sunny day allows us to see what we missed when we first drove in from the dock.
We have only scratched the surface of this cold, wet, and windy land and its hearty people. So grateful to have seen it.
The NFLD Ferry swallows our Toyota Pick-up for a smooth, six-hour ride to Channel-Port aux Basques, Newfoundland.We waste no time finding a Provincial Park, and light a campfire before dark. Brrr…, taking a pee under the stars in the cold night reminds one that they’re alive.
In the morning, forget about cooking coffee. A brisk 42 degrees Fahrenheit convinces us to hightail it to “Tim Horton’s.” If you’re on a road trip through Canada, remember that Tim Horton’s is your drive-through coffee/snack friend!Welcome to Gros Morne National Park, where glaciers, frost, and flowing water have carved deep lakes and fjords out of bedrock. Some of these tectonic plates, the earth’s mantle, have traveled here from as far away as the equator to heave mountains into place. Plants can’t even grow on some of this strange rock. A steady upward trail passes meat-eating plants. The Pitcher Plant is the floral emblem of Newfoundland and Labrador.The mountain top views of the area remind us of the Mt. Riley trail in Alaska, but geographically older, thus minus jagged, snow-capped peaks.
Hiking/walking coastal trails surround the working port of St. Anthony. Fresh air and rugged wilderness leave us lightheaded.Even local folks come out to the lighthouse in the morning to sip coffee with a view. One man teaches me how to pronounce the name of his province, “NewfenLAND.” He tells a story about the boat being tugged in the bay.“My brother was on that fishing boat,” he says. “He was stuck out at sea without a rudder for two days before being rescued. Can you imagine being at the mercy of wind and tides for two days?”
Instead of going fishing for cod, we order at a restaurant. I order cod tongues, which are the fleshy lower jaw lightly fried, while Marilynn gets fish’n brewis, which is salted cod, hard tac, onions and scrunchins (fried salt pork!). Excellent!To the top of the island with you, Viking! Yes, Leif Erikson first landed right here.
The Vikings constructed sod buildings for living and storage.Decomposing plants from bogs and fens in this area produce acids, which leach iron and other minerals from the soil and bedrock.When the iron rusts, it adheres to sand and peat particles, forming nodules of bog iron. The Vikings forged bog iron into boat rivets. Could this be Newfoundland’s first blast furnace?A young couple gathers bakeapple berries (cloud berries) that grow in the bogs and fens. They spend a lot of time gathering wild berries to make jams and other delights to supplement the fish, moose, and caribou that will fill their freezer for winter.We could spend more time with these friendly folks, and have much more to see in Newfoundland, but first will ferry over to explore Labrador. Stay tuned!
Welcome to the highest ocean tides in the world. Folks around Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia adapt to tides from 47 to 54 feet.
We start to set up camp in Advocate Harbour, when a woman calls us over to her car, which contains seven small yapping terriers. “I know a campsite with much better ambiance,” she says. “Get your money back and follow me. It’s a bit hard to find. I’m Glenda. I’ve had three concussions.”Okay, how can we refuse that offer? Fifteen minutes later we set up camp on the edge of the Bay of Fundy at low tide, and watch eagles feast on easy prey. Yes, this former shipyard turned campground turns out to be a gem. Thank you, Glenda!In the morning as we watch the tide return, two women walk past our campsite carrying bags full of what we surmise to be clams. “Oh no,” Jan says. “This is dulse.” She grabs a handful and shows us. “Seaweed?” I ask. “Yes. We come here every year during a new moon to collect enough to last all year.” She explains that you dry it out in the sun until it gets crispy. “I like to leave the sea salt on it, but some people wash it first. It’s good for the blood.”Dulse contains a bunch of minerals like potassium and iron. Supposed to improve vision, immunity, bones, thyroid, lower blood pressure, and strengthen the brain. We now carry a bag of it in the truck and chew some every day. Thank you, Jan. We need all the brain help possible!After an outing to explore the Cape d’Or Lighthouse, we return to camp and watch the tide surround us. Soon we sleep to the sound of waves lapping within a few feet of our truck.Let’s hike part of the Coastal Trail in Cape Chignecto, an isolated wilderness area. Filled with many sea cliff views, this heart-pumper provides a sweaty workout.During the drive back to camp, we must wait in the truck for the road to clear from high tide. Good opportunity for a cold one. We have lots of fun driving around Nova Scotia, stopping in cool fishing villages for tastes of local craft beers and seafood delights.Marilynn finally finds some oysters to her liking, and I find scallops. As you can tell, folks are beyond friendly. After a week of camping, the rains decide to pour, presenting perfect timing for some luxury. We splurge on a harbor view room at the Cambridge Suites in Halifax. The hotel feels so good that I don’t leave it, not for one step, except from the parking lot. Marilynn walks around town in the rain, while I write in the luxurious room.
We happen to hit the hotel on Wednesday, when they have free drinks and hors d’oeuvres for an hour in the evening. Of course, we make friends with the free drink guy. Follow up in the morning with free breakfast, a gym workout complete with sauna and jacuzzi, and we’re strong, clean, ready for more camping and hiking.Driving the Cabot trail offers diverse scenery and excellent hiking opportunities.
Perhaps we expect to see more dramatic vistas due to the hype, but it’s still nice and will be spectacular when the fall colors come.Along the Celidh Trail, the scenery reminds us of Scotland. Of course, we have never been to Scotland, but almost feel as though we’re there.
The Skyline Trail wraps around an easy five-mile loop through boreal forest and coastal views. Fenced-off areas keep moose out so that the forest can grow.Otherwise, moose consume the saplings, leaving the terrain barren. Our good luck continues when we spot a mama moose eating the forest, despite the crowds and fences. Back at camp, to hell with lobster utensils. We have an ax!The first lighthouse in Canada was in Louisbourg. It’s no longer there, but they built one to replace it. The Lighthouse Trail traverses about 4 miles, weaving between boreal and Acadia forest, over bogs and fens, and Precambrian polished granite on the coastline.The French fought off the British here, and many shipwrecks lie somewhere under that ocean.Okay, it’s time to clean-up again, this time at Mountain Vista Seaside Cottages in Bras d’Or. We’ll cook our own food and reorganize the truck for the morning ferry ride to…, drum roll…, Newfoundland!
While hordes of folks in the US flock to the diagonal line of the total eclipse across the country, Marilynn and I take a road/camping trip in the opposite direction towards Nova Scotia (New Scotland) Canada. We’ll sleep under the cap of our truck for the next two months or so.
First, though, we revisit the Bar Harbor campsite in Maine where a few years ago (Click here for previous post) we ordered lobster dinner delivered to our tent. Well, they still deliver. Two lobsters, two ears of corn, and two dozen mussels delivered to the camp for $31.95!
Hello, New Brunswick, Canada! We camp for several nights, sleeping in cool, fresh air. Starting to mellow-out, Canadian style.
A short hike to the flower pots at Hopewell Rocks provides a worthy walk on the ocean floor at low tide.
Time to drive the “longest bridge in the world over icy waters,” that strides the ocean for eight miles.
It’s the only way to drive to Prince Edward Island, where red dirt, shores, and lush views of rolling farmland make for intense scenery,
Drink craft beers, and devour fresh seafood in one of the numerous small fishing villages.
Could we ever get sick of lobster and other shell fish? We intend to find out.
Usually, we travel in the off-season, and enjoy cheap prices and scarce crowds. Currently, we travel in the heart of high season, when everyone that can is trying to take in one last holiday.
Campgrounds with no vacancy surprise us, but we always seem to grab a tent spot where we can sleep in the back of our pick-up truck. Geez, many Canadians already live in the wilderness. I find it curious that so many go camping when on holiday.
Onward to North Cape, the northern tip of PEI. We spot three men raking in seaweed, sorting through it, filling up a truckload. Marilynn asks what they are gathering.
“Irish moss,” John says. He shows us a handful. “We sell it to a farmer who dries it for feed for his cows.
They’ve found it to be an unlikely weapon against global warming. The combination of Irish Moss and other seaweeds has shown to nearly eliminate the methane content of cow burps and farts.
John eats a spoonful of it every morning. “It’s rich in antioxidants and other nutrients.” He went on to explain that they extract carrageen from Irish moss, which is used as a thickener and stabilizer in milk products. It is also used as a clarifying agent in beer and some wine, and used to be produced industrially. Well that’s good enough for us.
Okay, Canada. We love your clean air, laidback friendly folks, and fresh seasonal food, including new potatos. What’s not to love, eh? The scenery grows more intense the farther we travel. Stay tuned, it’s aboowt time to check out Nova Scotia in the next blog post.
After renting a car and driving most of Portugal for ten days, we spend the last five nights in the great city of Lisbon. Full of historical/naval significance (the longest reigning modern European Colonial empire in history), shops, boutiques, museums, and cafés fill the buildings and fortresses of years past.
Fabulous food and dramatic coastline emerge as our main travel theme of the entire Portuguese adventure.
We find the final entrée on our “food list” in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant across the street from our poorly located hotel.
Morcela (pig blood in sausage casing). Not too bad when mixed with rice. A tad too strong for us in its pure form.
“You must try our other Portuguese tradition, Bacalhau a’ Bra’s,” (salt dried cod mixed with hash-browns) Antonio, our waiter says.
Well, all meals cannot claim a savoy title. The cod claims the title of “least favorite,” beating out Caracois (snails) by a fish bone.
Our hotel’s location demands six-mile (round trip) sweaty walks to the center of Lisbon where the good cafés exist.
A great way to burn off excesses of the past three weeks. Walking moves faster than traffic once the city awakens. Many guys try to sell me hash, weed, and cocaine along the way.
“Those guys don’t have good stuff,” Antonio the waiter explains. “They are from Romania and just rip people off.”
Along with a poor location, our hotel offers see-through walls surrounding the bathroom. I don’t care how much you love your travel partner, some activities in the bathroom need to remain private. (Especially after eating blood sausage and snails)
We take three subway lines, and then a train to what guidebooks claim is the “must do day-trip from Lisbon – Sintra.”
The city of Sintra disappoints. Although a walk through old forest up to the Moorish fortress and palace proves exhilarating, elbow to elbow tourists deplete our remaining energy.
The next day, we hop onto the “Hop and Ride” tour bus to the coastal tourist destination of Cascais.
If you’re going to do a tourist area, this would be the best spot in our opinion. Full of beautiful beaches and magnificent coastline, cafés compete for your palate pleasures.
To wrap-up Portugal according to our style of travel, we prefer the laid-back atmosphere in the small coastal towns.
Feasting on an array of seafood, amidst waves crashing on cliffs and rocks, will stay with us more than historical accounts of greatness. But that’s just us.
It’s time to drive north through Portugal’s mountainous interior in search of meat and liquor. Melt-in-your-mouth “piglet cooked in wood oven” starts things off perfectly in the town of Monchique.
José, the proprietor at our guesthouse Casa Mirante, shows us the fruit he uses to make medronho, a local brandy/moonshine, also known as “firewater.” Private distilling is tolerated, keeping this Portuguese tradition alive.
The fest continues late into the evening with peri-peri chicken and more medronho moonshine. Oops, suddenly even the street statues aren’t safe!
We’d do well to regroup the next morning with sardines for breakfast.
Perhaps it’s time to seek spiritual healing with a visit to the megaliths outside the town of Evora. Appearing around the sixth to fourth millennium BC, this large circular stand of stones represents one of the oldest monuments of humankind. Nobody knows exactly why they are here. Theories abound. If that’s not spiritual, what is?
A drive through groves of olive and cork trees brings us to the medieval town of Evora.
Relics from Greeks, Romans, and Moors appear here.
Our good fortune continues, as we happen to visit during the annual street fair. Who cares if we can’t find the hotel, while the GPS lady yells at us due to road closures? Bring on the street food! We’ll leave the moonshine alone tonight.
Continuing to the northern coast, the city of Porto greets us with beauty and delight.
We spend two nights in a renovated castle, and feast on the local traditional dish of pork tripe with beans.
Cafés line the river and streets in this friendly city.
We make friends while sharing glasses of Port (we are in Porto).
Francesinha, a sandwich of egg, meat and ham smothered in melted cheese and sauce, is the local hangover cure.
Back on the beach, the town of Ericeira grabs our heart.
Known for sun, surf, and seafood, it’s a smaller town, close to Lisbon, and offers a laid-back atmosphere.
This would be a perfect place for an extended stay.
For now, it’s off to Lisbon to wrap up our Portuguese adventure.
After three weeks of hiking and public transportation around the hot Cape Verde Islands in West Africa, it’s time for some cooler temperature and creature comfort. Once we land in Lisbon, Portugal we indulge in the independence of a rental car in search of excellent food and scenic drives. Our car includes a “hot spot” which provides internet and google navigation from our cellphone. Let’s go! A road map would be useless on these infinite streets with no names.
We stop in Costa da Caparica, a short drive and hot spot for tourists. Enter our first delightful celebration in the form of seafood pizza and beer. Finish with wine and cockles and shrimp sautéed in garlic. Our best meal in three weeks.
Let’s head south to the laid-back beach town of Vila Nova de Milfontes for some raw oysters and octopus salad. Our best meal in three weeks.
We will eat our way through Portugal. Delightful.
Our waiter for dinner that evening, Antonio, explains that he works 12 hours each day, with a two-hour break in the afternoon.
He recommends the seafood platter crowded with shrimp, lobster, fish chunks, and an array of shellfish. Our best meal in three weeks.
Along the way south, we spend the day hiking a segment of the Rota Vicentina walking trail.
No need to bring sleeping gear, as the 217-mile trail cuts through small villages where hikers can secure food and lodging.
We stop in the small town of Zambujeira do Mar for a seafood salad lunch. Yet more delight.
Driving through broccoli-like forest, we reach the most southwestern point in Europe, Cabo de Sao Vicente.
Cool temperatures and harsh wind with spurts of rain greet us at this hot surfing spot.
Time to celebrate with wine and Cataplana Mariscos (like paella but no rice, just various seafood with potato), again, our best meal in three weeks.
The sun shines in the town of Sagres. We delight in dramatic cliffs and secluded beaches.
Searching for coffee in the morning, a stranger who speaks no English motions for us to get into his car. We do, and he peels rubber flying down a straight road. We’re beginning to wonder.
Then he stops and lets us out at a local coffee/bakery off the main road. The kindness of strangers – traveling’s greatest delight. Stay tuned, as we continue to celebrate Portugal. Maybe we will have out best meal yet.
We ride up a snaking cobblestone road that separates many fertile valleys, canyons, and Ribeiras of Santo Antao Island.
The town of Ribeira Grande is the gateway to the island’s Gothic-like volcanic peaks.
Visitors come here to hike. So, here we go. The driver drops us off in a volcano crater carpeted with crops and fruit trees, better known as Cova de Paul.
From here, we trek out of the crater and then into the Ribeira do Paul. The trail switchbacks down for about three sun-exposed hours, to our guesthouse in the middle of nowhere.
Stop to take in views of villages below, where block houses cling to the side of jagged peaks, often blending in with the scene.
Terraces with crops of all kinds layer the peaks that we descend. This ribeira is best known for its grogue (strong alcohol).
The trail eventually transforms back into the cobblestone road, and passes through several small villages. Friendly locals always greet us and often give a “thumbs up.” We stop briefly for a cold beer and plate of fresh goat cheese.
Back at our guest house in the middle of nowhere, the shower still does not work. I’m sore in strange places. We lay on our bed, soaked in sweat, and listen to the drunken proprietor rant and rave at phantom tourists, or perhaps, at his partner. Doors slam and employees scatter. Eventually, the electricity turns on and we shower. Refreshed and renewed, we decide to leave the drunken proprietor’s place, despite having booked for another night. Let’s find some peace and quiet in the coastal village of Ponta do Sol.
We sit on a balcony and bask in the cool breeze. Sip beer, and stare at the ocean.
Fisherman clean their daily catch of tuna and eel on shore. Children dive from rocks and swim in the turbulent pools.
The streets come alive with warm and friendly people each evening. They often try to have conversations with us in a language we cannot understand. We are beginning to feel like locals as we recognize not just the people, but some of the free roaming dogs as well.
Time for a change from hiking the ribeiras. We follow yet another cobblestone road, this one hugging jagged cliffs that drop into the ocean below us.
We stop in the small village of Fontainhas for refreshment. Again, folks all wave and greet.
Back at Ponta do Sol, we watch children and adults alike enjoy the water and each other. Gentle and genuine best describes the people of Cape Verde. Throughout these past three weeks, we have felt nothing but welcome.
As for tonight, we must decide on dinner of either Cachupa (national dish of corn, beans, herbs, cassava, sweet potato and sometimes with meat), or should we try the baked goat? Life is good.
We expect difficult travel in West Africa. Here in Cape Verde, which we call “West Africa Light,” (click on previous posts Ghana, Togo, Benin) the mindset of “just roll with it” works fine, but doesn’t make travel any easier. Last-minute flight cancellations (four thus far) happen, and it’s best to have wiggle room rather than be on a tight schedule.
We’re exhausted, and there’s something draining about the African sun that is beyond mere temperature readings. Binter Airlines cancels our flight and comps us a room at the “Seafood Hotel” in Sao Filipe, on the island of Fogo, that comes with a meal of fried fish or chicken. I believe that nobody comes to Cape Verde for the cuisine. After a bottle of fine Fogo wine, we don’t mind getting up at 4:00AM for the rescheduled flight, until morning of course.
When our two-prop plane finally shoots down the runway for take-off, Marilynn whaps me in the arm with her elbow.
“That guy across from you is freaking out!”
“I’m on the wrong flight!” he yells. He stands up and tries to bolt for the emergency exit.
The flight attendant and I make him sit, and eventually calm him down. Now, I’m his best friend, and am forced to listen to him bitch about the airline company the entire flight. I just nod, and am grateful that this flight duration is only forty-five minutes. Roll with it. (He’s lucky he wasn’t on a flight in the USA)
We land in the port city of Mindelo, on the island of Sao Vicente. Set on a natural harbor, full of cafés and music, we instantly love this lively place.
It is a nice break from the silence of Fogo Island.
Enter our short attention span…, how long can we watch the active fish market by day, and explore the back alleys full of restaurants and live music at night? Three days.
They hand out vomit bags on a one-hour ferry ride to our fourth island, Santo Antao.
Avoiding seasickness, we soon fight motion sickness on land, while riding in a packed Collectivo that whips around dramatic coastal scenery.
Once the driver turns inland and uphill, volcanic craggy mountains conceal lush, green canyons.
From banana, papaya, and mango trees to corn and sugarcane, Santo Antao provides produce for all the islands. We plan to hike down from the Cova de Paul (volcanic crater) tomorrow.
At our guest house, an older French man, whom we think is the proprietor, is drunk on Grogue (sugarcane rum), and slurs only a few words of English. Simple things, like trying to order dinner a day in advance are difficult. The room is sweltering hot, and the shower doesn’t work because of an electrical outage. Roll with it. And we do. Oftentimes, difficult travel culminates into luscious reward…like tomorrow’s cool hike! Stay tuned.