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Charlevoix, Again!

Isle aux Coudres

     

September 3–5, 1999

It seems like every chance we get, off we go to Canada again. There are so many beautiful locations to visit there that it seems like we'll never get enough of it. Gaspé had been calling to us ever since the last time we were in Quebec, so when another chance to get away for a week presented itself in early September of 1999, we answered the call.

The timing was special. I was leaving a company where I had worked for eight and a half years, and I was preparing to embark on a new and exciting journey in my career. My last day at the old job, and the day we left for Canada, was also my birthday. What better way to celebrate the dual occasion than with a swing up through my beloved New York and an exploration of the far reaches of a Canadian province?

Our first stop was the town where I grew up, Eagle Mills, NY, where we celebrated my birthday with my best childhood friends. In case you're curious, here pictured are my old stomping grounds, complete with the house I grew up in.The house was blue, the trees were a lot smaller, and the road was unpaved, but aside from that, it was the same old place!

The next morning, we made a beeline for the Canadian border, crossing over at Rouse's Point. We spontaneously decided to retrace some of our steps during our last trip to Quebec for two reasons: a good dish of spaghetti and some whales.

First target then: Isle aux Coudres in the Charlevoix region, north side of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Our intended destinations were the Gite de la Maison Blanche for sleeping and La Mer Veilleuse for eating, where George fondly remembered a very good plate of spaghetti. Silly us to think we could walz in a month earlier than last time, and on a holiday weekend to boot, and expect a vacancy at the B&B. It was not in the cards this time. In fact, having caught the last ferry over to the island for the night, we almost found ourselves stranded with no place to stay. We were contemplating finding a spot to pitch the tent we had thrown in the back of the car for "just in case," when we stumbled on one of what was very likely the last two vacant rooms available on the entire tiny island. They were located in a charming little campground filled with French-speaking campers enjoying their blazing campfires in the chill evening. We took one of the rooms, a small, basic affair with a shared bathroom, but clean, comfortable, and cozy. Once we got ourselves settled and had made the acquaintance of some of our neighbors, we headed for the watering hole, hoping they were still open for business at 9 p.m. They were, and in fact bustling with a Saturday night crowd. Since it's one of only two or three places to eat on Isles aux Coudres, this was hardly surprising! George enjoyed his plate of spaghetti. The trip was worthwhile.

We didn't realize quite what a charming spot we had ended up in until the next morning when we rose early to get started on the next leg of our journey. The dawn revealed a small lake outside our door, overhung with early morning mist and dew. The cabins were surrounded by lush vegetation and wildflowers. George had a hard time prying me away from this great photo opportunity, but we had a boat to catch.

Our next destination was Tadoussac, which we had rushed through on our last trip, missing the opportunity to see whales in action. We caught an early ferry from Isles aux Coudres back across to the northern shore of the St. Lawrence. We had been disappointed that the 19% grade road that lead down to the ferry had been regraded since our last visit to a less exciting incline; however, the ferry ride turned out to be, in itself, an adventure. We were so engaged in "communicating" with an amiable French speaking passenger from Lac St. Jean that we noticed a bit too late that Captain Cowboy piloting the boat was approaching the dock at a higher rate of speed than usual. One minute we were standing there gawking at the fast approaching bulkhead, and the next, we were sailingthrough the air, but fortunately not over the side of the boat. George managed to catch himself, but I kept on sailing and skidded to a stop on my knees. You never saw ferry attendants rush so fast to scoop up a passenger off the deck, all the while, I imagine, seeing "lawsuit, lawsuit" flashing in French in front of their eyes! I dusted off my scraped knees, merci-beaucouped, and limped off to the car, resolving that on future ferry trips I would always be IN the car by the time the boat docked!

The drive through the Charlevoix region of Quebec was every bit as beautiful as we had found it during our first visit. We didn't have as much time for stopping to admire the views this time though. We were on a mission: to embark on a three hour whale watching cruise in the prime whale feeding area where the salty water of the St. Lawrence mixes with the fresh water of the Saguenay River.

We arrived in Tadoussac just in time to grab a quick bite to eat before boarding the Crossières, which would take us out to see the whales. We had heard others who had taken this cruise say they had spotted no less that 50 whales during the course of the trip. They were right! Once we were underway, the whales started appearing non-stop, almost as if they had been hired to put on a show for their audience. We saw long Minkes, Fins, and the beautiful black and white Belugas. We even spotted a couple of all white baby Belugas. They leaped, cavorted, and shot their plumes of spray in the air for us. The photos don't do the memories justice, and it was just as well my camera battery conked out after a while so I could watch the spectacle without a camera lense in the way.

After the cruise, we spent some time in the small town of Tadoussac, mostly searching for a replacment camera battery. Now I know why professional photographers advocate taking along spares, particularly when traveling in remote regions. Once thebattery problem was resolved, we headed for Escoumins, a spot in the middle of nowhere that just happened to have a convenient ferry crossing the St. Lawrence, rather wide at this point, to the opposite shore: the northern portion of the Gaspé Penninsula. The ferries in non-populated regions are few and far between, particularly in the almost off season, so we had a bit of a wait for the next and last one of the day.

While waiting for the boat, we chatted (i.e., stumbled through English/French communications) with other travelers and watched nature in all its brutal reality. A small seagull with a broken wing was fluttering in distress around the parking lot, an apparent victim of an accident, altercation, or predator. A couple of guys tried to help him, but realizing they couldn't do much, set him afloat in the water. He couldn't fly, but he could swim, and swim he did to a rock a good distance out from the shore. As he perched there, the "bird communications" started. His compatriots were amazingly expressive in their concern and distress for this one small bird. They hovered around him for quite a while giving noisy moral support before finally flying off to leave him to die in peace.

 

Eagle Mills, NY

 

 

 

Isle aux Coudres Campground

 

 

Isle aux Coudres Campground

 

 

 

 

Joseph Savard Ferry

 

 

 

 

Joseph Savard Ferry

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whales at Tadoussac

 

 

 

 

 

Waiting for the  boat at Escoumins

   

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