Let’s just breeze over the meltdown – there was rain, there were no spare tires, we had a three and a half hour drive ahead of us and – you know- maybe families aren’t meant to be in such close proximity to each other 24/7. We weathered it and decided to spring for a hotel to save from having to pop up and pop down in the rain. Relief!! The drive was rainy and slow – with almost no cell coverage (as it is here between coves) but we managed to find a restaurant on the side of the highway. They were selling a cookbook dedicated to bologna and not the one in Italy. Not an auspicious start. We made it to our hotel – huge room, bathtub! And fell into the beds. Muggee’s Place hotel and restaurant in Boyds Cove had great reviews – especially the breakfast – so we were disappointed when the restaurant wasn’t open until 11 am. But that is the off season for you. Being in the off season was one of my arguments for jumping ship and heading off the rock but I was out voted. Provincial parks are now closed on the Island and the campgrounds are pretty desolate – my imagination gets a little out of hand in the wee hours when I hear an engine rev or a generator kick in – I half dream about drug making in campers and hooligans. We did wait until 11 making full use of the bathtub and shower – although next time we spring for a hotel I will remember to bring our toiletry bags and a change of clothes – all annoyingly ten feet away and trapped in the folded up camper. The breakfast was pretty good. Homemade bread perfectly toasted with poached eggs, French toast with said homemade bread crisp and pillowy – the only thing missing is real maple syrup – our own jar locked away along with our flattened toiletry bags. We now have decided on a small restaurant kit that will contain maple syrup, sriracha and ground pepper and maybe a small squirt of homemade salad dressing. How can a place go to the trouble of baking bread but serve tear packages of commercial salad dressing sickly sweet and weirdly thick? I do have to say – the restaurant food here is not that yummy – sure sure we have had a yummy fried cod or two but everything else is directly from the 70’s – peas from cans, boiled carrots, pellet rice and loads of French fries – generally okay because they are fries but not fresh cut. Salads are a very distant barely thought about addition to any meal.
But after the home made bread and French toast we are properly fortified for the 6 degrees and drizzle so we set out for the Beothuk interpretation centre in Boyd’s Cove.
The Beothuk were an Indigenous group who’s last member died in hospital in St John’s in 1829. It’s a horror story that we know well through out Canada and one that continues today. They were driven off the coast and inland by European settlers and were unable to survive the winters. It is a beautiful and haunting exhibit with dioramas and maquettes depicting the archeologists interpretation of their lives based on the how Inuit and other indigenous peoples lived in the past few centuries. They were refered to as red Indians because they would paint their bodies with ocher and dye they’re clothes with it. There was a walk through the woods with views of the water and the site. It is located in a meadow above a wide bay that had a stream feeding into it. There are high trees around sheltering from the wind and the meadow is flat making it a good place for huts. The huts/teepees are oval and the roofs are made with birch bark. There was also a healing garden where we could make amulets from shells, birch park and feathers and hang them with sinew from the trees. The walk was less popular with the kids (as walks are especially in the rain) and I was feeling a little dread when I stepped outside but it turned out to be pretty magical – reminding me of a mix of BC and the Rockies – the ground was thick with moss and the board walk was lined with blueberry and raspberry bushes, juniper and Lilly of The Valley. There were maple, poplar, birch, spruce and pine. Crazy mushrooms of all shapes and colours poked out of the moss, grew near the rocks and up the sides of trees. We could only hear the stream rushing by until finally wound around a bend to a break in the trees for a view of a small waterfall. The actual site of the settlement was covered in grass with depressions and mounds like the Viking settler site and was cordoned off to be viewed from a platform. Through the trees on the far side you could glimpse the smooth ocean with mist rising off of it. It was still and deeply moving.
Then on to Gander and the aviation museum which, although well executed, paled in comparison. Although I did love reading about the women who did morse code through the war. One woman – interviewed in 2007 – said she still sometimes thought in morse code – hearing the taps in her head.
And now we are in St John’s. The drive from Gander was spectacular – again different from the western coast but with equally stunning views of forest and water. The light was amazing because it was alternately rainy with the sun trying desperately to break through. Layers of clouds, sunlit and glowing white peeking above stormy grey, all moving quickly. Above the “ponds” that are discovered around every bend in the highway are the pieds de vent – beams of sunlight breaking through the clouds in sharp lines illuminating a circle of water sparkling white against the slate coloured waves. Occasionally a giant metal electric pole will flash with stray sunlight lighting up the tower’s crisscrossing bars. There are bright blue breaks above and the heat of the sun touches us a few times. There is forest – varied with poplar, maple, spruce and pine with breaks of meadows filled with short brush moss, long silvery grasses, marigold flowers and studded with rocks left behind by the ice age. Purple rock cliffs rise on either side of the four lane highway. On higher parts of the road you can glimpse big water and shadowy islands layered over each other into the horizon. I was so glad that I had been out voted and that we were experiencing it all.
Luckily we hit a sunny day and headed over to Bell Island. A short 15 minute ferry ride away Bell Island looks like it disengaged itself from the ocean floor and raised right up out of the water. The cliffs rising up from the sea are clearly layered with millions of years of sediment and topped with short green brush.
We hit it to the the mine to find that they were doing a school tour so we head on over to the requisite lighthouse – which looks all lighthousy and normal from the front but then we brave the winds and walk out to the cliffs to find the most amazing view. A piece of the island separated from the mainland with crashing waves surrounding it churning white water giving away to turquoise and deep navy. While on our little cliff walk we meet up with an other group – more children in tow and they ask if we are day tripping as well and then direct us to Grebes Nest.
We go back for the mine tour which is lead by Geraldine, an early 60 something woman who grew up on the Island – her father lost his foot in the mine – she had left as most Bell Islanders do now to move west and she ended up in Ontario – where she found work and a husband and lived for 27 years until the manufacturing jobs gave away. So they sold their home and moved back to Bell Island to spend time with their parents. Her father is still alive at 90. The mine is beyond words – scary, eerie, dark, damp and cold. There is now a walkway of gravel but it is lined with how the mine once was – water trickling down rock paths. The mine goes down at a 10 degree slant below the island and then below the ocean. We see where the horses were kept underground and where the men ate their lunch. It really is overwhelming- how did these men do this six days a week? They shovelled 16 tons of iron ore a ten hour shift. Boys as young as nine would work taking care of the horses who lived in the mine rotating thirty days in and thirty days out – their eyes wrapped in bandages when they came out. The bandages would be slowly peeled away over a week so the horses didn’t go blind. Mind boggling. After the mine we go searching for Grebe’s nest – a walkway dug through a cliff to a beach that is otherwise inaccessible. We have to climb down a steep embankment onto a rocky beach with sediment layered cliffs towering above and waves crashing bright blue into white foamy spray. Across the beach there is a square hole in the cliff. We walk into the dark and slowly the light emerges around a bend and grows until we find ourselves on a smaller patch of beach with the cliffs all around – of course I immediately image the tide coming in and trapping us – thankfully Chris talks me down. The beach is covered with fossils – huge rocks, small rocks etched and embossed with the underwater of millions of years ago. Then a gruesome discovery! We find a pigs severed head buzzing with flies and no eyes in the sockets but pink and and almost soft looking and so clean. The most bizarre thing ever until we find three more! It seems they must have been thrown over the cliff? Very weird and creepy.
Next we say goodbye to Newfoundland and hop on the ferry from Argentia to North Sydney Nova Scotia.