Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Edge of the Wild
Travels in Western Newfoundland, Part 2
Across the Water

The Newfoundland ferries are immense. They are cruise ship-sized, oceangoing vessels capable of carrying 400 or more cars and trucks, and over 1,000 people. A crew of 90 or so live on the ship for several weeks at a time, and there are also cabins available for passengers, a particularly attractive feature during the long crossing to Argentia, near the capital city of St. Johns, a 14+ hour maritime extravaganza.
All three passenger ferries in port at North Sydney, Nova Scotia at once. The trucks on the left are waiting to board.
 Our destination was Port aux Basques, a mere 5 hour trip. The parking area in Nova Scotia sweltered in 90 degree heat as we waited in long lines of cars. When we finally drove into the cavernous interior of the ship, we followed the cars in front of us through a wide U-turn, whereupon we trundled into a narrow slot and down a ramp to a lower deck where we were backed into a far corner. Other cars packed in around us and as we left the truck to go upstairs, a huge door dropped down above, covering the slot and ramp we had come down, and cars and trucks were then parked all across the middle and upper decks. 

Quick shot out the window as we are about to board
 Our ferry, the "Blue Puttees", named after a valiant Newfoundland regiment in World War I, had 9 decks, and boasted two restaurants, a snack bar, a gift shop, a bar with live music, three huge lounges with large TVs and comfortable reclining chairs, a play room, and a sun deck on top, complete with a helicopter landing pad.

Not exactly "art" but interesting all the same: driving onto the ferry. I don't normally take photos while driving...
 We watched from the top deck as the ship slowly backed away from the dock and turned north. It was a stunningly glorious day as we sailed away from Nova Scotia, with barely a cloud in the sky and the hot sun beating down. We strolled the outside decks, exploring, chatting with other passengers and fretted about sunburn since we had no sunscreen.

Nova Scotia slowly sank into the sea astern, and eventually all land disappeared entirely. It was an exotic sensation for people unaccustomed to ocean travel to see no sign of land from horizon to horizon.

Out of sight of land. High contrast is a constant photographic challenge on a sunny day at sea. Shooting in raw and highlight reduction in Lightroom brought this under control.
 Several hours into the trip we were startled by the sound of a foghorn. We looked at each other in surprise, then out the window, which faced to the rear of the ship, at the clear blue sky. A moment later a thick gray curtain settled around us as we entered a fog bank. It wasn't long before it became so thick that from the windows at our seats the far end of the ship was nearly lost in the mist.

Getting close to Newfoundland!
 We arrived at Port aux Basques in early evening, the rocky shore of Newfoundland dimly appearing from out of the fog. Upon arrival in the small harbor, our gigantic ferry pinwheeled in place 180 degrees and backed into the docking area. We were the very last car off the ferry, waiting about an hour for the whole ship to empty out before we could drive off. The service road leading out of the ferry parking lot immediately becomes the Trans-Canada Highway going north, and so began our odyssey up the Great Northern Peninsula of the province. About 5 miles north of town the fog dissipated and the skies cleared, revealing the brilliant setting sun over the Gulf of St. Lawrence. A recurring theme of Western Newfoundland almost immediately became clear as we drove northward: the steep, rugged wilderness of the Long Range Mountains a few miles to the east of the road and the shore dotted with occasional small villages to the west. Civilization here is indeed a narrow strip of land between mountains and sea. 

The Long Range Mountains near Port aux Basques, the northernmost part of the Appalachian chain.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Edge of the Wild
Travels in Western Newfoundland, Part I

"You're going WHERE?"

"Newfoundland", I repeated. It's in Canada. It's the big island northeast of Nova Scotia."

My co-worker looked askance, but assured me he was happy I was finally getting a vacation. Wherever I chose to spend it.

The province of Newfoundland lies somewhat beyond the usual vacation psyche of many Americans and even quite a few Canadians. If it invokes any recognition at all, it often seems to have the reputation of being a barren, cold, windswept, storm-tossed isle. It is indeed, sometimes, all of these things. But it is also a land of spectacular, rugged beauty, warm, welcoming people, and a seemingly unending array of fascinating things to see and do.

In July, 2012 my wife and I journeyed to Newfoundland and spent 11 days on the western side of the island - all too little time. Although I had been there twice before in the early 1990s, I still feel like I have barely scratched the surface of this amazing place.

Our trip took us up the Great Northern Peninsula, up a 2-lane highway, 400 miles into progressively more and more remote locations. The highway runs through a narrow strip of civilization, sandwiched between the Long Range Mountains on the east and the sea on the west. Traveling up that way truly seems like a journey along the Edge of the Wild.

The next few blog postings will chronicle our adventures and hopefully provide some useful information for travelers and especially photographers who are considering heading up that way.

Quirpon, at the far northern tip of the island of Newfoundland, looking toward Labrador on the far horizon