Monday, August 3, 2015

Gaspe’ Town, Perce’ Rock and Ile Bonaventure

The cruise to Gaspe’ on July 30 was glorious!  After several foggy days, the sun shone brightly on the seven hour cruise from St. Ann to Gaspe’.  We were looking forward to this trip for some time.  Gaspe’ is situated in the area known as Gaspesie.  Gaspesie is very rural with a significant fishing industry and it is also a popular summer destination for Canadians, especially this year when the Canadian dollar does not go as far.  It is located where where the St. Lawrence River flows into the Gulf of St. Lawrence so the waters are very wide and we were often unable to see the opposite coast.  The country on our southern coast becomes a peninsula and we needed to  round that peninsula (also known as Land’s End) to enter the Bay of Gaspe’ for the 5 mile run up a narrow bay to the town of Gaspe’.  Rounding that point was very dramatic.  It is actually the end of the Appalachian Mountains.  The mountains reach the sea with huge cliffs, striated land formations, and beautiful bays.  We felt very small next to the enormity and drama of the land mass and we were so very grateful for a clear day.

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We were cruising in 200 feet of water and we moved a little closer to the coast to get a better feel for the enormity of the landscape.  Near the end of the point is a beautiful red roofed lighthouse, that is one of the oldest lighthouses in North America.   As we rounded the point to head up the Bay of Gaspe’, we had to adjust our point of “sail” to prevent the beam seas from rolling us too much.  The trip up that bay was just stunning!

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We arrived at the marina in Gaspe’ and tied up at the fuel dock until the wind died down and we could dock comfortably.  In the meantime, we took a walk into the little town of Gaspe’.  The tourist bureau was located next to the marina and after spending some time getting our bearings and arranging for a car to rent for a couple of days, we crossed the bridge to the center of town.   The center of town feels like a mix of a quaint Quebec village with something of a western “end of the line” feel.  And who should we see walking down the street but Michelle, who we had met on the dock in St. Anne des Monts!   She was in Gaspe’ with her friend Suzanne for the choral concert that was to take place that Saturday!  

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We made plans to meet later that evening at a little musical concert that was going to take place in a nearby park.

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After meeting Michelle in the park for the local performance, we met her sister and other friends who were also in the chorus and joined them for a drink.  What a great decision!  A group of about 20 of the chorus were dining together in a café.  They were having a wonderful time and even after a full day of practice they were clearly brimming over with enthusiasm.  When Michelle introduced us to them, they graced us with a sample of their singing and performed several songs for us (and for their own enjoyment) over the course of the evening.

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The next day Michelle joined us for the day as we hiked to Forillon National Park.  We took our rental car to the foot of the park and hiked up to the same lighthouse we cruised by the previous day. 

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Unfortunately, the fog had rolled in again so our vistas were not as striking but the two kilometer hike up the beautiful alpine landscape was invigorating.  The fog lifted enough at critical points for us to see the layered cliffs and the steep drop to the sea below. 

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The wildflowers along the way were vivid shades of yellow and purple with lots of white clover thrown in for good measure.

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We had lunch at a little French café and afterwards visited the Micmac Interpretation Center.  This was a museum dedicated to the local tribe of the Micmac Indians.  A young college student who was part Micmac gave us a personal tour.  He was primarily French speaking but his English was quite good and he showed us the wigwams and long house that were on display on the grounds and explained the Micmac’s way of life including demonstrating several of the tools they used. The Native American tribes in Canada experienced many of the same indignities as those in the U.S.  He was very proud of his heritage and we learned a lot about a group that we were not familiar with. 

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The next day, Saturday, we invited Michelle, Duane and Diane to join us for a day’s outing to Perce’ Rock and Ile Bonaventure.  What a fabulous day it was!   After a beautiful winding drive along the coastline (albeit with patches of fog), we arrived at the village of Perce’ where we were to take  took a tour boat around the famous Perce’ Rock and then over to Bonaventure Island to experience  the  gannet colony. 

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As the tour boat arrived, so did the fog, so the view of Perce’ Rock was rather obscured.  Perce’ Rock  is one of Canada’s major landmarks.  It is awesome!  It’s 90 meters tall and made of sheer cliffs of red granite.   A very large hole is worn into one end of the rock.  The captain brought us fairly close to it so we could get some photos and he kindly took us by it again at the end of the day when the weather had cleared so we could see its dramatic presence against a bright blue sky.

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From there the tour boat took us to Ile Bonaventure.  This island is home to the largest colony of gannets in the Atlantic.  Bonaventure  was once inhabited but when it became a national park the people who lived there were relocated.  All that remains are the birds and some historic houses that are on display and very interesting.

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As the fog lifted, we took a ten km walk across the island and along the cliff’s edge overlooking the sea. There we came upon the most amazing scene.  Literally tens of thousands of ivory colored birds with distinctively outlined beaks were swooping onto the cliff, performing courtship routines, feeding and coddling their chicks, staking out their territory and making a raucous noise.  The cliff side was covered with birds (and you could smell them long before you saw them). Over  250,000 gannets come to this island year after year to have their babies.  July and August are prime time for them and we were able to to observe thousands of them courting  and interacting with their young.  It was one of the most astonishing sites we had ever seen!  It was utterly fascinating and we had a hard time tearing ourselves away from the spectacle which extended all along the northern and eastern sides sides of the island. 

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It was a long day of walking and touring but it wasn’t over yet! 


When we finally returned to our own boat about 5:30, we had to get ready to attend the the choral concert in which Michelle’s sister and friend Suzanne were performing.  We quickly ate dinner, changed clothes and drove over to the local high school auditorium in the middle of pouring rain to attend the sold out performance.  We were delighted with the program!  The chorus consisted of 150 singers from a variety of choirs from throughout Quebec. This was in a pre-concert to a larger music festival which was was scheduled to begin the following week. The chorus had exactly 3 days to rehearse about 20 songs with 5 different conductors and they did an amazing job!  We enjoyed the concert tremendously and Michelle had saved us excellent seats .   Lynn was afraid that after such a long day she might find herself dozing off, but the program was so diversified and energetic that we were enthralled throughout. 

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This was a great capstone to a wonderful Gaspesian adventure.   We enjoyed this part of Canada tremendously and consider it one of the highlights of our trip.  It was particularly memorable because of the people we  met and traveled with.   We’ll continue to travel with Duane and Diane but needed to say goodbye for now to Michelle, who brought a very special and local flavor to our journey and who we recognize as a very special kindred spirit!

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