As automn is coming to a close, I kayak over the pond for the last time and take some loon pictures on location, with the row in my hand and the cellphone in the other. We enjoy a great getout with oldies music and beer. Eventually I pack up my wonderful trip, ready (kind of) to resettle in the Middle East...
Alice in Wonderland
Campbelton and the Super 8
Completing my drive of the 132 with the section from Perce to Campbelton, I eventually reached New Brunswick and the predominantly English-speaking world. The feeling was as if I was actually crossing a national border. I would lie if I said I did not sigh in relief when I could once again talk to people and not get grimaces in return. This is true despite whatever sympathy I had for the French plight…
I was driving happily around Campbelton, searching for the cheapest motel deal. It was found at the Super 8. The receptionist lowered the price for me when I told her that at the Comfort Inn I was told she would best their price… It was post season anyway. I paid 65US$ and was invited to splash in the wonderful Jacuzzi, swim in the small, but nice pool, and have breakfast in the dining hall. That was revolutionary for this camping trip!
The receptionist spoke English with a French accent and was friendly and simple despite the fancy surround.
Without further ado I put my stuff in the room, locked it electronically, grabbed a bag with my bathing suit, hotel towel and soap, and ran down through too many corridors to the Jacuzzi. The lady came especially to operate it for me. After hours of driving, that was a life saver.
Two young guys soon showed up, followed a bit later by a girl. One of the lads went into the coolish pool, executed a few strokes, then stood on the pool ledge and started talking. The other was with me in the Jacuzzi; then they switched. Soon we had a lively conversation going. The girl, who was working in a clothing store. enlivened it even further when she joined in.
They lived in Campbelton, and had a cheap deal for the usage of the pool. Apparently not much to do in that town otherwise, and the hotel needs extra income – win win.
Bilingual Matters and Lenient Cops
We talked about bilingualism. The girl was pretty and nice and clearly enjoyed the opportunity to talk to a foreigner. She spoke English perfectly but had a slight accent. Her mother was French. Campbelton apparently is a true border town, carrying characteristics of both provinces and many residents are bilingual to different extents.
Up until fifth grade she studied in a French immersion class. She quit the program when they were required to learn math in French. They learned French with simple flash cards and for about an hour a day… That did not sound like true “immersion” to me, I must say. Other pupils were doing English immersion. I kept getting contradicting info about bilingualism in Quebec, or perhaps it is different in New Brunswick.
The two guys spoke English very well, and their French seemed secondary.
There was an Indian reservation on the other side of the bridge. The girl gave a complicated name I cannot repeat. Every Indian child born on the reservation gets 15,000$ from the Canadian government according to some historical treaty. Therefore, according to the girl, they were rich (I doubt that…). They have their own laws and their own prices.
Beer is much cheaper over there, and the minimal age for alcohol is lower than in town, but cops turn the other eye if teens come from the reservation with beer in their hands. Same for grass in small quantities. Campbelton is very small, everybody knows everybody, including the cops, and nobody wants to incriminate teens for slight offences. Cops wake up only if somebody walks around with a large amount of weed, seemingly for sale.
It was fun talking to them, swim and get warm in the Jacuzzi. When I got back to my room, I used the golden opportunity to dye my hair, something I wanted to do before getting back to Maine. I carried the hair color all the way from Israel, and it was time to use it. Making supreme efforts not to mess up the bathroom, I got my hair blue and black and enjoyed a great bath after the ordeal, sending my last gasping breaths to that part of Canada, in which I spent such a wonderful, and challenging, time.
Alice in Wonderland – New Brunswick to Maine, Rd. 1
Oct 3rd, 2016
After two months of camping, I felt a bit out of my turf among the very civilized crowd in the dining room. The breakfast was a rich and hearty buffet.
I soon hit the road again heading for Maine. I chose the longer but much more scenic road #1. Avoiding the traffic on the highways, here it was totally desolate.
The color beauty in forests and yards striked my eyes with its brilliance. Yes, ‘tis the season’, and the colors were following me southwards: yellows, oranges, reds. Some trees even garbed themselves deep purple…
It was like an immersion in a fantastic dream, a fairyland. Strangely, I had a sense of déjà vu. Interesting how this rainbow of colors would soon be replaced by the homogeneity of white, like in a reversed Newtonian prism…
I kept shifting stations on the radio between Urban View, the various CBC stations, CNN, spa music and R&B. Enjoying the proximity of the two countries, my attention fluctuated between the extreme ugliness of the race to the White House and the ongoing natural beauty around me. For long stretches I was practically alone on the road…
Leaving the scenic part of New Brunswick, where real forests were washing the eyes in spectacular colors, I continued into the Forestry (land use) part of the state. Huge trucks carrying logs were everywhere, either parked in private yards, on the roadsides, or moving.
Somewhere I saw a sign for a forestry museum. Curious, I stopped and got into the parking, but the place was closed. I wondered what they would say about ecology and the environment, if they believed they had found a balance, a sustainable way to “run” a forest.
Clearly, the planted or logged forests one sees from the car window do not compare with the beauty of the less interrupted forests, but, perhaps, a compromise was struck here. As long as you kept the northern part of the state more or less intact, and logged the southern section responsibly, you perhpas had some kind of balance between “us”, humanity, and “them”, the rest of beings on this planet. And after all, Canadians need to keep warm in the winter among other things. Interestingly, in some sections I saw deciduous saplings starting to grow right under the commercial conifers.
Van Buren Border Crossing - Paying the Price for My Idiosyncrasy
My choice of lonely, uncrowded roads, and my carful of camping equipment did not sink well with the authorities at the Saint Leonard-Van Buren border crossing. Strangely, my last crossing this trip – New Brunswick to Maine – had to be the most difficult one.
I never lie in official situations and I don’t make up stories, so I told them right away I now reside in Israel and am centered at a friend’s house in Maine for the trip. Still, they flipped through my passport and found a “foreign government” passport number on a piece of paper the Israeli authorities “slipped” inside.
Well, I said, yes, I just told you I reside in Israel and have a dual citizenship, but do not carry my other passport with me. I left it at my friend’s house in Maine.
Something must have struck them as suspicious, as they told me to sit on the side and hand them the keys. In the next ten minutes two men and a woman were researching my car up and down, going to the extent of opening the motor hood…I felt uncomfortable not just because of the objective situation, but also because the car was a mess: in particular some vegetables in the cooler were not in their prime …
Eventually they came back and told me I had two small potatoes in the cooler and that was not allowed. I told them: Throw them away. That concluded the search and I got my keys back.
I drove as fast as I could from there, forgetting I intended to fill up the car at the gas station. Eventually I stopped 15 minutes down the road, only to discover they opened every bag, every compartment. They tried to put things back to their original positions but did not quite make it.
I didn’t mind. What mattered was that I was here, in Maine, driving road number 1 and looking urgently for a gas station. GPS was not very helpful, giving me addresses that required driving half an hour away from the main road, or driving almost to depletion until the next fueling station on #1. Luckily, I spotted an off-the-record filling station, no convenience store, no toilet, just a few pumps. Relieved, I filled the tank and moved on south.
Maine and the Mainland
I am back in “America”. The feeling is strange, the mind works extra hours to figure: What does it feel like to be back? How is it really different, again? Is there any fundamental cultural difference? Or is it all in the mind?
Only now, as I write, I discovered that Maine used to, indeed, be a part of Canada at a certain historical point. Champlain was here. French Acadia included parts of Maine. Castine was a French trading post. Several wars were fought here between the English and the French+First Nations until eventually the French were defeated.
During the American Revolution, British loyalists tried, and failed, to create a country called “New Ireland”. In 1812, the Brits from the north were causing harassment along the Maine coast, then invaded and were pushed back. There was a “war” called the Aroostook War when both parties thought the other party had the better case…. No blood was spilled…(Daniel Webster).
And if all that was not enough to connect the two countries, in the late 19th century, many French Canadians arrived from Quebec and New Brunswick to work in the textile mill cities of Lewiston and Bidderford. By the mid 20th century, Franco-Americans comprised 30% of the state’s population. Some areas where these migrants lived and worked were even called “Little Canadas“. Québécois immigrant women saw the United States as a place of greater freedom and opportunity than home…
What I find fascinating is that crossing from New Brunswick to Maine you can “feel” this “in the air” . Maine comes across as less belligerent and aggressive, more tolerant and relaxed than most states. And despite all the flags everywhere, a bit ”less American” in all.
Machias and the Bluebird
When I reached Machias, I also reached my driving limit for the day. The task was, again, to find a place for the coming night. A nice local woman walking her dog on the sidewalk directed me to the Bluebird Motel. She added that there was a good restaurant nearby.
At this point I was suffering simultaneously from the needs to eat, to pee and to get a bed for the night. Thank goodness, Shell gas station answered need #2 and was rewarded when I filled up the tank. That was also an opportunity to see the pretty waterfall running in the middle of town, oddly named “The Bad Little Waterfall”… Now the two other needs had to be satisfied.
I took up the lady’s advice and put Bluebird on the GPS. To my surprise, the owner recognized right away where I was from. He lived on a Kibbutz for a year or so following 73, when a wave of Jewish Americans apparently came to The Land, volunteering on Kibbutzim and development towns. Sometimes they ended up making Aliya. He also helped me find a decent place to get an estimate on the car damage. It was an unpretentious, but decently-run motel right on the main road, a bit pricy.
Once I got the key, I did not even bother to get into the room. I drove with all my stuff across the parking lot to Tom’s mini-Mart restaurant, hidden behind a convenience store. I would have never found it on my own without the directions I got from the motel owner, and even then it was hard to find.
The atmosphere at Tom’s was local and cozy and most clients seemed regulars. The ordering procedure was complicated, but everybody seemed familiar with it. You paid at the convenience store after getting papers from the waiters, then got the food at the restaurant side. The seafood itself was superb and very cheap, the guys serving and cooking were very helpful and “cool”, and the experience in its totality helped me to settle down and relax after a long day driving.
All Those Lights and Buzzes - Missing my Tent
In contrast, the room was costly for what it offered, but was decent and clean: 81$ for a very mundane room, no added services. Motels such as this used to cost 40-50$ in the 90s.
I had a hard time figuring out the heater, but there were a good-sized desk, plugs and Wi-Fi. Once I tired of the computer, I hit the bed. That night made me miss the tent, again! Except for the cold night in du Bic and the “jackal night” in New Hampshire, I slept in the tent like a baby in its womb, undisturbed by sounds or lights. In contrast, here lights shone or flickered from several electrical appliances in the room; streetlights outside were a disturbance and motor sounds penetrated the room into the wee hours.
All in all, sleeping in the tent with the wonderful mattress Jim lent me, was in many ways a better, healthier experience, even in the rain. The couch surfing, B&B and hostel experiences I had were at least homey and atmospheric. This motel was neither.
Oct 4th,2016 , Machias
In the morning I woke up to smells of car exhaust and the sound of a pickup truck running its engine next to the adjacent room. I followed suit, picked myself up as fast as possible and set off.
The next stop was the car shop the motel owner recommended. I got to Ellsworth Collision and Service Center, was greeted a bit coldly as the guys were busy with previous engagements. Despite that, once the expert looked at the car, he gave me a very low estimate of the damage, much lower than the guy in New Hampshire. He quickly printed it out and with the document in hand I continued to my next destination: Acadia National Park.