Crossing borders I instantaneously found myself in a different human milieu. Quebec at that particular border was not especially welcoming, but I quickly made the mental adjustments. Staying a desolate night in an off-season campground in Nicolet was a surreal experience, as I was making efforts to follow the second presidential debate on my electronic devices in pouring rain.
Gasping for Beauty
The Gaspe peninsula is a geological marvel for the professional as well as the lay person fascinated by the lay of the land. Tilted geological strata result from powerful tectonic forces. Gaspe Peninsula is one of the prime locations where the creation of the Appalachian range can be observed, the consequence of two ancient continents colliding to form a super continent.
Route 132, Gaspe Peninsula
La Crepe, Rimouski
30.9.2016, Route 132, Gaspe Peninsula
Today was a net driving day, and lots of it. I ate breakfast in Rimouski, at the rangers-recommended restaurant, “La Crepe”. I ordered a shrimp quesadilla that came with well-spiced chickpeas. It was beautifully prepared and presented, all for 11.20 USD. A bonus was a friendly waiter with perfect English and a great attitude, who told me the name Rimouski came from a First Nation name for moose, and is not a Russian name, the way it sounds. He was also very Israel-positive and said he has friends who had been there and wants to visit himself.
Humanity and Nature on Gaspe Peninsula
I am partial for Nature. Still, I found that the balance between Nature and civilization was struck well on the Gaspe Peninsula. The southern side, which is somewhat less spectacular, is heavily populated. Considering how North we are already, it is natural people would want a comfortable, relatively protected Riviera to have their waterfront houses.
Clearly, as you go north, the climate becomes prohibitive for most. The northern side, on the other hand, hosts the bulk of the natural reservations.
Only in designated natural parks like du Bic or Forillon there are “cops” for environmental protection. These people are seriously concerned with issues like light pollution, noise pollution, animal persecution, etc. The traveler coming to these parks can rest assured that there will be some continuity for the greater Life on the planet, or more precisely, for whatever is left of it. With human institutions being what they are, though, you never know if some Trump will trump all that and decide this is the place for another golf course.
From there, the GPS took me to a shortcut through highway 20, but I navigated on my own back to the 132. It was beautiful scenery. Picturesque villages with colorful houses and stone churches with steeples gave way to blue beaches French-Riviere style. Midway the long-awaited cliffs with tilted geological layers rose on the right, reminiscent of the Syrian-African fault. As I drove on, the view was dominated by forests in reds and yellows dotted by pristine lakes and ponds. Free of camps, motorboats or marinas, these were pure Nature a-la- Grand.
Small towns along the road:
Route 132 delivering expectations (see picture of cliffs at top):
Early color changes:
The following poorly-shot picture is proof this is indeed Catholic land:
Getting hungry, I stopped at a grocery store that could not or would not communicate even in basic English. I bought me some fromage (cheese) and bananas, ignoring the looks I got from everybody present. As I filled up the tank, a bunch of muscular drivers sitting in their pickup trucks gave me even more looks, of another kind. I drove on to stop at a designated picnic area by the beach and ate some canned pineapples without getting out of the car. From the window I saw gannets diving like guided missiles into the sea. Ah…
The Slaughter on the Roads
Everywhere I saw small dead animals sprawled on the roads. My breath stopped with each sighting, but of course I continued driving, as the pain and shock seeped into my nervous system.
I probably saw more dead animals on the roads in one month here than in my entire life in Israel! The only consolation is that it must indicate the existence of a still-existing rich wildlife. In Israel, you sometimes sight a jackal or a fox splayed out on the asphalt, but 90% of roadkill are city “wild” cats. It is rare to have “real” wild animals cross your path, simply because wild fauna is relatively scarce.
I find it awful that animals get killed everywhere so nonchalantly – on the roads, in slaughterhouses, and, the worst – for “sport”. Many Americans consider hunting to be their natural “right”, a way of life, an apt education for their children. It was a relief to hear how many Canadians simply “did not understand” the American love affair with guns.
Tourists in Israel are always amazed to see soldiers carrying guns in town. For the most part, they are on their way to or from the base. But guns in Israel are highly restricted. I could not get a gun if I wanted to, though sometimes I think it would not be such a bad idea. During the infamous “Knife Intifada” Israelis defended themselves with umbrellas and selfie sticks… Still, it’s better that way than having everybody weaponized, children killing other children in schools and husbands their wives.
The B&B experience
30.9.16, night. Gaspe B&B
Ma Nishtana - Gaspie Version
How is this night different from all other nights?
That on all other nights we sleep in the rain and the cold –
This night, this night
It’s a heated room…
…that on all other nights we pay $30 for a tent
Tonight it was $40 for a double bed,
Tonight, tonight, we spent an hour in the bathtub…
[based on Ma Nishtana, a traditional Passover song explaining how the Seder night is different from all others].
This Time it's a B&B
Interesting discovery: as most of us, travelers, crowd into expensive campgrounds, motel and B&B owners actually lower their prices that late in the season. Aha…
So how did I get here?
The GPS did not enable me to punch in the names of the hostels recommended and there was no phone reception. Typing “Forillon National Park”, got me nowhere. I was led out of #132 and away from the sea, but wasn’t sure that was correct.
The landscape changed into beautiful forested mountains – lakes, colored forests, but it started to darken, and I already passed my tolerable daily quota of driving (more than 400 km). The road signs said “Gaspe”. I interpreted that to mean I somehow passed the national park and arrived at Gaspe village, which is south of it… At this point I decided to look for accommodation.
The B&B was a bizarre place. A crooked church steeple towered next to it, and the place seemed to be empty. A ribbon marked “hazard” stretched between the motel and the parking lot. I parked and walked to the building, which had a Trip Advisor label glued to its door. Nobody answered the bell. I turned around, but as I reached back to the car, a man came out of the blackened house and called for my attention.
Was it me who rang the bell? I turned around, said: Yes, it was me. He said he normally charged 50 but would give me a room for just $40 (Canadian dollars!)… I did not have enough Canadian cash, and if I gave him American money I would not have enough left.
He started to show me the lobby and wanted us to sit. I did not like that, but putting my faith in the Trip Advisor sign, told him plainly that I wanted to see the rooms.
Sola and Out of Season
There was nobody else there. I asked if I would be alone. He said some people were supposed to take another room (they did not!). There were several rooms on the second floor, all decorated in common kitsch. I chose the one I considered least tacky, and with a canopy bed, something I have a weakness for since my wedding night. The guy seemed “hungry” for occupants, so he agreed I would pay by check. His card machine did not work, he said. Luckily I had a checkbook in the car (I’m organized that way).
The idea he might be “hungry” for something else was always at the back of my mind, but I decided to trust the universe and the Trip Advisor for whatever it was worth. I was still weary of him and happy he handed me the keys for the room and the front door without delay. He asked about my breakfast preferences. To the question where I was from, I answered “Maine”. In a country with crosses on the hills and shrines by the roadsides, I thought that would go down better than Israel.
The owner went shopping for my breakfast. After bringing the relevant belongings upstairs, I locked myself up in the room to enjoy a luxurious one-hour splash in the bathtub. The promised Wi-Fi did not work, but I decided to let it go, preferring to minize interactions.
Saints and Marias at the Breakfast Table
I did talk to him in the morning, but it was over breakfast. There were no vegetables except tomatoes, even though he promised to get some. I ate the eggs, toast and cheese and drank my tea under the watchful eyes of Saint Joseph, the virgin and child and some wooden cocks that were placed right on the dining table.
At that point, I was much more relaxed about him, so the conversation flowed. To my relief he told me I did not pass the park or reached the village of Gaspe. The local council put these signs everywhere and people get confused. He started to complain about municipal taxes and the nothing we, the people, get for them. I soon lost interest. Have enough of my own troubles in that category…
He talked proudly about all the stuff around (the room was very crowded). The collection was tranferred from his previous home, somewhere else in Quebec, once he decided to retire, buy this house and turn it into a hotel.
His English was perfect with an almost Yankee accent. He was proud and happy to speak it, and had interesting stories. In the past he worked as an electrician for an international company doing special projects overseas. With the American corporation he went to Siberia, Afghanistan, Australia. The Russians apparently invited the company for a certain knowhow. The same was true for Kabul.
According to him, segregation in the American south was alive and well into the 80s. He told stories about colleagues who who would go into all-black bars.Violence inevitably ensued when they stopped paying for the drinks. Oh, well…
I told him I was going to the park and wasn’t sure about the next night. Trying to tempt me back, he said there was an aurora visible from his back yard the night before. I told him I’ll keep it in mind, but this time I found the hostel and the second most wonderful park in Gaspe, Forillon...