2013 … A Dream Year

angel  004What a year!  We traveled a total of 9,448 miles in Island Girl, from Florida to Maine to Canada, then south and west reaching Arizona by the end of the year.  We visited 18 states and 4 Canadian provinces.  In October we reached a couple of milestones:  one year of fulltiming and one year of blogging.

Whew!  Here’s a month-by-month recap of our dream year:

January – visited with friends and family in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale.

February – stepped back into nature at Everglades National Park.

March – a nice long stay in Funky Key West for ocean fun and an awesome air show.

April – a busy month: first north and west to the Gulf Coast of Florida for more family time, then back east to the John F. Kennedy Space Center and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, north to St. Augustine, and north again to the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia and the low country of South Carolina, and finally to Atlanta to see old friends.

May – visited the Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Washington, D.C., then ended the month in New York City and upstate New York where we visited more family and friends.

June – a quick stop in Boston and then on to beautiful Maine.

Here was our route for the first half of the year.

July – crossed the border into Canada on the 1st, and spent the month in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.  Discovered absolutely astounding people and places.

August – visited idyllic Prince Edward Island, buggy Kouchibuguac National Park in New Brunswick, then over to Quebec to the gorgeous and oh so French Gaspé Peninsula.

September – visited the St. Lawrence River in Quebec where we saw an amazing number of whales and concluded our fantastic Canadian summer in charming Quebec City, then crossed the border back to the U.S. to enjoy the beautiful Vermont autumn.

October – continued leaf-peeping in Vermont, then began our westward journey with stops at Niagara Falls, then Cincinnati, Ohio, Louisville, Kentucky,St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri, visiting friends and family along the way.

November – a stop in Denver, where the journey began, to get annual checkups for all and check in with friends and family.  Then south to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

December – another busy month.  Traveled around New Mexico, south to Albuquerque, then further south to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge and Las Cruces, then crossed the border to Arizona and ended our most unforgettable year in Tucson.

And here was our route for the second half

Some things we learned:

We ran a little hot this year, with an average stay of 8 nights at our 45 stops, not complaining, it was fabulous, but we’d like to slow it down a bit this year and try staying longer in each place.

We set a goal of no more than four hours driving time between stops and for the most part kept to it; averaging 185 miles per trip, but a couple of the trips were still way too long.

denver  038We stayed too far north too late into the year, and plan to head south earlier next year to avoid frigid cold and snow (although the falling snow was beautiful).

Crossing from the east coast to the west coast really took a toll on us, we were tired puppies by the time we reached Denver, and plan to stay in the West next year.

Our planning paid off in some fabulous campsites, on the other hand, we discovered that it’s best to have a balance of planned and unplanned stops.

Re-connecting with family and friends, and making new friends along the way has been one of the most important parts of our journey.

NYE2014  002And we learned to be grateful each and every day, we are so fortunate!

We wish you all a very Happy  and Healthy New Year in 2014!

~ Brenda, Hector and Angel

Niagara Falls

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niagara  001Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve wanted to visit Niagara Falls.  And even though we lived in New York City for awhile, my family didn’t have the opportunity to take the trip at that time. Later in life, other places captured my interest, and I moved on.niagara  002

But now that we’d spent some time on the east coast, it was time to take care of this childhood wish.  So Hector and I planned a short stop in Niagara Falls on the way from Southern Vermont to Cincinnati, Ohio.niagara  028

Four Mile Creek Campground in Youngstown, New York, just north of Buffalo, was quite lovely and our site looked out over Lake Ontario.

niagara  006niagara  003niagara  007Niagara Falls is actually three waterfalls, American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls on the American side, and Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side.

Walking into the park from the parking lot on the American side, I was surprised to immediately hear the sound of the falls, and to actually see them shortly after that.  I’m used to hiking to waterfalls and had no idea what to expect.  But this area is very developed with a sidewalk along the side of the Niagara River and by the waterfall, parking lots, gift shops etc.

niagara  004In spite of the highly developed surroundings, the falls are a very impressive sight.  The sound alone makes you appreciate the power of the water tumbling down from the river.   And the rapids just above the falls are pretty impressive as well.  But at times the falls seem surreal in this “theme-park” like setting.niagara  015

niagara  010We purchased tickets for the Cave of the Winds, one of the “attractions”.  The name of the attraction refers to a cave that collapsed years ago.  The attraction now includes an elevator ride down to a series of walkways designed for a very close look and feel of the American and Bridal Veil Falls. niagara  014

The highest portion of the boardwalk is about ten feet from Bridal Veil Falls.  And since the walkways would be damaged by ice in winter they are torn down and rebuilt every season!niagara  013niagara  012

A rain poncho and rubber sandals (mandatory) are included with the entry to Cave of the Winds, but I highly recommend wearing a rain jacket underneath the poncho.  If you climb to the top walkway, it’s a very, very wet experience, so it’s also important to be mindful of camera equipment.niagara  009niagara  008

niagara  016niagara  017It was a very cloudy day but we signed up to go out on “Maid of the Mist” boat cruise anyway, a longtime tradition at Niagara Falls. niagara  040

niagara  018niagara  019niagara  020These boats cruise past the American and Bridal Veil Falls (too rocky to get too close to), and over to the Canadian side, where the boat stops for a few exhilarating minutes right in front of Horseshoe Falls.  Horseshoe Falls are known for the mist they generate, sometimes creating a cloud above the waterfall.niagara  022

It’s relatively short, but highly recommended.  And in spite of the ponchos you WILL get absolutely drenched.  So plan accordingly.niagara  021

niagara  023Maid of the Mist boats leave from both the American and Canadian side and have the same exact route, but the tickets from the American side are a little less expensive.niagara  025

While on the boat, we heard the “Miracle of Niagara” story of a boy who’d fallen off a boat above the rapids (there is literally a line way up river where the water goes from calm to rapids).   He came down the rapids and falls unprotected except for a life vest and was rescued by someone on the Maid of the Mist.  And survived.   Unbelievable.niagara  026

A tradition of people who intentionally went down the falls started in 1829 when someone who called himself “the Yankee Leapster” jumped from a high tower to the gorge below the falls and survived.  Then, in 1901, a 63 year old teacher was the first person to go over the falls in a barrel.  It was a publicity stunt and she survived.niagara  049

niagara  029niagara  050niagara  048We’d heard that the views from the bridge across to Canada and from the Canadian side were even better than the views from the American side.  So the next day, we walked over to Canada across the bridge, figuring that going through immigration and customs on foot would be much easier than doing so in a car.  Especially since we always carry a lot of “stuff” piled up in our car.

And we were right, after the approximately ¼ mile walk across the bridge, it only took a couple of minutes to get through immigration.  And there were some great views from the bridge.  Not to mention that “walking to Canada” was kind of cool.

There is a bus you can take that tours the falls and a couple of other sites, it’s one of those “hop on, hop off” affairs.  We didn’t want to pay extra for stuff we weren’t going to see, so we took the approximately one mile walk over to Horseshoe Falls.niagara  051

niagara  049niagara  044On the way, there are great views of the American and Bridal Veil Falls.  And Hector and I agreed that Horseshoe Falls were even more impressive than American Falls.   Surprisingly, the Canadian side is just as touristy (if not more so) than the American side, and we opted out of the “attractions”.  So we just walked around to different viewpoints to gawk at the falls.
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niagara  034niagara  033niagara  042niagara  041niagara  045niagara  046And we learned more about daredevil traditions.  Wire walking across the gorge began in 1859 and continued through 1896.  Then, in June, 2012, Nik Wallenda became the first person to walk across the falls in 116 years.  He walked across 1,800 feet of tightrope near the brink of Horseshoe Falls, further upstream than previous walkers.  According to Mr. Wallenda, it was the longest unsupported tightrope walk in history.  He carried his passport on his walk, and was required to present it when he reached the Canadian side of the falls. Amazing.niagara  039niagara  043niagara  038

niagara  032Walking back towards the bridge to the U.S., we stopped by the Skylon Tower to explore the possibility of riding to the top, but it got really cloudy once again, and we held off for a possible return trip that evening.  At 775 feet in height, I imagine the view must be fantastic on a clear day.  While in the tower, we succumbed to a touristy activity, having a photo taken of us “going down the falls”.

It was quite a full day but we still maintained the possibility of returning later that evening to see the falls lit up with colored lights.  And once again getting through immigration on the U.S. side of the bridge was a cinch.niagara  047

That evening it rained quite a bit, and we didn’t return to Canada.  But I finally got to see Niagara Falls and they were beautiful.

~ Brenda

One Year Fulltiming!

 

Leaving Colorado 1

Leaving Colorado 2It’s true, we’ve now passed the one-year mark since we began our journey.  It has been a rich and full experience and yet time has passed very quickly.

Before I forget, I’ll answer a question that was asked just before we left:  What if we don’t like it?  Well, we love it.  Even though the first time I woke up in Island Girl knowing that I’d be living here for a while, my first thought was – What have I done? – I quickly came to love it and have never looked back.Isl Grl Redo  004

In fact, I was surprised at how easily I adjusted, particularly to the confined quarters. Hector and I decorated our new little 400 square foot home just as we had our other homes, and we really enjoy our interior space.

And we’re also really happy with our upgrades and our custom office space.   Hector is able to work on his Apple computer (the photographer gets the big computer) in our comfy chair by the desk, while I work on our laptop on our comfy couch simultaneously.halifax

Island Girl feels downright roomy with her 39’ length, and we have plenty of storage space.

And the journey has far exceeded our expectations. We’ve spent quality time with friends and family across the country, many of whom we’d not seen in waaay too long.  And other friends have come to visit.

Along the way we’ve also met lots of different people, learned new things, and just enjoyed spending quality time together.  We’ve visited a total of 14 states, including parts of the Midwest, South and Northeast.

We’ve experienced the lovely Arkansas autumn, Buffalo National River  024the fabulous gulf coast of Florida,Henderson Beach   080

the wild and subtle beauty of the Everglades,flower  024

and the wilder side of Florida in general. Ft Myers  056

We returned to the “black” waters of the Okefenokee Swamp,Swamp 011

and to the Great Smoky Mountains.Smokies  007

We visited the Outer Banks of North Carolina, OBX  055

and spent the beginning of our summer on the breathtaking coast of Maine.Penobscot  169

keys  021We traveled to extreme opposites; in Key West, Florida, we stood at the southernmost point of the U.S.sunset  027

And months later made it to the furthest northeast state of Maine.boothbay harbor  095

We spent just under 12 weeks in Canada, where we visited four provinces and learned a ton about our neighbor to the north.

There we saw the amazing tides of the Fundy Coast,New Brunswick117

the unique rock formations and the beautiful lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove,peggy 25

and the rugged beauty of Cape Breton Island.cape breton  030cape breton  011We traveled to the southern tip of Nova Scotia, brier 50along the gorgeous landscapes of Prince Edward Island,

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and the spectacular Gaspé Peninsula,Perce  073

where we visited its Northern Gannet colony in Ile de Bonaventure.Perce  049

We saw the whales of the St. Lawrence River,st lawrence  115

and took many walks around beautiful Québec City.quebec city  046

And Angel visited rivers, lakes, rocky and sandy beaches, forests, went boating on various boats and ferries, and even went whale watching.River Dog  006

In total, Island Girl traveled 8,534 miles this first year.

And Hector and I have grown even closer during this journey.  Living together in such tight quarters can bring out the best or the worst in couples and sometimes both.  We’ve been married for a very long time and are very comfortable spending lots of of our time together while traveling.  Even after all of that we had a few grumpy patches along the road, but ultimately found our groove.

And, interestingly, some of the working aspects of RVing helped us to strengthen our partnership.  I named a previous post about leaving and arriving at our destinations “The Departure Dance”.  And I really do believe that there is a choreography that you both create and “perform” on a regular basis.  But it’s important that the choreography feels right for both of you.

That extends to the day-to-day chores and responsibilities as well.  Learning to support each other in a way that takes into account each of your likes, dislikes, talents and skills can make the journey much more enjoyable.

Rv Repair SedaliaAnd, not surprising to any RVers out there, we’ve discovered that things tend to go wrong in the most inconvenient of times.

The first time was on the first week we were on the road, when our water inlet broke.  Another time, our refrigerator broke down on a Sunday, the day before we planned to cross the border into Canada.

The first Hector fixed himself, the second, we found someone who was able to fix it.  But we learned that when things go wrong (not if, but when), we should:

  • Stay calm
  • Ask for advice and/or help, there is a very helpful community out there
  • Be flexible
  • Have or make a plan B

footAt the same time, it’s been difficult to be away from most of our friends and family in Denver, and we really miss them.  But we can always visit and plan to soon.

And there have been other challenges along the way; minor medical issues and having to figure out which doctor to go to in unfamiliar places.  The same for finding veterinarians.

And, less critical challenges like not having access to cell phones, internet or TV (sometimes a good thing) in some places.

But right now we wouldn’t trade this lifestyle for anything else.  And we are continually learning and growing.  For me this blog has been a huge learning experience.  I’m not the most tech savvy person, and when we began this blog, we knew nothing about blogging.  But I took on the task of figuring out how to get started, and spent several frustrating weeks using the process of elimination to figure out certain aspects of the blog.

Well, we just passed the 100 post mark on the blog.  And it’s is another example of working as a team.  Hector is in charge of the photography, I write the posts.  Then we combine the two.  From organizing how to divide the subjects to creating the final product, we support each other.   Sometimes we collaborate from the beginning, other times we work independently and get together at the end. The blog is another choreography.

departures  009

When I started writing this post, Hector wrote me a little note with some numbers and fun facts from the year.  He ended the note with “i love you still”.  And I feel the same way.

And the journey continues.

~ Brenda

RVing in Eastern Canada

Our Canadian summer finally came to an end.  And leaving was bittersweet, especially after having spent twelve weeks there.leaf_flag_1200x600_wm-1024x512

Going back to the day we crossed the border into Canada, here are some things we learned that other RVers may benefit from:

  • It’s a good practice to check websites and forums for the latest information on requirements and restrictions not just in advance but just before crossing the border into Canada.
  • More often that not, there are at least some restrictions on produce, it’s best not to try to bring any in.
  • Liquor over the limit is subject to duties, as advised by RV forums we identified ourselves as fulltimers and told them we had some open bottles, and they waived duties on those.   We brought in cheap wines from Trader Joe’s and even after paying duties  (determined by the average price you paid) they still wound up costing less than wine prices in the Canadian liquor stores.
  • Liquor laws differ in the different provinces as they do here in the States.  In Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island wine, beer and other liquor was available only at state liquor stores.
  • We like our wine so were unhappy to find that in those provinces there was a limited variety of wines, and prices were near double what we’re used to paying.  Canadian wines were cheapest.  Beer and liquor were also expensive.
  • In Quebec, however, wine and beer were available in grocery stores, and there was much more variety.  Although prices were still higher than in the U.S., they were noticeably cheaper than the other provinces.  Note to self:  Start out the next trip to Eastern Canada in  Quebec 🙂
  • Fuel is sold in liters and prices were 20-30% more than U.S.  prices.  We’d not adjusted our budget for this, but will do so next time.   Also important to plan routes to avoid excessive mileage.
  • Food and toiletries were slightly more expensive, another budget adjustmet.
  • There were many rural areas that had very small grocery stores, and small city or large they may not offer the brands you’re accustomed to.  So if a specific brand of a particular product matters, stock up.  For example, I brought enough of my brand contact lens solution to last the entire stay, as I’m allergic to some brands.
  • The larger grocery stores do sell many of the same brands we have here in the States.   But some different brands and items, particularly in Quebec with its French flavor, are very interesting and tasty, so make sure to to check out the local delicacies.
  • New Brunswick123Needless to say, seafood is abundant and fresh all over the maritimes.  Often you can get things harvested locally and even that same day.  Oysters, mussels, scallops, haddock, salmon, snow crab, lobster, etc.  All reasonably priced and delicious.  Enjoy!

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  • annapolis 70Farmers markets are also abundant, from the small hamlets to the larger towns.  They offer wonderful locally grown or made foods, prices are reasonable (except for high end specialty items, like artisan chocolates – yum!) and are a wonderful experience.  Unique local crafts as well.
  • Mid-July to mid-August are peak times for RV travel, reserve ahead if possible.
  • Paying for purchases in cash is best, as many credit cards will charge you a currency conversion fee for each transaction.
  • Canada stopped using pennies earlier this year, but pricing didn’t change.  So prices are rounded up or down to the nearest nickel as needed.
  • Our card worked in some ATMs and not others, so it’s best not to wait until the last minute to get cash.
  • 0511-1007-2118-0632_Cartoon_of_a_Man_Running_and_Screaming_with_a_Swarm_of_Mosquitoes_on_His_Face_clipart_imageMosquitoes can be brutal in certain areas, bring repellent with you.
  • In Quebec, speaking a little French (or trying) is helpful, especially in the more rural areas.  Although English speakers can be easily found, we met numerous folks who spoke none.

Forillon  044

  • It’s even more important than normal to check driving routes in advance, we encountered lots of steep grades in Quebec.
  • There is a short paving season here, be prepared for some delays due to construction.
  • Canadians are generous people, don’t be shy about asking for their advice or for help if you need it.

Parks Canada partnering logo

  • Parka, the park mascot

    Parka, the park mascot

    Canada has a wonderful National Parks System. and many National Historic Sites.  There is an entrance fee per person per day ($4 to perhaps $10) and there is also an annual pass available.  We bought two of the annual passes which quickly paid for themselves.

  • And, last but not least, it’s a beautiful place, staying longer is better.

Now for our experience crossing the border back to the U.S:

We’d read in the RV blogs that crossing the border back to the U.S. could be more complicated than crossing into Canada, so I was a bit apprehensive.

But we prepared well after reading all of the information on the various websites.  We had no produce, no milk, no eggs, no meat nor poultry with us.  We did have a couple of unopened sausages with labels from Canada, which were supposedly allowed.

This time around, we made sure not to buy any liquor within a certain amount of time from crossing the border, so we only had one bottle of wine, a couple of beers and a few open bottles of hard liquor.  I’d made a list of exactly what we had.  If opened liquor counted as full bottles (which it shouldn’t), we’d only be slightly over the allowed amount of 1.5 liters per person.

quebec city  101quebec city  10226-us_badgeWe had our passports, car and RV papers, and Angel’s rabies certificate at the ready.  So we confidently drove up to the border at Stanstead, where, by the way, there were only a couple of other cars.  A very quiet border crossing.

Well, Hector started out by getting in the wrong lane, which the customs officer immediately let him know.  Oops.  The officer then asked Hector to park the RV and come into the office.

So Angel and I waited calmly.  A little while later, another customs officer came over to the RV and said he needed to come on board to make sure we didn’t have any extra people with us.  Angel of course laid happily in his way, but he was nice and said “no problem, I  love dogs”.  But he did ask me to leave the coach and Angel could stay or leave with me.  But Angel is a smart girl and she dashed out the door after me.

While walking Angel I wondered – how does he check for extra people?  Since the slides are closed he couldn’t open the closet without climbing up on our bed on top of a pile of coats.  Would he do that or did he have X-ray vision goggles?  What exactly was he doing in our coach?  I’ll never know.

It seemed like a long time passed, and he finally came out and said everything was fine.  Hector was still not back.  A little while later Hector returned saying everything was ok – he told them we were a bit over on liquor and had the detailed list we’d compiled at the ready and they didn’t bother to look at it or charge duty.  This is why it’s always good to be honest.

I-love-CanadaSo we bid adieu to Quebec and Canada and entered Vermont.

But we’ll be back someday, eastern Canada was spectacular in more ways than one.

~ Brenda

Québec City

quebec city  002New France.  A 400 year old city with a complex history that includes changing hands several times between the French and the British.  Québec CIty (aka Québec), once the capital of the Dominion of Canada is now the capital of the province of Québec.

quebec city  003quebec city  085Québec, the 11th largest city in Canada, is also the only fortified city north of Mexico.  The walls of the city were made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.quebec city  004

We stayed in Lévis, a town across the St. Lawrence River which is fairly narrow at this point.  This location was close to a 15-minute ferry ride over to Québec.  A great option, as driving and parking in the city can be challenging.

There were more weather changes while here, including a couple of rainy days.  And now the weather was starting to get a bit chilly.  Fall was in the air.

quebec city  046quebec city  005Crossing over on the ferry with the locals was really fun, after a few days it became our “commute”.  We spent most of our time in the old city, la vielle ville, our favorite section.  It’s reminiscent of a European city with cobblestone streets, stone buildings, old churches, parks and gardens and of course, the walls surrounding the city.  And VERY French.quebec city  041quebec city  051quebec city  006quebec city  025quebec city  027quebec city  026quebec city  048

quebec city  043The city also has many cafes, shops and, of course, the Chateau Frontenac, the most photographed hotel in the world.  It’s a beautiful structure and an outstanding landmark.quebec city  009

quebec city  010The first day we arrived, we just happened upon the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec, an elite cycling event that’s part of an effort to bring international sports events to the city.  We saw the lead racers go by as they made one of the final turns of the race.  Then the peloton and the team cars came zooming by.  SO cool.

quebec city  015On Saturday, we spent the entire morning at the Marché du Vieux-Port de Québec, the farmers market, a permanent structure that’s open daily, and has additional vendors on Saturdays.  This was one of our “top” farmers markets in Canada. quebec city  021

Lots of produce, cheeses, sausage, meats, fresh seafood, jellies, beautiful pies and other baked goods, fresh pasta, sauces and much more.  They also offer breakfast and lunch options.  And we discovered one more new local dish – meat pie – delicious.

 

quebec city  055We also visited the Citadel, a very impressive structure, to see the changing of the guard only to find that they’d stopped it a week earlier (contrary to what the tourist office told us) – the guard changes only during the peak tourist season.  They did offer a tour, and I opted out since I’ve seen so many forts lately and wasn’t up for another full blown fort tour just yet.  So instead we walked around the beautiful park on the Plains of Abraham right outside the Citadel, which also happens to be where the British defeated the French in 1758.quebec city  054

We made it a point to go see the Joan of Arc statue, donated by an anonymous American.  Then, as we walked in one of the parks we happened upon a mommy’s exercise group. With the trainer holding one of the babies.  Cute.quebec city  057

Canadian Sugar Maple

Canadian Sugar Maple

quebec city  059quebec city  060quebec city  056The Quebec Parliament building was pretty impressive.  With some very animated statuary!

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Visiting the shops was also fun.  There are really nice ones, offering beautiful clothes, accessories, leather goods and various forms of art.  And there are also the requisite tourist schlock shops.

quebec city  036

quebec city  032 quebec city  038Another fun activity for us was people watching.   There were musicians playing in the street, people sitting out in the cafes, tourists from different countries and people just going about their day.quebec city  069quebec city  031quebec city  084quebec city  028quebec city  037quebec city  074

quebec city  034quebec city  030quebec city  035

hmmm ...

hmmm …

quebec city  008quebec city  007quebec city  078quebec city  052quebec city  089quebec city  086And of course we just had to visit the Chateau Frontenac, so we went to the bar one evening and had a couple of drinks.  Great martinis!  Followed by a lovely evening stroll.

Samuel de Champlain .

Samuel de Champlain .

quebec city  087quebec city  088quebec city  075quebec city  092

quebec city  049quebec city  050Last, but not least, there was the food.  The French of course can do food.  And the Québécois are no different.quebec city  072

quebec city  073quebec city  098At times, we felt like we were back in France.  Although the locals here were more able and willing to speak English than other places we visited in Québec, the French ambiance still remained.  In fact Hector more than once started a sentence with “here in France” before catching himself.

quebec city  042quebec city  083quebec city  080quebec city  040quebec city  044quebec city  071

quebec city  081quebec city  099

Ketchup flavored Lays Chips - available only in Canada!

Ketchup Lays Potato Chips – available only in Canada!

Québec offers something for everyone; history, romance, interesting architecture, great food, beautiful art, music, elegant shopping, boating on the St. Lawrence, bicycling, parks, trails and of course, everything French.

quebec city  045j-aime-le-love-quebec-131319510685A perfect ending to our Canadian adventure.  Next we are headed back to the USA for leaf season in Vermont (derived from the French for “green mountains”).

~ Brenda

The Road to Québec City

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned that I would share more information about our Wi-Fi situation at Les Bergeronnes,  Well, this  was one of the campgrounds that didn’t have Wi-Fi.  And back when we entered Canada, we turned the data settings on our iPhones and our iPad (which we normally use as a hot spot when we don’t have access to Wi-Fi) off because data is very expensive for us outside of the U.S.  This meant that when we had no access to Wi-Fi, we had no other options.

The good news was that there was one place in the Les Bergeronnes that offered Wi-Fi.  It was kind of a snack/gift shop in one of the interpretive centers.  And one day we did get to use their Wi-Fi while we had some coffee there but unfortunately, the place shut down every day at 6 p.m. and most days we were out and about until after that time.

driving  001Fortunately, Hector and I discovered that we could still access the Wi-Fi after 6 from the marina  parking lot adjacent to the snack shop.  And there was also a pretty view.  So we parked there on a couple of evenings with our laptops to use the Wi-Fi (our little secret, okay?).

Well, on the evening before we left, we’d gone there to try to catch up on the blog, look up weather and check e-mail.  As we worked on our laptops, the sun started to go down and we decided to head home.   But the car wouldn’t start.

After a couple of tries, we realized that the battery had gone dead.  We’re still not sure what caused the battery to die so quickly.

In any case, now the sun had gone down and it was pitch black and foggy on the road back to town.  And it was over a mile to the one establishment we thought might be open; the grocery store.  But before Hector got on his bike to ride up a steep hill in the dark, I decided to call the office at our campground.

When I explained that our car was dead – the girl at the office immediately said “let me make a few calls and see what I can do”.  I didn’t even have to ask her.  And she didn’t even ask what we were doing at the marina in the middle of nowhere at this hour.

About fifteen minutes after our conversation, we’d not heard back from her so Hector took off on his bike.  Then a few minutes later a gentleman arrived – Hector saw him drive by and turned back.   The gentleman apologized for not speaking very good English, jump started our car, and after some polite but limited conversation, left.  The girl from the office sent him, she’d tried to call me back but our minimal cell signal had fizzled out.

VERY nice.  Yet another example of the kindness of Canadians.

driving  007driving  006driving  005Well, we did get to check weather, and the forecast was for fog to continue.  I was concerned.  During that night, I woke up a couple of times and heard the foghorn sounding, so the fog had actually gotten thicker.  In a strange way, I find that the sound of a foghorn can be calming, but it wasn’t relaxing for me that night.

That next morning there was indeed fog.  Hector said he would drive very slowly and pull over if the conditions didn’t feel right.  So off we headed out of Les Bergeronnes.

Island Girl was about to take her third ferry.  It was a short free ferry across from Tadoussac that crosses the mouth of the Saguenay Fjord.  The ferry runs every 20 minutes and is basically considered part of the highway.

So we didn’t plan to get there at any particular time.  Luckily, right as we drove up, we were boarded and took off within minutes.

driving  008driving  009driving  010driving  011driving  012driving  013Remember those steep inclines we avoided when we changed our plans leaving the Gaspé Peninsula?  Well, we found them on the way to Québec City.  So now we had fog AND very steep roads.  The fog was variable, though, and would thin out at points, and those clear patches were helpful.  But the roads were steep alright.  Up and down we went.  With 10 and 11% grades common.  But at least they were not too curvy.

driving  014driving  016driving  015driving  018driving  017So Hector continued to take it really easy but he had to downshift and use the engine brake continually.  Island Girl isn’t exactly a great climber and at some points we were doing 20 miles per hour in second gear.

The foggy conditions also continued throughout the drive, sometimes as a thick fog, others as just a mist.

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Absolutely no idea what the sign on the right means! Car going to be airborne??

driving  021driving  020Moving slowly as we did, the drive took a couple of hours longer than the GPS estimate.  But we still pulled into our campground outside Québec City at a reasonable hour, since we left very early.  We were both pretty exhausted from a stressful drive though.

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Looking across to QuébecCity, we could barely see it.  So we just settled in at our campground, had some Thai takeout dinner and called it a night.

Québec would be there in the morning.

~ Brenda

Les Baleines Du Saint-Laurent

“Il faut aller voir” (We must go and see).

The motto of Jacques Cousteau’s famous exploration ship Calypso.st lawrence  087

st lawrence  091Hector and I both learned to love marine life by watching Jacques Cousteau documentaries when we were kids.  And we think that whales are one of the most interesting animals found in the oceans.  That’s why we visited the St. Lawrence River.

st lawrence  109So why are there so many whales in this area?  The waters of the Saguenay River, the St. Lawrence River and the deep Laurentian Trench (which funnels cold, saline ocean water westward) converge at the mouth of the Saguenay Fjord and are violently forced upwards by the abrupt end of the trench.  This is called upwelling, and brings the nutrient-rich waters from the deep up to the surface, triggering an explosion of life forms that are the base of the food chain.  A total of 13 species of whales may be found here at different times of the year.

what-is-the-largest-whale-comparison-chart-full

saguenay logoThis area has been protected and designated the Saguenay – St Lawrence Marine Park,  The park encompasses the area near where the Saguenay fjord enters the St Lawrence River.st lawrence  005

st lawrence  001In fact, the road east of Tadoussac is called the Route des Baleines – the Whale Route.  The route stretches for 560 miles along the remote north shore of the Flueve St-Laurent and over many rocky headllands that whales sometimes swim by.  So the road has many overlooks where people can whale watch from the shore.  st lawrence  006st lawrence  004

st lawrence  003st lawrence  002st lawrence  009st lawrence  008st lawrence  017Our campground was east of Tadoussac in the town of Les Bergeronnes.  We had read that this area, the Lower Estuary of the Saguenay National Marine Park, was especially productive for whale watching.   And a couple that was tent camping by the river at our campground spotted whales from their camp one morning.

But both of us also enjoy being out on the water and were very excited about going out in a zodiac again.  As Jacques Cousteau once said, “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever”.

We also knew we wanted to go out in a small boat because the larger whale watching boats, including one that accomodates 600 passengers, just don’t provide the same close up experience.

After interviewing a couple of our top choices, we chose the Croisières-Neptune whale watching company because we got a good vibe from the staff and also because they had both open and covered boats.  Since the weather was iffy and pretty cool, that was a good option to have.

We also knew we wanted to go out twice, so Hector negotiated a special rate right off the bat.  We went out in the covered boat the first morning, a rather chilly morning.

Fin Whale

Fin Whale

After being out a while, we got a brief look at a Fin Whale, the second largest animal on the planet, so that was pretty exciting as well as a first for us.

Fin whales have an asymmetrical color scheme, one side of their face is black, the other gray.  They are also the fastest of all whales.

Fin Whale /Rorqual Comun

st lawrence  011There is an interesting system of communication about whale sightings to all the captains of whale watching boats.  That’s how our captain heard about a Humpback Whale sighting and then headed over to where the Humpback Whales had been spotted.

st lawrence  018Even though Humpback Whales aren’t endangered, there is still a restriction on how close boats can get to them, and to any whale – about 100 yards.  But, if your boat is stopped and the whales change course and come to you, that is acceptable.

whale_humpback_diagram

Rorqual Bosse in French

Humpbacks also put on quite a show as they almost always show their tail flukes when they dive.

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st lawrence  154We were fortunate to get a pretty close look at the Humpbacks, but not as close as a zodiac directly in front of us, who got to see the fluke up close and personal as one of the Humpbacks dove right in front of it.

st lawrence  023 st lawrence  024 st lawrence  025 st lawrence  026 st lawrence  027 st lawrence  028 st lawrence  029st lawrence  038The weather was supposed to get colder and rainy, so we’d planned to return the next morning, but when we ended our initial cruise it actually looked pretty nice, so we got suited up in our thermal safety suits and turned right around and went out in the open Zodiac.st lawrence  039st lawrence  064

blue whalest lawrence  065And it’s a good thing we went back out just then, because on that tour we spotted a Blue Whale, the largest animal ever in the history of the planet.  The Blue Whale is an endangered species; the North Atlantic population only numbers 250 to 300 individuals of reproductive age and a few calves.  Ten or so individuals visit the St. Lawrence Estuary, and they leave between September and October.

Blue whales in the Northern Hemisphere grow to about 98 feet and reach a maximum weight of about 200 tons (!!!).  Because it’s an endangered species, boats have the same restrictions as for the Beluga Whales, they must not get closer than 400 yards.

But we could tell this was a massive animal.  We got a good look (through binoculars and long lens) at the blowholes at the front, then a long look at it’s back as it cruised along, and finally the dorsal fin (tiny on Blue Whales) near the tail.  We knew we were really fortunate to see one but didn’t realize until later just how lucky.

Blue whale head and blowhole

Blue whale head and blowhole.  The blow can be 30 feet high!

Blowhole with "splashguard"

Blowhole with “splashguard”

Blue whale back

Blue whale back

more back

More back of the “Rorqual Blue”

yet more back ... wait for it ...

yet more back … wait for it …

Near the back of the whale

Near the back of the whale

Blue whale dorsal fin

Blue whale dorsal fin.  AMAZING!

This was an outstanding whale watching day.  You could look out in the distance and see multiple blows, some of which you could hear as well.  Whales were everywhere.

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The pectoral fin of the Humpback is the longest appendage in the animal kingdom

The pectoral fin of the Humpback is the longest appendage in the animal kingdom

st lawrence  043st lawrence  044st lawrence  075st lawrence  076There were also a few rain showers in the area.  We got caught in one towards the end of our outing and things got a bit interesting for a few minutes.st lawrence  077st lawrence  100

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Well, after all that excitement we decided to go out again in a couple of days.  We enjoyed the open boat more and with the thermal suits and some layers underneath we stayed pretty warm.  Also, the smaller boat was much quieter with a four stroke outboard so you can really hear the whale’s blow even at quite a distance.

st lawrence  060So Hector once again negotiated a nice rate for us, and we returned.  The weather was beautiful.  That morning we saw two Humpback Whales, one of which swam right alongside of us.  We got a really close look at the head, the blowholes (two of them … like nostrils),  like a prehistoric monster coming towards us.  Unbelievable.
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Minke_bwWe also spotted a Minke Whale.

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Minke Whale / Petit Rorqual

st lawrence  102st lawrence  103st lawrence  104And when we returned after that tour we decided to go out again.  By now the tour operator was pretty amused at our high appetite for whale watching.

Like Hector said “I just don’t get tired of seeing them”.  Whales are so majestic and mysterious and there is still so much we don’t understand about them, I don’t get tired of them either.  So we turned right around and went back out.

On the way out, we spotted some Beluga Whales, so bright white!st lawrence  081

st lawrence  106st lawrence  107We also saw another humpback lazily feeding and followed her around a while.  While watching the Humpback, we spotted some Harbor Porpoises, which are also Cetaceans and included in the 13 species of whales that visit this area.st lawrence  146

Well, we’d spotted six different species of whales at this point and were pretty happy.  But the whale watching operator offered us an extra special repeat customer discount to go out a fifth time.  We didn’t commit.  But the next day, we headed over there to check out the conditions.  It was foggy and pretty cold, and the captain said he wasn’t going to go out.

But there was a couple there who only had one chance to see whales, and they asked them to please take them out, they were willing to take a chance on not seeing anything.   So, what the heck, we went as well.

st lawrence  152st lawrence  153st lawrence  151Visibility was terrible but we got a radio notification of a Humpback Whale and headed over there.  The sea had gotten a bit angry, and there were some pretty high swells, but just over the swells, we saw her (I call them all her).  She was not spending a lot of time on top, but diving quite a bit.  And every time they dive, you lose them.  Many times they change direction or travel much further out.

Great view of the blowhole

Great view of the blowhole

But this one was sticking around and she came up right behind our boat.  Awesome.  The sound of the “blow” when it comes up right next to the boat is startlingly loud!  Seeing her so close was amazing.  For a foggy day, this was an excellent sighting.

Mssr. La Rouche and Julie

M. La Rouche and Julie

st lawrence  144This was our last day, and the weather really wasn’t very nice, so we decided to cap the whale watching at five times :-).  But we had tons of fun with the staff at  Croisières-Neptune.  They were really nice people but they probably thought we were crazy Americans.  As it turns out, five outings by one customer was a record for them.  Crazy Americans indeed!

That afternoon we visited CIMM, the Centre di’Interpretation des Mammiferes Marins.  It’s a wonderfully educational museum, fairly compact, but packed with information.  The museum is an arm of GREMM, a non-profit organization dedicated to scientific research on the marine mammals of the St. Lawrence and education for the conservation of the marine environment.st lawrence  140