Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

July 29, 2006. Cape Breton National Park

I finally made it out of Chéticamp and into the famous Cape Breton National Park on a Friday. I settled into a campground in the park, where I paid good money so I could have (legal) access to the showers, and then went for a walk along a quiet stream. The weather was hot, and when I got to a pool in the stream with a sign about salmon fishing rules, I decided getting in was preferable to walking. I made sure no one was around, then pulled off my shorts and my shoes, and settled into the icy tannin-stained water to splash around, play with pebbles, and cool down. It was peaceful. No one complained that I was scaring the fish away,

though perhaps I did, since I certainly didn’t see any fish. Or any people, which was probably a good thing, as sitting in streams half dressed may not be considered a normal activity by other tourists.

When I got back to my campsite a thunderstorm hit, and I settled into the van for a cozy evening out of the rain. It was still pouring in the morning, so I gave up and headed back to Chéticamp to do my laundry and splurge on a breakfast of pancakes and sausages and weak Canadian coffee. (I had far too many of those breakfasts in the Maritimes - somehow serious breakfast seemed important there. I’ll have to break myself of that habit!)

By afternoon I gave up on the weather getting better, so I set out on a hike despite the gloom. I understand that I was on a very beautiful trail, with sweeping views of the coast, headland after headland reaching out into the blue water of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. I imagined the blue sea far below me, and heeded the signs warning, in two languages, with graphic illustration, that the cliffs were steep and dangerous. I bounded down a long boardwalk and staircase to the edge of the headland, with no idea how many steps were ahead of me, or what I would have been able to see had the world not been utterly lost in fog.

There was one silver lining to that weather, though. Returning on the narrow muddy trail, I was suddenly startled to see a huge moose with a great rack of antlers looming in front of me, quite invisible until I was rather close to him. He grazed, and I gaped and clicked photos, wondering how I was ever going to get past this creature blocking my way. Eventually he shuffled off into the gloom, and I slipped past him.

I only spent one night in the park campgrounds. It didn’t take long before I realized that even in the national parks, no one cares where you camp in the Maritimes. So after my hike, I spent the night in a scenic overlook just off the road. By dusk the fog was gone, and I had a stunning view of the sea and the headlands, all the sights I hadn’t seen on the hike. The next night I stealth camped in the town of Sydney, which seemed like a major metropolis after the national park and Chéticamp and Tatamagouche. I parked next to a small city park, opposite a row of nice homes. It was a lucky choice – someone in one of those homes had unsecured wifi, and I stayed up late working on the internet, uploading a few entries in my perpetually-behind blog.

The neighborhood was very quiet, so I was just a bit nervous when I heard some loud voices coming down the street at one in the morning. The light was on in my van, and I hoped they wouldn’t realize anyone was in there. But as I listened, one of the guys suddenly interrupted what he was saying to his friend, with “"hey, look at this, that's a VW van, from Virginia!" Followed by, "Hey, man, welcome to Cape Breton!"

I didn’t say a word - but I kind of wished I’d had the guts to yell out, "thanks, guys!"

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