Labrador Caravan

June 14, 2007

Once we were out of Quebec, it felt like we were really on our way. I was the only one of the group who actually likes cities. Phil wanted to get away from civilization, to where there was not even a power line to remind him of human presence. Kim wanted to move fast, to be on our way north of Baie Comeau, onto the gravel road that would take us up to Labrador.

Tadoussac was the beginning. It’s a small town on the east side of the Saguenay Fjord, where the road stops and we drove onto a free ferry rather than a bridge. The fjord is splendid, steep forested mountains running into deep blue water. The town is pretty and touristy, but few visitors seem to go any further up the north shore of the St. Lawrence; few visitors go beyond there. And it’s famous for its whales. Attracted by the biological riches of the fjord, they congregate at its mouth, and are easily visible from the rocky point next to Tadoussac harbor.

I headed out early in the morning to find them. Leaving a note and a map on Phil’s windshield, I drove down to the harbor and headed along the boardwalk to the point. On the way an elderly man asked if I had seen the whales at the mouth of the fjord, so I eagerly followed him to the spot he indicated.

It was delightful. Leaving the boardwalk, I ambled out on the long stretch of rocks heading towards the water. The white spots in the water turned out to be not whitecaps but beluga whales, bobbing in the waves, diving for fish, and resurfacing nearby. There were, the man told me, whole families, mothers with nursing babies in tow, single males. Once I knew what to look for, I saw them everywhere, playing in the ferry wakes, rounding the point, swimming in and out of the fjord. Then I spotted another whale, a minke that surfaced, dove, and spouted as we watched him cruising in and out of the mouth of the fjord. I lingered there for hours, thinking with longing of hot coffee and breakfast, but reluctant to be out of sight of the whales that always seemed to resurface just when I had finally decided to go.

The plans worked well, though, and Phil and Kim found me down by the dock just as I finally headed back to look for food. We’d hoped to find a nice greasy spoon filled with locals drinking lousy coffee, but Tadoussac is too pretty for that. Instead we found a charming restaurant with the appropriate name of “chez Mathilde,” so I parked Matilda outside and we went in for scrambled eggs and toast and many cups of pretty good coffee.

And then we headed up the road to the start of the real north, Baie Comeau, where we planned to stock up on gas, food, water, and propane, before beginning the serious journey to Labrador.

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