Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Archive for September, 2006

Searching For Whales–And Finding Them

posted: September 27th, 2006 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Whales make a sound that is so unique that when you hear it up close and personal, you don’t need any one to tell you what it is.

That’s the way it was for us at any rate when we heard a whale expelling an immense amount of air through its blowhole. Immediately, we knew the source, for there was absolutely nothing else that makes a similar sound, particularly when you are riding an ocean wave.

Whoompf. Whoompf.

We heard the sound yesterday while on Captain Mark’s Whale-watch Tour out of Pleasant Bay, Nova Scotia, and, just as Captain Mark Timmons had guaranteed, we found pilot whales.

Because the species exhibits such curiosity, we not only heard these large mammals but saw them over and over, and generally from a distance of about 100 feet, for pilot whales are an extraordinarily curious animal, made so in part by a powerful intellect. What’s more, we not only saw them singly, but we saw them in pods that varied at times from 4 to 12.

The sighting fulfills a long-time ambition for both Janie and me.

Most recently, in fact, we had studied the ocean waters from overlooks here in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, and though we thought we saw whales, they were certainly distant sightings.Whales, of course, are the largest of all mammalian species with the blue whale weighing the most at 150 tons.

That species, however, is a whale of the Pacific, and is not one of the dozen or more cetaceans (the biological order of whales) sometimes found in Nova Scotia’s Pleasant Bay. However, next in size is the sperm whale, and though it weighs less than half that of the blue, it still tops the scales at 60 tons, and sometimes, whale watchers see it in the same waters that Captain Mark’s Double Ook Up was now plying.

But Mark had cautioned us that the whales we were most likely to see would include the minke, humpback, pilot and finback whales. In fact, Mark was even more specific, saying that in late September the list could be refined yet further, for several of the summer species had departed for warmer climes, leaving only the humpback and pilot whale as the possible candidates for sightings.

He added yet another caveat, saying that although his clients often saw humpback whales that at the moment these whales were waiting for an appropriate food source and that the source was much different from that of the pilot whale. Humpback whales he said are a baleen whale, and this group filters its food from masses of copepods, krill and shrimp. Toothed whales, however, such as the pilot whale, feed singly on squid, fish and sometimes even small seals—and that such foods were now available in Pleasant Bay.

That meant, then, that only one species remained in Pleasant Bay, possibly limiting our chances to see whales. Sensing concern, Captain Mark assured us that pilot whales were still around, and that his tours were still producing satisfied customers, and that before our tour was over that he guaranteed we’d be among them.

We never once doubted him, and the day proved him correct.

Mark sets forth between early May and mid October. In fact, Pleasant Bay may be one of the best locations in the Maritimes for sighting whales, and the situation is one on which Timmons has created his ecologically oriented “Captain Mark’s Whale Watch Tours.”

If you want, you can insert the word guaranteed, as this good captain really does guarantees that you’ll see whales—“or your money back.”

Appropriately, Mark’s business is located within a stone’s throw of the Whale Interpretive Center, a museum dedicated to the interpretation of Cetaceans. Here, is an ideal place to learn about the rise of whales over the course of the past 58 million years. Here, you can also learn about their fall during the past 200 years.

The tragic fall of these highly social and family oriented mammals resulted from the uncontrolled hunting that began in the 1850s, and it has taken more then a century to restore some of the populations from near extinction.

Today, scientists have learned much about them—and are now learning more. All agree whales are extremely intelligent creatures that care for their young and have deep emotions. In fact, Captain Mark told me that he’d recently seen a form of grief exhibited by pilot whales.

According to Mark, several years ago he was conducting a tour when he discovered a female pilot whale whose young had perished. “She was so grief struck over the death of its young,” said Mark, “that she kept lifting it back to the water’s surface. She wasn’t trying to restore her young to life; rather I believe she was simply reluctant to let it go from out of her life.”

According to Captain Mark, pilot whales got their name as they would “pilot” commercial fishermen to fish. Here, when pilot whales find the schools, they surround them and then begin pounding the schools with fins and tails. The stunned or dead fish then become food not only for the whales but for other species such as the herring gulls.

Feeding and social orders aside, pilot whales are obviously curious creatures, and I knew that individuals will sometimes power themselves into the air with mighty thrusts of their tails in a maneuver biologist refer to as “Spy hopping.” In more laymen’s terms, these whales are simply curious, trying to see what manner of creature might be gazing at them in wonder. Spy hopping elevates them so they can see the world over their watery home.

All photographers, of course, hope whales will spy hop in their presence, but nothing like that happened during our two-hour cruise. However, pods did swim close to our boat, but photographing them as the boat tittered left and right, up and down, was an extraordinary challenge.

To further complicate matters, whales would pop out of the water in unpredictable locations, and then submerge before I could swing—much less focus—my camera. To compensate, I shot over 200 digital images, and then later deleted about 180. Janie did about the same.

Nevertheless, for whale-watching enthusiasts—and photographers—the tour provides sightings that were indeed up-close and personal.

It was a marvelous opportunity to learn more about the animal that has the largest brain of any living species, and begin to understand how they use it. It also made me realize that with the pollution of oceans that our fate may be closely linked to the welfare of whales!

Speaking for Janie and me, we intend to become more dedicated whale watchers, hoping we will be celebrating the continued prosperity of these closely related intellectual cousins.

Read Comments | Post a Comment »

Nova Scotia’s Incredible Cabot Drive

posted: September 25th, 2006 | by:Bert

PURSUING PHOTOS AND PROSE
With Kayaks, Mountain bikes, Backpacks, Daypacks, Walking Sticks, Fishing Poles—and an Airstream Travel Trailer

By Bert Gildart

Ciamar a tha thu?

Distance wise, it’s a long way from our home in Bigfork, Montana, to Cape Breton Highlands in Nova Scotia, but only about half as far in customs and culture. Cape Breton Highlands comprises a Canadian National Park, and it in turn is part of the Cabot Trail, a narrow black-topped road that threads along part of the St. Lawrence Bay of the Atlantic Ocean.

As it proceeds, it simultaneously passes through little villages with British and Scottish names; names such as Neils Harbour and Dingwall; French names such as Chéticamp and Presque ile. The first picture posted here is of the fishing village of Margaree with its harbor, and it was settled by the English, made particularly apparent by its Calvin United Church rising above the horizon.

Like most Americans Janie and I are a melting pot of European nationalities, in our case, English, Irish and German. At times, the English-based brogues were as thick as molasses, at times harkening back to even a bit of the Gaelic, which is, in fact, still taught at a college on the Cabot Trail devoted to the culture’s preservation. Still, we could usually discern the nuances of their speech, if only by rhythm and tone.

Ciamar a tha thu?

And we knew the correct response would be, “I’m fine, thank you.”

But the language that culturally separated us at times was the French, which has survived as a distinct Acadian dialect here in the Cape Breton region. It survives because of initial settlement, and because Nova Scotia lacked bridges and roads throughout. As a result pockets of the highlands remained so isolated that language survived, despite the expulsion of French Acadian hundreds of years ago.

That isolation manifests itself with almost every sweep in the Cabot Trail, which may connect with a number of small villages, but not before passing through endless sweeps of ocean vistas, or magnificent bays back dropped by small fishing villages flanked at times by endless sweeps of agrarian lands.

We began our 180-mile circular drive of the Cabot Trail at Chéticamp, a small fishing village that is also the gateway to Cape Breton Highlands National Park, and which provides a campground within a mile of its entrance. It’s from here that we began wandering, but immediately backtracked to the studio of a local photographer I wanted to meet, and that indeed is one of the more insightful impulses I’ve had.

Russell Daigle and his wife live on the Cabot Trail about 15 miles south of Chéticamp near the tiny village of Cape Le Moine with its Joe Scarecrow display. Russell is of French Acadian descent, and his family is one that was uprooted by the English in the 1750s in the Great Expulsion. In fact, at Les Trois Pigeons, an Acadian interpretive center in Chéticamp, his family name is at the top of a genealogical tree.

Russell’s programs interprets part of the expulsion, but his DVD provides a wonderful introduction to the area, and that evening we played his program over and over; and then over the course of the next few days, we visited many of the harbors, coves and magnificent settings that his program featured. One of those areas was Les Trois Pignons, and here we met Jacqueline Burton, noted for her incredible hooked rugs and as an interpreter of her French Acadian ancestors. She said that her family is represented now at Chéticamp because the British relaxed their ruling in about 1765, allowing a return of French Acadians.

The expulsion was inhumane and tore families apart, relocating some to such distant points as New Orleans, where they survive today as the well known Cajuns. Some may recall the famous Longfellow book entitled Evangeline which retraces in literature the hardships endured by these peaceful French speaking people—essentially because they were culturally different from that of the British.

They occupied Nova Scotia because of a treaty, and then they insisted that the French Acadians change their beliefs, their culture—and their allegiance—which they could not do. Nevertheless, pockets remained and remained separated from other immigrants to Nova Scotia by virtue of the huge lakes and vast mountains, the very things that attract us today.

[Andrea Beaton, right] Other cultures also flourished here, and the Ceilidh Trail, easily accessed from the Cabot Trail, preserves the music of the Celtics in Inverness at the Celtic Music Interpretive Center. While there Andrea Beaton, a well-known musician, was performing and consented to photography. Over the years she’s produced a number of CDs and her fiddle music coupled with a stomping of her bare feet, celebrates a unique sound that that can only be described as Celtic. I photographed her with a single strobe bounced off a nearby white wall.

We discovered these various interpretive centers by making day trips south of our campground, but we found equally as enticing aspects traveling north—and into Cape Breton Highlands National Park. For miles, the trail winds past one incredible setting after another, where pounding waves from the Gulf of St. Lawrence shapes this Atlantic shoreline. Inland, but still in the park, we saw moose and then, several miles later, came to a site that celebrated the shelter that may once have been used here by Scottish sheep herders, but certainly in their native home.

Lone Shieling [Left] exists because Professor Donald Sutherland MacIntosh donated land for inclusion in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. He stipulated, however, that the park must retain and interpret a lone shieling, or sheepherders shelter, symbolic to MacIntosh of his native home in Scotland.

Today, the shelter is reached by following a short trail, and when I photographed it, all the “props” awaited me. Entering the dome-shaped shelter was a lone grey haired woman in the background, while in the foreground, autumn had touched the sugar maples that surround the Lone Shieling.

The lighting was perfect, and though I had to use a tripod to over come camera vibration of slow shutter speed, everything would have been blocked up in harsh shadows had there been intense sunlight.

We’ve now been here for five days, but it’s taken us that long to get our bearings. From here, we’ll be moving more rapidly along the Cabot Trail, and hopefully will find the place where John Cabot may have landed back in 1497, just several years after Columbus. Cabot, we’ve discovered, may be one of the world’s most under celebrated explorers, for in reality, it was Cabot who “discovered” mainland American. Columbus in his several voyages got no further then the West Indian Islands.

Read Comments | 1 Comment »

Kayaking the Bay of Fundy

posted: September 18th, 2006 | by:Bert

PURSUING PHOTOS AND PROSE
With Kayaks, Mountain bikes, Backpacks, Daypacks, Walking Sticks, Fishing Poles—and an Airstream Travel Trailer

©Bert Gildart: There is no place in North America where the tides are greater than in Fundy Bay. In fact, there is no place in the world where they are greater.

The condition, of course, creates uncertainty, particularly among visiting kayakers who are bound to hear rumors. One man, in fact, told us that we would be placing our lives in great peril if we attempted to kayak Fundy Bay.

“Don’t do it,” he cautioned. “The tides there sweep in with such power that you can’t overcome it, and you could easily be pulled out to sea.”

That was from a man who lived in the interior of Nova Scotia, and unfortunately, he was one of the first we met, and his advice made an impact on Janie who was dead set against kayaking in Fundy Bay.

“Good grief, Bert! Don’t you ever listen to anything anyone says?”

For awhile, she had me convinced, but then truth inserted itself in her, and we stumbled across the Fresh Air Kayak Service. Fortunately, proprietor Alan Moore was there and we listened to him say that his trips are suitable for entire families and that on several occasions they’ve taken out children as young as two.

“Just know the conditions,” cautioned Alan, “Just know and appreciate our unusual tidal conditions!”

Still, Janie wasn’t completely convinced when next we discussed the subject. “He lives here and he knows what he’s doing.”

Nevertheless, we decided to give it a try, and launched our kayaks from the Point Wolfe covered bridged, a launch point Alan recommended, but only under appropriate circumstances.

“If you leave and return around high tide that gives you about two hours before high tide and about two hours after. Launch later, and you’ll be sitting high and dry.”

Before the day was over high and dry is an expression Janie and I came to understand—the hard way.

As instructed, we launched at high tide—or at the time of day when the Bay of Fundy so exerted its force that beneath the Wolfe River Covered Bridge the river’s flow seemed to be stopped. Here, the tide’s power had created a small lake that made launching a cinch, and we easily floated above the rocks we had seen completely exposed several days ago when we hiked along the tidal flat just a few hundred yards downstream.

Water, in fact, so completely covered this mile-wide flat that historically the flat was was used by loggers and shipwrights who took advantage of the tides. When the tide was up, loggers would help crew members load a cargo of red spruce aboard for transportation to nearby building yards.

But today, all we cared about was whether the water was high enough to provide access to the Bay of Fundy, which it was.

We kayaked for about an hour, and just when we hoped for a break, before us was a sandy beach we learned was called Secret Beach. Indeed it was recessed, and at one end it was guarded by large boulders which supported an inter tidal community of kelp. Their long strands of green color made us think of forest creatures such as gnomes and hobbits who had temporarily taken leave of the forest. At the other end of the beach was a series of arches cut by countless millennium of Fundy tides.

We ate lunch at Secret Bay and then continued our paddle, passing Squaws Cap, Porpoise Cove, and Mathews Head. Finally, we came to Hunt’s Hole, and realized that, here, we probably needed to make a decision. Alan had said he had might have end-of-the-season clients, and if so, he’d shuttle us back to our truck, if we crossed paths.

Because we had not yet crossed paths, we decided to return to our truck by sea. The alternative would have been to try and hitch a ride late in the day, when the roads in Fundy Park receive but scant use.

Alan had cautioned us about the afternoon winds, saying that at this time of day they’re usually from the west and that they can not only be difficult to buck, but that they can create large waves.

We discovered, as Janie now likes to recall, that Alan was right on both accounts!

For well over an hour we bucked large waves and a head wind—and perhaps that’s all that needs to be said about that. And then we left the Bay of Fundy and entered what hours earlier had been an area large enough to load huge ships with large quantities of timber, but which at 3 p.m. no longer held any water.

Alan had also cautioned us about the dramatic nature of the area’s low tides and how low they can dip under normal circumstances. These tides exceeded those conditions, for these were no neap tides, created when the sun, moon and earth all align themselves to create exceptionally low tides.

Perhaps, that’s all that needs to be said about that, other than the fact the rocks are covered with a delightfully slick moss that makes walking treacherous, but renders them kayak friendly, something you should always remember should you ever want to pull kayaks almost a mile back to your vehicle.

In reality, we knew that we might have a bit of rough going, but both agreed the next day after hot showers, that if you want to experience the drama of tides in Bay of Fundy, there is no better way to do so than to kayak through them.

Read Comments | 3 Comments »

Canada’s Bay Of Fundy—Home to the World’s Greatest Tides

posted: September 16th, 2006 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: In the entire world, there is no place that produces a greater difference between high tide and low tide than Canada’s Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick. The effects are immediately obvious and influence villagers along a several hundred mile stretch of coast that begins at the mouth of Fundy Bay. From here, the effects increase in drama the further up the bay that one progresses.

At the moment, we’re camped in a forest of red spruce and fir—surrounded by old covered bridges and sweeping seashores that celebrates these tides; it’s called Fundy National Park. As well, we’re not far from the little fishing village of Alma, which claims to be one of the locations where these extraordinary tides are particularly dramatic.

If nothing else, because the village is a fishing village with boats galore, the drama of watching the rise and fall of these boats during any six hour period of time, is extraordinary. In fact, when we first arrived here several days ago, we were so fascinated by the surge of water, that we remained transfixed for almost one entire cycle, simply waiting to see the contrast.

And now that we’ve discovered an Internet connection at Alma’s Activity Center, we can tell you a little about several of the many areas that must conform to the phenomenon of tides that may vary over 50 feet in a span of just a few short hours. Everyone in the park and the village knows the story, and in part we’ve learned about it anecdotally, as well as from museums in the park and in several nearby villages.

“Everyone knows and understands these variations,” said an Alma fisherman whose access—and livelihood—to nearby lobster waters, must sync with the tremendous variations. “When we use our boats, we have to know when to go and when to return—and when to put out the braces that will keep our boats from flopping. Tides affect the safety of our boats and we have to understand these waters.”

Tides, of course, are created by the alignment of the sun, moon and earth and the gravitational forces these spheres create. When the earth and moon are appropriately aligned, the moon pulls the water up and away from the ocean’s surface, creating in most places high tides that may very but a few feet. But not here in Fundy Bay where Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are aligned to create an immense bay that quickly progresses from a wide mouth to a narrow closure.

Naturalists liken the bay to a huge bathtub in which a rocking motion has been set in place. As high tide increases, so does the rocking motion of the water. At the head of Fundy Bay the narrow stricture builds on the water’s rocking motion, causing the water to climb higher, creating the enormous tides, such as those found near us now in Fundy Park—and nearby Alma.

Because of these enormous tides, people who derive their living from the ocean or from activities associated with the ocean, must plan their activities carefully—and build their works appropriately.

Commercial fishermen in Alma, for instance, must have some the world’s highest wharfs to which they must then attach their boats (at high tide, of course) with what must be some of the world’s longest cinch lines.

Others, too, are dramatically affected. Alan Moore of Fresh Air Adventures must plan all of his kayak outings on the tides, most specifically the high tides. Alan offers tours up to six hours long, and one of them takes you about 5 miles down the sea side of Fundy Park and into a stream outlet where a covered bridge still provides access to Point Wolfe, site of an old ship-building location. To prevent being stranded, Moore must select his day’s outing to this particular destination so that it takes place over a very specific five hour period. That period is almost precisely 2 ½ hours before high tide and 2 ½ hours after high tide.

“My guides carry all of our rental boats for our customers,” said Alan, “and if our timing is off, it means that someone is going to be trudging through mud that could extend out almost half a mile.”

A little of that is shown in our photograph of stairs descending onto Point Wolfe, which was once a site of massive ship building.

The consequence of not planning one’s outing appropriately has been dramatized in Fundy Bay National Park, and en route to Point Wolfe, Alan’s kayak trips take you by Hunt’s Hole, named for a settler who failed to watch the tides. Surging tides forced the man against a sheer cliff, but the tide tore him loose sucked him through Hunt’s Hole, the hole that now bears his name. As the story goes, Hunt bobbed up on the other side of the hole, but minus his side whiskers and his home spun breeches. Others have not been quite so lucky.

Yesterday, we saw what may probably be the most dramatic effects of Fundy’s tides at the Hopewell Rocks. Here, water covers the rocks twice a day, but they are also exposed twice a day and for periods of about five hours. By now we’d acquired a tide chart and had figured out the times to visit and not to visit areas influenced by tides.

Yesterday, about two hours before low tide, we descended a series of about 50 steps and then stepped out onto the bottom of the ocean floor. For several hours we walked among these rocks created by exceptionally high tides. One series of rocks was called the Flowerpot Rocks, apparently because of the shrubs and small trees sprouting from the domes of these giant “sea stacks.”

Here is also a safe place to watch the surging tide, for this small park posts an attendant who whisks visitors off the beach when tides begin to surge. But not so soon, that I couldn’t post myself on a small rock and photograph the tide as it began to envelope me. Because my return route to the access steps was in a recess shaped a little like a thumb, this was a relatively safe place to observe the phenomena. To contrast the situation, the day before we had visited Cape Enrage, and here the reverse had been the case. Here a sheer faced cliff undulated in and out, and if the water catches you between the recesses of outward projections, you could easily be trapped.

Bay of Fundy is another of those areas that tends to blow holes into our schedule. It’s fascinating, but, still, we’ll be pulling ourselves loose and heading to Nova Scotia where we’ll be driving the Cabot Trail and then, a week or so later, the Evangeline Trail.

Read Comments | 1 Comment »

Photographing Maine Moose In The Shadow Of Mount Katahdin—And Some Unexpected Risks

posted: September 12th, 2006 | by:Bert

PURSUING PHOTOS AND PROSE
With Kayaks, Mountain bikes, Backpacks, Daypacks, Walking Sticks, Fishing Poles—and an Airstream Travel Trailer

Bert Gildart: As people get a little older, muscles don’t rebound from strenuous activity as quickly as they once did. The result is that if you then engage in other strenuous activity, you need to be careful, as I learned after climbing Katahdin, which certainly must be categorized as “strenuous.”

The day after our climb, I learned that moose frequent a small lake near Roaring Brook Campground known as Sandy Stream Pond. The pond is but a short distance from the parking lot and I was anxious—too anxious as it turned out, particularly for the conditions. Though the trail was level, it was partially covered with stream water, and logs had been placed as a corridor to facilitate passage. What’s more, my legs were stiff and a bit sore from the previous day’s climb.

It was the slippery log that should have sent up a red flag, particularly as I was loaded down with camera pack and tripod, for suddenly I slipped, landing on the side of my face, hitting my nose in such a way that in seconds I was bleeding profusely. Nevertheless, I proceeded along a side trail and on to the pond. The moose were there alright, and the setting was lovely, but by now, the bleeding was so horrendous that it was impossible to do anything other than find relief. By now, I was worried that I’d broken my nose.

Meanwhile, I had missed Janie, who had passed me by on her way to another of the pond’s access trails. So while I sat in the ranger station for close to two hours—assisted by two well-trained young men, Janie, thinking I was somewhere else on the pond, managed to return with some wonderful images of moose.

Moose are a big deal in Baxter State Park, and Janie later told me that one of the two young bulls appeared to have been fighting, for its eye appeared to be bruised. Fall, of course, is the mating season, and this young fellow was apparently anxious to prove his genetic worth in the highly combative and ritualistic manner characteristic of all antlered animals. Obviously, he hadn’t gotten too far, for here he was, sulking in Sandy Stream Pond, waiting for Janie to photography him.

Apparently, Sandy Stream Pond has all the characteristics required by moose. The lake is shallow and has an abundance of vegetation that moose can harvest in their own unique way. Janie said she watched our young bull as he dipped his head into the water where he would forage for up to a minute or more, elevating his head when he ran out of breath, but with mouth-fulls of aquatic matter. He’d then munch the green material, converting the photosynthetic energy into moose meat—and moose energy.

Janie saw much of this drama and it was only when the sun began to touch the surrounding beauty of Mount Katahdin that Janie decided to return to the truck. She said she’d also began worrying about me, but had assumed I was behind some tree photographing one of the other moose on the lake. But as she walked back, she said she saw blood on the trail, then blood on the ranger porch, and then, she said that she was really starting to worry.

But the story has a happy ending, for two days later, though the side of my face is black and blue, and although my nose is slightly swollen and my eye is also black and blue, nothing is broken, and I’m on the mend—admiring Janie’s photos and anxious this morning to return to Sandy Stream Pond and hopefully find more moose, for the ranger told us that Sandy Stream Pond provides photographers with one of the most unique settings in America, and while here, we want to see all we can. Perhaps we’ll find a huge bull. Perhaps we’ll find two huge bulls. And maybe they’ll start battling.

This time, however, I’ll proceed slowly, and not worry that we won’t have images to tell our story about the moose that live in the shadow of Katahdin, for we already have Janie’s wonderful photographs.

Read Comments | 2 Comments »

Mount Katahdin—An Appalachian Trail Terminus—Where Stalwarts Are Still Being Created

posted: September 9th, 2006 | by:Bert

Bert Gildart: From Katahdin Stream Campground in Baxter State Park, Maine, to the summit of Baxter Peak on Mount Katahdin, (5,267’) it is 5.2 miles. These miles are considered to be the roughest part of the entire Appalachian Trail, for along the route, you must negotiate one precipitous boulder field after another. Nevertheless, Janie and I are extraordinarily proud to say we made it.

Completing the AT is, of course, a much greater feat than our climb of Katahdin. In fact, for one of the three AT hikers we met two days ago, completing the AT was a much greater feat than most people can ever imagine—much less endure.

The three men we met were known as “Pipe Man,” “Professor” and Ole Man (appearing here in that order). The names are derived from certain characteristics. For instance, Professor had once been a professor at a university in Kentucky, while Pipe Man used to smoke a pipe but had given it up.

Ole Man took his name from the fact that he had endured much—had survived, and was now bringing the wisdom acquired from pain and fortitude to the AT. In fact, of the three we met on this terminal end of the Appalachian Trail, his accomplishments were the most notable, something Pipe Man and Professor easily concurred.

In 1971 Paul (Old Man) had been a Marine in Vietnam, when he stepped on a land mine. The blast literally fragmented the lower portion of his leg, requiring years of reconstructive surgery and endless sessions of therapy. But little by little his abilities began to return and though never completely restored, his ability to walk could at least take him a few miles.

“At first I didn’t even want to try walking, “said Ole Man. “I had nightmares about it, but then I went to a physical therapist in Florida, and gradually I learned to use old muscles but in a new way. Gradually, I began to imagine that maybe I could overcome my limitations—maybe even in a big way. That’s when Jamie (Ole Man’s wife) and I began talking about the AT, and shortly thereafter, that’s when we began our journey.

“That was in 2001—the year we began hiking the AT, and the year we really began wondering if maybe I couldn’t do the whole darn thing.”

And, so, with his wife’s logistical support Old Man began hiking the Appalachian Trail, finally (September 7, 2006) ascending and descending in one day, Mount Katahdin. Using conservative calculations, we figured he took over four-million steps to complete his three-year journey.

“It’s something to see,” Professor said. “When Old Man steps his thigh does the work, and the lower part of his leg just kind of flops into position. I can’t imagine the pain and the struggle he still endures.”

Most every one we talked to agreed the last five miles of the Appalachian Trail was the most difficult, the section we are ever so proud to say we’ve now hiked. It’s not easy, even for people whose limbs are whole. In fact, we had some difficulties ourselves, quite unexpectedly extending our one-day trip into a two-day trip.

The last five miles of the AT (or first, depending on orientation) begin at Katahdin Stream Campground, and at first, you think “This is a piece of cake.” But after the first mile, things begin to happen. The trail ascends, and as it does, erosion has exposed some of the underlying rocks. On a wet day, this could be treacherous, but as Ole Man said, “This is a Class One—Plus!—Day,” for the sun shone brightly and there was little wind.

We considered ourselves fortunate, but wind and sunny days can’t do much about altering the size of the rocks nature had placed before us. As we continued our climb the rocks grew bigger and bigger.

Two miles into our climb, we reached timberline and here’s where the going got rough, for the boulders had now grown into monstrous proportions. In some places, they were house-sized. In yet other places, navigating these monolithic structures required that you subject yourself to some uncomfortable exposures. In one stretch, those who maintain the trail had inserted metal hand-holds, and without holds, it would have been difficult for all but technical climbers to thread their way.

In this manner the climb continues for about half a mile, though not always with hand holds. Instead, we found ourselves squeezing through huge rocks, clamoring over boulders that gravity had left inclined at angles. Finally, this section of the AT ascends above the huge boulder field, placing you at what most refer to as a “false summit.”

The good news, here, is that the massive—and sometimes very treacherous—boulder field is behind you.

The bad news is that you have a mile yet to travel to the summit, and though a portion traverses a somewhat open Arctic-like environment called “The Table Land,” the remainder—the last half mile—ascends a steep slope. And it is laced with boulders that although smaller, are still the size of an old Volkswagen Beetle.

We reached the summit about two in the afternoon, having spent way too much time visiting with new acquaintance along the trail. The day was clear, almost brilliant, and to the south, we were looking over an area called the 100-Mile Wilderness Area. This section of the AT demands total self reliance.

To the north, we could see more of Baxter State Park, one of the nation’s largest such park, and it is, of course, the park that features Katahdin. Lakes abounded, and though they were nameless to us, their beauty generated adjectives, and in our minds’ eyes, we could see Lake Sublime, and Lake Other Worldly.

But the beauty here is beguiling, for the weather here can deteriorate unexpectedly, and a number of people have learned that lesson paying the ultimate price. We knew that prior to ascending, but perhaps didn’t realize that getting off the mountain can be even more difficult than the climbing.

On the summit, we met a couple (Not shown here–that’s us!) who suggested we join them and follow a different route down, one that would not require using hand holds with exposures that were shear. They said they’d posted two vehicles and that when we all reached Roaring Creek Campground, some 18-miles from our vehicle, that they’d be able to give us a ride. And so we joined them, but quickly learned this route also had challenges.

Midway down The Saddle Trail, a trail that plummeted at angles that at times varied between 60 to 80 degrees—and that was endlessly covered with large boulders—Janie re-injured an old injury, her knee. We wrapped her knee with an Ace bandage, but the pain diminished her ability to keep up with the couple who’d offered us a ride.

Two hours later, we descended onto Chimney Pond, where the couple had been waiting. Night was fast approaching, and fortunately, Chimney Pond is the site of a backcountry ranger station, and the ranger was there. He suggested the other couple proceed, but that Janie and spend the night in one of the bunk house, and that in the morning we reassess the situation.

The ranger’s name was Brendan, and for a whole variety of reasons, we want to thank him, and hope that as time goes by, we’ll be mentioning his name—and the agency he represent—in various ways.

The following morning, though Janie’s knee had improved, her fastest pace was a slow hobble, for the trail remained rock-covered, and to prevent further injury, prudent travel was the byword. Grimacing for about three long miles, she struggled on, remembering at times, she said, the resolve of Ole Man.

We reached Roaring Stream Campground about noon, and, of course, needed an 18-mile ride back to Katahdin Campground, and here’s where we found that in this world of campers, good people abound. Realizing our plight, Mike Paul of Worcester, Massachusetts, offered help to retrieve our truck.

In this manner, we completed our ascent of Baxter Peak on Mount Katahdin, appreciative of the relative good physical condition we continue to enjoy and in awe now of people such as Ole Man, Pipe Man and the Professor, who had just turned 69.

Read Comments | Post a Comment »

Privileged To Meet A Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman–and Share Some Commonalities

posted: September 6th, 2006 | by:Bert

Bert Gildart: We meet wonderful people along the road, all sorts of interesting people. But sometimes we meet people whose lives we admire and with whom we seem to share many similar experiences.

Such was the case two days ago when we were camped in Quebec’s KOA. Near us was a couple in one of the few Airstreams we’ve seen along the road, in this case a 34-foot Classic.

The owners were Bob and Nicole, and I introduced myself with a copy of Airstream Life, which I thought that they—as a Canadian couple with Quebec license tags—might appreciate. They said they’d heard of the magazine and were hoping to find a copy.

Both Bob and Niki, as she says her American friends call her, had just recently retired; he from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and she from a government position that worked with specific Native American tribes. I have always admired the RCMP and told Bob that when I was a child, I used to tune my radio to Sgt. Preston and Yukon King. Almost immediately our rapport grew, and we discovered in a round about way that we knew people in common, and in far flung places.

Once Bob had worked in Old Crow, Yukon Terriotry, and it is one of the several Gwich’in Indian communities in which Janie and I had once developed many friends as interim teachers. To renew friendships, several years ago Janie and I had boated from Circle, Alaska, 100 miles down the Yukon River to Fort Yukon.

From there, we had replenished our gas supply, and, in our Johnboat, continued our journey, linking at Fort Yukon with the Porcupine River. From there we traveled for over a week and for 350 miles through both the Alaskan and Canadian wilderness to reach Old Crow, Yukon Territory. At the time, I’d been there gathering a story for Christian Science Monitor and was delighted to chance upon a huge gathering and delighted with the open friendly cooperation of the Gwich’in. We attempted to join them in their various dance ceremonies.
Just three years ago, Burns Ellison, a writer friend, and I had also taken this same boat and traveled from Fort McPherson just off the Dempster Highway but on the McKenzie River, to Aklavik, located not far from the Arctic Ocean. We reached this far-flung village by boating down the Peel Channel of the McKenzie River.

The river system there was a maze, and there is definitely a place where the newcomer should have a GPS. But more significantly, it was also a place where Bob had worked, and we talked about all these things.

Last year I wrote about these experiences for several boating magazines, and Bob and I discussed mutual acquaintances and the adventures and misadventures each of these areas had once provided for the RCMP. Areas around the Peel River, for instance, served as the setting for the Mad Trapper, who killed several other trappers as well as a member of the RCMP who was attempting to question him about improper trapping techniques.

Eventually the RCMP tracked the man to an area just north of Old Crow, and here, they were forced to kill him. The incident was made into a movie and starred Charles Bronson.

The same area also back-dropped a misadventure for the RCMP, for it was here between Fort McPherson and Old Crow that a patrol perished in the brutal cold while on a routine patrol—in -40° temperatures! Members of the RCMP have always, it seems, endured hardships, and usually emerged victorious. But not this time, for all (five, I believe) perished when they lost their way. That was about 1920, and the group has become known as the Lost Patrol.

But these were broad interests that we shared, and my familiarity, of course, was more through books, while Bob’s familiarity had been acquired through the history of the agency directly involved. As a member of the RCMP, he has certainly experienced hazards, and probably more than some of his contemporaries, as his specialty was drug control.

On a more personal note, Janie and I, Bob and Nicole, share common anniversaries, for we were all married in the spring of 1991. We’ve all had wonderful children from other marriages, and now grandchildren.

And of course, we both cherish our Airstreams, and while Bob and Nicole are now full timers, we are out but six to eight months of each year.

We promised to stay in touch and we believe our paths will cross again. And, I must mention, that before departing, Bob gave Janie and me a tie pin, one of the ten he’d been given as a retiring RCMP member, and that is only given to retirees to do as they will.

We’d be hard pressed to explain just how flattered we are.

Read Comments | Post a Comment »

Stepping Back In Time At Quebec’s Île D’ Orleans

posted: September 4th, 2006 | by:Bert

PURSUING PHOTOS AND PROSE
With Kayaks, Mountain bikes, Backpacks, Daypacks, Walking Sticks, Fishing Poles—and an Airstream Travel Trailer

Bert Gildart: Some of the best information we have received while here in Québec has come from people working the desks at the two campgrounds at which we’ve stayed.

No one, however, has provided as much as has Nicole St. Pierre of Camping Transit, a campground just off Interstate 20, and conveniently located for the ferry to Vieux Québec. When Nicole wasn’t busy welcoming and signing in new guests, she helped me with translations and suggestions, and with information regarding her heritage—and that of Canadians in general.

Nicole said that both her great, great (“My many, many greats,” she inserted), grandparents came from a small village in France and there they were called Pepin. “They landed on the Isle of Orleans,” said Nicole, “and changed their name almost immediately to LaChance, implying this was going to provide them with ‘a better chance.’

“That’s what so many did, and it’s where you two should go if you want a flavor of old France here in Québec.”

Nicole continued, adding that the island was isolated until the ‘40s when the government built a bridge, but it still has a very rural setting (first photo).”

With that she outlined some of the places we had to see.

Île d’ Orleans requires crossing a long narrow bridge which spans the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Upon crossing, we were struck by the rural setting, and the fact that we’d chanced onto the island at harvest time. Farmers had set up their produce into what almost amounted to a 30-mile long farmer’s market, the length of the rural road circumscribing the island.

In between the stands were gorgeous fields of crops to include fields of sunflowers that Janie and I as photographers simply could not pass up.

But Île d’ Orleans features more. It features one of the area’s first stone churches; windmills, art and craft shops—wooden or stone cottages in the Normandy style, and homes that produce some of the world’s most delightful tasting ciders.

Cider was one of the island’s big commodities and we stopped at the Domain Steinbeck, mentioned in a Lonely Planet guidebook. We remained for almost an hour, sampling pâté of duck and washing it down with ciders of all descriptions, leading ultimately to our purchase of two bottles, one described as being “very hard.”

Just past the Domain Steinbeck we saw a lady waving a sign in French: Viens mon Cueillir. Though the meaning of the words was vague, we stopped and later learned that Marie Thivierge’s sign asked that you: “Come Pick Me Up.”

With her humorous sign what she was really asking is that you visit the Les Vergers Laval Gagnon farm and that you “pick up” some of the man’s corn, blueberries, apples, strawberries, or perhaps some of his potatoes. We couldn’t resist the charm of the sellers and “picked up” a large box of blueberries.

One of the last stops we made was at the Drouin House, which, as we soon discovered, featured not just one of the first stone houses built on the Island (in the 1730’s) of Orleans, but also featured living history demonstrations that rivaled those we’d seen in many Canadian and American national parks.

Demonstrations were provided by men and women engaged in a number of activities to include the preparing of meals and the cooking of those meals over a hearth.

Men wore squire-styled hats, white shirts and black pants, while the woman wore full-length dresses and the somewhat colorful and daring bodices representative of the mid 1700s.

The costumes were appealing and imparted to these French woman a certain mysterious and romantic look—that certain Je ne sais quoi about which I’ve previously spoken.

Our trip to Île d’ Orleans was made from Quebec’s KOA, the second campground at which we parked our RV. From it our drive required about 30 minutes on this very busy Labor Day weekend. (Yes, Canadians celebrate Labor Day too.)

The visit rounds out our trip to Quebec and in the next day or so we’ll be traveling to Maine where we hope to climb Mount Katahdin, weather permitting. The mountain is located in Baxter State Park and the summit is the eastern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, which runs all the way north from Springer Mountain, Georgia.

Read Comments | Post a Comment »

In and Around Vieux Québec—By Bicycle, Almost Speaking French

posted: September 3rd, 2006 | by:Bert

PURSUING PHOTOS AND PROSE
With Kayaks, Mountain bikes, Backpacks, Daypacks, Walking Sticks, Fishing Poles—and an Airstream Travel Trailer

©Bert Gildart

Bonjour!

Yesterday, Janie’s day was complete when two Frenchman greeted her with words of praise:“Bonjour, mi petite Cher. Commot talle vous? ” said the first in French. Then switching quickly into English, he repeated, “Hello, my beautiful young lady. How are you today?”

He added more, but with even greater emphasis, “We in Québec want you to know how happy we are that you are our neighbor.”

The Frenchman was a much older man, perhaps in his mid 70s. Like us, he was out for a day’s exploration, riding his bicycle. He explained in perfect English that he was a retired doctor and elaborated a bit on the celebration Québec will be holding in the year 2008—the 400 year anniversary of this city.

He said the huge structure we had just ridden by was for storing grain about to be shipped, but that in the year 2008, the side of the huge structure will be the screen on which continuous movies will be shown depicting the history of Québec from its founding in 1608 to the present.

That, of course, will be just a small component in the huge celebration that will begin in January of 2008. And, for us, it was just a small part of our day spent riding bicycles—learning more about Québec, the reasons French is spoken in Québec, and making Janie available for further French compliments, which she continued to receive. Our bicycle trail also linked with a highly recommended park, and though it was 18 miles away, we elected to make our day a long one, and were glad we did. The park is known as the Parc de la Chute Montmorency.

The word “chute” means falls, and the falls is a high one, higher, in fact, than Niagara, something the people here take great pride in heralding. Indeed, the “chute” is spectacular, spilling from the Montmorency River, where it drops 272 feet, or 98.5 feet more than Niagara. Though there’s a cable car that will whisk you to the top in four minutes flat, we elected to climb the 487 steps, essentially because “The Panoramic Stairs,” as they are known, provide more opportunities for photographs.

The choice was tré bon, and it is where Janie received her second complement.

Bonjour, ma jolie, jeune fille. Commet allez vous?

Though I can tell her that’s she’s beautiful and young, apparently the words of anonymous French-speaking men contain more mystery; more, shall we say, more Je ne sais quoi.

Once you’ve completed the climb interpretative signs are posted, but again, most are in French. But our Lonely Planet Guide book to Canada explained that British General Wolfe’s troops once monitored French General Montcalm from the redoubts constructed within a stone’s throw of the falls. In 1759 Montcalm was camped near the Plains of Abraham, located adjacent to Vieux Québec.

There, at the Plains of Abraham, and almost visible from our perspective near the falls, is where Wolfe and Montcalm clashed. And there is where both generals lost their lives. From our commanding position above the Saint Lawrence, we could easily envision the importance of this section of the Saint Lawrence River. Québec, we discovered from yet another friendly Frenchman, means “where the river narrows,” and it was an important strategic point.

And if Québec had not been taken by the English—and held fast by construction of the Citadelle by the Britians—it might well have been taken by the Americans. And then the problems associated with two languages might have been ours, for the Francophones have always known who they are: They are Québecers first and Canadians second, and they proved that (most recently) in 1995 when they narrowly voted Non in the 1995 referendum on separation.

That night as we rode our bicycles back to the ferry we were constantly greeted with warmth, but always with the words, Bonjour. Though we were flattered by the courtesy, and appreciative of the differences, we suspect that not all may concur.

But bilingual Canada has managed to prevail, and we suspect that its team motto of: Peace, order and good government (iberté, egalité, fraternité) will only be reinforced by the immense celebration planned for 2008.

We also suspect the celebration will not only honor Québec’s 400 years of existence—and perseverance—but that it will do so with the immense charm that so characterizes the French.

Au revoir, mon ami. Au revoir!

Read Comments | Post a Comment »

The Citadel—Preserving Québec’s Peace

posted: September 2nd, 2006 | by:Bert

PURSUING PHOTOS AND PROSE
With Kayaks, Mountain bikes, Backpacks, Daypacks, Walking Sticks, Fishing Poles—and an Airstream Travel Trailer

By Bert Gildart:

Bonjour, mon ami. Bonjour!

Since we’ve been in Québec, one of my big questions has concerned the French language. How, I’ve wondered, have the French maintained their language when they capitulated to the English in 1759? That’s a long time ago, and everything about the area, including the huge Citadel that looms over Old Quebec (the first settlement in Canada), suggests strong British/English domination.

And, so with questions such as that in mind, yesterday, we again took the ferry from Lévis, catching a carriage ride from near the wharf to a high point overlooking Old Québec. Here is where we joined Emily, a French Canadian who spoke excellent English, for a tour of this imposing structure.

Our group was comprised of an interesting assortment of people, one person in fact, was from London, and he seemed to have a military bent. And it seemed as though he wanted to proclaim the superiority of the British to our French guide. His manner, however, was endearing.

Of course, this tour was of a military compound, so it should not have surprised us to learn that others, too, were interested in military history. This pleased “Mr. London,” who asked Emily, our tour guide, if he might talk a bit about the cannon that had been lovingly named “Rachael.”

Rachael, according to London, loomed over the St. Lawrence, and, as Mr. London informed us, cannons such as Rachael could reach out and strike any ship within a 3 kilometer range. He said, however, that cannons were actually aimed so that they would strike in front of their target.

“Cannon balls would then skip across the water and strike a ship near the water line. If you wanted to sink a ship, this was the best technique.”

Continuing, he implied that the British have long been using superior techniques, and that is one of the reasons the British gained possession of Québec—and still have it.

Though Emily remained professional, here, I thought I detected a very slight trace of irritation.

In actuality, the British, according to our tour guide, built the Citadel between 1779 and 1783—toward the end of the American Revolution. American colonists were beginning to win the war, and because the British feared an American invasion, they believed they needed to fortify Old Quebec.

But it was not used then, nor has it ever been used. However, the Citadel has always functioned as a military bastion, and, today, it still serves as a military post. And that’s one of the features that attracts today’s visitors. Certainly, it should attract the French, for French-speaking soldiers of the Citadel have repeatedly distinguished themselves, as Emily pointed out.

When we arrived, our attention was drawn to the two soldiers guarding the one and only entrance to the Citadel. Each of the two men is instructed to stand ramrod straight for two hours, wearing two pound hats made from the fur of a black bear. The men are well trained, for as they stood, we watched as children attempted to break their stern countenance, and once, as two uninhibited ladies flirted shamelessly.

Placing themselves on either side, one of the ladies giggled and asked the soldier why he couldn’t smile? The young soldier remained stony faced.

“Well, will you meet me later this evening?”

Though I thought I saw a twinkle in the young man’s face, nevertheless, he remained unmoved. None of the people actually touched one of the guards, and I suspect that if anyone did, he or she would be escorted by other nearby soldiers from the compound.

Today, these men guarding the Citadel are members of a royal regiment, the 22nd Royal Regiment to be precise. The unit was created just prior to WWI under a different name and at the time, these French-speaking soldiers were integrated into English-speaking units. Under those conditions, it’s not surprising that recruitment levels remained low.

Several months later, the government changed tactics, and on October 21st, 1914, the Canadian government authorized creation of the 22nd, assigning the Citadel as its home post. Subsequent to that time, the 22nd has participated in all major conflicts, and French-speaking individuals have often been awarded Canada’s highest military medal, The Victoria Cross. Unfortunately, some of these awards were made posthumously.

Though I have not yet pinned down all the reasons French continues to dominate this province, it does seem as though the quick answer, initially, may have been from the influence of the Catholic Church. But it’s obvious that now the language persists by virtue of the great pride the people of Québec have in their background. Language, of course, often suggests pride in a culture, and the people here aggressively struggle to maintain that culture and a language that seems so full of romance and an undeniable joy of life.

This morning, in fact, we were informed on one of the English channels of our TV that the word Rue (street) was not large enough and that government should make it larger. Though I’m certainly not emotionally involved in this historic debate, certainly those in Québec are, and it should be remembered that about 10 years ago, the Province of Québec came within a few votes of successfully seceding from a predominately English-speaking nation.

On another note, we called Verizon and learned that for about $15, we can upgrade our wireless from an American plan to a North American plan. That, however, includes only our wireless telephone, so we’re still learning about Internet connections. It’s all possible, but ironically, there have been some misunderstandings—probably because of the French language, but after just two days, we’re starting to work that out.

So for now, I must take my leave: Au revoir, mon ami. Au revoir!

Read Comments | Post a Comment »

Québec City—The French Connection

posted: September 1st, 2006 | by:Bert

PURSUING PHOTOS AND PROSE
With Kayaks, Mountain bikes, Backpacks, Daypacks, Walking Sticks, Fishing Poles—and an Airstream Travel Trailer

Bert Gildart: After several delightful days with Rich Luhr and family in Burlington, Vermont, we have made it to Québec City. Rich is the editor of Airstream Life, and we were there partly for business, but mostly for pleasure, as our encounters these past few years have shown that we share much in common beyond the possession of Airstreams.

Six hours from Burlington, now, and we’re in Québec to gather material for a story on the city and its 400 year celebration to be held in 2008. But we have confronted a number of challenges.

Though we’re only a few hours north of Maine, our Verizon Wireless telephone doesn’t work and neither does the Verizon card for our computer. The alternative is to use the wireless card built into our computer, and so we checked our campground director for campgrounds advertising wireless connections, but we learned after checking in that theirs is out of order and, as a result, we’ll probably be moving in several days. In the meantime, I’ll make do with an Internet Café located not far from Campground Transit, as this place is called. These methods of communication, of course, are the methods we’ve come to rely on in the 21st century, and now must have.

The most significant communication problem, however, is the language barrier. Neither Janie nor I speak French, and all of the signs in this province for driving are in French. Of necessity, we’ve learned words such as Sortir, for “Exit” and Arrêt, for “Stop”. Much to Janie’s consternation, I’ve also been trying to learn a few colloquialisms, and not necessarily the most proper ones.

Many of Quebec’s travel brochures are also in French. However, many, though not all residents are bilingual, and everyone seems to be incredible helpful. The differences seem exotic, though not all Canadians from other providences would agree, as a couple from Nova Scotia hastened to inform. They immediately reminded us that Canada was bilingual because of Québec and that the province of Québec almost withdrew from the country about 10 years ago.

But even this couple, which we encountered on the ferry crossing to Old Québec City, said they sought out Québec because “it is like (for them) going to a foreign country, with all of its exotic pleasures.” Put in other words, it’s their French connection, just as it is ours. And like them, we’re attracted to the area for the romantic nature of the French, for their reputation as great artists, and for the history inherent in this great province.

From our campground, which is on the south side of the Saint Lawrence Seaway, we have two means of accessing Old Québec, a component of the much larger city of almost one million. We can make an hour long drive over an expansive bridge, circling back then to the city—or we can drive 10 minutes to the ferry, and then use the ferry pass the owners here make available to their campers, and enjoy a 20 minute ride across this brawling and historic waterway. For us, the ferry was the preferred way, and immediately, the charms of this ancient city begin to grip you.

Dominating the skyline is Château Frontenac (first picture, above), reputedly the most photographed hotel in the world, but certainly Québec’s most familiar structure. Certainly its size stands out, but so do its components of high copper roofs and countless dormer windows and turrets. Tour guides told us the hotel opened its doors in 1893 and that it was inspired by the Châteaux of the Loire in France. However, it was named for Louis de Buade, Governor of New France from 1672 to 1682 and again from 1689 to 1698.

Québec is Canada’s oldest city, and it was founded in 1608, just shortly after the founding of Jamestown. Though there is certainly a modern component to Québec, Old Québec reflects its ancient tenure along the St. Lawrence River. Fortified walls surround Old Québec, and there are, as Charles Dickens wrote in 1842, “splendid views which burst upon the eye at every turn.”

We still found that to be true and enjoyed statues to Samuel de Champlain (second photo), the quaint shops, bistros and old churches. But as first voyageurs to an ancient city, we were most entertained by the more secular—the street people, trying to ply a living.

At every turn, we found street musicians, entertainers whose performances were a bit on the bawdy side. But what captivated us for over an hour were two men just off Saint Louis Street near the Ministry of Travel. One man had encased himself in materials that enabled him to imitate the Statue of Liberty, while the other imitated one of the robots from the TV series Star Wars. We called him the Silver Man, and at first we thought he, too, was some kind of immovable lifeless statue, but realized that he would quickly come to life with short, choppy—staccato like motions when someone placed a donation in the large silver container at the base of the silver platform on which he stood.

He was, of course, a hit with children, but he was equally as appealing with adults, who took as much joy in joining hands with him in short jerky “high-fives;” in short jerky bows, and in strained smiles.

All the performers were tireless men and women, and we watched several for almost an hour. Old Québec, of course, has much more depth to it than street exhibits, but as first time visitors, we took comfort in the secular. In several days, we’ll be posting thoughts on other aspects of this ancient city—and what we hope will be our more insightful French Connection.

Read Comments | Post a Comment »