Monday, October 22, 2007

Did Someone Say Offseason Road Trip in Gaspésie?

Closed for the Season Boon Docking

“Have you called ahead for reservations?” asked Natalie, the manager at the Saint-Nicolas, Quebec KOA Campground. “You’ll find the season is over in the Gaspèsie.” Natalie had kindly given me permission to use the campground laundry facility while our coach had maintenance work completed at the Prevost Service Center a kilometer away.

I replied as I exchanged my paper $20 for the roll of Canadian quarters Natalie handed to me, “I expect that we’ll boondock when places are closed. We’ll be fine.”

Our Gaspésie Peninsula tour followed Route 132 through Rivière-du-Loup to Point-aux Cross. Our first night (Saturday, October 13th), we took spot # 23 at the Camping du Quai for $25. That was our last electric and water hook-up for the trip. No one minded in the offseason when we parked Sunday night under the open hands of a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Baie-du-Sables. We found a municipal overlook in Madeleine-Centre on Monday where night parking was permitted. There we enjoyed the coastline view with a light house on the bluff. A caretaker at St. John the Baptist Church in Cap-aux-Os gave us permission to park in the church lot near the school and cemetery for two days while we explored the Forillon National Park of Canada. Natalie had been correct, most campgrounds were closed, but we were just fine.

Weather varied from rainy with fog, to cool with gusty headwinds, to gentle sea breezes and clear blue sky. We dressed in layers and sometimes raingear, boots or tennis shoes, and even light gloves. The weather did not deter us.

We Explored the North Shore Route of Route 132

I scouted Rivière-du-Loup while Ed rested and connected to the Internet. When he joined me, I showed him Parc des Chutes, the hydro facility in town. The river looked like root beer cascading over a too full mug, brown with bits of white foam. “Almost better than Niagara Falls,” Ed hollered over the roar of the waterfall. We could get close to the base of the falls. So close, that I wasn’t sure if the mist I felt was rain or spray from the cascading water. A catwalk took us over the falls to a landing across the river. And, a trail crossed a wooden bridge wide enough but not sturdy enough for cars and followed the river through falls colors of maples and birch trees.

The moving tide along river shoreline in Baie-du-Sables pushed shells over the rounded fist-sized rocks. The sound of the undulating shells pushed by the water made a rhythmic gentle clacking to accompany nature’s symphony of seagulls and pounding surf. On the evening we arrived, I walked the deserted beach and picked shells in the rain. Gray sky, fog and rain gave an ominous look to the commanding church steeple that beckoned us to this place from the higher ground of Route 132. In the morning, Ed and I were surprised to see the windmills on the hillside over the parish village and walked to the wharf now accessible from the shore with low tide. We had the place all to ourselves.

Where is Everybody?

Traveling offseason has its advantages. Ours are the only footprints in the sand. Places to boon dock are available. Traffic is minimal. Fall colors remain vibrant. And, people dependent on the tourist dollar are happy to see you and eager to help. Perhaps that’s why the police in Riviere-au-Renard gave us an escort to find a fish market. Our rig with tow car is too big to venture on unknown streets and reverse is not a option, so when Ed flagged down a patrol car to ask about a big place to spin the coach around, the officers were happy to lead the way (and even pose for a photo). With their help, we found the Poissonnerie La Mariniere. We bought fresh cod and little shrimp called Crevettes Fraiches for a lunchtime feast that we cooked in our coach. We were parked in the shipyard lot surrounded by the fishing boats out the water for winter.

Searching for Bullwinkle

“I want to see a moose,” I persisted like the spoiled only child that I am each time we drove past a moose crossing sign posted along the road. Then, I got my wish, only it wasn’t exactly what I expected.

“Oh my God!” I yelled. “Did you see that car? It has a moose head mounted on top of it!” Of course, Ed asked what I had been smokin’. But, it was a moose! And, when he finally saw one too, he hit the brakes. We learned that it was hunting season in Quebec.

Hunters display their game heads on the tops of their cars or SUVs. Some with pick-up trucks actually mount the entire moose over a wooden triangular structure like a sawhorse and run down the road displaying the big creatures.

I never did see a live moose.

Some Things are the Same,
Some Things are Very Different

You could be anywhere and see the same things that we saw in the tour of Gaspésie. Houses displayed seasonal decorations of pumpkins and Halloween witches. People carved initials in wooded railings at overlooks. Young families have Little Tyke play gyms in their yards. Stacks of wood wait to burn off the chill of the coming winter. And, the provincial flag of Quebec flies as boldly as the state flag of Texas waves back home.

Some things are very different here. Many houses look like those children draw in second grade – a square with a triangle on top for a roof. Some houses have roofs that curve up in a “J” along the eves. Other houses are painted bold color combinations like maple leaf orange trimmed in red, PITT blue and gold, aqua with red and white trim, white with violet shutters. Laundry hangs from clothes lines to dry. We found a coin operated computer at the International Youth Hostel in Cap-aux-Os, 20 minutes online for each Loonie. Lodging remains mostly motor lodges not Hampton Inns and colorful oval chairs reminiscent of the '60s are placed near each room’s doorway inviting guests to sit awhile. Concrete river walks or boardwalks lined the shoreline in most towns unlike Texas, where you have to go to San Antonio to enjoy a river walk. Fire hydrants in New Carlisle are painted as characters – Snoopy, Pink Panther, Fred Flinstone and more – for a touch of fun.

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