Boy, this is a remote and challenging place. Our journey across the island to catch the ferry to Nova Scotia has taken two days. Along the way, I have marvelled at this wide-open, empty land and the majestic mountains that have loomed out of the snows and mists along the way. I have few pictures because we haven’t really the time to do any sightseeing stops – in any case, even the light winds lend extra bite to the minus 7ºC temperatures, so trips outside the car are rare and quick.
We came from back there, a way….
For an hour or so on the second day, I take my hand at the driving. After all, this is part of what I am there for, right? Though my brother John might well deny it, I think he may be a little dubious of the handover from the very capable Phyllis, his wife. She has driven in much worse snow and ice than this (she grew up in Alberta where -38F is not uncommon) whereas I am a soft-handed resident of southern Englishman who drives on the wrong side of the road – I also haven’t driven a standard (manual) shift either there or on the right hand side of the road since I scared an ex-girlfriend sh*tless doing both in Greece, five years ago. But I have not told them that story and besides, I am insistent. It’s hard and boring work being a rear passenger on a long drive in a foreign country – easy to feel like a sack of low-value potatoes and you really don’t get much of a view or an idea of where you are.
But driving is great. There are long stretches of the highway that are completely empty, both ahead and behind. Banks of ploughed snow line the outer-verges, while the further-off evergreens still carry a light icing from the storms the week before. The occasional lumber-laden truck roars past in the opposite direction, trailed by a small tail of lesser vehicles, while we pass a pick-up with a complete flower patterned bed and mattress tied down in the open rear. Not long after I get into the driver’s seat, we are overtaken by a rushing ambulance, lights blazing. But later, just a few kilometres further on, we find it stopped, somewhat off-parallel, lights still whirling, at the side of another stretch of empty road. We are sobered by the conjecture that the position indicates an emergency stop and an attempted resuscitation which may be in progress as we pass.
After the ambulance passes us again a short while later, lights still blazing, we talk a little of the distances between the few major settlements and hospitals across the island, linked by this 900km single highway (and helicopters when it’s safe to fly). But, this is an exhilarating landscape where locals still fish and hunt to supplement paid work and where lonely side-roads or tall mountain slopes offer great skiing of both kinds (according to John and Phyllis – this is a pastime that has so far left me cold). (They also have caoe camps and golf-villages, but somehow, I can’t quite see Tiger making the pilgrimage). It is great to drive such a landscape, even for a short-while, before I happily hand control back to Phyllis as the skies lower and the snow starts to fly past us in gathering gloom.
Eventually, we descend from the last of the eastern, lake-filled valleys into a narrow coastal plain that is known as the Wreck-House. A few kilometres run along the side of the sea with a growing number of houses to either side and suddenly we are in Port aux Basque, day 2 of our journey over. The ferry comes tomorrow.
Port aux Basque (with the contrast turned way up!)