Walkabouts and wonders

"A life not examined is a life not lived" – Socrates

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Newfoundland journey

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....

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.

Sea loch NewfdlndAfter 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!)

Port aux Basque (with the contrast turned way up!)

St John’s impressions

Unfortunately, I haven’t been here long enough to offer more than this brief photo-record – a bit of the city, the harbour and the colours – hard looking, but a really welcoming place on the edge of one of the stormiest winter seas in the world.

Across the harbour

Across the harbour
Up we go

Up we go

And down

And down

Next stop, Ireland

Next stop, Ireland

Entering harbour on a calm day.

Entering harbour on a calm day.

The harbour itself

The harbour itself

Newfoundland?

My small but loyal following will be aware that I am shortly planning to leave the shores of wet, wet, wet England for the balmy climes of India. Which is why they might have been surprised to see me in my local Cotswolds shop buying rain-resistant trousers, mountain gloves, wooly socks , base-layers (long-underwear to us older folks) and a smarter than average fleece top. Not the sort of thing you would expect to wear on the high street in Calcutta, or even, frankly, in damp-but-rarely-worse Hertfordshire.

St John's old town

St John’s old town, apparently.

Well, I am now off to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, lands of ice and snow at this time of year, where it blows so hard, they literally have to tie the houses down (see “The Shipping Report” if you don’t believe me) and moose in snow represent a serious driving threat. All because of my brother.

John, I should explain, is the real adventurer. Over the last twenty years he has spent an awful lot of time sailing in the arctic, taking wonderful pictures and gathering amazing stories of local peoples and wild-life. His latest e-published book is a fascinating journal of a world rarely seen by most people which you can find on his website. But the thing about John – he is also one of the most careful guys I know. His boat typically has at least two levels of back-up to the main systems (navigation, propulsion and emergency) and he and Phyllis, his lovely wife, are well studied in outdoor survival, wilderness first aid, and all the rest. Which is what I was thankful for, despite the huge shock I got, when I received an email from Phyllis about him winding up in hospital with a severely broken leg, after a four hour stretcher journey out of the wilderness of Newfoundland. That was about ten weeks ago and although he has made a pretty good start on the road to recovery (though only just able to walk without a frame) he and Phyllis have been stuck all this time in a rented apartment in St John’s, about 500 miles away from home.

And that is why I am going – John and Phyllis not only need to get home, but they need to take their car with them. John can’t drive, so I will be the support driver and substitute muscle – besides providing scintillating conversation, humour and brotherly love…… Ok.

So, my next postings and photos will probably be filled with snow, mountains and mists rather than temples, tea plantations and rhododendrons. What’s not to like!

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