What a contrast. This morning just outside Quebec City, we woke with sunlight was pouring under our blinds and by breakfast time it was too hot to sit outside. Now at the gateway to the Gaspe Peninsula it is cool – chilly even – with clouds like furrowed brows in the evening sky.
Its been a day of organisation. Philippa and I realised last night that with the extra days in Montreal we couldn’t really do the whole route we had planned. Something had to give. So we sat down and worked out where we wanted to spend our remaining month. We re-arranged a couple of bookings to give ourselves a bit more time here in Gaspe and some more time on the Bay of Fundy too. After all, how can you not spend time in somewhere called Fundy?
Tom and P splashed about in the campsite pool, staying cool, while I used the campsite wifi to change our reservations in Maine’s Acadia National Park to give us a bit more time to get there. The Obamas are there at the moment, but somehow I think it unlikely that the First Family is holed up in an elderly motorhome.
The campsite was a funny little place. Some people had bought their own plots and installed patios and swing seats. It was all immaculate. One end bordered a lake, but there was no access to it from the campground, as if the real outdoors was a little too unruly to be allowed to intrude.
Back onto 20. We’d decided that we would head straight up to Gaspe on a fast road rather than stopping to smell the roses. That way we get more time in the parks at Gaspese and Forillon on the wild edge of the peninsula. We shot up to Rivieres du Loup, a workaday place surrounded by agricultural machine shops, gas stations and blank faced supermarkets. The main street was pleasant enough though and we walked up it trying to find somewhere to eat that wasn’t either empty or closed. We eventually found a sandwich place and discovered that Quebec is about to enjoy a three day weekend, so Philippa spent half an hour on the phone booking the next few night’s campgrounds.
Eight miles north of town the freeway came to an end, shrinking to a smaller road. We found ourselves in a procession of trucks carrying lumber, steel castings, tractors. Two enormous snout-nosed trucks came barrelling down the road, wide-load warning flags flapping, hauling new grain silos like giant missiles on shiny trailers. There were no effete grocery delivery vans or department store transporters here. They would have been beaten up. We coasted through intensely green farmland with wonderful splashes of colour; a purple blur of lupins beside a sunny field of mustard. The air was ripe with manure. Tom protested and he was even more indignant when Philippa bought some strawberries “fresh from the farm”. “What!” he said. “They were growing in MANURE?!!”
We are tracing the edge of the St Lawrence River which gets wider and wider to the point where it becomes an Atlantic inlet. Gaspese was settled first by the “Amerindians” as they are called here, then by the Vikings. Later it was opened up by Italian explorers, then Basque and Breton fishermen who Jacques Cartier met in 1534 when he “discovered” Canada in that self-important way of so many foreign explorers who assume that as they didn’t know about a place before, no-one did. Anyway he claimed it in the name of the King of France. And the rest, as they say, is an essay question. We aren’t really in Gaspese proper yet, but already the peninsula looks different. The churches have elaborate slim towers coated in some kind of shiny metal. Some look almost Italianate with fancy brickwork and slim, elegant windows. The older wooden houses have steeply pitched roofs which flare out at the bottom and are often brightly painted; duck-egg blue, oxblood, peppermint.
We’ve seen the first hints of a coastal economy too. There are occasional signs by the road offering lobster and crab, and at least one “Poissonniere” in every village. One had three, narrow, grey-painted smoke sheds. When I stopped for petrol Philippa nipped off to one of these places where she got some fish and smoked shrimp. She said they were difficult to light.
In Trois Pistols we rounded a corner and there was a familiar shark-nosed shape parked in a driveway, It was another GMC in silver and purple. We seem to have spent most of the day in Harvey and I guess we broke our rule about not driving for more than three hours in any one day, but now we have more time to enjoy the best of the peninsula. This park is right on the edge of the estuary and tomorrow we will go walking and look for seals and moose, though the forecast is looking distinctly Atlanticky…