Acadia National Park Maine. Mile 3732

President Obama and family were here a couple of weeks ago, but I doubt they would have had to listen to the guy across the campground from us playing his guitar and leading the singalong for quite as long as we have. Had we been the First Family, I imagine a nondescript but athletic individual with an earpiece would have gone over and made it a matter of national security. I’m not against three middle aged people regaling the neighbours with their rendition of “Back in the USSR” – we’ve all done it – but after a couple of hours I am looking for my gun. Harvey actually has a gun cupboard with a lock, but we keep books in it and I’m not sure that runnng out brandishing “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” would have the same effect. Actually it might…

It didn’t.

Anyway. So now we are deep into America, having persuaded the border police that nothing they had read about us was true. It was a pleasant enough crossing – if a little complicated and requiring a lot of paperwork and questions. We crossed into Calais, which is a border we are familiar with in France, where it is pronounced Calay, but in Maine it is Callas.

On the Canadian side of the river the town is St Stephen and it feels like a border town somehow. I wonder what it would feel like if you didn’t know it was a border town? But you do, with direction signs on the main street saying “USA, left turn” and shops advertising that they take both kinds of dollars. There was a busyness to the place that wasn’t justified by anything other than its location.

Before we crossed the border we used up our remaining Canadian cash at a Tim Horton’s, which we have passed a million times since entering Canada and never stopped at because of a misplaced snobbery that they were some kind of Canadian McDonalds, Oh no. Nancy in Halifax put us right on that one. They also serve great coffee in a range of civilised sizes so you don’t have to get a bucketful of the stuff AND they sell terrific pastries and donuts and again you can get little mouthful-sized things if you want for less than a dollar. Why on earth didn’t we come here before?

Having used up our $9.29 with the bemused server (“Hi, we want to spend $9.29. What shall we have?”) we turned left for the USA and joined the queue over the bridge into America. The entry point was a bit like a tollbooth, but we pulled over and went into the old customs house now serving as a border post. Though doubtless equipped with the latest state of the art everything it was also a rather homely sort of place with chipped formica counters and old metal file drawers with the officer’s names on, which some had decorated with pictures of their kids. There was none of the sullen irritation found in Dulles or JFK here, but a willingness to help and actually a very friendly officer who dealt with Philippa, and beamed when talking about his young son. “Welcome back” he said – and meant it.

At this point, the front of the GMC was in the US while the back was in Canada

While were there an officer ran in and said “call 911, there’s a van on fire out here!” and he pointed in the direction of Harvey. I felt an icy lump form in my stomach and ran out to see that actually there was smoke pouring from under a minivan on the other side of Harv. The owner was pulling into the petrol station and his wiring had got a bit too hot. The smoking soon stopped, the fire brigade arrived and we went on our way into Maine.

They call this bit of Maine “Down East”. Its not very touristy and not particularly prosperous. We passed endless grocery stores up for sale or falling down; a “Dairy Dreams” snack bar with its roof falling in, next to a house looking blindly through boarded up windows. Occasionally we saw people by the road selling things from trestle tables – clothes mostly. The road varied between newly-laid fresh black asphalt and ancient rotting tarmac creased by the sun and the cold and crumbling away at the edges. I drove right down the middle for as much as I could.

In East Machias we saw a restaurant with tables outside covered in dazzling white tablecloths. Lots of cars were parked by the road and we joined them  but found that the restaurant was closed and there was a wedding going on. From the road we looked down a grassy bank to a simple wooden arbor made of birch poles where we could hear the bride and groom saying their vows. It was a lovely little scene.

“But what did you do about lunch”? I hear you ask. Well thanks for your concern. We had lunch at Helen’s Restaurant in Machias three miles further on, and it was excellent, since you asked. Philippa had a succulent lobster roll and I had a Haddock sandwich (“our best selling item!”) composed of freshest, whitest, moistest, and best cooked piece of fish I think I have had on this whole trip.

Across the road was a travelling funfair manned by bored hispanics with no English. But Tom learned how to work a dodgem car and during those five minutes went from cross-faced “this was a waste of money I can’t make it work” to bouncing with excitement “thiswasbrilliantmyabsolutefavourite”. He also went on the whirling saucers twice and wanted to keep going. Philippa and I felt dizzy watching.

 

And back on Highway 1, winding through canyons of trees almost up the road’s edge until we reached Acadia. Its a big park and not quite as either of us had imagined. We were expecting untrammelled wilderness but its actually collection of very pretty villages, surrounded by craggy shoreline and modest mountains carefully arranged to look gorgeous.

We shall explore tomorrow and Tom has promised to wait until 8 before going to find Sophia who is camping a couple of sites down and is six, going on, ooh at least eight. She marched over to us all blond hair and confidence as we were sitting outside and swept Tom away. They played together until it was dark and I think he is a bit smitten.

Author: Richard Lister

Chasing horizons...

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