Sunday, July 10, 2016

Fogo - El Fuego: A Newfie Blog

July 8:  Breakfast is tasty and plentiful and the coffee is great! We are up and packed into the car before 9 a.m. 

Our gift from Cugina, the consummate travel organizer – Poo Pourri, for the shared bathroom in our next accommodation. I forgot to mention the first one – a CD of traditional Newfie songs, which we played all the way here.

Along the way, there’s only one delay – a police officer with radar. What the hell?

We reach the Fogo Island Ferry port in perfect time. It’s a blue sky, lovely fluffy clouds, and sun, but the air is chilly. Breathing in the salt-infused air fills us with energy.

We can see the ferry making her way toward us, slow and majestic. Emphasis on the slow.

It's interesting watching the workers jigsaw us onto the ferry. We're lucky we all fit. It's not easy to navigate out of the cars, but we finally make our way up on deck. From here we can watch the dark blue waters rush by. It's sunny, windy and cool, but in the protected spots, we can thoroughly enjoy the view. 

 And there be an iceberg! Bleach white, shaped like the flat body and wing of a plane, languishing on the sea, cuddled up to an island of rock. Beautiful, mournful, slice of ancient history, sliding into oblivion.

Disembarking on the island is fast and easy, in comparison to the load. We're now on the largest of Newfoundland's offshore island, 25 km long and 14 km wide, communities that avoided resettlement by voting against it. There are eleven villages “each with its own distinctive flare and allure.” The inhabitants reinvented themselves into a haven for artists and tourists instead of the previously abundant fishery trade
The land is filled with short, skinny trees, that green pallet once more, fed by the rain and water. Rocks are piled everywhere like dinosaur bones. 

Moss and lichen carpet the ground. Sun glints off the water. Post card houses, red and ochre and green and blue, trimmed with white, little red fishing sheds everywhere. Orange and yellow and purple wildflowers wave in the wind. Butterflies flit through the grasses. 

Our Oasis by the Sea cottage, in Stag Harbour, is gloriously situated on the bay, where the breezes are fresh and cool. It's quiet and peaceful and lovely. The cottage only has one bathroom, which is a bit of a problem for us old folk, but we manage with good humour and Poo Pourri.

Our back yard at the cottage!
We take a drive into the town of Fogo and have lunch at Mudder's. 

Next we see Brimstone Head, "a piece of rocky landscape jutting into the sky. The Flat Earth Society believes this is one of the four corners of the earth." John and Dennis leave us so they can climb to the top. Last time they were here, Wendy and Dennis climbed and looked down into the "aqua of an iceberg."

Wendy, Maire, Vince and I drive back through the town. We sneak down a side street and stare at a small (in relation to the others) iceberg that looks like Nessie the Lochness Monster curled up on the water. We backtrack to another trail up the Fogo Head, where we stand and stare at the larger of the ice bergs, carved like a huge sail ship.

We meet a fella up there who loves to talk. He states he doesn't see the point of climbing up to the top of the hill. "You can see everything down here and once you're up there, it's all just farther away," he says. We like that reason for not climbing the 300 steps. Of course we tell John and Dennis that we did it, but for some reason they don’t believe us.

When we collect John and Dennis from Brimstone (they have pictures to prove they made it to the top), we head to Joe Batt's Arm, scout out a store and the Fogo Island Inn, where you can get a room for a mere $1000 for the night. Justin and Sophie and the kids were there last month!  We try to get a reservation for lunch tomorrow, but they are fully booked.

We have dinner at Nicole's Café, yummy fish and veggies and, of course, beer, wine and Mermaids. By the time we make our way home, the sun is spreading a beautiful pink colour all across the tops of the trees, filtering down on our bay, and the boats are silent and all we can hear is the rush of water and calls of gulls and insects.

We decide to sit around the campfire. Cugina has brought some beautiful Chinese lanterns. Unfortunately, no one has matches and the lighter in the house doesn’t work. We contemplate what to do as we look at the instructions for the lantern. The list of more than a dozen don’ts is rather daunting.  One, for instance, warns that we should not consume alcohol while launching the lights. We’re past that rule. We’re also not wearing fire retardant clothing. But wait – we still don’t have matches.

Someone suggests lighting a piece of paper from the stove. Dennis disappears inside. Suddenly out he dashes outside with a flame that seems to come out of his sleeve. 

He throws it on the fire just in time. On top we pile cardboard and paper and wood. Even the sheet of lantern instructions goes in. (Later, I come to regret that action.)

Soon there’s a lovely orange-flamed fire crackling in the pit. Smoke keeps the ‘squitoes away. The moon is a slight white sliver and stars begin to pop.
Then the wind dies down. Lantern time.

First they struggle to get the little fuel square lit with a burning stick. Cugina has to go to You Tube to play the instructions on how to light a lantern, since someone burned the instructions! Next we have to wait until the lantern fills with warm air before it’s ready to let go into the sky. That little pink bit of cloth can soar! Soon it looks like a dot beside the moon.

I really can’t believe we have done this. I’d give the grandkids hell for such behaviour. Still, we can’t stop laughing until the fire goes out and the lantern makes a graceful descent.

July 9: In the morning, we go searching for food. It’s a beautiful day, warm, all the colours enhanced by the sunlight. We drive through Joe Batt’s Arm toward Tilting. 

The landscape turns scrubby. Light and dark lichen blanket the rock. The large iceberg is closer now and we can see one large piece on one side, the “sail” carving on the other. Later we realize that the two pieces have separated.

Suddenly within the somewhat barren horizon rise unique shocks of architecture. Black, white, sharp angles, they’re out by themselves, suspended on the seashore, surrounded by some of the most picturesque scenery in the world. These studios are completely off grid, according to Cugina’s information. They are paired with a salt box, a traditional Newfoundland house, where they can access some amenities. “Fogo Island is a place of stunning beauty and the setting for an exciting sociological and economic experiment in which architecture, as a vital component within the fabrication of culture and the identity of a place, plays a central role.” 

 Lovely clapboard homes with Jellybean colours and trim overlook the harbour. Red fishing huts, some old and beautifully preserved, others new and marked as man caves, perch on wooden docks jutting into the sea.  Lobster and crab traps are piled at the side of the docks.

We drive onto a boat launch, still looking for breakfast, and can’t help but take pictures. From the open sea, a punt (small fishing boat) drives up and latches to the side. One of the fishermen calls out, “Do you want to see some cod?” Of course we say yes!

The men are friendly and clearly excited about their haul. When Dennis holds up one of the cod, it’s nearly as long as he is. One of the fishermen turns out to be Roy Dwyer, whose book I noticed in the Wind and Waves store. He shows us how a jigger works. They attach squid to the hook, catch the cod by the mouth, and jig it up and down so they can haul it up.

Dennis has a talk with a local lady, who tells us there are no restaurants in Tilting. She also doesn’t invite us to her house for breakfast. 

Thus we end up back at Nicole’s in Joe Batt’s Arm.  Now it’s brunch and the full plates reflect that. I buy scones for tomorrow’s breakfast and John gets the coffee.

We decide to go back to the Wind and Waves and buy Roy’s book. 

Back in the town of Fogo, we head for the Lion’s Den trail. We’re able to drive a good way up the hill and stop at the Interpretation Centre.


Wendy, Vince, John, Dennis and I start up the hill toward the trail. The information tells us that it’s just over 5 km long and has views of abandoned villages. We only make it up to the “original Marconi site.” The house that used to be home to the wireless operators and their families is now a gazebo and only a flag marks the spot from which the signals would swim through the air. 

Breathtaking views of the town of Fogo from here! Including Brimstone and the hill that we did (not) climb. 

Our tour of the interpretation centre is very interesting. The wireless centres sometimes doubled as the seat of justice, so I get to try out the witness box. Perfect for a crime writer.
Back at the cottage, we bask in the brilliant sun, follow the flights of the gulls, listen to the quiet. The tide is in, so the kelp is covered and most of the rocks look like hippo heads. A couple of beers later, a few of us are ready to move again.

Wendy, Dennis and I drive through Fogo and check out a couple of restaurants for dinner. In the first one, the food smells good, but it’s extremely plain and windowless. The cockroach in the urinal when I use the washroom does it. No thanks. We head over to the Beaches Family Restaurant, which turns out to be great. We make reservations. Dennis checks the washroom this time. No bugs.

We drive through the town and bungle our way into Joe Batt’s where we take pictures of the punts in a string across the bay. They’re ready for the race that happens soon – though not soon enough for us to participate. Shame, that.

Wendy and I visit Mona’s Craft store, where I buy a lap quilt that Mona made. I like this feisty woman instantly; there is something about her creative spirit that speaks to me, so I simply had to get a fragment of her work. Wendy buys jam for the scones.

We drive up (against the rules) the hill and do a quick scout of the Fogo Island Inn. It’s not as impressive up close. The ship shape isn’t so visible and it’s just plain white clapboard (or something). We’re happy we didn’t pay $2800 for a night there.

Dinner at the Beaches is delicious. Very full once again, we return to the cottage for another fire. Despite some borrowed matches, we can’t get the fire going. Karma for the borrowed matches. We do have to get up early to catch the ferry, so most of us get out of the cool mosquito night and go to bed.
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