Monday, June 25, 2012

Gaspe - June 2012

On my bucket list has been a trip to northern Quebec to drive around the Gaspe peninsula.  The main road hugs the shoreline of the St. Lawrence River and goes all the way around to the Bay of Chaleurs.  I had seen pictures of the dramatic scenery and some of my family members have done the trip.  Timing was the key.  I wanted to do it before the road and campgrounds got busy during the summer travel months. I also wanted to wait for it to warm up so the camping would be comfortable.  I had a window of time at the end of June with a stretch of good weather forecast.  Anne wanted to go up to Maine and visit her Mom for a few days and wasn't up for a long road trip.  So I made some quick plans and took off.

My plan was to drive up through Vermont and into southern Quebec via I-91 and then proceed along the St. Lawrence River at a leisurely pace.  My plan was to drive about 150 miles/day which would be about 3 hrs of driving time and allow me several hours to explore and stop along the way without having to rush.  I wanted to see some of the national parks in the province and planned to camp in some of them.  I planned at least 6 or 7 days for the trip, but could stay longer if I wanted.

The first day I intended to do a big drive and get up near Quebec city.  The plan was to drive about 400 miles.  The drive up I-91 was pretty with Vermont living up to its name as the Green Mountain State.  Once I crossed into Quebec at Derby Line, Vermont.  The scenery in Quebec was much different from Vermont with lots of commercial development along Rt 55 and Rt 20.

I planned to stay at a campground in Levis which is right opposite from Quebec City.  I got there about 6 pm and got set up in a nice grassy site.

Camping Transit
The campground was small but had several seasonal campers and about a dozen other campers.

After dinner, I met my neighbors, Dennis and Jean from Granby, QC.  They were there to do some biking on the network of biking paths along the St. Lawrence River.  The bike paths were pretty extensive and had routes that went into Quebec City.  The campground, Camping Transit, was a good location to use because it was in a rural setting but only few miles from the ferry over to Quebec.  I wish I had brought a bike as I would have stayed an extra day to do some biking.

I sat around a campfire with Dennis and Jean for about 1 1/2 hrs.  Dennis could only speak a word or two of English and Jean could speak only a few words more.  With my limited French skills we were able to piece together conversations.  It was fun and the beginning of the cultural experience of traveling in Quebec.  In Quebec, all the road signs are in French and French is the dominate language.  I had traveled to Quebec City before and found that most people would speak some English if you asked.  On this trip, I would find that as I traveled north of the city very few people spoke any English until I got back closer to New Brunswick.

Day 2 was really the start of the Gaspe experience.  I headed north east on Rt 20, which is a 4 lane highway up until I reached Rimouski.  From there Rt 132 takes over and is a two lane road that hugs the shore line.  The terrain started out as gentle rolling farm land along the river.  Farming is still quite prominent in this area and at this time of year hay was being cut in most of the fields.  I saw a fair amount of campers and touring motorcycles on the road signaling the start of vacation season.  I felt good to be out on the road with them.

My destination on Day 2 was Parc national du Bic (Bic National Park of Quebec).  This park sits along the St. Lawrence River and encompasses a collection of coves, bays, and mountains.  The park is relatively new being established in 1984 and relatively small covering 12 square miles.  I rolled into the park at around 12:30 pm after having driven 160 miles and was greeted by a friendly park staff that spoke a few word of English.  I got a site in one of three campgrounds that are located in the park.  The campground was pretty empty but would get about half full by the time darkness came.

I spent the afternoon exploring the park.  I hiked up to one observation point that overlooks the main bay.  I then did a shore line hike that passed several coves and beaches and took me out to the main channel of the river.  The network of hiking paths were excellent.  The park also had a network of hard packed biking trails, which was another reminder that I should have brought a bike.  I could have spent another day exploring the part, but felt I had seen the best of what it had to offer.

For Day 3, my destination was Mont-St-Pierre, another 160 miles east on Rt 132.  After passing the last major town, Matane, the road hugged the shore line and the views were breathtaking.  Around every corner was an "Oh my God" view.  I went through the towns of Cap-Chat and Saint-Anne-des-Monts which were very picturesque. 


Saint-Anne-des Monts
I came to Mont-St-Pierre after rounding a corner and was hit with a gorgeous view of large mountains.  The small town sits on a beach that is nestled between large mountains.  It was the prettiest view of the trip so far.

There's not much in Mont-St-Pierre, just a couple of restaurants, a local marche (market), a motel, and a small number of houses.  There's also a municipal campground which was where I was spending the night.  The campground sits about 3/4 of a mile inland from the beach.  It had just opened the for the season a day before I arrived.  When I checked in I asked he lady if she spoke English - "Vous parlez Englais?" I asked.  "No - ne parle pas Englais" she responded.  So I fumble my way thru asking for a campsite with hook-ups in French and paid the fee.  I tried to ask about firewood -"avez-vous firewood?"  "Oui" she responded.  "La que (where)?" I asked.  "Over there in the bin" she said in perfect English.  So much for her not speaking English.

My campsite was wooded and there were only 3-4 other campers in the campground.  Being inland, the mosquitoes where out in force.  A few got into the camper and I spent part of the night swatting at them as they whined by my head.

Campground at Mont-St-Pierre
For this trip, I had prepared 4 days of meals and took stuff for beak fasts and lunch.  This worked out great as I wasn't sure what the market availability would be along the way.  Also, since I eat mostly organic and gluten free, having my own food made it easier to stay on diet.  I ate lunches at road side rest stops, which were every few miles along the road.  For dinner was able to use the microwave to heat up the dinner items I brought.  I didn't buy any food until Day 5 in Carleton-Sur-Mer.

As far as other amenities, I lost cell phone service once I passed Saint-Anne-des Monts and would not have any service or WiFi until I got to Gaspe.  For entertainment, I had a DVD with 20 classic westerns, a book, a mandolin, and campfires.

For Day 4, my destination was the town of Gaspe, which is near the eastern most end the the Gaspe Peninsula.  After leaving Mont-St-Pierre, the road continued to hug the shore line for a few miles.

It then turned inland and became very hilly with lots of sharp turns.  With the RV, it became an uncomfortable drive having the chug up 12% grades and then slow to a crawl to make it around a hairpin turn.  This went on for at least 20 miles and was not fun.  At Riviere-au-Renaud, I'd had enough and decided to turn south on Rt 197 and bypass Cape Rosier.  Rt 197 was a nice smooth ride into Gaspe.

I decided to check out Forillon National Park and got back on Rt 132 driving east along the shore.  I went into the Information Center for the park,  got a map and recommendations on where to go.  I would have liked to do the hike along the Graves trail to the very end of the peninsula, but didn't have the 2 hrs needed for the hike.  I settled on going to Cap Bon Ami, which is on the northern side of the park.  The road into Cap Bon Ami was a little scary being narrow and with a couple 15% grades.  The RV did fine, but anything larger wouldn't have made it.  When I got to Cap Bon Ami, the small parking lot was pretty full.  It was a brilliant warm sunny day and the views were outstanding.

Cap Bon Ami

I hung around for several minutes and just took in the beautiful vista's.  This national park is as pretty as any that are in the US.  It has three campgrounds (only one was open), several beaches, and many hiking trails.  It warrants at least two days to see everything and is on my list for a return visit.

I left the park and made my way back to Gaspe and to my campground for the night which was in the small town of Haldimand, south of Gaspe.

The private campground, Camping Gaspe, was right on the water and I had the pick of any site.  The owners where very friendly and spoke English very well.  The only downside was that the place was loaded with ticks and I had to keep brushing them off.

For Day 5, I would follow Rt 132 south to Perce and then the road would start to head westward around the Bay of Chaleurs.  My first stop was the town of Perce, home to the famous Perce Rock.  The town is very summery with lots of shops, motels, and restaurants.  The dominant feature is the Parc national de I'ile-Bonaventure, a national park of Quebec.  The park include Perce Rock and a small island about a mile off the coast.  The island, Bonaventure Island, is home to many seabirds and has a network of hiking trails.  The island is accessed by a park ferry from the town dock.  It takes a day to explore the island, which I didn't plan to do, but would like to return to spend more time in Perce.

Perce Rock
The road south of Perce flattens out and becomes more rural going through several small towns.  It runs a few thousand feet inland from the water and doesn't have the vista's that exist on the northern side the peninsula.  I stopped in Chandler to have lunch and change some more US dollars into Canadian.  The exchange rate was about 96%, for every US dollar, I got back 96 cents Canadian.  The town of New Richmond was nice with its tree lined streets.  My destination, Carleton-Sur-Mer, was by far the prettiest town on the south coast of the peninsula.  My stop for the night was the municipal campground at Carleton-Sur-Mer.

The campground sits on a sandy spit of land that juts out into the Bar of Chaleurs.  There wasn't much shade but its one of the nicest campgrounds I've been to.  I had a site with the ocean at my back and a view of the towns and mountains to my front.

The weather was hot and sunny when I arrived and was forecast to be the same for the next few days.  Since I was so near the ocean, with a nice site and great weather, I decided to spend two days.

I went out to eat for the first time at Carleton-Sur-Mer.  I ate at a pub style restaurant that had won awards for its food.  It was a Monday about 6 pm and I was the only customer.  I had pan seared sea scallops with lentils, saffron rice, and green beans.  I sat at the bar and talked with the bartender as I ate.  It was delicious.  But I found that restaurant food in Quebec is expensive.  My entree was $26 and I had a $3 soda.  Quebec has a 10% goods and services value added tax and a 5% general sales tax.  Add a 20% tip and my bill was $41.  Ouch!

While in town the next day, I noticed that there was a local fish market, a poissonniere. In fact I noticed signs for these in most of the towns.  I went in and saw they had a large selection of fresh and frozen seafood.  I order some sea scallop (petoncles) and fish cakes for a total of $5.75.  I got some local asparagus from the local marche and cooked myself a great meal for under $10.

On the extra day at Carleton-Sur-Mer, I did a bunch of chores (laundry, washed the van) and walked on the beach.  I was a nice relaxing day and I enjoyed the break form driving.

On Day 7, my route took me through New Brunswick and back to the USA at Van Buren, Me.  The road through New Brunswick (Rt 17) was boring with only one small town in over 40 miles.  I held off getting any more gas in Quebec since it was so expensive (over $5/gal).  My border crossing was amusing and frustrating.  Van Buren is a small town and there was one border agent.  I gave him my passport and he asked me about where I was from and where I'd been.  He then asked about what I had with me for food.  I rattled off what I had in the frig.  I mentioned I had some salad greens.  He seemed interested in that and came out of his booth and rested his arms on my open window.  "What's in the salad?" he asked.  I said "Ah - baby spinach, maybe some arugula, some romaine?"  He seemed to be getting frustrated and said "Any scallions or onions?"  "No" I said.  "Any tomatoes?"  "No" I answer.  With that I got a "Okay, have a nice day".  No questions about weapons, bombs, guns, money, or drugs.  At the Canadian border they welcomed me with a smile and have a great trip.  At the US, there was no welcome back, just a government employee trying to protect the US from foreign scallions and onions.  Another example of how screwed up our Homeland security is.

On my way back to Mass, I stopped in Presque Isle, Me to visit where I had gone to high school.  Much had changed since I'd been there in the late 60's early 70's.  But some of the landmarks like the high school, ski slope, town swimming pool, and theater were still there and brought back memories.
I drove down to Houlton and spent the night there at My Brother Campground.

From there I drove 250 miles to South Portland to visit with my parents.  I spent the night at Bayleys Camping Resort in Scarboro, Me near Pine Point Beach.  I treated my self to a lobster dinner on the beach - a fitting meal to end my trip with.

Pine Point Beach

Overall, I had a great road trip.  I saw some great scenery and got to experience a different culture just 400 miles north of my home.  I drove 1,768 miles over 9 days.  I spent $310 on camping fees and $414 on gas.  I used 107.6 gals of gas an averaged 16.4 mpg, not bad for an RV.  If I go back I would spend more time at Levis to bike in Quebec City, at Forillon National Park to hike and in Perce to see Bonaventure Island.  I did not go into Parc national du la Gaspesie, where some of the big mountains like Mont Albert and Mont Jacques Cartier are, due to the cool weather. Most of that park opens at the end of June.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Blast From the Bayou Festival - June 2012

I took the RV down to Preston, CT to attend the annual Blast From the Bayou Festival.  This is a three day music and dance festival that focuses on Cajun and Zydeco music.  Most of the bands are from Louisiana and most of the attendees are there to dance.  This was my 5th year attending, but it was the first for taking the new RV.  Anne had to work so I went solo – using it as a test voyage for the new RV and to shake the rust off my dancing mojo.

Preston is about 90 miles south from our home.  It’s a short drive and the venue, a nice full service campground, is about 5 miles from the Foxwoods casino.   The lure of the casino and some good food options pulled me into Foxwoods for a few hours the first day.   I should have left after the first hour when I doubled my money, but greed and too much time to kill made me stay longer.   The roulette wheel took back my winnings and then some and I left with only a good dinner in my stomach.  

The new RV was easy to set up.  I had a nice level site with full hook ups (electricity, water, sewer, and cable).   Plug in the power cord, hook up the cable and water and that’s it.   The weather was nice and mild with temps in the mid 70’s.  No need to use the A/C, I just opened the windows and put the ceiling fan on the thermostat.

 The first night had just three bands – one Cajun and two Zydeco.  I hadn’t done any dancing since December, and was a little anxious since I hadn’t done any serious dancing for over 10 months and it had been another year before that.  But it’s like riding a bike.   After a couple waltzes and zydeco two steps all the timing and moves came back.  It’s amazing how something that took a few years to master and doesn’t get used for several months comes right back. 

Having attended this festival for a few years, I’ve gotten to know several people who also attend.   This festival has a large following of regular attendees from all over the country.  It has groups from New York, Providence, and Philadelphia.  I met dancers from California and Florida.  The attendees are also mostly older, with most folks being in their 50’s and most having grey hair.   

One of my friends, Peter, made this comment as I greeted him and his wife on the dance floor. “Look at these folks, Jim – they all have grey hair like us.”   He was right.  On the dance floor in front of us were no 20 somethings or even 30 somethings.  No gen X’s or gen Y’s.  Just a bunch of folks from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s who never lost their love for some good dance music.

On Friday, we had 11 hours of non-stop dance music.  The Pine Leaf Boys and Geno Delafose were the big draws.  The Pine Leaf Boys take the sound of traditional Cajun and Creole music and jack it up on steroids.   They have a unique sound and it is infectious dancing music.   

Geno and his band French Rockin Boogie are one of the best Zydeco bands in the country.  They have a tight sound and with heavy rhythms.  When Geno’s playing your feet don’t stop tapping.    

Geno Delfose and French Rockin Boogie
On Friday, I paced myself and took a break every few dances to rest and rehydrate.  I quit early (8:30 pm) because my feet and hips were sore.

A few comments about the RV and some things I acquired to help with comfort.  The first is packing for my clothes.  On another blog site, I had seen a review for packable cube bags from eBags.  These are small briefcase size nylon bags you use to pack your cloths.  Instead of a large suitcase or duffel bags, I use 2-3 of the packable cubes for my clothes.  They work great in the RV because they easily fit into any of the storage compartments.  Instead of a large bag, you’ve got 2 or 3 smaller bags which fit anywhere.

The other accessory is the RV Superbag.   This is a large sleeping bag made out of two comforters that are zippered together with sheets that fit inside and are Velcro attached to the comforters.  One side is made out of a light weight comforter and the other side is a heavier weight comforter.  In hot weather you use it with the lighter weight on top.  In cold weather you just flip it over and use the heavier weigh on top.   It’s perfect for the RV because with the AC or heater its easy to manage the temperature in the unit so you don’t need anything  heavy.    And it’s easy to set up – you just unroll it and the bed is made up.  Roll it up in the morning and its put away. 

Saturday was mostly spent dancing.  First with Geno again,  Keith Frank Soileau Zydeco Band Family band, which had Kieth’s sister brother and kids in the band.  The little guy on the accordian played every song in the set.

Keith Frank Soileau Zydeco Band
There was L’il Wayne & Same Ole Two Step and Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys.  Steve Riley has a great sound with lots of good melodic waltz's and two steps.  His band is always a favorite with the dancers.  I made it another early night so I could watch the Celtics play.  Too bad they lost.

Sunday was more ancing, but I only danced a few numbers as I wanted to get packed up and headed home in the early afternoon.   

Overall, it was a good trip.  Everything worked fine with the RV and I got comfortable with a daily living routine.  The dancing was also great.