Sunday: Hopedale, Labrador

We thought that the morning would find us already near Hopedale, but there were ice issues in the night, so we had to turn South for a while. During the morning we got to see France Rivet’s film about the Inuit family that was in a European human zoo.  It was very interesting, and very sad.  It makes me wonder what the Smithsonian’s policy is on repatriation of human remains that they have in their collection.  I feel like museums should be proactive about attempting to return those remains to their homelands and people.

After lunch I spent some time on the deck watching the ship navigate the “Hopedale Run” a stretch through some islands, and then spotted the radio antennas of the village and the unique Nunatsiavut Legislative Assembly.  The front looks like an igloo and the back section has similar architecture to the Moravian assembly houses, very straight and European but combining together to make one unit.

On shore, the mayor (a woman) of Hopedale greeted us and told us about the sites we could see. I started at the museum, which showed the history of the native people and the influence of the Moravian missionaries.  Then I went into the church.  The building was built in 1865 and is still in active use as a church today.  Parts of the building are not in good shape, and some hold artifacts from an earlier time while others are in use as Sunday school rooms.  There were men and women from the village selling crafts, seal mittens and boots, knitted and crocheted items and also carvings.  I bought a pair of socks knitted by the Moravian women’s knitting circle, and a crocheted hat in the colors of the Labrador flag.

Ali and I then walked to the local restaurant which was offering three vital things: Cake, tea, and wifi.  There were even a few hotel staff from the ship that had come over to take advantage of this resource.  That’s where I was able to upload some pictures yesterday.

A little farther on was the legislative building.  The floor of the assembly room was labradorite, the seat backs were seal skin, and there was a large polar bear skin on the floor.  Each of the five Nunatsiavut communities elects representative to this assembly.  In another room of the center local high school boys and their coach were showing us games, like seeing who can jump and kick a stick that is held in the air, several types of wresting, including leg wrestling, and a competition to see who can do the most one arm push-ups.  After this showing there was another snack.  This one was smoked Arctic Char.  Very delicious!

A little more walking (the whole area we walked looked to me to be the length of about 4 football fields) took us to the grocery store.  It had lots of frozen meat, very few fresh vegetable and lots of cans of sloppy joe mix (on sale!)  There was also a candy selection where I bought  a Mars bar to serve as my costume for Explorer’s night. (I found a bear hat in the costume bins that were provided, and I renamed it a dog hat so I could be the Mars Rover.  Get it? Not many others did either.)

While we were away the Zodiac dock had deteriorated, but we were escorted down the rocks to another spot and safely made it aboard.  The usual dinner followed on our return, and we ended up sitting at a table with another woman named Eleanor and she was having a birthday.  The staff sang Happy Birthday and brought a cake over.  (This is a good moment to say that the food is excellent but there have been several desserts that seem to be rationing sugar.  Not sure if that is a mistake or a Canadian thing.  Ali and I found it a bit startling, but some of our Canadian friends pronounced it “delicious.”  It is also possible that it is extreme politeness, and of course, we have made no comment either, though I signed up for a galley tour, and I will be eagle eyed for the sugar barrel and the lock thereon.

After dinner the schedule said “Labrador Bluff,” but this was not the rock lecture that I expected, but instead a game where three staff members, Inuit community member Jason, Historian John Major and artist Billy were given a word and they would give a definition. One was telling the truth, and two were bluffing.  We were in teams and had to guess who was telling the truth.  It was very fun, their definitions were very funny, and our team was terrible, only getting 4 of the 10 right.

A final note for the day: as we pulled away from Hopedale, I noticed that as the sun set, the European part of the assembly house faded into the background and all that showed was the white igloo, shining in the darkness.

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Hopedale, Labrador has wifi. Here come the pics

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Saturday: Fog and Bears

At breakfast this morning I sat with a woman named France (yes, she’s French Canadian.)  She had heard a story about a Inuit family who was taken to Europe and put on exhibit.  They would live in a traditional house and do their thing as people looked at them through a fence.  Of course, they died from small pox, but one of them knew how to write and recorded a diary of what happened. Their bones are in a museum in Paris.  She began to research the story and help to repatriate the bones to the Inuit people.  She wrote a book about it and made a film and we will be seeing it on the trip.  There are about 200 people on board and every meal or zodiac trip or just sitting in the lounge brings the opportunity to meet new people and hear interesting stories.

When we woke today, in Cape Porcupine, we were surrounded by fog and there was some question as to if we would be able to land.  There was a bit of a delay, during which we had our bear safety lecture.  There are black bears in this area and there will be polar bears as we go farther north.  The guidelines are essentially this:  Don’t go past the spotters in the orange vests.  They create a perimeter in which we need to stay.  In this situation with the fog, that is another complication, since the fog not only makes it hard to see the shore it also makes it hard to see the bears.  Because of the fog if we are able to go ashore the perimeter will be very small and we will stay on the beach.

In the end they got around the fog by sending the zodiacs in groups of four, navigating by GPS.  We were on the Wonder Strand, a long stretch of beach on the coast of Labrador near the community of Cartwright.  Pete (a woman from Cartwright) was doing a “Boil up” meaning cooking us some food on the beach.  We had “flummies” a fried biscuit, topped with berries or “bakeapple” which is a traditional jam, actually made from a local berry.  We were able to walk along the beach and a little way up onto the land.  There were lots of interesting rocks and stream meanders.  I found what the geologist identified as a piece of sedimentary gneiss.  She was really excited about it, because she said that was unusual for this area.  There was even a picture of me holding the rock on the evening wrap-up.  The archeologist with us found (with the help of passengers) 3 possible sites, a possible ship wreck, an old cabin, and the possible remains of a sod house.  Lots of stuff to see, even in the small area the bear spotters gave us!

After the return and lunch, I finally got my siesta, which had been taken off the schedule because of the fog.  Later in the afternoon I went to a talk about the Moravian mission settlements in Labrador.  The Moravian Christian missionaries were successful, they think, because they learned Inuktitut, and respected the native timing of hunts and other traditions.  Where they were less accepting was musically.  They banned the use of the native drums, and pressed forward with their Moravian hymns, which became very popular and integrated into the music of the community.  The music expert (now you see why we have these guys) told us that there is a local radio program that takes requests and 50% are requests for Moravian hymns.  I’m really looking forward to visiting Hopedale, one of these communities tomorrow.  It is also the legislative capital of Nunatsiavut, which is an area of Inuit along the Labrador coast that became self-governing in 2006.

At dinner we sat with Mike, from California, who was a teamster, and most recently drove for the TV show “Scandal.”  He also worked surveying the oil fields in Alaska when he was about 20 and traveled all over the place before getting into trucking.  Another meal, another interesting person!

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Friday: Whales and Vikings

We are awoken each morning by the voice of Matthew James, our Expedition Leader.  He tells our location, the time, and the weather.  This morning there was an additional treat of a rendition of “Oh, Canada” since today is Canada Day (and as we learned in Newfoundland, also Remembrance Day.)  The singer was the expedition’s musical expert.  Yes, that’s right, we have a music expert. Actually, we have two!  We also have a botanist, an archeologist, a geologist, an author, a bird expert, a historian, etc., etc., etc.  Adventure Canada covers all the bases.

About five minutes after the wakeup call, Matthew James came back on to let us know that a whale had been spotted, then a few minutes later he reported that a bunch of whales had been spotted.  We headed up to the deck and saw at least five whales swimming around.  That number continued to increase so when they got the zodiacs ready they took us out closer to them.  It was really amazing.  Lots of spouts blowing in the air which we were so close we could hear, fins and tails flapping out even big jaws coming out to scoop up fish.  There was also a great moment when a big group of harp seals popped their noses out of the water.  Later in the day the animal guy (yet another expert!) told us that a certain type of fish had come into the area and that had brought the seals and the whales in.  It was a really cool experience, especially to see it from water level in the zodiac.

After our whale tour it was time to sail in and meet the Vikings, or more correctly, the Norse.  You were only a Viking if you were out raiding.  The villages in this area were not permanent settlements, but probably scouting and repair stations for further travel.

There were two landings today.  When I first came in, I went to the reenactment village of Norstead.  There were multiple buildings, chicken, sheep, and people going about the daily business of the Norse.  There was a blacksmith and several women, some trading, others weaving or doing a very interesting type of one needle knitting called naling, I think.  There was of course a small gift shop, and because of the day there was a large cake with the Canadian flag.  The woman offered me a piece, and as I took one, she commented on the crumbs others had left on the floor and proceeded to clean the area with a broom and mop.  I told her I would be careful, so I was really glad she was looking the other way when I dropped my piece, frosting side down, onto the clean floor.  I cleaned it up while she wasn’t looking, and of course, went ahead and ate it as the floor was clearly kept clean enough to eat off of.  Also I was hungry.

I considered staying in town, but the only restaurant looked pretty fancy so I went back to the ship, where my meal was already paid for.  After lunch, it was out again, this time catching a bus to the L’anse Aux Meadows Interpretation center, where there was a tour to see the actual site where the real Norse settlement was located.  The archeological evidence was discovered in the 60’s, the site had been fully excavated and restored to how it would have looked in the 60s, with grassy mounds outlining a series of rooms.  Our Parks Canada guide was excellent and gave information of how the stories in the Sagas combined with the architectural evidence. For example, the common interpretation of Vinland, is land of grapes, but he pointed out that grapes not only wouldn’t grow well there, it was more common for the Norse to name their sites after physical features and if you pronounce Vinland differently it means land of grassy slopes, so our guide thought that was more likely correct.  Really amazing to walk on the spot of such an early settlement, and also probably the site where the European peoples from the East met with the aboriginal people who came from the West, thus completing the circle from the earliest migrations of people out of Africa.  I hope to order a copy of the video: Completing the Circle, which tell that story and the story of this early settlement, so I can show it at school.  Don’t know why I didn’t just buy one at the gift shop.  I also should have bought one of the naling kits to try that one needle knitting.  I was probably confused at the point of purchase.  There’s a lot happening on this trip!

I’m delighted to see that tomorrow’s schedule has a “morning siesta” scheduled, because today was exhausting. In a good way, but exhausting.  I’m also realizing that I had not come to terms with what it means to be on a ship for a week and a half.  I miss reading the news, and I don’t have the megabytes to spare.  But any who, I’m sure I’ll get into a routine and I could also do exciting things like actually read the book I brought.  I’m missing my people at home.  Hello to you all!

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Thursday: Riding in a Zodiac, Bird Cove and Sealers Memorial on Elliston Island

The areas we are going to are remote and don’t have a port to accommodate the ship, so we ride the small Zodiac craft to the shore.  After our early wakeup and breakfast, we wait for our call to the mudroom, where we put on our boots and outdoor gear and are then sent in groups of ten to board the zodiac.  I do as I was taught during the previous night’s briefing: grabbing the helpers’ arms with the sailor’s grip (wrist to wrist, not hand to hand) step on the side of the zodiac, then the step, then the floor of the zodiac, then sit on the side of the zodiac as directed by the driver.  It’s a little nerve-wracking, as you are sitting on the side of this rubber boat and all you have to hold onto is a rope that is behind you.  I put my backpack in-between my feet and lean forward, fearful I will lean back too far and fall into the water.  It was a fun, sometimes bumpy ride, one that would probably benefit from a nice three-point seatbelt.  We landed on the island, and once again, I was intent on grabbing the arms properly and sliding forward and swinging my legs out of the zodiac and not slipping on the ramp, but I made it, and then took my boots off and left them with everyone else’s on the dock.  Our guide for the day was Sarah and we got on a bus to ride to the puffin nesting area.  There were lots of the cute orange beaked birds.  A local woman also showed us various local plants.  As a side bonus, Elliston is the “Root Cellar Capital of the World!”  We saw some nice root cellars for sure which makes sense because root vegetables are going to be more common at this latitude and you need a good place to store them so they don’t freeze!   After about an hour at that site, we got back onto the bus to go to the Sealing Museum (About the life of people who hunt seals) and a memorial for a few very great losses of sealing ships.

In the time that was left I visited a church and cemetery and a nice man’s house with giant condensed milk can made from an oil drum.  The man was outside his house and said he just sometimes got a mind to do things like that.  Like many Canadians, when he discovered I was from the US, he asked me what I thought about the election.  I’ve been keeping a tally and so far it is 8 to 1 in favor of Donald Trump being a nutter.

After the ride back and lunch we had our first iceberg spotting!  There were two of them, or perhaps it was two pieces of the same one, I couldn’t see if it was attached under  the water.  They had a blue tinge, and the shapes indicated that it had tilted somewhere on its journey from Greenland.  I learned all this stuff, because they did a play-by-play of information over the ship loudspeaker.

The first full day on the ship would indicate that even when traveling (moving from one landing site to another) we won’t lack for entertainment.  Since lunch there has been a talk on the history of Newfoundland and Labrador (I was sleepy and napped through a lot of that, but I did catch that Newfoundland was one of the few places to almost return to colonial status during an economic crisis); a talk on the geology of the area (The rocks that make up St. John’s are actually part of the African plate.  The rocks there are identical to the ones in Morocco.); then tea time; then another talk, this one on the history of the Norse in Newfoundland.  We are visiting a site the Norse lived tomorrow.

The Adventure Canada staff are really interested in making this an educational experience.  Also a fun one: there was a Captain’s Reception (free drinks!) tonight and everyone is friendly and its fun to meet them and the other travelers.  That’s just the first full day!

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All Aboard the Ocean Endeavor – Day Four

We took a cab (uphill) to breakfast at Gracie’s and then a cab (horizontal, but we were in a hurry to go see something before Anne left for her plane) to the Catholic Basilica and the Presentation Convent, where we had been told by several people that we should go and see the Veiled Virgin Statue.  We were given a tour of the public rooms of the convent by a very sweet young woman, and reports were absolutely on the mark: the statue was incredible.  Carved out of a single piece of marble it looks like Mary is wearing a translucent veil.  You can see her profile through the veil.  It was just amazing.

Back at the hotel Ali and I said farewell to Anne, then went and organized our own luggage before checking in with the Adventure Canada.  There are about 200 people on the trip and they were filling the small lobby.  After dropping off our luggage we got a quick sandwich and then got on the busses with everyone else for the city tour.

The tour guide talked about the city as we went through, but didn’t stop so I am glad we got there a few days early to see the local sites.  We did get to two places I hadn’t been yet.  First was Cape Spear, which is the northernmost point in North America (the guide said when you stand there, everyone else in North America is behind you.)  Also at Cape Spear was a WWII observation post to spot enemy U-boats.  I think that must have been a very cold and lonely posting.  Next stop was Signal Point and Cabot Tower.  There were some soldiers dressed in period costumes, I thought perhaps for some sort of takeover, but it turns out it is some British group that does a yearly reenactment event.  Signal Point was where the signal was received for the first transatlantic telegram.

Back down the hill and to the ship!  We had our passports checked and then went aboard.  Ali says this ship used to be a car carrier that was rehabbed into an Adventure Canada expedition ship.  On top of the ship are the black rubber Zodiac boats that will take us ashore each day.  There is a sun deck, a pool, a sauna, and also plenty of places to walk around and look out.  It’s very nice, but functional, not glamourous.  Inside there are various lounges, a library, a dining room and a spa where one can get a massage.  Sadly, not a free massage.  Massages and drinks are extra.

In addition to a fancy nametag, I have been given a badge with a bar code that serves as a room key and also a means that they check us off and on the ship.  Additionally, there is a colored dot with a number that is my travel group (green) and my mud room locker number (63).  Our cabin is for three and we met our roommate Suzanne, who is from Toronto.  There are two beds, a couch that makes into a bed, lots of cubbies for our stuff and two bathrooms.

First order of business was an abandon ship drill.  We report to our muster station, where they call roll, then we move in groups of 50 to the life boats and put on the life vests.  Very exciting, but a slow process. I hope we don’t need to do abandon ship of course, but if we do the group I am in better shake a tail feather.

Second step was to get our boots that we will use on the zodiacs.  Some landings are “wet landings,” where you definitely will step in the water, and others are “dry landings” where you step onto a gangway, but they recommend you wear the boots either way, since water can splash into the zodiac at any time.

Once the various safety and informative tasks were done, we were encouraged to go out on deck as we headed out of the harbor through “The Narrows” the neck of the harbor. It was really cool, sailing out of the harbor, people on the walking paths and by houses on shore waving, passing Signal Hill at the mouth of the harbor, all of this while the sun was setting.

We have now had dinner and are well on our way.  Wake up is at 6:00 tomorrow for the first day of adventuring!

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St. John’s Newfoundland is not the same place as St. John’s New Brunswick – Day Three

Note: I’m aboard the ship now and I have paid for a wifi code so I can post from the ship, but I don’t know how many posts 200MB will get me and it was too pricey to buy another, so I’ll post what I can, and when it runs out I’ll share the rest when I return to the wifi world. No pics for now.

Anne and I got up and about early to go on a puffin and whale watching trip.  We enjoyed our conversation with the driver sent to fetch us, and it was amusing when the base called him and told him to go back, that there was a group he forgot to pick up in St. John.  He dutifully turned around and headed back, but they called again 15 minutes later to say that the group was actually in St. John’s New Brunswick, which is a whole other island and quite far away.  Anne had nearly made this mistake when booking a hotel, so we appreciated this groups error in booking a boat trip on the wrong island.

The boat ride was fun.  Cold and windy, very noisy on the ears, I suspect sailors have hearing problems later in life.  We stopped for a while and watch the puffins and seagulls nesting on one island, and then went a little further out to sea and were lucky enough to see three humpback whales.  The water is very clear here and the white spots on the humpback appear as a little neon locater.

After the ride home, there was lunch at Pi a pizza place, and then some lolling about at coffee shops, a nice dinner then back to the hotel.  Anne repacked, since she is leaving early tomorrow.

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