Sunday, August 02, 2009

Travel Rewind: Found: New Land (August 2008)

Travel Rewind: Found: New Land (August 2008): (In honor of my trip to Maine, here is a previous trip in that direction, this one much further. Photos are on SmugMug.)

I was rather surprised that many of my friends didn't know where Newfoundland was and weren't really sure if it was a stand-alone country or a province or region or what. It was then I realized that I am a geography geek. In fact, I think I have been most of my life. As a child I loved maps and even now the walls of my home are decorated with antique maps from the mid 19th century, so my instinctive response was to furrow my brow incredulously: How could you not know where Newfoundland is? But I'm the weird one, not them.

Actually, the first question they asked was if I was bringing back a dog, because when you say Newfoundland, everyone thinks of the dog. For the record I saw no Newfoundlands or Labradors in the province of Newfoundland & Labrador. I did see something they called a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, which looked so much like a scraggly mutt that I thought the locals were pulling my leg.

The island of Newfoundland is part of the province of Newfoundland & Labrador which is one of a group of Canadian provinces on the Atlantic seaboard that are generally referred to as the Maritimes. They include Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick -- you've heard the names but you can't quite place them on your metal picture of the globe. I took to saying: "Head towards Maine and keep going. If you hit Greenland, you've gone too far." I leave it as an exercise to the reader to go to Google maps and look it up.

Oh, never mind, I'll do it.

To get to Newfoundland one flies 3+ hours on a very nice Air Canada jet from Toronto -- you know where that is, right? These very nice jets have personal video systems built into the seats, even in coach. They also seem to have more legroom than most coach seats. I like Air Canada. One arrives at the airport in the capitol city of St. John's. Note the possessive. St. John (no apostrophe s) is the capitol of New Brunswick; St. John's is the capitol of Newfoundland & Labrador. So the man from capitol of New Brunswick looks and the man from the capitol of Newfoundland and says, "Owned!" (Heh heh heh. I crack myself up.)

Enough cuteness. The plain fact is St. John's kicked my ass, or at least attempted to.

Arriving at night in an unfamiliar place usually makes for some minor driving difficulty. In St. John's this is magnified by the fact that they seem to have a deep-seated aversion to straight lines. There is not a more convoluted set of vectors in any city in existence. Couple that with street names that can change from one block to the next for no obvious reason and hills that are dauntingly steep and you can imagine what it's like to get around at night, in the pouring rain, with only a cartoon map from the hotel as a guide.

Still, I made it down to the Water Street -- St. John's is, essentially, a college town and the waterfront area is the point where all the cool restaurant and bars and shops are -- clothed in my woefully insufficient jacket to search for a bite to eat. After a good 15 minutes of wandering around in the wind and rain looking for a special place that just cried out "Eat here!" I moved one street inland to George Street which is famous for pub crawling. George Street is thought to have the most bars and pubs per square foot in the world. (Oddly, they celebrate Mardi Gras in October here. I have no explanation for that.) Turns out the driving rain can put a damper on such activities and the street was pretty much deserted. I was soaked and chilled enough to be susceptible to the sign outside Kelly's Pub which claimed the world's best fish and chips. It was a standard pub type spot, which is just fine. Happy, back-slapping people at the bar. A hockey game was on the big screen. There was a guitarist alternating traditional Maritime folk music with '70s easy listening hits. And the chips that came with the fish was actually poutine.

No matter how you say it, you are pronouncing the word poutine wrong. Depending on your source, you will be instructed to pronounce it poo-teen or poo-tin or poo-sin or puts-in. This is intentional. The idea is that unless you are confident in your pronunciation, a local will be able to safely correct you and perhaps have a bit of fun at your expense. Everybody needs their little victories. If, however, you feel the need to stand your ground, just pick an obscure city from the other side of Canada from your location and say they pronounce it like you do:

You: I'll have an order of poo-tin.
Smarmy local: It's pronounced poo-sin.
You: Not in Saskatoon (or Gander, or Yellowknife) it isn't.

Sick burn on the hoser. Alternatively, you could just order French fries with gravy and cheese curds, which is what poutine is. It should also come with dose of Lipitor. When you order fish and chips and at Kelly's Pub you get about a pound and a half of poutine and three sizable pieces of richly battered fish. I honestly had enough to feed a family of four on my plate. Such portion sizes are appropriate if one is laying in some extra insulation against the Canadian winter, I suppose. I ate about a quarter of my poutine, and two pieces of fish after I scraped off a layer of batter. The fish in St. John's, and anywhere in Newfoundland for that matter, is bound to be fresh. Fishing is what they do. Sadly, it rare to see it in any form but surrounded in thick batter. What I had was quite tasty, though.

I don't like folk music. The version of folk music traditional to Newfoundland also has roots in sea shanties -- the drunken howlings of sailors who have been too long away from home -- and Irish music -- the drunken howlings of Irishmen who have been too long away from sobriety. Strangely, neither of these features altered my position on folk music. I have no doubt that the fellow singing in Kelly's Pub was quite skilled in this genre, but I would have preferred for a more soothing background. Fingernails on a chalkboard, for instance. I made for my car, got drenched again on the way and headed back to my hotel, telling myself I needed to pick up some rain gear. An inauspicious first night.

The following day I was on my way to Cape Spear. It was here I realized that I was a pre-season traveler. A lot of minor attractions simply weren't open or were operating on limited hours. Most such places were sparsely peopled and often I was on my own. Although it was technically well into spring, I didn't see a high temp beyond 60. I was stupidly following the general travel rule that northern destinations go in-season between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Well, Newfoundland is north enough that most travelers don't get here until June. That's fine with me, I prefer off season travelling, although it does cause some limitations.

Cape Spear is the easternmost point in North America; the earliest of the many lighthouses along the Atlantic coast. The grounds have been restored to their condition as of about 1839, which is more picturesque than historically interesting. Separately, there are the remains of fortifications from WW2; artillery and a supporting set of storage rooms and tunnels that stand in industrial-style contrast to the pastoral restorations of the lighthouse and surrounding buildings. Like everywhere in Newfoundland, there are walking trails along the water.

You could spend a very pleasant afternoon wandering about, maybe even bring a picnic lunch and a bicycle built for two, although beware the strong winds and potential for raining at the drop of hat. Realistically, you can cover Cape Spear in 90 minutes at the most. I went in the morning but I suggest hitting it in the PM, when the sun shining out toward the sea, giving you nice oblique light against the coastline.

Following Cape Spear I made a dash back through the heart of town to Signal Hill. Signal Hill is probably the premier tourist attraction in St. John's. It is very close to the waterfront area I spoke of but do not underestimate the effect of the elevation should you try to walk there. It's a pretty walk, from town to Signal Hill, but it's not remotely a gentle stroll. You'll pass by cozy, postcardy row houses (going uphill), pass a couple of hotels (going uphill), eventually reach the visitor's center (going uphill), then it gets even steeper as you make the climb to the top. I drove.

I made it to the visitor's center just in time to catch the firing of the noon gun, a mid-day tradition from days of yore maintained for the la touristas. Inside the visitors center there are the usual display of historic documents and artifacts. There is also a small theatre with a movie describing the history of Signal Hill and, by extension, St. John's and Newfoundland. Usually these presentations are cheesy, but this one is exceptionally well done. Set up as a conversation between a local historian and Newfoundland officer who actually manned Signal Hill when it was a military installation. They tell all the local stories and relate the history from the battles between the French and British in the 18th century all the way up to the time when St. John's was haven for shipping convoys in WW2. One of the last stories is the tale of a passenger ship that was torpedoed and sunk by a German u-boat. It turns out one of the women killed in the sinking was the wife of the Newfoundland officer narrating the story. Very good job at bringing history into the present.

From the visitors center it is a short winding drive up to Signal Hill proper. At the top you see...well, it's hard for me to say because the fog was so thick I couldn't see my hand in front of my face. That is only a slight exaggeration. I was nervous walking from my car across the parking lot because I was certain no other drivers could see me. I circled the structure at the top of the Hill, from whence you should be able to see stunning views of St. John's, but it looked like existence had been erased; like an episode of the Twilight Zone where you have been thrust into an alternate dimension and you can only see objects in your immediate surroundings so you wander aimlessly in the void hoping someone will come along and teach you the uplifting life lesson you need to learn before you return home.

Since I couldn't see a thing, I figured the wisest thing to do would be to hike out along the edge of the cliffs.

From the Signal Hill parking lot you can follow a path that takes you over a stretch rock-strewn wasteland to the cliff edge, where you can look over and see nothing but gray. That is an eerie feeling. It is like coming to the edge of the Earth. The world just stops: beyond this point there be dragons -- or possibly Rod Serling. The trail then leads lower long the cliffs and the fog begins to clear a bit. Down here you can tell that on a clear day, you could see forever. Cast your gaze east and there is nothing but ocean until you hit Europe. To the West is the Town of St. John's where you can see the big cargo ships laying in port and the colorful expanse of the city spreading off into the distance.

The trail then continues, sometimes a bare path, sometimes a wooded walkway. Eventually it starts to narrow until it becomes only a few feet wide and winds along a sheer rock face. One treads carefully along this stretch, since a misstep would bring certain death on the craggy rocks hundreds of feet below. Fortunately, some kind souls have thought to hammer lengths of stout chain into the rock face, which is the only measure of safety you have. If you are as lucky as I am, you get to be precisely halfway across this stretch, hanging on to the safety chain with one white-knuckled hand while clutching your expensive Nikon DSLR in the other when it starts to rain. Hard. I tucked the Nikon in my inadequate jacket and inched my way along as fast I could. Yes, I really did need to pick up some rain gear.

Having survived that gauntlet, the trail wound around Signal Hill and back towards the outskirts of St. John's, eventually coming upon a small residential area at the foot of the hill where exists one of the strangest things I have seen. The hiking trail, this official trial defined and maintained by the government, passes over someone's front porch. In fact there is a sign that says "trial continues across porch" or something to that effect. It's not a government building, it's just some guy's porch. You walk across and see him through the window not five feet away sitting at his table eating lunch or something. Truly bizarre.

At this point the trail ceases to be a trail, and winds through one of the those cozy, clapboard neighborhoods that are everywhere in Newfoundland. St. John's is so completely unnavigable that I took a wrong turn, but the folks are so friendly that almost instantly a salty old coot leaned out his open door and pointed me in the right direction which brought me back to the road I had previously driven up to get to the top of the hill. As I slogged back uphill, now soaking wet and chilled to the bone, the fog got thicker and thicker. Meanwhile cars are barreling down the hill at me unable to see a thing until I manifest in their vision like Rod Serling appearing for the final summation. I don't know which was more scary, the hill road or the cliffs.

Eventually, I did reach the top and sat in my car for a moment and reflected on one of the strangest few hours of hiking I have ever done. Then I looked at my watch. Seventy-five minutes. It felt like it took me all day, but barely more than an hour had passed. I drove to the mall and bought a rain jacket.

A few words about the physical anthropology of Newfoundlanders based on keen observations at the center of all modern life: the mall. Newfoundlanders are not pretty. That is not to say they are not attractive, in a fresh outdoorsy sense, but they aren't much for style or appearance. Need someone to hold your lifeline while you grasp a ring buoy for dear life in blustering seas, no problem. Need help getting your truck started when it's double digits below zero, a Newfoundlander is your man. You can see this in their stoic jaws and weathered hands. Looking to get past the discriminating doorman at that hot Vegas nightclub? Not so much. But more importantly there is a clear tendency towards rotundity (perhaps a bit too much poutine). Even more so than in the States, and that's saying something. A visit to the mall makes this plainly obvious.

The next day I dashed north out of St John's to catch the ferry to Bell Island. To get to Bell Island you take a car ferry, which I had never done before. A car ferry is basically a little floating parking lot for cars, with entry at the stern and exit at the bow (or vice versa). You are guided on to the boat and into a space, then you are free to get out and wander around the boat as much as you like. There's a lounge and a concession stand. As you pull into dock, you simply hop back in your car and drive off, quick and easy.

I don't know what to make of Bell Island. It appears to be a sort of vacation cottage community, although I'm not exactly sure what the attraction is. Maybe it's the convenience of having access to St. John's on relatively short notice yet still gives the feel of island level isolation (although looking for island level isolation from Newfoundland may sound redundant). What it offers over and above some of the smaller seaside communities around near St. John I can't see, apart from the inconvenience of having to take the car ferry anytime you want to get something the handful of shops and stores and the island don't provide. Still, it has its full share of Newfoundland coziness and is a fare spot to troll about or sit and admire the sea view for a while.

It was time to begin my traversal of the island (Newfoundland, not Bell). The next morning I was headed west along the TCH (Trans-Canada Highway), essentially an expressway that goes in a relatively straight shot right across Newfoundland. The plan I had was to turn off the highway once each day and explore up to the end of the little fingers that extend into the ocean from the jagged northeast facing coast. A couple hours out of St. John's one reaches Terra Nova National Park. I figured this was as good a place as any to turn off, and I drove through the park but Terra Nova wasn't really up into the fingers. I'm sure there were very interesting things to do there, but I drove on through and kept heading seaward until I reached to town of Salvage.

Salvage, as far as I know, is not in any guide books. At a glance, it is pretty much indistinguishable from any other the hundreds of other fishing villages along the same coast. I drove through town until the road, literally, ended. It turns out that the end of the road is the start of a hiking trail. The trail led up a steep cliff to a lookout providing excellent views of the village below and the surrounding islands. On the way up I overheard a family coming back down wondering whether something or other was "worth trying to find." When I got to the top I realized what they were talking about. Further seaward was a higher peak, also with viewing platform on top.

If that family could get there, I could get there. Unfortunately it wasn't entirely clear how to get there. I caught up with them at a fork we each went off on a different path -- mine eventually dead-ending on a river bank after a few hundred yards. I back tracked and caught up with them sight-seeing at the point where the path went by an old cemetery. I explained that the other trail promptly dead-ended and plowed forward, leaving them to their grave trolling. The trail wound through woods, then across long stretches of rocky cliff areas, uphill all the way. The trail was quite well marked and the weather was bracing. Sometimes following trails can feel like a struggle, especially uphill, but for some reason I found this one invigorating; as I approached the top I was bounding up the chiseled rocks. At the very end there is a brief scramble to the viewing platform and you are rewarded with a vast 360 degree view including on this day a slew of smallish icebergs.

In time a woman appeared who had clearly come up via another trail, dressed in warm up gear and looking very much like someone on a fitness mission. Then the family eventually caught up with me and we all had a nice little conversation. Upon hearing I was from the distant land of Michigan USA, they commented that I was pretty far from home. Yes, I was. There is appoint in any trip long enough to call an escape where you know finally feel like you've gotten away. I call it the vacation moment. There looking over Salvage, I was surely on vacation.

After covering more of the TCH, I ended up in the town of Great Falls-Windsor for the evening, staying at the nicely maintained Trailways Inn. I struggled a bit to find the place and was a little anxious when I did, noting that it was located on the second floor of an old building over a martial arts studio. But it was clean, quiet and functional, reminding me a bit of an old boarding house with a comfortable lobby area with sleeping rooms that opened right on to it. The Wi-fi worked. I slept well.

The next day's off highway excursion was to the town of Fleur de Lys. By now I was well away from St. John's so the towns were morphing from vacation cottage communities to more remote villages. Fleur de Lys is a key archeological site and apparently has a large soapstone quarry nearby as a big economic force, but like the rest of Newfoundland, it is working hard to develop infrastructure for itinerants such as me. My brief visit Fleur de Lys was notable in that I was now far enough north that the pack ice had yet to completely dissipate. It also contains a curiosity called Sherrie's Island. It's basically just a 20 ft. square rock in the bay, but some creative soul built a little bridge to it and place a bench and a couple of little trinkets to make it into a microscopic park, of sorts. Cute and clever, in an eccentric sense. There is also a plaque commemorating the death of one Dougie Walsh, a young boy who drowned some years back. In the quiet, remote little village it must have affected people deeply. It made me feel like an alien from some crass planet where such events are of no concern to your neighbors.

By the end of the afternoon I had made my way past the gateway town of Deer Lake and was finally at Gros Morne National Park, the jewel of Eastern Canada. The road through Gros Morne twists along at water level among cliffs and peaks. Around every corner there is an amazing view; the sort of thing you might see in a brochure for just about any "up north" outdoors vacation. Seriously, you could drive through Gros Morne and over the course of a couple of hours, have enough stock photography to supply the travel and outdoor sports industry for years to come. Except you can't let yourself get too mesmerized by the sights. If you do, the moose will get you.

Home in Michigan we have deer, which are the source of a fair number of auto mishaps -- dents and fender smashes -- but they usually get themselves killed in the process. Moose, not so. Moose are humongous SOBs. Like some kind of great Pleistocene holdovers. This is your actual warning sign. Note in that illustration that the moose looks distinctly unperturbed, but the car now resembles an accordion. It is a commonly spoken of possibility around Gros Morne that were you to hit a moose with your car, it would just piss him off. One suspects these are not myths and legends designed to impress tourists.

Shortly after entering the park, I spotted one about 30 yards off the road and a quickly slowed down and hopped out to take a picture. As I have previously discovered yet apparently haven't stored in my head, animals in national parks show little fear of cars, since cars are almost universally deferential to them as they cross the roads, but hop out and try to get close for a picture and they flee at top speed. Mr. Moose high-tailed it into the woods. I feared I may have lost my shot at a good moose pic but as I was to find, Gros Morne is crawling with them. I would estimate in the two full days I spent in Gros Morne, I probably had ten or fifteen sightings -- always from the road, never on foot. There were hiking trails where I would see moose tracks in the dirt looking like they couldn't me more that a few minutes old, yet I never encountered one mano y mooso. Probably a good thing, that.

There are a few small villages within Gros Morne. I have been mentioning all these little fishing villages where summer cabin style homes are going up, I cannot imagine a more perfect place for a summer cabin than inside Gros Morne National Park. At one point while winding along the main road I stopped at a pull-off where I could look across the bay at a village about a mile or so away on the far shore. The village was Norris Point, and from my vantage, the one building that really stood out on the far shoreline was Neddie's Harbour Inn which, it so happened, is where I was staying.

Neddie's Harbour Inn is a real beauty of a place. Sized larger than a B&B but smaller that a motel, Neddie's doesn't really fit in with the rest of the Gros Morne accommodations which tend towards the rustic. Let me correct that: it looks like it fits in externally, but inside it's fresh and new. Neddie's is recently built and designed with all the modern conveniences. They have gone to great lengths to use local materials -- virtually the entire building is made from a beautiful light toned local birch. The place is filled with locally made furniture and decorations and art works. Like everywhere else, Gros Morne is facing gentrification. There will be a point where, though remote, Gros Morne becomes fashionable. Money will be coming in, as will the petite bourgeois. The question is how will it be handled. More on this later, but if it is handled as well as Neddie's -- there will be no worries. Plus, the wi-fi works.

My time in Gros Morne suffered a bit because it was still preseason. The boat tours, kayak rentals, and many of the local eateries still hadn't re-opened for the summer. One more week would have made all the difference. For example, Neddie's has a restaurant but it was not yet opened for dinner (a decent breakfast was available every morning though). The nearest village with restaurants was Rocky Harbour, which contained about four diners, two of which were closed, one of others was open but completely unmanned. Anyway, it doesn't matter because there is no good food, just sustenance with a smile. I took to eating pre-made sandwiches from convenience stores.

A byproduct of this was the silence. I don't think I have ever encountered such thorough silence at night. No footsteps in the hallway or distant conversations or cars creeping across the gravel. Not even crickets. It was so totally quiet my mind generated an eerie TV-horror-story dream that the sun had winked out and the world was cast into total apocalyptic darkness that literally caused me to sit up in bed and lunge for the nearest lamp. I cannot overstate how weird that is for me. In my entire life, you can probably count on one hand the number of dreams that I have remembered after awakening. Suddenly, here on the edge of the frozen north I have a vivid nightmare that I remember to this day. Yes, I was very far from home.

Still the point of Gros Morne was the hiking and the hiking was beautiful. The wind howled and the temps were chilly, but there was a real freshness to the trails this early in the season and very little traffic. The killer hike is to the top of Gros Morne Mountain which was not available. That trail is closed until July in deference to the breeding of some protected species or other, so I narrowed more choices from what was left.

I had two full days and the first day was overcast and windy but I managed to get in two excellent treks. The first was the Green Gardens Trail. Gros Morne is often referred to as a geologists dream because of the immense variety of, well, dirt and rocks and other sorts of geological things. I have no idea what that's all about, but I can attest to the variety of the landscape. When you start out on the Green Gardens Trail, you might as well be in Death Valley. What little vegetation there is, is simply scrub. The barren land slopes gently upward soil is reddish and dry looking. Then, literally within a couple of hundred yards, you are trodding through a thick boreal forest. The trail winds through the forest for quite some time eventually turning along the cliffs at the shoreline; a volcanic shoreline that could easily have been transplanted from somewhere on Hawaii. It's a striking transformation.

Along the shore cliffs there is a wide grassy area that affords plenty of opportunity looking out at the Gulf of St. Lawrence. A bit further on, there is a very steep and rather tenuous looking set of wooden steps leading down to the black sand beach. The beach is strewn with volcanic rocks, some very large and oddly formed. Here's a hint should you ever find yourself at this point on the globe, if you walk down to the opposite end of the beach from the staircase, you will come to a crevice in the cliffs. Rock hop through the crevice and you find yourself in a little green garden with a perfectly picturesque waterfall at the far end. It's as if someone just decided to carve out a pretty little sanctuary in the middle of some dramatic volcanic shore. Awesome.

The afternoon hike was a bit more pedestrian. The trail to Lookout is less dramatic. It starts at the park's Discovery Centre and ascends steeply to the top of Partrigdgeberry Hill, where you get the best panoramic view of the park, per the general consensus. The view is a knockout; it gives a real sense of the beauty of the park. And you also get a reminder that spring comes late in Newfoundland -- even with June a day or so away, there is still a fair amount of snow on the ground.

The next day, my only other full day in Gros Morne, it was supposed to be bright and sunny. It wasn't. It rained all day and I was in no mood to hike around in the rain. Far north of Gros Morne, on very northernmost tip of Newfoundland is the point of the oldest European settlement in the New World -- L'Anse aux Meadows, the point where a small pack of the Norse set up shop roundabout a thousand years ago. It would have been my next choice but it was about a five hour drive each way and the other thing I was not in the mood for was ten hours on the road, although I must admit I somewhat regret that now. It would have been a cool place to see. But I did get in the car and drive north out of the park, promising myself to stop anywhere interesting provided the rain stopped. It didn't.

I did get a couple hours north to a little speck called Port Au Choix, which is famed for its native burial mounds, which I didn't get out to look at because of the rain. However, Port Au Choix, Newfoundland now stands as the furthest north I have even been in my life. In honor of that, I stopped at a Subway for lunch. This Subway, located in a "gas bar" (a gas station/convenience store/diner) was closing -- going out of business. As a lifelong U.S. citizen it is virtually impossible for me to imagine a Subway sandwich shop going out of business. It's like hearing about a McDonald's or a WalMart failing. Just doesn't happen. Yet, despite the fact that there is not another place to eat within miles, this Subway was going under.

The economy of Newfoundland and Labrador has been steadily improving over the past 3 or 4 years but understand: Improving means the unemployment rate dropped from its historic standard of 16%+ to 13%+. Province GDP picked up in the last couple of years, but that is almost solely due to an increase in mining and drilling activity in the wake of energy price increases. Population peaked in the early '80s and has slowly diminished over the last 10 or 15 years. There are less than half a million residents. And so, Subways can close as easily as they are opened.

Although not quick enough to save the gas bar Subway in Port au Choix, money is coming to Newfoundland, and not from oil and gas. In addition to a brilliant outdoorsy existence, Newfoundland has something else that can't be manufactured: friendly people. And this is not fake friendly, as in the Caribbean, where everyone is self-consciously listening to reggae and chilling out and oh by the way are you interested in a time share? These folks are genuinely open and happy to see visitors even if you aren't peeling off tip money. Although, I admit to being taken aback when a gas bar cashier said she loved me.

Actually "my love" is just a casual appellation used by many Newfoundland women. "Will that be all for you, m'love?" It's a little disconcerting at first, but then you come to realize that it pretty much says everything that needs to be said about Newfoundlanders. And it's all delivered with accents that are part Bob and Doug Mackenzie and part Willie the Groundskeeper from the Simpsons. It makes you want to give them a hug. It makes you feel welcome as a visitor, as opposed to welcome as a full wallet, which is rare for a tourist.

On my way out of Gros Morne the next day I stopped at a very short costal trail near the lighthouse for a final, brief walk in the woods. After enjoying the coastal view for a bit I turned around to head back and found moose tracks on top of my footprints. There had to be a moose in the immediate vicinity, I hadn't been walking very long. I started to look around for one, not sure if I actually wanted to succeed. Potential headline: "Idiot Yank gets Moose Hoof Enema to Start the Season." But the fact was I couldn't see it. The thing had to be within a hundred yards of me, and a moose is roughly the size of a Volkswagen, yet I could not spot it. Perhaps it was the mythical Ninja Moose of Gros Morne. Lesson: I wouldn't last five seconds in the wild.

Then, all too soon I was back on the TCH heading in the opposite direction. In every vacation of length there is a point where you see the end in sight. It was time for me to make my way home. The reverse trip back to St. John's was the same as the trip over: a daily exploration to the shore. The first day was a turn off into the town of Twillingate which -- without remotely intending any disrespect -- is virtually indistinguishable from the myriad other fishing villages that are becoming cottage communities all up and down the coast.

In these villages we begin to glimpse Newfoundland's future. Lonely Planet named Newfoundland one of the top 30 travel destinations for 2008. Fodor's named it one of the 7 places to go in 2008. Newfoundland is making a push into the travel and tourism industry, and it is steadily growing. At the moment things are still rustic most everywhere except St. John's, but I strongly suspect it won't last long. In my home state of Michigan people who have disposable income have been acquiring vacation cottages and homes in the northern parts of the state for years. The same is true in New York State and New England. Based on the obviously new cottages going up in these small villages I wouldn't be surprised if, 10 years from now, the hot place to have your summer home will be Newfoundland.

I would love to buy a cottage in Newfoundland for all the disingenuous reasons anybody else would. I would buy one, preferably in Gros Morne, spend a couple of summers there, and then complain about how all the new arrivals are ruining the place. Folks like me will pay premiums for that genuine Maritimes experience. But the more of us that show up, the more the experience will get watered down. Now, I am not of the opinion that just because I like Newfoundland as it is, the people should suffer double digit unemployment and stagnant economic prospects for all time just so I can have a little fantasy land to go to for a couple of months in the summer. The trick is to find the right balance that brings financial advantage without turning Newfoundland into an Atlantic Canada theme park.

One town that taking a good shot at it is Trinity, my last daily exploration. At first glance it seems like just another one of the picturesque villages I have run out of adjectives for. But there's something else going on. It's cleaned up and properly prepared. The street signs are of a type. Most of the buildings seem to have been freshly painted. There are a larger than average number of little gift shops and B&Bs. In most Newfoundland villages, tourism support amounts to a hiking trail and an overlook and maybe a small information centre. In Trinity, they seem to have accepted the idea of the entire community selling the tourist. Think of it this way, an indie filmmaker would pick Bell Island or Twillingate or Salvage for his locale. Hollywood would pick Trinity. It was selected as a Traveler's Choice destination by Trip Advisor, and has its own website dedicated to tourism.

And it's very well done. The scenery across the water to the lighthouse is a charmer. There are little coves and inlets to explore, both on foot or by boat. Looking for a long weekend in a picturesque, romantic place -- Trinity is a good choice. Trinity, I would guess, is the barometer for Newfoundland's future. Stop by in ten years and if it's turned into a cheesy crap shop chaos, you will know they have failed.

Back in St.John for one last night before leaving. I settled into the Battery Hotel near Signal Hill -- remember the one I had such a harrowing hike around about 10 pages ago? Or rather I tried to settle in. At first they put me on a floor with a bunch of high schoolers on holiday -- it was clear I would get no sleep, so I got moved to a different room where the walls were so thin I could hear everything going on in the next room, and I mean everything, so I asked for yet another room. (Note that the desk clerks were unfailingly polite about moving me twice.)

I finally got a quiet room and discovered the wireless didn't work. I fail to understand why Neddie's Harbour Inn in Gros Morne, which consists of a few rooms hundreds of kilometers from anything resembling industry and surrounded by mountains, and the Trailways Inn in Great Falls-Windsor, a one-woman show which consists of a handful of nice, clean rooms over a martial arts studio, can have functioning wireless, but the Battery Hotel, a top end conference hotel in smack in the middle of the province capital St. John's with dozens of staff on hand, cannot keep their wireless functioning. When I asked about the weak signal, I was told that the problem may be that "too many people were using it." No, moron, that's not how wireless signals work. Ye gods. Welcome back to the world.

Should you visit Newfoundland? At this point in its life, Newfoundland works perfectly for folks in search of gentle exploration. If your perfect vacation is a quiet, friendly place that's all about spotting icebergs, or whale watching, or wandering around in the fresh air before settling in with a good book for the night, you should go. Now. Are you looking for city excitement and shopping? There are much better places. Looking for beaches water sports? Skip it, unless you enjoy wearing a survival suit. Got kids? Maybe. Make sure you are there in season and stick mostly to the National Parks for all the activities.

As for me, I'll be scanning the real estate listing for Gros Morne. I need to get there early so I can complain like a local when the rest of you show up.