Saturday, Sept 25, 2005
Whilst we were dozing in our bunks (that's what you call a bed when you're a BBQ salt like us), the ship sailed up this two-armed fjord near Woody Point, which is back on the Newfoundland western coast. As we awaken, the ship pulls up the anchor (unweighs anchor?) and heads up the other arm. The folks running the boat think that we'll be looking out at the scenery, saying, "Wow! That's some scenery, eh?"
Instead, we're going, "Are there any flavored yoghurts left?"
We are now anchoring off Woody Point, a true boon to 13-year old boys studying geography ("Is it true there's a stiff wind off Woody Point?" they giggle). The announcement says that it will be raining all day, so we take the opportunity to make many remarks about "Just like home!—well, except for there's no volcanoes here, eh?" Woody Point is a fairly huge metropolis by Newfoundland outport standards--a whopping 500 people live here.
Rain all by itself will get you wet. Riding a zodiac through the rain will get you soaked, just in case you were wondering. There's a steady, moderate rain ("Because it's always raining in Seattle, we can describe 32 different types of rain") all the way in, although the water isn't too rough at all.
As we get off the boat, two local ladies make a point of greeting each and every one of us. (This seems to be the only thing they do—they pop up later in the day as we enter the theater, again greeting us, and when we leave they bid us a fond farewell.)
The dock is a hive of bustling activity as mackerel are unloaded from ships. It's cool how they do it--there's a fish vacuum that pumps the fish out of the ship's hold and into ice-filled blue containers. Then a fork lift zooms in to pick up the blue container and carry it to a truck and another fork lift brings in a blue thing full of ice.
Twenty-one ships have come in loaded with mackerel. Seems that the storm that had us tossing our lunches also rattled the mackerels, who then formed up into a school, which makes them easier to catch. The fishermen catch them in purse seines and haul in great loads of mackerel. (Guess how many times Robert exclaims "Holy Mackerel!" today. Whatever you guess isn't enough...)
There is an interpretive center here, because Gros Morne is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Apparently Canada has 14 of these sites, and because we can't get to the Internet, we can't figure out if this is some sort of obscure program that Canada has seized upon or what. We can't recall ever hearing of anyplace in the US that's a World Heritage Site, but this may be because the UN is a bunch of pansy-waisted sissy boys (according to the US Government).
In any event, what makes this place special is that there are "table lands" which are a bunch of rocks that used to be in the Earth's mantle (the layer below the crust). A couple of continents collided badly many years ago and part of the wreckage was a chunk of mantle. Later on, when Africa and North American separated, the mantle part stayed with Newfoundland.
So, since it's pretty hard to drill 5 or 10 miles down through the crust, it's a handy way to examine rocks from the mantle and figure out what it's made of (rock, mostly).
In fact, Gros Morne is known as "the Galapagos Island of Geology." Robert is looking forward to the sea turtles.
We're now out in the valley between regular rocks and mantle rocks. Because the mantle rocks are full of heavy metals and empty of nutrients, nothing grows on them. One side of the valley is full of lush (relatively speaking) growth, while the other side has nothing.
"Heavy metals? HEAVY METALS?!?" We think to ourselves. "Why are we standing around in a place SATURATED WITH HEAVY METALS!?!?"
Well, it turns out that when they say "heavy metals" they mean "relatively harmless to human beings" heavy metals like nickel, chromium, and magnesium. While humans can tolerate them, they are pretty poisonous to plants. (Still, we don't think we'd drink the water or eat any local salads, eh?)
We are being given a tour of the area by Insane Guide Steve, who works for the Canadian Parks service. Steve has pretty clearly been out here by himself for a lot of years and has a tendency to get worked up and start shouting to make sure that you get his point. Canadians seem far more tolerant of the eccentric than Americans are.
Steve gives us a brief tour of the local plants, most of which are less than six inches high. Seems this valley channels the wind, and anything that grows too high gets the bejesus blown out of it. Between the poisonous soil and the winds, there tends to be some pretty special plants that grow here.
One of them is an alpine moss, that usually grows at altitudes above 10,000 feet (4,000 liters). Because it has no competition here, and because it's desolate and windswept, it grows pretty well.
Another weird one is common juniper, which is a bush. Here, it grows along the ground like a vine. It grows very slowly and sections from dead ones have revealed them to be 100 to 200 years old.
Because it's so hard to get nutrients from the ground, a number of plants have turned to eating animals. This includes the venus flytrap, and the very common (here) pitcher plant. You can hardly turn around without seeing a pitcher plant, and Insane Steve explains how the flies are trapped in the pitcher and then digested.
He even sucks some dinner from one of the plants (using a pipette) and puts it in a specimen jar and passes it around (it looks like a bunch of bug parts in liquid, which is exactly what it is).
With us is Steve Price, who represents the World Wildlife Federation on board the ship (and is actually a nice guy). While he's looking at midge larvae that grows inside the pitcher plant, he manages to fumble the case and it falls onto the ground into oblivion.
Robert, sensitive soul that he is, promptly dubs Steve "Shiva, Destroyer of Wildlife" and derives endless amusement from the WWF guy who mows down plants and animals. Laura quietly points out that someone who would wipe out a midge larvae might not think twice about wiping out other pests, and Robert quiets down a bit...
We are back in Woody Point, waiting for a concert to begin. Two local performers, Daniel Payne and Corey, are playing fiddle and accordion. They entertain us with jigs and reels and hornpipes and other types of local music. At one point, the owner of the theater, Charlie, joins them on the accordion and they do some more tunes.
Accordion is very popular here, and recently over 900 accordions and their players gathered in St. John's, Newfoundland, to set a Guiness World Record. (And, no, we don't know if they all played "Lady of Spain." Maybe they played "Inna gadda da vida.")
We are back aboard the boat and are about to settle in for a pleasant afternoon of snoozing and attending lectures (sometimes both at once) when rough seas start. And continue. Up and down. Uuuuup and ayeee!
All the seasoning drains from Robert and he heads to his bunk to await death by tossing (it's very weird sleeping on a tossing-about boat, because one minute you're sleeping standing up, and the next you're sleeping on your head).
Laura, staunch seafaring soul that she is, goes to a lecture about "Auks" which are an extinct flightless bird. Scientists studying extinction suspect that for some species, there is a "tipping point" where even if there are large numbers, it's not enough to sustain the population. Can be a pessimistic outlook for species that seem abundant now.
Robert awakes, but the boat is still tossing and turning. We figure that if we're going to get thrown about, we might as well loosen up a few joints with alcohol to help cushion the fall.
We attend the nightly recap, mostly because it's held in the bar and it's way too much trouble for us to move. (Frankly, if one of us happened to slice open a limb, we'd consider how badly it was bleeding before we'd decide to move to the doctor's office. That's what a rolling and pitching boat does to you. You stay put.)
The recap includes some information about moose, of which we didn't see any today. <ahem> Moose are big. And ugly. Also, they like to hang around near roads and suddenly appear on them and crash through car windshields, which tends to be detrimental to the people inside.
One of the quaint customs aboard cruise ships is "dinner at the captain's table." Traditionally, the captain has invited people who are clever or witty or rich or good-looking to dine at his table and amuse him.
We begin to understand our position on board when we are invited not to the Captain's Table, not to the First Officer's table, and not to the Navigator's table. Nope, we're invited to dine at the Assistant Junior Staff Person's table. And he's too seasick to make it, so we get the Standby Assistant Junior Staff Person (Andy).
The sea is still pretty rough, so the dining room is about half full, and Robert is about half green. He does not appreciate the chef's humorous choice of pickled pig as an appetizer, nor the all deep-fried main courses.
Also, near the end of dinner, the ship takes a deep pitch and Laura's wine glass (filled with red wine) leaps off the table and into the lap of an elderly gentleman wearing white chinos. He's quite good natured about it and finishes his now red-wine-flavored coconut parfait, but we're careful to leave before he does, lest we "accidentally" fall overboard...
Robert & Laura