Monday, Sept 26, 2005
We pull into Ramea harbor, where we turn around so that we're pointed out of the harbor (presumably so we can make a quick getaway). Ramea is a town of about 650 people, making it a major metropolis among outports in this part of Newfoundland.
Out the window, we can see many natives standing on the dock, including a person in a giant Puffin costume (later on, we find that they had a fund-raising drive to purchase this costume, so it's not an accident). A puffin is a swimming and diving bird that looks vaguely like a penguin. They're supposed to be common around here, but this is the only one we've seen.
For the first time on this trip, we walk down a gangplank and actually step onto the shore! We don't have to clamber into zodiacs and endure a wet ride to shore. We just skip down the gangplank and plop our little tootsies on the ground.
Of course, it's raining pretty hard, so we get wet anyway, but it's the idea that's important.
We are in the local fire station, which is kind of an auxiliary community hall. The giant puffin is here, as well as a lady who seems to be the town's spokesperson (she's not the mayor, but the mayor seems to dance to her tune).
She reads a speech welcoming us to Ramea and telling us the history of the town. Of course, by now, we know what's coming, because every small town (or "outport" as they are called here) has the same story:
These folks are a little less isolated than some of the places we've been, because there's a ferry that runs here regularly and can carry 100 passengers and 20 cars.
The island was first settled in 1822, for (tada!) fishing. The town itself is about 1.5 miles long and 0.5 miles wide (and these folks still use "miles" even though everybody else in Canada uses liters.
The population in the 1970's (the Good Old Days) was 1200, but now it's about 650.
They have few trees, and the beaches are rocky. The main attraction is "Man-o-War" hill which has a stairway (160 steps) to the top. Once there, you can see: Ramea!
They have bingo four times a week, so really, there's no reason for anybody who lives here to be bored (they say).
Oh, AND they have a taxidermist who's happy to show people the dead animals he's stuffed. And all the animals he's stuffed have been caught locally.
We think they need to work on their tourist attractions...
Every island has its own variation on English. On this particular island, adding "h" to the front of some words. So "owned" becomes "h'owned," "eight" is "h'eight," and "Asia" is "h'Asia."
At one point, somebody brings out an oar and announces, "If you come to Ramea and ask for a whore, this is what you'll get!"
We're in the local museum, which seems to be mostly a collection of things that people got tired of storing in their houses. Some of them are labeled (we like the label that says "Age: 5 to 10 years"), and they include things like old sewing machines and an old tabletop hockey game.
Laura eats a moose.
Not an entire moose, of course, and when she ate it, she didn't actually know she was eating a moose. But she said that it was quite tasty (once he knew what it was, Robert had to immediately chow down on some).
We're at the Community Center, which has tables laid out covered with food whipped up by the local folk, mostly desserts. There's a local music group cranking out various traditional and non-traditional tunes, accompanied by people doing various traditional and non-traditional dances.
A screech-in has begun. This is a ceremony for folks who haven't been to Newfoundland before (we seem to have been passed over because we're Americans, which is just fine by us).
The screeching-in consists of having various Newfoundland sayings explained (a "chummy jigger" is a thing-a-majig; a dessert buffet is a "mug up"). Then they have to eat some Newfoundland delicacies, including Newfie steak (bologna) and blubber.
Then they drink a shot of "screech," which is a local variant of rum that seems to made from the dregs at the bottom of the barrel. You can only get it in Newfoundland, because everybody else has the good sense not to drink it.
Then they have to kiss a Newfoundlander, and a cod. Then they get dubbed an honorary Newfoundlander by a local wielding an oar.
This is all followed by more singing and dancing.
We weigh anchor (or is it un-weigh? we can never figure out this nautical stuff) and bid a fond farewell to Ramea (locals are on the shore waving goodbye).
We discover that there have been various e-mail woes with the ship's e-mail. What actually happens is that we send an e-mail on the ship's network to the radio operator. He then sends it to shore, which then packs it into a small box, wraps it with a ribbon and ties it to a pigeon leg.
Anyway, apparently, the pigeon has had a cold the last few days and hasn't always gotten all the e-mails through. We do write a trip log every day (sober or not), but they might show up a bit out of order.
We are entering a very (VERY) narrow channel that leads to Francois, Newfoundland. Some people think this is scenic, but our opinion is that it's fairly terrifying, because the ship seems quite large compared to the size of the channel.
So, instead, we focus on the Canadian soft lumber dispute. This is, apparently, a dispute that Canada is having with the US about lumber. Every Canadian knows all about it and has a strong opinion. We've never even heard of it. Seems that the US accused the Canadians of selling lumber here for less than it cost them (this is called "dumping").
It went to some kind of international court and the ruling went against the US, so we just ignored it.
By this time, we're through the straits, so we quit thinking about it.
We are docked at Francois, which is a town with no roads. There are walkways everywhere, connected in a haphazard, freeform sort of way. The walkways are about eight feet wide, and the locals use four-wheeled ATV's they call quads to carry cargo through the town.
There seems to be some dispute about how to pronounce "Francois"—we've known several people named "Francois" and they all pronounced it "fran-swa" (only with a nasal gallic accent). Here, some folks pronounce it "fran-sway" which is just evil and wrong (we think).
We decide to ask some locals about it (it's their town, they can decide) and find out that about half of them are "fran-swa"-ers and half are "fran-sway"-ers. We decide to use the correct fran-swa pronounciation.
We're at the local Anglican church (when you travel with Laura, you can count on seeing the inside of every church in the area), which is St. Simon/St. Jude. One thing we notice about churches in Newfoundland is that they really look like ships.
Laura says that many churches are built to represent overturned ships (that's why the part where the congregation sits is called a nave), but because these churches were built by ship's carpenters, they really got that whole ship look down.
There's a job opening for a priest who doesn't get seasick: Seems the last priest left a couple of months ago. If you're the priest here, you're responsible for churches on four different outports (even in the winter, when the water gets really rough).
The local lady we talk to says the main qualification is "a priest who likes boats" because the priest will be spending a lot of time in one.
There's supposed to be a BBQ on the back of the boat (the stern, the blunt end of the boat), but it's drizzling slightly so these wimps move it indoors.
We stand around in the drizzle collecting our singed flesh, making comments like "Oh, this is just like Fourth of July in Seattle!"
"Except there's no earthquakes, of course"
"Yeah, it's warmer here, too!"
Just doing our bit for the Lesser Seattle Chamber of Commerce.
We're back on shore at Francois, for a "Kitchen Party" (we're not sure the distinction between a Kitchen Party and a Party) and a mug up (THIS one Robert picked up right away—"Woohoo! Desserts!").
Pretty much the entire town (except for kids) is gathered in the Community Center above the museum. The local Lady Who Runs Things (there always seems to be one in these towns) is named Kim, and she's written a little song about Francois, which she proceeds to sing to us. It lauds the pond above the town, and the handy port.
Then the singing and dancing starts, with accompaniment by the local "group" (a guy who's figured out how to program his Yamaha keyboard and sing along with it).
Apparently, much of Newfoundland misses the days of cotton plantations, because this is the second time today that we've heard "Cotton Fields" by Leadbelly ("In them old cotton fields back home!").
We fully expect them to start singing "Hava Nagila" next...
We encourage several of the younger members of the crew to get into trouble with the law ("Come on, Tyson! You're young--you can outrun the local cops and leap onto the boat as it pulls out! You owe it to young people everywhere!") and then we wander/stagger back to the boat.
Actually, there are no police here, so you could presumably go on a major crime spree with no worries. Well, other than how to get out of town before the local townsfolk caught up with you.
Robert & Laura