Sunday, 24 September 2006

NEVER underestimate the kindness of strangers

Tuesday 19th September - waterfalls, petrol and wildlife

Up and out of the hotel by 9.10 which is really getting very bizarre. But the weather was pretty terrible and we figured that this might be the day to go across the island to the Whisky distillery. The clouds were depressing and low – misty, wet and dark – so a few hours driving over the north of the island along the Cabot Trail seemed like a good idea.

We stopped off at a few places along the way and with each stop, the weather seemed to be improving. The clouds started to lift off the mountain a little, just wisps clinging to the trees here and there, blue skies were peeping through and the green of the trees started to show again.

By the time we reached the MacIntosh Brook waterfalls, the weather was really much better and it was bright and almost clear. A 2km walk along to the falls was worth it with the sun glinting down on the water and the whole place was so pretty. We stayed there a long time – at least a hour or more – with R taking lots of photos and me just sitting, looking, contemplating life and the universe! As far as wildlife goes, we saw a snake which made us jump a mile and loads of these gorgeous squirrels – don’t know exactly what they are. Are they chipmunks? I need to look that up.

Past Wreck Cove Point where we had yet another fabulous view of the ocean (if you don’t like trees and water then this is NOT the place for you!!!!), and onto Corney Brook falls. This was an 8km round trip hike which was quite some effort with the camel loads of photographic equipment that R insists on taking with him (and me!!!). We walked through some simply stunning forests and along the brook with the constant babbling of the water as company. Walking along the path, I once again realised just where we were and checked with R that we had a "bear plan". We decided that ours consists of talking at a reasonable level so that any local bears could hear us and would keep away, and in the unlikely event of coming across a bear on our path, stopping, stooping low to show no aggression, and backing off slowly and calmly (yeah right!). Sounded like a plan, even if it was rather a terrifying one! I kept my fingers crossed that we would not have to put our plan into action! Luckily for us, the only wildlife we came across were the squirrels, mosquitoes and a frog – so all ok there!

At the falls, which were really nice but not as beautiful as MacIntosh Brook, I dropped R's lens cap into over the edge of the cliff! So, not only is R missing a cap, but there is now some hideous plastic there in the wilderness which will never decompose and will remain a reminder of the townies that passed by and sullied the pristine wilderness! I have been so careful not to drop a single scrap of anything and am really cross with myself.

Yet again, R felt the need to strip off to his boxers and jump in the water – I just hoped that nobody else came along to see him in all his glory!

On the way driving back over the mountain, I suddenly heard a beep that I had not heard before and then, horror of horrors, we realised that the petrol tank was almost empty – and we were in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE!!!!! How stupid can we be? We had both completely forgotten that we need to be careful of the tank and we had no idea where the nearest petrol station/pump was. We have since found out that it was at least a 30 minute drive which we would never have made, but at this point we both freaked out and R pulled over into a parking area at the entrance to Benjies Lake walk. (The photo shows just how bleak and remote this place was!) He flagged down a few cars to ask if anyone had a spare fuel can but nobody did – I was silently (or maybe not so silently) panicking!!! And then, a couple came back and offered to drive R into the nearest city to fetch some. I am talking that 30 minute drive I mentioned earlier – and then of course, 30 mins back! Talk about lovely, lovely people. They were a really young couple and R found out that they had just got married last Saturday and they were on their honeymoon. She told me that she just could not have gone on their hike without offering us help first! I was totally overwhelmed by their generosity.

We carried on our way and counted our blessings over and over that we had chanced upon such wonderful strangers.

On our way home, still shaken and definitely stirred, we stopped off at Lone Shieling which features the oldest believed maple trees in Canada (350 years old) and our final stop being Beulach Ben falls for the final waterfalls of R’s series. We had to travel along a rather precarious 2km unpaved road which I was convinced we would never make back again! But the falls were a bit of a disappointment.

Firstly the light was not good but also, there was not really enough water. I am sure that they must be considerably better after a good rainfall but compared with being spoilt with the others, this was a bit of a let-down. However, the power of nature was there to be seen. Huge rocks that have seen millions of years roll by, huge tree trunks which must have been carried down by the water and forests on either side of us which were dense and forbidding. In fact, it made me really nervous. I could swear that I could hear voices whispering to me in the sound of the water. I found myself turning around to see who was behind me but there was nothing. It was really eerie and the sun was so low that the light coming into the forest was almost non-existent. I could have been convinced at that moment of the mystical properties of the forest.

By the time we made our way back along the road, it was really dusk and then suddenly there was movement from my right.... And at that moment a creature came out of the forest on the right, crossed diagonally in front of us and carried on into the forest on our left. No, not a bear.... It was a WOLF!!!!!! Absolutely unmistakable. The form of the head, the body, the colour of the body, the black bushy tail and the movement. I was completely speechless. I know that of ALL the wild animals to be found here, you are least likely to see a wolf! I found myself shaking – with fear and excitement. We were in the car, so there was nothing really to be scared of, but at the same time, we are talking about a wolf here!!!!! Talk about a privileged experience. I still cannot believe it really but it is true!

We spent an obligatory 10 mins on Ingonish Beach in the dark, watching the stars, listening to the sea and counted our blessings on meeting kind strangers and experiencing some of the best Canada has to offer.

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