The road to our yurt was narrow, muddy and full of small ceramics and plastics Gnome, fairies and bear. My 8-year-old daughter, holding her stuffed giraffe and avoiding the knotty roots, spotted a small tiger at the base of a pine tree.
She was too tired to give anything more than a casual nod with the weight of her father and 11-year-old brother as well as her pink sequined backpack and the six-and-a-half hours we spent. To get here the road from Montreal, called for a city sacred Heart Which hugs the Saguenay River in the Cte-Nord region of Quebec.
It was late June 2019 and we came here looking for whales traveling about 300 miles northeast of Montreal, crossing the Saguenay yacht, and driving the last mile on the dirt road to meet our servant, who were eager for us to finish this last leg of their journey before nightfall.
We were staying about 10 miles from Tadoussac, a picturesque town where the Saguenay meets the St. Lawrence River. part of a waterway a protected marine park from where about six species of whales can be seen regularly from May to the end of Octoberr as they feed in the deep, nutrient-rich waters of the St. Lawrence estuary, making it a great place for whale watching.
I had booked my journey in my mind. Finding listings on Airbnb And building a family vacation around the idea of sleeping in a supercharged tent. At that point, the journey felt like the beginning of a new chapter for our family. Our kids were growing up, and could tolerate long drives, loose planning, and hiking burdened with baggage. We could explore every corner of the world together.
Now, looking back at that time, after going through a pandemic for a year and a half and traveling only minimally, I no longer see that journey as the beginning. Instead I see it as my last weightless adventure, where our concerns were limited to catching ferries, avoiding mosquitoes, and seeing sea creatures.
Last month, Canada reopened its borders to fully vaccinate American travelers, making such travel possible once again. With proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test, a family can repeat this relatively COVID-safe itinerary, although some attractions may be closed or only partially open, and uninfected children under 12 years of age Must comply with Canadian testing and safety requirements. Yet to me, this choice still seems daunting. My daughter, now 10 years old, is not eligible for the vaccine, and with cases rising again, I am hesitant to go such a long distance with her. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers Canada A Level 3, High Risk destination, and advises unaffiliated citizens to avoid non-essential travel there. I wonder when we’ll be able to travel so freely again. And so, the thrill we felt was as if from a world I could no longer reach, unlike watching the waters, not waiting for the crest of the whales.
Where are the whales?
We started the journey by driving from our home in New Jersey, via New York to Montreal, where we stayed for a few days. We then continued to Cte-Nord, where we would spend three nights surrounded by boreal forest and dramatic Saguenay fjords as we looked for humpback, minke, fin, beluga and blue whales.
As we climbed a ridge on the first evening, the view of the Jungle Tunnel opened, revealing our white canvas yurt, looking out towards Saguenay hundreds of feet below, and the majestic fjords, part of theI Saguenay Fjords National Park. From the deck outside our yurt, we had an unobstructed, and private, window onto this wonder.
Our servant asked us to see a couple of belugas who were playing in the water all morning. Nearby Saint-Marguerite Bay They have breeding grounds and nurseries. Unlike other whales, which only travel, belugas, primarily an arctic species, live here year-round. From this distance, he told us, they can look like white hats on the water.
The children immediately inspected their new dwelling, surprised to find the propane stove, the trickle of running water from the kitchen sink, and the dry toilet filled with sawdust. (surprisingly attractive wood A few feet from the yurt was for the major bathroom run.) The circular space contained two bedrooms, a wall of windows facing the fjords and a glass dome ceiling overlooking the stars. We arrived too late to find a market to restore the dwindling supply of groceries, and so we had what we had for dinner – cheese on sandwich bread and a few slices of salami. After eating the spoiled food, the children woke up crying.
That night, my husband read us a book he had brought with him, “The Champlain’s Dream,” about the French explorer. For 8,000 years, the confluence of two rivers has been a crossroads and meeting point first nation tribe. The passage he read occurred in 1603 to Samuel de Champlain with several native tribesmen who had gathered in celebration, building a summer camp on Saguenay, not far from Tadousac port, and where We used to sleep
We woke up the next morning to a stunning view of the fjords wrapped in fog. There were no belugas in sight, but many mosquitoes, huge, determined and ready to attack. We put on the long sleeves and got back in the car, which were already being built. I had booked a whale-watching cruise departing from Tadoussac, and was looking forward to catching a boat.
Tadoussac, a village of 800 founded in 1600, is today a quaint maritime tourist destination overlooking St. Lawrence Bay. The area attracts 1 million visitors a year, and so the streets of Tadousac are filled with shops, restaurants, and taverns. Was particularly curious about my husband’s replica Chauvin Trading Post, built in 1600, and the first fur-trading center in Canada. the view of the bay is gorgeous Hotel Tadousac, with a red roof, white siding and green shutters. Rebuilt in 1942 after the demolition of the original hotel from 1864, it features an expansive lawn and gardens with Adirondack chairs facing the water.
We wound our way past the hotel and down the dock, where the boat was waiting for us, as well as on a Quebec City tourist bus, about three and a half hours away. (cruise company We’ve made trips available this season until mid-October.) It is unusual to see a giant species like the blue whale swimming in a river hundreds of miles out of the open ocean. Yet they come to feed in the estuary, traveling into the depths of St. Lawrence. Laurentian Channel and mingle with other smaller species such as the beluga.
On the ship’s upper deck, passengers jockeyed for position as the captain announced the sighting—the fin whale was sighted north. I rolled my neck over the other passengers, looking at the black water with my binoculars. On the horizon, I caught glimpses of brown plumes from their blowholes dusting the air. Their bulging back, smooth discs are best viewed through binoculars. My daughter, barely able to clean the railing, could not see anything. My son, his view blocked by other passengers, leaned against a post, frustrated and bored.
The cruise ended and I was worried we’d promise more than the kids – whales don’t appear on command and it was possible we’d end our vacation without ever seeing one up close. As we drove back to town, we stopped at an ice cream shop for consolation, and then had a light meal, sitting outside at a microbrewery Looking towards the bay. The brewery was bustling that evening, with patrons talking in French. We shared pizza and a charcuterie platter, and enjoyed the crisp summer breeze.
‘I felt a swoon on my left side…’
The next morning, I woke up determined to go whale watching. We go about 30 miles north on Route 138 to . move towards a nature center (open until mid-October) in Les Escumins, the northern boundary of the marine park. The outpost had an educational center, a scuba-diving base and cliffs where we could sit on the banks of the St. Lawrence. A guide suggested that we go back to another centre, cap-de-bon-desiro, with a red and white lighthouse, is also open until mid-October. Minks had been seen there earlier in the day and thought we might be lucky there. Once we reached Cap-de-Bon-Desir, we followed a path lined with birch trees to the rocky edge. There were also some other families who were sitting on the rocky banks of the river.
Children used to play in small pools of water on the rocks. They were full of zooplankton, the food that makes this water so nutritious. The river looked vast and peaceful, but I didn’t see any whales.
My son and husband wandered off to find the bathroom. I leaned over to my daughter, who was keeping an eye on a bee that my son had saved from the water. As I kneeled next to him, I felt a tingling in my left side. I saw rising from the water just a few feet from my reach, a minke whale so close that I could see the barnacle on its skin, and could hear its heavy breathing. I gasped, almost collapsing, as I came across this giant sea creature. And then he left, disappearing into a deep abyss of cold, rich water.
My son and husband returned after a while to find out what they had lost. Give it 15 or 20 minutes, we were told by a guide who was on the rocks, and the mink would come back for air. There were at least two of them, she said, maybe three. And so we waited. As we sat down on the rocky ground, he emerged, one by one his deep groaning, his back trembling. Since the water falls offshore almost immediately, minks have been known to shore close to land. And they did so, raising their heads high enough that we could see their faces. Sometimes, they were visible far away, giving us only a glimpse of their back and dorsal fin. Between visits, we would scan the stillness, waiting, looking for a signal. My son would jump and point if he’d seen the first one, and we’d all bang our heads as it briefly emerged from a world we could barely understand. And then they left, went somewhere else to feed.
That evening, back in Sacré-Coeur, we went by car to a restaurant on the pier called Fjord Race, which will be open this season till the first week of October depending on the tourism. With small, wooden tables, shiplap walls and a weathered deck overlooking the fjords, the owner spoke very little English, so I stumbled through the French I used to order salad and linguine with lobster and Nordic shrimp Haven’t spoken for years. The food was good, the view even better. We looked at the river, and all that we couldn’t see beneath it and envisioned more trips to come – perhaps the Gaspe Peninsula or Cape Breton in Nova Scotia. At that point, the world was feeling vast. This trip will be the first of many.
Now, as the world intermittently reopens, with travel complicated by coronavirus testing, vaccination records and ever-changing social distancing rules, we instead find ourselves building optimistic itineraries for years to come , plan small adventures for the fall, or maybe even bigger ones next spring. Perhaps by then, we hope, the world will signal once again.
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