Posts Tagged ‘Cape Breton’

Whales, Moose, and Grouse, Oh My! Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail

October 13th, 2008 at 9:34 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

This morning we had our earliest wake-up since we left Bonaire over a week ago – 6am, for an 7am departure from the resort. The reason for the early departure was that I had committed the family to a 9am whale watching expedition in Cheticamp, which was an 80 minute drive away.

Krystyana, Linda, and Bas wear foul weather gear in anticipation of the Zodiac ride

Krystyana, Linda, and Bas wear foul weather gear in anticipation of the Zodiac ride

We broke fast in the mini-van along the way, and managed to arrive in Cheticamp with time to spare, and checked in at Captain Zodiac’s, right on the waterfront. We and our five other fellow whale watchers were given these great big puffy red suits that made us look like (according to the kids) those astronaut chimps. I personally felt a bit like a red Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man (from Ghostbusters). But those suits, for all their lack of style, were incredibly warm and comfortable. That’s a good thing when you’re whipping through a rough ocean at forty miles per hour in chilly air. Which is precisely what we ended up doing.

For those not familiar with Zodiacs, they are a brand name for a rigid inflatable boat (RIB) and look somewhat like the fast craft that Navy Seals use to do beach landings. The benefit of using a Zodiac for whale watching is that they are small and highly maneuverable.

We spent over an hour bouncing around the ocean at high speed until we spotted several cetacean dorsal fins in the distance. As we approached, it was clear we had found pilot whales. Pilot whales are, species-wise, big brothers to porpoises, getting up to about 20 feet in length (at least based on the pilot whales we saw), with big melon-shaped heads.

A pilot whale in the water off Cape Breton

A pilot whale in the water off Cape Breton

The pod of pilot whales we encountered numbered approximately eight or nine, and were spread out over about a square kilometer of ocean near some cliffs a ways north of Cheticamp.

Two pilot whales breach the water off Cape Breton

Two pilot whales breach the water off Cape Breton

Most of the whales were hunting for food in pairs, but came across a trio of whales as well – a juvenile and two adults. It wasn’t clear if the adults were the parents or two large females (including the mother, no doubt), but it was great to see all three on the surface together, and then see them dive and then surface again, always with the juvenile between the two adults.

A juvenile pilot whale is flanked by two adults off Cape Breton

A juvenile pilot whale is flanked by two adults off Cape Breton

The whales got within a couple of feet of the Zodiac on numerous occasions, and it was great to hear them exhale through their blowholes and see their large sleek shapes glide smoothly through the water.

We were also able to hear the whales “speaking” while they were submerged. Unlike larger whales, and more like dolphins, their speech was high pitched – like a whistle.

After nearly a half hour with the whales it was time to head back to Cheticamp and the warmth of our mini-van heaters.

Until we had driven to Cheticamp, incidentally, we had thought that the western part of Cape Breton was all Gaelic in ancestry, but this morning we discovered that Cheticamp is in the heart of an Acadian section of Cape Breton. All road signs there are in English and French.

Anyhow, the plan was to spend the whole day driving the famous Cabot Trail, which Baddeck sits on, as does Cheticamp. We also had great hopes of wandering one of the main trails along the Cabot Trail and seeing a live, wild moose. Amazingly, we didn’t have to wander at all to see moose, however.

Shortly after we paid our park entry fee, we came upon a “moose-jam” – a traffic jam involving people gawking at moose. We joined the moose jam and discovered a pair of moose (or is it “meese”, as the plural of “goose” is “geese”?) – a large bull and a cow, peacefully grazing off the side of the Cabot Trail. Intent on shooting the moose (with our cameras), Krystyana and I got out of our mini-van and made our way over to the guard rail which separated the people from the moose in the wooded gully below. The moose were obscured by the brush and trees, but clearly identifiable as moose.

Dutch spectators observe a moose cow on the Cabot Trail in Nova

Dutch spectators observe a moose cow on the Cabot Trail in Nova

After a few minutes, the cow wandered up the hill side, grazed a bit and then looked around. At about the same time, Krystyana had started walking back to the mini-van, and the cow started following her, unbeknownst to Krystyana. There did not appear to be any danger to either of them, and Krystyana finally realized she had a companion trailing her when her brother started gesturing wildly from inside the mini-van. Krystyana slowly got inside as well, and the cow settled down behind the mini-van to snack on more vegetation.

A moose cow grazing on the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia

A moose cow grazing on the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia

Meanwhile, the bull started to come up the gully’s slope as well, but stopped at the edge to graze as well, calm as could be even with a half dozen people within 20-30 feet of him (I made sure to put other gawkers between me and the bull moose, of course).

A moose bull on the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia

A moose bull on the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia

We ended up with over 10 minutes of moose time and some great photographs as a result. Our day was nearly complete – whales and moose. All we needed was a bear or beaver or other unusual creature to round things out.

After driving on we started encountering quite a bit of rain, but that did not prevent us from stopping at various look-out points to behold the vistas of fall foliage and dramatic terrain.

Lunch was at a small motel/restaurant in Pleasant Bay called the Midtrail Motel and Inn – it had been recommended to us by one of the people at Captain Zodiac’s. We had a simple but decent meal, including some great seafood chowder. And we got Bas to try the local version of poutine, a dish consisting of cheese melted over french fries and then topped with gravy. Not for the low-card oriented diner though.

Fall foliage is peaking on the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia

Fall foliage is peaking on the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia

The rest of the afternoon was spent visiting various art and craft shops along the Cabot Trail, a stop at the North Highlands Community Museum (where we watched movie footage from the 1950s about life at a nearby fishing village), and walking some trails in search of a beaver dam (never found one).

However, as the day wound down, we almost ran over a grouse (we believe it may have been a spruce grouse) as it waddled across the road in front of us, got scared by an oncoming car, and then flew up into the air just in time to avoid our windshield. We figured that the grouse would be the closest we’d get to an unusual critter trifecta today, hence its inclusion in the title of this blog. Alas, we did not get a picture of the bird as we were as startled by it as it was by us.

Dinner was at the Lobster Galley in St. Ann’s Bay. Linda and Krystyana enjoyed traditional Thanksgiving fare (Krystyana sans the carb-laden fixings) as it was Canada’s Thanksgiving Day today, while I had a seafood appetizer platter for two (for just me, as a main course). The main courses were pretty good, but the desserts were quite poor – we had an apple crisp and a three berry crisp, and both were gummy and lacking in flavor. And the whipped cream was either DreamWhip or something made with Cool-Whip. Weird texture there too. The lobster dishes some of the other folks had looked like they might have been a better choice, but we were all lobstered out.

Along our travels we realized that paying cash in U.S. dollars meant we were actually paying 10% more for things due to the current exchange rate, so we ended our evening by getting Canadian dollars from an ATM machine with our new Capital One Online Banking ATM cards – they are the only ones I have found so far which do not charge a hefty foreign transaction fee (which seemed to exceed 3% in some cases for our Citizens Bank checking account ATM cards, even when getting U.S. dollars abroad, like back on Bonaire). This change alone should save us a lot of money in the coming year.

Our plan tomorrow is to move up to Louisbourg and visit Fort Louisbourg for a tour of that old fortress. And on Wednesday we make our way to Prince Edward Island. So far we’ve been averaging over 250km per day on our mini-van. That’s a lot for a person like me, who generally hates to drive. But I’m managing.

Footnote: You may have noticed this post, unlike others from Nova Scotia, has pictures. They were necessary. The full trip on-line photo album is still planned, but may be a week away, at least.

 

The Tidal Bore, Maple Syrup, Using Water and Steam Power, and Alexander Graham Bell

October 12th, 2008 at 8:23 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

The breakfast at the motel was pure carbs, so we dined en suite on the various cheeses and cold cuts we had picked up along the way for snacks. It was just about the best breakfast we had had so far on our journey (the breakfast at Cora’s in Halifax on Wednesday was the only one better).

The main reason we stopped for the night in Truro was so that we could observe the Truro Tidal Bore in action. The tidal bore is a rapid tidal change caused by tidal waters surging up a narrow channel, the Salmon River in this case, so instead of waiting for hours to see a difference in water levels due to the tide, you can see it in minutes. The tidal bore in Truro was schedule to occur at 10:21am in the morning, but we had been warned not to have huge expectations as many factors affected the rapidity with which the tidal waters would flow upriver. We hoped for a nice wall of water, but ultimately what we saw was the water rise about four feet in about ten minutes, without a lot of visual drama. It was pretty cool to be watching the water in the river serenely flow downstream and then all of a sudden realize the whole flow of the water had reversed course and was now rushing upstream. But it wasn’t breathtaking.

We headed north after the bore of the tidal bore, and as we left Truro, Linda spotted a bald eagle on a tree off the side of the road, so we got as close as we could and took pictures of our one major live wild animal find for the day (we saw lots of cool road kill – a deer, porcupines, skunks, an opossum, pets, etc., but Bas said dead animals didn’t count).

We stopped en route at Sugar Moon Farm, a nice log cabin structure in which you could have breakfast all day, featuring locally grown and made products, including maple syrup made right there at Sugar Moon. After a hearty early lunch of red fife wheat pancakes (healthier carbs than white flour by a long way), a frittata, home-made granola, and a variety of excellent sausages, the co-owner of Sugar Moon, Quita Gray, gave us a tour of the facilities as well as an orientation on how sugar maple sap is collected and processed. We learned that the local Indians first taught the European settlers how to harvest maple sap, and that Canada is now the world’s largest producer of maple syrup. We also discovered that collecting maple sap by buckets is a thing of the past (except for people with only a few trees), and that larger producers of maple syrup use plastic tubing to create a delivery network that brings the sap directly to the processing vats.

Maple sap, which is generally as clear as water (probably because it is over 95% water in the first place), is collected during March and April each year. At most, each sugar maple tree would have two taps, and each tap will typically output enough maple sap to produce one pint of maple syrup. The ratio of sap to syrup is about 40 to 1, so there’s a lot of water that needs to be evaporated to condense the sap to syrup. We learned a bunch of new things at Sugar Moon Farm we had not expected to be enriched with, so it was a truly worthwhile visit – never mind the great food as an added bonus.

Our next two stops were the Balmoral Grist Mill Museum and the Sutherland Steam Mill, both run as part of a network of Nova Scotia Provincial Museums.

At the Balmoral Grist Mill we had a docent explain the milling process as well as the history of the mill itself. We discovered that raw oats look nothing like what we expected – they are actually rather ovoid, seed-like things. We also found that buckwheat is not a wheat at all, but instead a relative of rhubarb, and during the milling process, the outer shell is removed entirely, making the inner endosperm (the part that is milled into flour) rather void of complex carbohydrates. Same for oats. The only flour which retains some of the complex carbs along with the refined (and really bad for you) carbs would be whole wheat flour, as that includes the bran (the outside casing) of the seed of the wheat. I will get into the whole issue of refined carbs and the diseases they help spur along in homo sapiens at a later date when I write up a review of Gary Taubes’ “Good Calories, Bad Calories” – a real eye opener which relates incredibly well to my personal dietary experiences.

Sorry, I digressed, again.

At the Sutherland Steam Mill we had another docent-guided tour. Here we learned about how steam-powered saw mills operated over a half century ago, with both insightful and witty commentary by our guide, Andrew. It’s pretty amazing how resourceful people can be with limited resources and not much oversight from the Occupational Safety & Health Administraton (OSHA).

Our final stop of the day prior to trucking on to Cape Breton was at The Pork Shop for some protein for the road (great German-style cold cuts).

We had a nearly three hour drive up to Baddeck (pronounced “Bad-ek”), in the Cape Breton area of Nova Scotia. Cape Breton has a strong Gaelic cultural background, and all the road signs are in both English and Gaelic. We surmise that the “Breton” refers to the “Bretons”, Celtic folk who settled in Brittany in France as well as Scotland and Ireland. And it’s no coincidence that just 25 minutes from Baddeck, in St. Ann’s Bay, is the Gaelic College of Celtic Arts & Crafts, nor that there is an annual Celtic Colours Festival here (going on right now).

When we got to our hotel in Baddeck, the Inverary Resort, we discovered that while we had connecting rooms, they each had only one bed, and not enough room to fit an extra bed in either room for our second child (since there’s no way a 13-year old girl will share a bed with her 11-year old brother). The front desk staff were very understanding, and managed to arrange an alternate room situation for us even though they were sold out last night. But we were still a bit grumpy from the experience and the long drive. And we got grumpier when we found we had to wait almost a half hour for a table at the resort’s Lakeside Café. However, once we got to having dinner, it completely wiped away all grumpiness. The food was just fantastic. My tomato seafood soup had the most perfectly cooked shrimp I can recall eating in a very long time, and the white wine garlic sauce for Bas’ mussels was devine, as were Krystyana’s local scallops. And Linda says her trout was also perfect – moist, slightly pink, and delightful. Only my pork chops did not meet this new standard the restaurant had set for itself, in that they were a tad dry. But their flavor was quite good. An excellent meal, and one which completely overcame our travel weariness-based unhappiness with the original room situation at the resort.

This morning we dined in the main dining room and had a passable breakfast (on the house, however, so that made it a little better) before venturing forth into Baddeck to go and do a week’s worth of laundry at the local laundromat.

We then spent a couple of hours at the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site and Museum. We had at first wondered why this was located here in Baddeck, but it turns out he had a home in Baddeck, and did a lot of his research work here too.

It was endlessly fascinating, as we learned that while the invention of the telephone is what Bell is best known for, he also developed and invented countless other devices and technologies, and was involved with research in a variety of areas. For example, he co-invented the gramophone (cylindrical model) as an improvement over Edison’s recording/playback device as well as an operational high-speed hydrofoil. He also helped develop Canada’s airplane program.

Bell’s wife Mabel, whom he met as her teacher – he taught deaf children to speak using a special visual language system – was also a very strong and intelligent woman, and many of his successes can be credited to her support of his efforts, both emotionally and financially (she was the majority stockholder in Bell at the time).

Definitely visit this museum should you get to Baddeck.

We had a late lunch at the Telegraph House (where Bell apparently stayed before he had a home in Baddeck). They had good chicken wings, and a very nice turkey soup, but the other food was a bit disappointing – my seafood casserole was mostly mashed potatoes, and the peas served as my vegetable were canned peas.

The rest of the afternoon was spent driving up to St. Ann’s Bay to see the foliage and visit a few artisans’ shops.

We ended with a very nice dinner at Gisele’s across the street from the Inverary Resort. Great lamb (according to Linda), a nice prune stuffed chicken breast for Krystyana, and a turkey dinner for me (tomorrow is Canada’s Thanksgiving Day). Bas only had dessert, but enjoyed it greatly.

Tomorrow we’re due to drive the Cabot Trail, as well as go out on a Zodiac to find whales. It will be a very long day, as the Cabot Trail is nearly 200 miles long (and scenic and windy). We’re also hoping to finally spot some wild moose.