Wednesday, August 28, 2019
We arrived in Fortune at 8:00 for a 9:00 ferry to the island of Saint Pierre. Windy and misting rain, people were standing in line out the door. We were crossing the border, going to another country, France, so there was security and a passport check. An official watched outside the door as a car drove up. He recognized the woman getting out. After a few steps, her husband called her back for a kiss goodbye, then she walked toward the line. The official yelled to his friend in a heavy Irish brogue, “Don’tsha worry. She won’t be missing ya long.”
Once inside, there was standing room only. I was concerned I hadn’t locked the truck toolboxes, so I asked the lady if I could go back and check it. She asked where I parked, and I pointed to the spot. That was the fish-packing plant, and I couldn’t park there.
She motioned to a man outside, who told me to follow him. Concerned I wouldn’t make it back on time, he hailed another official in a van, and she drove me to the truck, then waited so I could follow her to the right parking lot. Geez! I went inside to pay $11.50 to park and gave the ticket to an attendant, who showed me where to park.
Jogging downhill to the terminal, I got in back of the line again. Soon the man who had helped me out before said, “The man in the hat can come ahead.” As I walked ahead of the others, he said “If you wear this kind of hat, you can travel for free today.”
Martha was waiting in a now-empty room. We hurried onto the boat and looked for two seats. A man in front of us asked if we used an asthma inhalant, Albuterol. He said his wife was highly allergic and could go into anaphylactic shock. Two women sat down in front of us, so he asked them. Sure enough, one of them did, but said she wouldn’t use it.
I was sleepy and settled in for a nap. Enjoying coasting between sleep and waking, I could feel the waves getting bigger. It felt like we were heading into the waves, so there wasn’t much rolling. I was surprised the big ferry was feeling it so much, but this is a people ferry. The ones we have taken before are bigger and heavier with cars, campers and tractor trailers loaded. It takes a lot to move those.
At first there was some joking and laughter, but then people began getting sick. I didn’t move, or open my eyes. There was a big wave, and I could feel the ship crest it and then crash back down. How big were these waves? Then Martha started getting sick. I peeked over to see her drenched in sweat with her face hanging over a bag. I put my hand on her leg and closed my eyes. I am usually the one to get sick, and I knew the feeling. I could hear lots of people getting sick. Crew members came around, handing out towels and new bags.
It’s an hour and a half ferry ride, but only an hour at sea. Soon things calmed down. It was stuffy in the room, but I dared not move. Happily, we soon docked and went through customs, getting our passports stamped for France.
It was good to get outside and breathe some fresh air. Recommendations were to walk all the streets, so we began walking up and down colorful streets. People drive fast here, zooming up and down narrow streets. There is no particular shopping area, so shops and restaurants were mixed into housing. Some of the streets didn’t have signs, so it was hard to follow our map.
Martha was quite pale and moving slowly. everything closes between 12:00 and 2:00. At 11:30 we sat in a little square dedicated to fishermen lost at sea. Martha suggested I go look for a take-out place for lunch while she sat and rested. The town is on a hill, so I tried to follow the map to a take-out place, but never found it. Wandering around, I finally found a convenience store. The only things I could find were yogurt, goat cheese and potato chips. Checking out, I said Bonjour to the young teenaged girl in braces. “Avez vous un spoon?” I asked. She pointed as she checked someone else out. Looking all around, I couldn’t find anything and went back to the register. She went to the other register and rooted around underneath for a few minutes, coming up with one teeny spoon. “Tres bien” I said, having used most of my French vocabulary.
Heading back down the hill, I went in the wrong direction, but finally found my way back to Martha, still bundled up and chilly. I was sweating in shirtsleeves from my hike. She seemed slightly better and ate some yogurt and chips. For me, the town felt somewhere between Havana and Mackinaw Island.
I didn’t want to wander the streets anymore, so we looked for a car rental place. Walking up to it a half mile away, no one was there. It was only 1:30, which is a half hour later than in Newfoundland. Later we would learn the odd time difference was set for fishermen who had to get up early.
We wandered around more, finally sitting on a bench by the harbor. The visitor’s center was a block behind us, so we went there to see about a tour of some type. A handsome young man, who spoke English, told us we could take a one-hour tour with a company or we could take a tour in a van with a man who loves this island. OK, that’s a nice pitch. He had another couple at 2:00, and could share for a reduced fare. Yes, that would be great.
Promptly at 2:00 Bertrand Laroque introduced himself. I missed the other couple’s names, but later would find he was a retired hematologist in St. John’s. The two of them added a lot to the tour, adding that Bertrand had a 5 star rating on Trip Advisor.
Bertrand, speaking English with a heavy French accent, first took us to a string of huts lining the harbor. Dories were pulled up on the shore in front. The first, beautiful boat was built by his grandfather, and was recently restored. It was the first of its kind to have a removable rudder, acting like a removable centerboard. He was quite proud and spoke highly of his grandfather. They were Basque fishermen, who first came over to settle here. “Would you like a picture in front of the boat?” Bertrand asked.
The first little building was like a mini-museum with motors, pictures and relics of the old days of fishing. One picture showed the harbor filled with fishing boats in the prime of the fishing years. We would never have found this spot by wandering around.
In the next building with the front doors open, sat two men Bertrand seemed to know well. They spoke and laughed, but I couldn’t catch a word. A young lady came up to talk. Apparently, she was the drummer in a band, and the younger man inside was also with the band. As we left, they said “À plus”. Asking Bernard, he said it meant See you later, a shortened version of À plus tard.
Next we drove behind the old fish plant to the top of the hill/mountain for a great view or the city and two little islands across the harbor. He said that used to be the main fishing place, but now only has a few houses on it.
We crossed over the small mountain to the other side that looked totally different. It didn’t hurt that the sun came out. A large lake with a swimming beach bordered the ocean. Bertrand told the story of taking scuba diving lessons. On the last trip they swam with a group of humpback whales. One with a baby swam right up to him. He feels like they like humans and are quite intelligent.
With more stops along the tour, we were grateful we had taken this tour. Had we not, I would have had a totally different opinion of Saint Pierre. He was talking of selling his little company and doing something else. He only has three months of the year for this business, and in the winter everyone leaves. There is only one bar open in winter, and the same people are there all the time.
He took us to the graveyard and to his grandfather’s tomb, telling us about the man who broke rocks with his hands, and built boats. He talked of his boxing abilities, where he would challenge people to try to hit him. With his hands behind his back, he would dodge the attempts. He used to play the game with his grandchildren, but they never were able.
I was surprised to hear that most people fly in from St. John’s, Toronto or Montreal. His uncle is building a hotel next to his favorite bakery and near the airport. We went into the bakery where Martha bought two pieces of quiche for dinner, two croissants and a nice, crusty bread. As Bertrand dropped us off, we all thanked him sincerely. If he is still doing this, and you are there, contact Taxi Saint-Pierre at (0508) 55 54 47.