We are in the middle of the Labrador Sea, on the way from Red Bay, Labrador to Qaqortoq, Greenland. We have spent the last few days seeing whales, seals and birds, as well as Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland, and Red Bay, a former Basque Whaling Village. The temperature outside right now is a chilly 45 degrees Fahrenheit, a welcome change from Florida’s heat index of 106 degrees the day before we left.
We had a great time in Gros Morne Park yesterday, seeing the gorgeous mountains of Newfoundland. They call it the beginning of the “Viking Trail” but, despite the lovely mountains and beautiful lakes, we saw little evidence of anything Viking-related. To the north lays L’Ans Aux Meadows, the spot where Leif Erikson and his crew probably landed after their journey from Greenland a thousand years ago. It is about a six-hour drive, and quite remote.
However, I did have the chance to observe the natural landscape in Newfoundland, which was one of my purposes in coming on this trip. It is an area rich in trees. If it looked the same in the eleventh century, I can see why Leif chose it as a spot to establish a settlement, however temporary it was. (The Norse of Greenland returned to the area around L’Ans aux Meadows for several decades before abandoning the area.)
Across the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the town of Red Bay, Labrador offered a stark contrast. When we dropped anchor just offshore this morning, the ship lay deep in a fog bank. We took one of the ship’s lifeboats to a rocky coast on the outside of town. On the way, we spied our first iceberg of the trip – a large flat hunk a bit larger than our craft. Of course, it was probably much larger under the water. It was streaked with blue, a sign that it had come from farther north. Glacial silt is what causes it to have an electric, otherworldly color.
I had not had high hopes for the town of Red Bay, even though it is a World Unesco Heritage site. In fact, yesterday I had considered not even going ashore, since the cruise line had failed to convey much enthusiasm for the place. I was pleasantly surprised, however. The town is home to about 300 people, but in the sixteenth century, thousands of Basque whalers lived and worked there. The whaling industry had just been born, and they had cornered the market for supplying whale oil to supply the lamps of Europe.
The town has a museum, a restaurant, a church and a dock. There are no trees, and the landscape is covered in grasses and moss that make it look somewhat barren. I was able to talk to several rangers from Parks Canada, who answered my odd questions. What sorts of small trappable mammals lived here? How far west do you have to go to find trees? The sorts of questions writers ask are not like the questions tourists ask. I got a few strange looks.
I did find out that Red Bay is full of one particular animal: black flies. They buzzed about us whenever the wind died down. I was glad I had worn a coat, which made me mostly inaccessible. We saw several of my shipmates wearing mosquito netting over their faces. The black flies may have to make an appearance in my novel. Even without them, it’s clear why Leif Erikson did not choose to make camp there. He probably sailed right past it on the way to L’Ans Aux Meadows, since it did not have the lumber he was looking for.
Linda and I were struck by the clarity of the water. In fact, the water was clearer than the air, which remained thick with fog for much of the day. We saw starfish on our way to the dock, and a bed of mussels behind the museum. And we learned that the cod fishing is excellent in those parts.
We’ll spend tomorrow in the Labrador Sea, before we reach Greenland on Friday.