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Saturday, 18 April 2015 00:00

A whale of a time in Tadoussac

A whale of a time in TadoussacTADOUSSAC – Je voudrais revenir a Tadoussac juste pour la nourriture!

 

 

 
I want to return to this tourist village at the mouth of the Saguenay River that is the capital of the Quebec whale-watching industry. Didn’t see many whales on a three-hour cruise the other day, but I did spend the weekend in grat restaurants like La Gallouine and Café Boheme eating some of the best meals I’ve had since leaving home nearly 11 weeks ago.
 
And even more glorious than the fine regional Quebec cuisine was a little piece of motorcycle heaven called QC Hwy. 172 that is now my second-favourite stretch of biking road in the country, just behind the Old Duffy Lake Road from Lillooet down to Pemberton in British Columbia.
 
A whale of a time in TadoussacI left Quebec City a day later than I planned. Time just got away from me as I explored the history and culture of the Quebec capital. That’s the great thing about having no set schedule. I go when I want and stop when I want. I’m the only boss of me!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I headed up through the sweet-scented maple and pine forests of the Reserve Faunique des Laurentides (the Laurentides Nature Reserve) on the four-lane QC Hwy. 175 linking Quebec with the city of Saguenay. Lots of long sweeping curves and a few tighter turns as I made my way north from the St. Lawrence River to Chicoutimi. 

Someone, I don’t remember who, told me the 300-kilometre detour through the Charlevoix region was worth the ride, but they were so right! Such wild beauty among the forests of the Larentide mountains made me feel truly blessed to be on a bike! 
 
After a leisurely lunch in Chicoutimi, I headed southeast down Hwy. 172 on the 175-kilometer ride back to the St. Lawrence River. Very quickly, it led to some thrilling riding along La Route du Fjord south to Tadoussac!

Lotsa twists, turns and sweeping S-bends, soaring climbs and ear-popping drops! Best of all no traffic! Got to wind the Bike-a-Lounger out for the first time in weeks! I'll ride that bad girl again someday, hopefully with Mindy up behind me!
 
The road, named for the deep and steep-walled glacier-carved valley of the Saguenay River, is very popular with motorcyclists. And cops! The SQ – the Surete du Quebec or provincial police – were out in full force, but I was lucky that most of them were heading north as I went the other way. Really lucky!

It was all too easy to find myself clipping along at 20-to-30 kilometers above the posted 90 kmh limit. At one point, I came over a rise and was dropping down the steep decline only to find a 100-meter stretch of deep gravel at the bottom! Hitting the stones at high speed scared me enough to slow me down for the rest of the ride into the village where I planned to spend the night.
 
I didn’t take any pictures, not wanting to lose the moment on such a great piece of two-lane blacktop. I’ve grabbed a couple of images from the Tourisme Quebec website. I‘m sure they won’t mind!
 
A whale of a time in Tadoussac took a three-hour whale-watching cruise with about two dozen other people in a Zodiac inflatable boat. Once again, I found myself the only Anglo on the cruise, but the captain offered commentary in both English and French.







Up to 13 species of whales in the St. Lawrence -- including the relatively small and friendly white belugas who live here year-round and a dozen other species that migrate to the deep cold waters of the St. Lawrence and the Saguenay Fjord. 
 

The fact that so many species are found such a relatively small ecosystem makes this one of the best places to observe whales in the world. Many companies offer whale-watching excursions beginning in May; often, the whale-watching season extends into October.

A whale of a time in TadoussacWe spent most of the trip in an icy cold water-hugging mist despite temperatures in the high 20s on land and although we could hear the whales spouting, we didn’t see much of them. They mostly came to the surface and then dove back down into deep water. 

We did see the backs and spouts of a pod of Minke whales, a lone blue whale – the largest beast ever on the planet!! – and some belugas, including a mother and calf. But it was fun being out on the water barely in sight of the shore.

 

Every time the captain changed location, we had to hunker down in our immersion suits to ward off a bitter, bone-chilling wind. I was so cold by the time we returned to land, my fingertips tingled for about an hour afterward, a sure sign of hypothermia! Thank God for brandy and strong coffee!

A whale of a time in TadoussacMy next stop was the aboriginal Innu -- not Inuit -- village of Essipit near Les Escoumins, a little further east of Tadoussac on the north shore of the St. Lawrence. I had to kill about five hours -- mostly talking to folks fishing off the docks in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence national marine park – waiting for the late ferry to Trois-Pistoles, a village on the south shore of the river first settled by Basque shepherds. I had missed the 11 a.m. sailing, forgetting to book well enough in advance for the popular 90-minute crossing.

 
 
 
It’s a reminder that even though I have no set agenda, if I want to make plans to stay with family, friends or even a local motel, a little advance work is necessary. I’ll have to be more careful to book my crossings to and from Newfoundland next month.
 

After spending the night in Trois-Pistoles, named not for guns as I had always thought, but for an old French coin, I headed south down QC Hwys. 293 and 232 – another pair of nice twisty secondary highways. I stopped in St-Jean-de-Dieu at a very friendly bistro-bar for a tasty breakfast and a long chat with some of the locals. 

One guy made me feel really special by saying my poor attempts to speak French showed a respect for the people and culture of Quebec and I was to be commended not only for trying, but for my accent, which he said was good – for someone from Alberta!

A whale of a time in TadoussacI said it was important to me considering how francophones might have a tough time trying to be understood outside the French-speaking regions of Canada if they didn’t at least try to speak in Canada’s other official language.

Before heading into New Brunswick on NB Hwy. 2, the four-lane Trans-Canada, I stopped at a place with the unreal name of St. Louis du Ha! Ha!!, which Wikipedia says is the only place name in the world with two exclamation marks. That was worth the picture alone!!

 
 
New Brunswick is the only officially bilingual province in Canada and is home to one of those other French-speaking regions I mentioned. L’Acadie – Acadia – was an 18th century colony of New France in northeastern North America that included parts of eastern Quebec, the Maritime provinces – particularly northwestern New Brunswick – and a good bit of what is now modern-day Maine. 
It’s a healthy, lively francophone region and Edmundston will host the Acadian World Congresslater this year. Families, visitors and academics from the region and as far away as Louisiana – Cajun being a corruption of the word Acadien – and France will crowd the city.

A whale of a time in TadoussacThe city is festooned with various versions of the Acadian flag, a blue, white and red background similar to the French tricouleur with the addition of a gold star. I especially liked the wooden version I spotted at a local Tim Hortons. 

I’m sorry I’m going to miss the gathering which promises great food, music and story-telling. I’m going to spend the night in Edmundston, have a good meal, get some laundry done and head to Fredericton.

In the meantime, please consider a donation to my Ride for Sight. The money goes to the Foundation Fighting Blindness to fund Canadian researchers looking into the causes and prevention of blindness. Please consider making a donation here to their work. 

Ride for Sight is Canada’s largest and longest-running motorcycle charity endeavour. Bikers cover their own expenses so that every penny raised goes to the foundation.

 

 

Last modified on Thursday, 23 April 2015 04:47

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