Wanders in…Newfoundland (part one)

I stood at the lake edge as my friend cast his fishing line. He was no expert fisherman, but here the fish were plentiful. A fish bit. He was delighted. Eight years living in the richest fishing country in the world and finally he’d caught his first fish. He beamed at me excitedly. “I’ve got one!”

The sun shone across the lake, as he began to reel in his catch. He looked crumpled from his time camping, but, at that moment, even his ill-considered outdoors cap took on a regal quality. He reeled cautiously scared of losing, what we assumed to be, a prime Newfoundland trout.

It was then that the beaver rounded the bank. It seemed entirely indifferent to our presence. Perhaps there was even a slight pitying quality in the way he glided past the triumphant Ben, as he started to struggle slightly against his now recalcitrant trout. The sun glinted from his watery pelt, he gave the shore a brief survey, before deftly diving beneath the lake surface.

Ben turned mesmerized. This was real nature and, perhaps, the real Newfoundland. I reached for my phone camera, but it’s battery was gone, nature is not big on docking stations, and then so too was the moment. A cloud passed overhead, Ben’s fish effortlessly gave him the slip, and the beaver failed to resurface. The real Newfoundland was fleeting.

Newfoundland is remote. I’d known it was remote. This was to be the most remote place I had ever been, but it just didn’t feel that way. It’s an island just off the east coast of Canada. It’s about the same size as England, but with only half a million residents. I didn’t know what to expect other than perhaps unspoiled woodland, ancient untouched trees, and that slight feeling of trepidation from knowing that help was far away.

On landing in St John’s, the island’s main city, I was surprised to find a real airport. Beyond the airport, the city has restaurants, cafes and shops. It had all of the hallmarks of a regular western city, but there were some slight tell tale signs that this wasn’t your regular city.

St John’s, like many cities, developed as a port. It takes advantage of a bay that breaks the rocky cliffs of Newfoundland’s coastline to form a sheltered natural harbour. I was surprised by the activity surrounding the port, as large commercial vessels lined up along the sea front. There was no dockyard separating the ships from the city the two just merged together in the sort of way most city town planners would surely frown on. Shops seemed oddly diversified, not settling for selling clothes, shoes, or furniture alone, but instead plumbing for a mixture of all three with the odd eccentric knickknack thrown in.

This all seemed rather quaint and wholesome. It had that slight Gilmore Girls feel of small town respectability. The thought held for some time, as I wandered down the main street. I was half expecting to see Lorelai, possibly carrying some groceries in a brown paper bag sporting that signature knowing pout, but then I turned the corner to George Street.

This was a far flung port town after all. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but that rosy Gilmore Girls vibe quickly gave way to a slightly Lynchian air. George Street was lined with more strip bars and tawdry clubs then you would of thought the per capita could maintain. It was almost impressive. “Is this the real Newfoundland,” I thought to myself as I watched a cod kissing ceremony take place next to an empty karaoke bar and bustling gentlemen’s club. “Could well be,” came the response.

Clearly, I wasn’t going to find the forests or the lakes of Newfoundland around St John’s. I would need to travel out further. I made my way back to find Ben, clearly I’d made an important discovery as to what he’d been doing there for the past eight years, but I was no closer finding the real Newfoundland – at least not the one I cared to recognise. On the way back, I saw a poster. Kirk from Gilmore Girls was in town for picture signings, clearly this comparison still had legs, but I was over it. Sean Gunn would have to wait. It was time to go inland, in search of the real Newfoundland.

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