Québéc, New Brunswick, Maine - Tadoussac

Tadoussac was not an original destination I had, nor one I had even heard of prior to my trip... but here I was. THAT reality came from continually heard good things about it from Montréal onward. Looking at a map helped, too: I saw it'd be no problem to put it on my path, merely by taking the north bank after Q. City. Sha-bam - done!

Now that I'd actually arrived, I realized that Tadoussac sat at the mouth of a very large fjord, indeed. I could see that this mouth (where the ferry crossed) to the St-Laurent was pretty enough on first glance, too, but I guessed that the better stuff was further in - where it got a lot narrower. In any event I'd certainly make a point of checking out some whales, the area's calling card. I succumb easily to the natural points of tourism brochures.

Mostly, however, I planned to not be on my bike! Those hills, beautiful as they had been, had taken their toll. I located my savior - a hostel - quickly, and settled in. Starting things on a congenial note, a staff member befriended me immediately. We got to the hard work of trading stories over beer and wine. Now this DID sound like rest!

Okay, maybe my new buddy had an odd angle, claiming gypsy descent and the ability to read hands - UH HUUUUUHHHH - but he never did ask for a penny. He certainly was jovial, too, except for when he made a show of not believing what he saw in my paws. Ooh, great mysteries were to be beheld there! Anyway, this made for an appropriately hippy-trippy entrance to the Tadoussac Hostel, an apparent outpost-remnant of the Grateful Dead's entourage. I felt sufficiently welcome.

Granted, my new friend (let's call him Alain, especially since that's his name) had already gathered enough information from me obliquely to make some reasonable observations. My hands apparently relayed the message that I was incredibly fortunate, alone, organized, and adventurous. A genius, I tell you! Well, if the guy was trying to make his way toward getting some business from me (he wasn't), I surmised that he was going about it in a good way - the first glass of wine was on him, after all.

This all got me to thinking: when you worked at a hostel and wanted to make some spare change, the options weren't many. Especially not in a tiny burg like Tadoussac. But tourists came and went, if only but for a short season. I imagined plenty of folks would willingly pay for what they wanted/expected to hear. It was the good hand reader who could deliver the goods - cha-ching.

Meanwhile, hand-reading not exactly being my bag, I had also been listening to a good duo of guitarists who had set up nearby. They doubled up individually on banjo and bandoleon (like the accordion, but more used for tango) - now there was variety! After their first set, I chatted with them, soon brandishing my horn. Fun ensued: it wasn't long before I had dragged over a chair to accompany them unmiked (being a trumpet, that worked fine) - I liked this place!

I tried to add a lot of color to their tunes while also throwing in the random solo; they had a fun repetoire to play with. Havi Nagilah was a particularly long ride - perhaps 10-15 minutes of gypsy-jewish mayhem. Well, well, well, that was loads of fun. When they asked me to play with them again if possible (should I still be in town), I happily entertained the idea. Time would tell.

Meanwhile...not ready quite yet to plunk down the $$ for a whale-watching cruise right away in Tadoussac, I decided to walk the length of Tadoussac's main road as a substitute. Maybe I'd see some from shore, ya know. Or, bear with me: the proper adventurer always got the lay of the land before glorious conquests, no? (Yes!) Away I went.

The first thing I noticed was that my guiding map was screwy. Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised, though, that when strolling past the main town area I was to find that the tourist map was generously skewed in its scale for... tourism. Imagine that!

I glumly noted that all of the detail that went into itemizing each boutique and edifice of note in town didn't extend logically beyond the city limits. In fact, it took away from everything else considerably. Indeed, the rest of the map heading away from town had been compressed to about a fifth of its size in relation to the business area, I soon determined. So out the window went any guess as to my arrival at a lookout past some sand dunes. The road seemed to grow ever longer between that target and where I currently was plodding along. Ah, the life of a great explorer!

By the time I got to the first of the two grand sand dunes (nice, but not THAT nice), my thumb was out and itchy. A ride?!? Someone? Anyone? It was hot; the road wasn't scenic; I didn't need the exercise that bad. After being passed by about 10 times, my luck took a brighter turn. A young man dressed up for work, smoking furiously, did me the solid of picking me up.

This allowed me to evade pounding out the last 20 minutes of asphalt travel, something still worth savoring as some small victory. Meanwhile, I hoped that these few minutes of playing passenger wouldn't be enough for his stale smoke chamber to give me insta-cancer. I presumed it was too brief of a subjection - what, secondhand smoke kills? P-shaw!

Thanking my savior goodbye, I next walked away uphill from the parking lot under a beneficient sun. I quickly achieved the desired lookout shack some 1km away, now happy to be OUT of that same sun. There I found a man kicking back with his yippy dog to take in the view, but otherwise there wasn't a soul around. He looked like he was ready to run a marathon, complete with visor, running shoes, and camelbak. Curious.

Or perhaps not terribly so. Immediately after engaging in conversation, I couldn't help but notice - outside of the most metal I'd ever seen in a braced mouth - that his lips and tongue had the deep purple tint of red wine imbibing. This I summarily assumed to be the actual contents of the camelbak. Curious-er. For the 1000th time I reminded myself: to each their own. Not that wine wasn't sometimes fine... but water seemed more the order of the day.

François (Jacques? Jean?) was a nice guy, in any event, and he didn't seem to be in the least inebriated. He was a bearer of glad tidings, too: a friend of his would, by coincidence, be putting on a reggae rap show that night at the auberge (L'eau Berge - get IT?). We had that much in common, anyway - music (not reggae or rap). Then again, who DOESN'T like music?

Spying my horn, WineTooth soon gave me ample invitation to play. Hmmm - what was appropriate for THIS setting? (And lack of accoustics, being out in the open.) I let out a few sand/Arab-inspired tunes I knew. What else - the chunky sand dunes below served as an appropriate backdrop.

Caravan, A Night In Tunisia - it was not like I ever looked for grand excuses to play those, anyway. I'd even come to have a standard-pat solo I liked to play on them, too. From those I next switched to this riffing thing I'd been playing with, a half-whole diminished scale doodling that always harked to the eerie, drifty feel of those other two tunes. At least it always sounded cool to ME.

Arab, gypsy-erotic - it was a genre somewhere in between. My new friend liked this, too. He soon even decided to accomplany me, turning the railing bars and spindles into rhythmic percussion. Hey - that worked! We had a pretty good jam session on the riffed scale next, something that went on for perhaps a dozen minutes. That was music, my friend.

After that inspired bit of playing, I mentioned to Laurent (Hubert? Gerard?) that I'd be trying to follow the coast on foot to get back to the hostel. He asked me to join along - he hadn't thought of that. I wondered just how he DID think he was getting back - there still was no one else around or apparently even on the way.

Anyway, I had this grand return idea - now to do it. I was always good for the suggestion, if not the actual following through: I had no idea as to the actual path. As it would turn out, my new-and-improved coastal route would render the 5km of paved access road taken to arrive into something considerably lengthier. Oh well - the scenic route was such for a good reason.

Getting gone from the lookout, we quickly showed a blatant and blasé disregard for authority from the start. We hopped over the barrier marking a closed trail, and off we went. We could see soon enough that this was an acceptably benign choice: it was obviously closed for boobies and insurance purposes, just as we had guessed. A bit washed out, it wasn't otherwise anything a few carefully placed steps couldn't avoid. Hop, skip, jump - we were on the beach.

The way back to Tadoussac - managed entirely along the coast - was a thing of beauty. Still, if I had had half a brain, I would have checked the tide chart before attempting my route: how much cliff-bushwhacking, with my trumpet swinging widely in tow, would I be doing, anyway? Luckily, the half-a-brain I DID have had the fortune of not being needed to think. The tide was way out, so we were able to easily follow the sandy beaches laden with brilliantly-striated rocks without a care.

This trek proved truly gorgeous, too, when you added in the (floating) lighthouses and islands in the distance out to sea. Meanwhile, in the foreground, my friend went for a dip. What the hey?!? Logically (of course!) I didn't join him in thinking that a freezing saltwater dip was the thing to do. One finger or two would suffice just fine, thank you very much. (Shriek!)

Furthering his naturequest, Winetooth proceeded to collect mud at a growing pace. This was curious to me, but he said it was for some future mud bath reasons. Next came shells, too, undoubtedly not merely for their beauty but for use as a self-flaggelent pumice-substitute, undoubtedly. For my part, I was content to just continue plodding forward and enjoying the views. For example, an interesting mosaic had been built into a rock, a mysterious-if-indecipherable thing.

Perhaps plodding would be too slow, however: when the sky began to darken and aurally threaten as well, our pace subtly increased. Still, such skies were a sight to behold in themselves. Menacing, green and mean, they demanded respect. Threats of doom notwithstanding, however, we were able to reach the auberge (hostel) relatively dry.

Well, let me amend that for my personal case: I was dry EXCEPT for the spattered drips of my blood and accompanying mosquito guts resulting from slapping my skin repeatedly in all exposed places. The bastard black flies were at it again, so bad that they caused my friend to jog ahead the last bit back. His outfit had finally found a purpose, if that wasn't the thinking all along.

I didn't find myself similarly prepared, however. Thus, not wanting to jog in sandals, I swatted furiously and learned ever-newer and unexpected dance moves. These were completely unrelated to the patentable choreography acquired for putting up a tent, already expertly committed to memory. These new bites were just get to add to a growing mix of bumps in my scalp. Those I had received in getting to Tadoussac in the first place, making my head feel roughly like an asteroid. Fun.

Such things were relative, though. Back at the auberge, I immediately ran into someone worse off. I immediately felt marginally better. Here was a guy who had just woken up - it was afternoon now - and was bumbling about outside on the hostel's deck. He had just come to after a long drunken stupor from the night before, caused by his celebrating a return from 26 days in the river wild. Yikes.

Okay, he handily won any competition that could be considered in any outdoors-minded sense between us. Still, compared to him - a splotchy mess of untold bug brigade barrages - I looked untouched. I felt sooooooo much better, even if this did nothing whatsoever to halt my head-scratching as if I had lice. Sometimes I was even jumping like I had ants in my pants - which may have been the case. You never knew.

Hostel life continued to agree with me in Tadoussac. This one was different, however, in that it was the social hotspot for the town. In my book this carried a convenient plus - at least in this instance. Beyond that it was quite the hippie enclave, replete with jugglers and necklace makers dreaded out and abundantly pierced. Fair enough - it also felt like the circus was in town. Nevertheless, friendly people and cute girls who enjoyed flirting back was my - or anyone's, I would surmise - cup of tea.

For example, the "Tadoushack" woman (who ran the hot dog stand), plus another woman from Québéc were game. Oddly, I seemed to be getting and enjoying the attention of unwed mothers this go-round. Fine by me.

On a different note, one young girl wandering around the place with her father was the spitting image of my closest niece, Madeline. This was actually so stunning a resemblance that it took me aback each time I ran into her. I had to make a conscious effort to keep from staring or, worse, acting the creep and taking a pic of her for proof to show my sister. (I didn't, thank you very much.)

Indeed, there was always such a cast of characters at these places. This hostel was FAR from the exception. As usual, for example, there were the long-termers who equally did or didn't associate (i.e. play with others), using it strictly as a cheap hotel. Similarly, there were the short-termers, regular or otherwise, who were strictly there for the price. They avoided everyone, too, alone in their world. Why these lonely and alone-desiring people chose hostels was always an odd thing to the rest of us more typically social folk. Sometimes it was downright irritating, kind of a breaking of the "code" of a semblance of hostel "family".

Gadflies like me, who talked to whomever was nearby and interesting for long enough, were most common, however. We might intend to only stay a few days initially, but we'd happily extend that if the vibe was good and good times continued to roll. We swapped stories and perhaps cooked or travelled together - that was exactly as it was supposed to be in OUR little travel concept.

In Canada - or Québéc I should say, having only been in one other hostel in Canada (Jericho Beach in Vancouver) - the hostels had been a uniform treat. They were all clean to date, with friendly and informative staffs. Us hostellers noted among ourselves that we found it refreshingly nice that the buildings/facilities were so pleasantly turned out and that this seemed to be a given. We sang ensemble "Oh, Canada!" in praise. (There's more to the song, but I'd bet a loonie (Canadian Dollar) that only 17 Canadians knew another word to the thing.)

Perhaps I'm alluding to the fact that I began to dawdle a bit in Tadoussac. But with good reason. With the weather taking a cold snap, slightly wet, I decided to hold off longer on the whale gawking. There was at least ONE good reason to hold the fort. I couldn't blow town without gazing at those guys, now could I?

As it turned out, I soon realized that I would unexpectedly hold onto my spot in L'Eau Berge for at least five nights - the sign of a good hostel. I settled in for the "long" haul, but at least I'd have company. One such person I befriended was Dominic, a Quebecois hitching across Canada. Beyond him, however, were various Swiss French (the French-speaking countries being well-represented in Québéc for the facile reason of language), and ever more Quebecois. It's easy to stick around when there are folks to stick around WITH.

I now took to exploring the town a bit as a means of challenging the rains. There would be some rewards to this, fortunately, like finding out that the Tadoussac Hotel was the one used for the movie Irving's Hotel New Hampshire. Huh - how about that! I liked the book and author (in general) both - that heightened the connection.

Adding a bonus charm, too, I managed to see a number of beluga whales from the beach right in town. Nothing like unexpected "urban fauna". A trio of them moved along the shore, curling their shimmering, iceberg-white bodies over the surface. Indeed there was a little something for everybody in Tadoussac. If not, then, well, the hostel bar wasn't that far away to help change minds. Like all of a few doors away, in my personal case.

Beyond the town limits were other nice vantage points to try my luck at further whale sightings. There were some handy trails around the beach and nearby lake, too. If the skies frowned on such things, too, calling for rain - or giving sufficient threat of it - I found this made for good trumpet practice or reading time. All good.

Regarding the latter, another good Theroux book (as it seemed they all were, coming from my latest fave autor du jour) - The Family Arsenal - made its way off of my bike. Less weight, I thought, good good good... except.... In no time at all, two other books, French translations of originally-in-English tomes - Salinger's L'Attrape Couers/Catcher In The Rye and Greene's L'Homme Lui-Meme/The Man Within - replaced it in weight. (Greene was a logical extension of reading Theroux, a predecessor of a fashion.) Apparently with books I didn't learn quickly enough.

Meanwhile, perhaps noticing that I was looking for other things to do near town, the hostel staff tried to sell me a $6 tour. Obviously they had no idea how my cheap ass operated, especially when I found out that the tour was to interpret and see some "secret" beavers by the local pond. This was supposed to be exciting?

Now, I had nothing on beaver - beLIEVE me - but...come on. They pointed to the trail on the tourist map that the guided tour would start from. Wasn't that a fascinating possibility? Uh, not exactly. In fact, it made me think of only one thing: couldn't I just do that myself? I guessed (okay, knew) that tourists often lacked initiative or confidence, but this seemed a no-brainer.

Sure enough, I took the indicated trail, and in short order I noticed faint offshoots. Each led to numerous trees in various states of beaver-chewing. Beyond those I found ponds made from dams. Now it was true that in my five minutes of standing and appreciating such things I didn't see beavers, but I didn't remember the guide service giving an appearance guarantee, either.

I mused on whether there was such a guarantee, or how it could be effected. No, it wouldn't take much to use a whistle, bait, or a phone call to Beavers-On_Demand, Inc., to do the trick. In the meantime I'd seen the secret spots, I was sure... and my curiosity was satisfied. I figured that everyone else could do so for free, too, if they only possessed a modicum of initiative. So it goes.

Days Three and Four in Tadoussac were mostly a game of staying dry, anyway. The rain was reminscent of Seattle in the way the mist just hung about. Certainly it was just as cool. Perhaps it was appropriate, then, that the delicious Cafe Boheme quickly became my long lost friend. Reminiscent of many a fine cafe in the Jet/Emerald/Queen City, this was an impressively artisanal and food-focussed place. It even had internet access in the attic, perhaps allowing for TOO much convenience.

Rainy days also allowed for making I a friend of Marie, a Swiss (Suisse-Française from Lausanne) woman. She was on the third of her three weeks in Québéc, feeling a little worse for the wear. We met in my room, in that thrown-together-as-roomies way in which one tends to make quick friends. This was almost always a given at a hostel. Spicing things up, I discovered that this was to be her first hostel night, ever. Ooohh... the tension, the risk! Well, that was how she saw it, anyway - I could only gently laugh at her apprehension.

She very evidently had a nervousness about the whole venture, but had - to her credit - steeled herself to give it a whirl. Visibly challenging herself, she endeared herself to me as I loved that kind of panache regardless of the (small, in my opinion) scale. Correctly figuring from recent experience that you didn't meet anyone travelling alone in hotels, she was now taking what for her was a great step into the unknown: a hostel!

To be fair, it WAS a different world. In a hotel, for example, you usually didn't have an unknown stranger snoring in the bunk below you... as Marie did. Sigh - this unfortunately came after all of my assuring her that the hostel experience would undoubtedly be positive - outside of the random snorer. Oops. The poor girl got perhaps two hours of sleep as a consequence. That wasn't the worst of it for her, though. THAT would've been the string of jumpy starts she had anytime anyone came near the door. Through all of this, however, I dozed like a bear... no, it wasn't me that was snoring.

The next night, I assured her, would be better. For starters, the snorer had left. More importantly, we'd go out and drink. Hey, she was damned cute, and my French could use the whirl. And that's exactly what I'd receive - a run for my French money. Whew!

Ignoring my rudimentary speech patterns completely, Marie took our newfound friendship as a floodgate-opening event. She spoke full throttle as I did my best to hang on for this gallic ride. I didn't take this as an unfortunate thing, however: I understood her pretty well, her French being far more clear for me than Quebecois. Anyway, when I didn't, I would just throw in a sagacious "mmm... hmm... mmm." That worked every time. I mused that such non-commital commentary had probably been thrown my way numerous times, too, in the English-speaking world.

There was a certain mesmerizing quality to merely watching her speak, too. I couldn't keep my eyes off of her mouth, truth be told. It was a flood of expressions, bitten lips, and the French "b-shuh" that flapped the lips gently. Then there was the gallic way of exposing all of one's lower teeth when getting to the point, too. Yep, cute mixed with alcohol extremely well. We shut down one cafe-bar, then the next as well, having a coffee at 1 a.m. I really HAD been drinking a lot more joe on this trip... but it was serving science grandly in this case, I figured.

"Bonne nuit", back at the hostel, was an amusing jumble of a hug (my custom) and a 3-cheek peck (hers). And, while I had a different room this second night of knowing Marie, her new roomies would allow her to sleep this time around. Not that a little likka wouldn't have helped even with a snorer... or that I wouldn't have suggested other ideas. I could be nothing if not helpful.

With the crappy skies dominating the scene with only minor displays of mercy, for at least one afternoon we had a perfect remedy. The EuroCup final would distract the entire hostel handily. Fortunately the game would be well-played, too, even if meager with the scoring. THAT was entirely too bad, since the bar was giving free shots each time a goal was scored.

At least there was an appropriate highlight. That came when Fernando Torres' blazing speed made it 1-0 for Spain (vs. Germany). Everyone hoisted their shots in merry revelry after such a wait to get that sideshow started. Little did we know, however, that that would be it. Crap. Well, we DID get an extra charity shot after it was all over, but that was either out of pity or because the concoction had already been made and poured.

Meanwhile, the hostel long-timer/hand-reader who I had befriended at the get-go, Ing (or was it Alain? - I got confused), held a betting pool to liven things up. That it certainly did. Nothing received focus like having a few $ on the line. Given the paltry score, though, perhaps it was not surprisingly won by only one person. I had picked Spain as well, 2-1, bucking the heavy odds for Germany. For a little while I even had felt on the road to genius, too. But oh how far they fall...

For my final Tadoussac morning, I just as finally was off to see the whales. About time! The brilliant white backs of the belugas, seen from the fjord's shore, had successfully whetted my appetite. Supposedly the weather was on the mend, too. With the main reason for my delay easing up, the time had come.

Of two choices available, I chose the big observation boat - as opposed to the "wet-n-wild" zodiac. Despite my legendary "frugality", I here state for the record that it was not because it was $10 cheaper but instead because I could choose my level of exposure to the elements. The zodiacs were a little too open to the freezing splash of the channel's water for my tastes. Even the issuance of a neck-to-ankle-to-wrist jacket coverall couldn't convince me, either. In fact, eyeing those, it took zero imagination to guess what typically got really cold and wet. With my crappy circulation the choice was easy.

Besides, with plenty of chairs in the heated and overwhelmingly glassed-in interior, comfort was confirmed upon boarding. Sure, the down side was the greater number of people on board, perhaps 70-80. But hey - it was a BIG boat. To feel better, though, all I need do was look over at the zodiacs zipping by with everyone strapped in. Sure looked like they were freezing their asses off! Meanwhile I wandered about in aimless freedom, generally wherever it was... warmest. Chuckle, snort.

Eventually we reached the whale-feeding area... and the stampeding of gawkers began as expected. Always the herd moved to the side where the whales were last spotted, often announced over the loudspeaker, but this really was unnecessary. Fortunately they were soon on all sides of us. This would, over time, allow the crowd to disperse more - if only in greedy confusion.

UNfortunately, though, the whales had apparently had a conference. They wouldn't be putting on a spectacle of leaps and splashes for us this day. Sigh. We had to content ourselves, instead, with gandering at the "mere" 25-30 around us constantly breaking the surface. Boo hoo.

The day's sightings were mostly of the lesser kind too, almost all minke - smallish and black. Beyond those appeared several fin whales, however, the second-largest kind for the area - all was not a loss. For all of this mayhem, the closer spoutings and arching for dives were met with shrieks onboard. This was particularly the case when they happened right next to the boat.

In the meantime I periodically looked over at the zodiacs in the same area as us, ostensibly operating under the same rules of passive observation. I couldn't determine what their supposed advantage was at all, ultimately deciding that it all lay only the image of being more adventurous. Or wet. Or cold. For my part, I could easily contend with the exclamations of loud excitement and bustle onboard when I was always able to retreat to the interior heated cocoon. I'd cosily mosy along the glass walls as I saw action, warm drink in hand. Ah!

What I couldn't bear, however, was the onboard naturalist. I'm sure she was dedicated, smart, and all other such good stuff, but after only about fifteen minutes into her nonstop narration I was ready to do personal keel-hauling research with her. With each little mist of spout, or back arching to dive, she let out a stage-whisper - miked, of course - "a-wow!" This inevitably was followed by some random info, often fluff generally focussed on the names bestowed upon the poor unsuspecting mammals. Did that big female fin whale really want the moniker "Captain Hook"? I had my suspicions toward the contrary.

More annoying, however, were her repeated entreaties to buy some book her outfit had made. "Now you see the research we do here? It's on page 35 of the book...," she endlessly entreated. She must have uttered "in the book" at least 500 times in some 100 minutes. For all of her jabbering, I wasn't left with any great idea of what research she - or they - did. But I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. Hey, her name was probably in the book.

Whale-watching over, and one naturalist's homicide narrowly averted (from me!), now it was time to venture forth from Tadoussac. Back I went to the hostel to once again gather up my wreckage, putting it all back together again on the bike. Here I go again, I thought, leaving a comfy spot behind for... what, exactly? ExACTly... the unknown!

There were many goodbyes at the hostel, then a final soup/salad/waffle sandwich at Cafe Boheme (The waffle was called a gaufre, in which the chef stuffed anything and everything inside and you in turn - natch - dipped it in maple syrup. This was freaking good!) By coincidence, I met Marie for yet another goodbye out front, allowing us to once more bungle through our hug-or-kiss misadventures. That made for a better send-off, anyway: off I went.

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