My trip to Gaspésie: Travel letter no. 1
Vacation time is slow time. So I calm down, tidy up my desk, stack three notebooks, sharpen my pencils and make sure I have enough wipes to clean my iPad screen and glasses.
As you know, I’m crazy about books. So I waste a good hour choosing a dozen that I need to read immediately. Then I pack some colourful clothes, my old sailor sweater, a heavy-duty raincoat, my vitamins and a jar of instant decaf coffee.
I set off in my car around 11 a.m. with a magnificent sun (“My Sun”) overhead. The one who I’ve held in my heart for the past 35 years. I’m hungry, but I prepared a big Ziploc bag of apple wedges and Nantes carrots. And, of course, a thermos of coffee. Halfway to Quebec City, I call to book a room. Hurrah, success! Every time I’ve toured Gaspésie, it's always before the vacation period or in September, when vacationers have returned home.
Highway 640 quickly becomes the 40 and, after about 200 kilometers, I find the B&B where I will overnight. The sun is still strong and I decide to tour the famous Île d'Orléans; a pilgrimage I make every year (except for the last three). The island is a bucolic paradise where every house is postcard perfect. Many of the small local businesses beckon to me, but I resist. I’ve improved my jam-making skills during the pandemic to the point where they are good enough to rival those of local artisans.
In Quebec City, I fall into a deep sleep like Sleeping Beauty. I dream of whales. I would love to see one, even if it was only a young calf. Maybe I should cross over to the North Shore? The perfect area for whale watching apparently. I don’t have a set itinerary; I make it up as I go along. Like this morning, I was supposed to leave Notre-Dame-du-Portage and its beautiful inn, but the dark sky decided to open up and release its load. So today I am writing this letter in a magnificent solarium that has been transformed into an aquarium. Water spurts out from everywhere, from the glass ceiling and the transparent walls. In front of me, the angry river tries to reach my table. Does it have a secret to tell me?
I started off the second day of my trip crossing the Quebec City bridge with the intention of travelling at a leisurely pace down the 132 to Baie-des-Chaleurs, where I was born in 1947. Suddenly the businesswoman in me took control of the wheel. SHE who was always on the go, with no time to admire the landscape. SHE made me turn onto Highway 20. After going some 15–20 km at 110 km/hour, remorse started to shoot through my neurons, rage burned my nose and my ♥ screamed HELP! I anxiously searched for the next exit as if it were a gateway to heaven. Back on the 132, my soul relaxed. Thank God, I’ve changed; I’m no longer that person who fought to survive and eventually succeeded.
Driving slowly along, the road is so close to the river that I can almost reach out and touch the water. I take in the beautiful landscape: Berthier-sur-Mer, Montmagny, Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, Kamouraska and Notre-Dame-du-Portage. I completely forget to check my watch. Only later I realize that it no longer works. Two days have passed. Where did I put the charger? Ah, I left it at home. “This is certainly a sign,” Providence would say. A sign to decompress. A dazzling sight greets me in Berthier-sur-Mer: from one side of the road to the other, the trees are holding hands. Perhaps I will see the Wizard of Oz?
I cross Montmagny when, suddenly, the immense blue of the sky begins to fracture. It becomes cavernous, disturbing. As if the big manitou was about to give the 132 a good scrub; the wind has turned tempestuous. And now some angry clouds are unleashing torrents of rain. I despair. On my right, a spry old man is rocking back and forth on a veranda. I move at a snail’s pace. The man’s gaze greets me through the rain; he smiles. And like an Egyptian plague, a monstrous shower seems like it will flood the front seat. As the famous Carlos Fuentes would say, “We are helpless slaves to the hope of happiness.”
It’s noon on the dot. Cap-Saint-Ignace is sweeping away the clouds and Master Ouranos is getting a makeover. My stomach is rumbling. Nibbling on carrots, I take the road to artsy Saint-Jean-Port-Joli. When hunger strikes on the road, I always choose the restaurant with the busiest parking lot. It pays off once again. Today, it’s a big log-style house, nicely done up with a large inviting door. A huge bakery counter and fridges filled with delicious take-out food greet me inside. The large dining room at the back provides me with a wonderful country meal, including the best poor man’s pudding ever. All this for just $18.95, plus a generous tip. Wow! I almost eat too much, but as the great Edith Piaf sang, JE NE REGRETTE RIEN (“I HAVE NO REGRETS”). I’ll have to drive barefoot to keep from falling asleep at the wheel.
I arrive in Kamouraska around 2 p.m. The museum, the big church, the stores, the beach near the local bakery – it must strike a city dweller as a scene from some fairy tale. I would love to stay longer, but my Gaspésie is tugging at my sleeve. I take the Navigators’ Route in search of lodging for the night. I end up at the magnificent Auberge du Portage. There is one room left; an angel must be watching over me. It turns out the inn is also a very popular health and resort center.
It’s beautiful here! Should I promise myself to return some day for a dream week? I sleep like a log in my nicely appointed room. And in the early hours of the morning, I begin to write this letter. The storm arrives and I continue to write until the sun’s return. It’s now 10 a.m. and I’m back on the 132, in the direction of Sainte-Flavie, where I will find a place to stay for the night.
More from the road next Sunday!