Off we leave early to head to Canada the new Homeland Security state makes traffic back and forth a super pain in the derriere. So we leave early. I know the police state border has curtailed travel and nearly killed off tourism. We get a gray morning, the sort that, with a sour stomach—and I have one—doesn’t enhance the sense of distance from home. I miss my family, my grandkid especially and wonder if I’m not getting too old for this sort of gallivanting about.
Route 201 is a narrow roller coaster of a road through largely uninhabited tracts of forest to the border about 20 minutes and as many miles north. The border crossing can be miserable—today, it is. We’re the only car coming over from the American side, and for the first time in 25 years, after answering the usual tedious questions. I get asked inside for a special questioning session.
The border guard is lean, youthfully middle aged, a coolly polite and completely inscrutable. He could have come from central casting. I look at the free coffee and decide better. My stomach is still a bit queasy. I’ve heard the Venetian council would invite people at night to visit them—and just make them wait.After questioning us separately, he lets us sit alone for about 10 minutes before handing us back our credentials and letting us go.
No matter. We’re in and we drive to Quebec City—or rather the old city that perches on the hill by the bank of the St. Lawrence, which is a treat and a treasure. Regrettably, the most we can do with the given time is to perfunctorily walk from the Plains of Abraham—where a minor military maneuver cost the French the city and changed the complexion of North America forever—to the St. Lawrence’s edge.
Then, we leave past the the falls of Montmorency on to Mt. St. Anne, where we’d reserved a campsite. The office is closed, so we stake out a camp and pitch the two tents and then proceed to drive around looking for a local bar. The one closest and most inviting is a billiards hall with exactly one other customer, so we set out to find Chez Pedro—after a half hour of meandering through the dark hills and snaky highways, it turns into anEl Dorado, and we decide enough is enough and it’s time to make a fire and sleep.
We break camp early, and drive to the gate—where we receive the assignment for the campsite that we hadn’t taken. From there, we start driving. The line to Tadoussac is narrow, and runs through the famous Charlevoix region, rugged, beautiful as it sometimes dips near the St. Lawrence’s edge. The St. Lawrence is on one side, visible here and there, displaying many colors, lacquer black, pale and sometimes even cerulean blue. In the distance, north, lie the jagged humps of the Laurentian Mountain Range. Small villages punctuate the road, as well as a few town of middle size. Like Malbaie—whose name means a bad bay,and Baie St. Paul, situated on a dramatic headland one associates with the West Coast. It’s an artist town with a supermarket, and more than one gas station, however.The diet is not of the first rank. Through Quebec there are many fromageries–cheese vendors– and I live on sardines, Tabasco sauce and cheese curd. We want to save money for the nightlife instead of squandering it on mere food….The smell of old fashioned horseshit frequently assails our nostrils. This is still farm country
The sky here, on foggy days, hangs like an old drunk’s paunch. But the driving is always sublime. In many ways, this whole stretch is an idyllic place, no garish tourist attractions, and sometimes just long stretches of nothing but woods and mountains and an occasional farm stands. Further east, the signs began to demonstrate baleine (whale) tours. Just as my patience is about to end, as always, finally St. Catherine comes into view. The water of the S. Lawrence here is dark, and the tides are more obvious and dramatic than they are further west. The river runs out and exposes kelp and rocks just as if were at the ocean proper. is obvious here. But hell, here the river’s width is something like 26 miles and it feels like an ocean.