We arrived at St John’s after long multiple flights from Johor Bahru, with transits in Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Toronto. Well it is more than a day flying and even more when the transits are included. Since Canadian Dollars is difficult to obtain in Malaysia, we had to depend on American dollars. My advice to all travellers – go get your money changed in the city, not in the airport. They offer better rates.
St. John’s has a small airport and the luggage handling was efficient. With a cost of 28 dollars, the taxi driver took us to Home Hotel on Signal Hill swiftly. The hotel was a nice “bed and breakfast” kind of accommodation with comfortable rooms equipped with all what I needed – wifi, ironing facilities, and coffee maker with some supplies, plus breakfast. Initially I thought it was an apartment converted into hotel accommodation, but I was later informed by the receptionist that it is purposely built that way. In each “terrace house”, there were 2 rooms in the ground floor, a living room and a kitchen in the first floor, and 2 more rooms on the second floor. So, no swimming pools etc. The best part of it was privacy – you don’t meet anybody else except during breakfast.
St. John’s is a city of about 200,000 people, and that made almost half of the population of Newfoundland and Labrador – a vast area with greens, hills and plenty of lakes. The fern trees that scatter around the green empty land are a bit small due to ground conditions that are mostly rocky. For outdoor enthusiasts, this area offers wonders. There are a lot of beautiful trails for hikers, lakes and rivers for Trout and Salmon anglers and the North Atlantic Ocean for sea lovers. Since this is summer, we get to see whales through boat tours as well as from the trails by the sea.
The people of St John’s are friendly and helpful. Ask them and they’ll be more than glad to help. In fact, they even offered help, looking at us struggling with the street map. I was later told that if you move into the country, they are even more friendly than the city folks, and many are of Irish descends.
Downtown St John’s
The downtown was short walk from the hotel. The rows of shops on Water St offered variety of interesting items for visitors. The ambiance was relaxed, with cars driving slowly and courteously yielding to pedestrian even if it was their right of way. I tried it few times. Once you put your feet on the street, cars or busses will stop, giving you the opportunity to cross. Once I signalled a driver asking him to move on, but he insisted to let me go ahead.
As usual, in any city I visited, whenever possible, I would stop at a bookstore, either at the airport or the city. I would then listen to the store assistance on recommended readings. Not long ago, I have developed interest in reading history that is written as a novel. This time I took the advice from the girl at the store and picked up “Random Passage”. I’ll write about it later.
Just one block away from Water St, there was the historical St John’s harbour where supply and service vessels at their respected berths. As an island, supplies arrived from the Canadian mainland through ships. For that reason, constructions were a bit costly and buildings were restored and maintained, a good explanation for the widespread existence of old building and architectures. The buildings were typically multi-layered, with wooden inner parts separated from the outer layer by insulation materials. It was a cold country with long winter and plenty of snow. They are also colorful.
A traditional fishing country, the area is now blessed with oil. There are three major oil fields currently in operation and another that is under development, bringing billions of dollars to the region. No wonder why on my first day there, I was greeted by somebody asking whether or not I was related to oil business.
How about this, “a bedroom in Dominican Republic and a Kitchen in Newfoundland”. Sounds interesting? Yes, that was the case for the humpback whales that we spotted during the boat tours, off Bay Bulls, some 30 minutes away from St. John’s. The whales were normally in the area between June and August feeding themselves with Caplins, a small fish that belongs to the smelt family. It was really nice to see a mother and a calf swimming in toe. Wow, beautiful. Similar feeling that I had, the first time I spotted a group of wild dolphin swimming close to our boat in South China Sea, a sight that I cherished immensely. It was the reason why I bought my compact camera – to capture the dolphins. Now, many years later, I captured whales using the same camera. So, it is now time for a new one.
On our way back from the tour, Matthew, the guide, sang another song as we approach Bay Bulls. Towards the end of the song that describes the feeling of a proud citizen of Newfoundland, there was a line, “now they’ve the oil and there goes the fishery…”. Well, since the growth of the oil business in 1990’s, fishing industry started to collapse. I just hope that the good old values of the community are preserved as the region prospers and the people become more materialistic. Typical of any economic development, prosperity brought along misery, and hence increasing crime rates and individualisms.
Later, I managed to see a number of whales swimming close to the shore at Cape Spear, the east most point of the American continent. The sight was fabulous, and the air was cheerful with boys and girls excited by the sight of whales putting their show.
Interestingly, the Puffin birds are also competing for the same – the caplins. They are also in the areas for few weeks about the same time for breeding. They are there to lay one or two eggs on a dry ground. Otherwise, their homes would be in the ocean.
Puffins maintain a long term relationships. Husband and wife took turn to take care of the eggs and once hatched, the child would be taken care of, until they are ready to be independent. Puffin couples are together during the mating and breeding time, and at the end of the season, husband and wife headed in opposite directions, only to come back about 7 months later (well, each year they have a 7 month sabbatical leave). And they mate for life. They are monogamous, say no to polygamy, haha…
The puffin is a cousin to the penguin, looking somewhat similar, but weighing only about half a kg for the adults. Puffins swallow their food underwater, but they can carry up to 30 small fish at once when bringing food home to their young.
It was interesting to know that puffins can dive deep into the water. I remember seeing one diving in and didn’t surface for a long time. I thought that it must have been caught by a predator down the surface, but I was wrong, they are actually good divers. Haha… lack of knowledge.
Our tour commenced with a visit to a bird sanctuary on Sunday, June 22. It was a half day outing organised by the host, the learned Professor of Process Safety, Dr. Faisal Khan. From St John’s, we drove about an hour and a half to a small town (or, village) called Placentia. Upon arrival, Dr. Ahmad, a medical doctor serving his residency in this village greeted us warmly and served delicious lunch, after holding a congregation prayer on his lawn. Together in the trip were Ibrahim, Faisal Fahd, and another Ahmad, along with their families. So, it was a good gathering and a very warm welcome for us.
The bird sanctuary was located at Cape St Mary’s, about an hour drive from Placentia. The views along the way was spectacular. It reminded me of the old days in Colorado. Simply beautiful. At this particular location, a migratory bird known as gannets come every summer. Similar to whales, they come to Newfoundland during summer and leaves to the Southern hemisphere once the weather gets cold.
Cape Spear – The Easterly Most Point in North America
During their visir to Malaysia, I took Dr. Khan to visit Tg. Piai National Park and the Southern Most Tip of the Asian continent. In our trip to St. John’s we were brought by Sammit, the group’s research officer to Cape Spear, the most easterly point in North America. The journey took only half an hour from the university. The place is beautiful and when we got there, a number of families with children were already there for their day out. The place was beautiful and it was interesting to be able to see a number of whales swimming very close to the shore. So, the water must have been very deep near the cliffs.