Monday, July 27, 2009
Around the Corner of the World
I've been to the end of the earth and back. I was warned of the danger but I continued on my quest, lured by the beauty of the rugged land and by the unpredictable sea.
Located off the east coast of Newfoundland, Fogo Island is exposed to the elements. Battered by wind and water, shrouded by fog, and then gently warmed by the sun, Fogo Island is the perfect get-away for those who love the outdoor life. Fogo, the largest town on the island, is a picturesque little settlement, nestled among the rocky hills and sprawled along the shoreline. The cornerstone of the town, and according to some the world, is Brimstone Head, a massive mount that stands 275 feet above sea level. According to the Flat Earth Society, Brimstone Head is one of the four corners of the Earth. A sign on the walking trail warns visitors that they are nearing the end of the flat earth, advising them to watch their step. The view from the top is spectacular, but this day found us at the very bottom looking up.
We started out early, packed our lunch and prepared the kayak for our afternoon adventure. The weather was perfect - cool enough that paddling was comfortable and calm enough that it wasn't too difficult. Once we rounded the wharf the water was choppy, but the wind was at our backs.
Our first stop was a small island about two kilometers off shore. Jonathan had been talking about exploring that place for as long as I can remember. We pulled the kayak onto the beach and picked our way over the rocks until we reached the dry grass and brush at the top of the hill. Gulls that had been hanging around the wharf were now circling above. Their cries changed from shrill hungry caws to throaty, worried calls. The higher we climbed, the more urgent they became. We soon discovered the cause for their distress - a nest littered with the speckled shells of recently hatched eggs. Nearby, in the crevice of a rock, huddled two fluffy, speckled chicks.
Baby Herring Gulls are a rare sight. They grow quickly and it isn't long before they look like smaller versions of their parents. Gulls are also quite adept at keeping their nests well hidden. We kept our distance from the little ones and left quickly. The gulls circling overhead quieted as we moved away.
Navigation along the shore was tricky. The large craggy rocks were uneven yet worn smooth in parts by the crashing waves. We settled there to have our lunch. Our view was completely unobstructed with the exception of a few icebergs - ocean as far as we could see.
We studied some tidal pools but found nothing more interesting than a few barnacles and tiny mussels. The rocks and grass above were littered with crab and urchin shells, evidence of many seagull feasts.
Interesting though the island was, the purpose of our trip still lay ahead. We set off again, keeping to the right toward Fogo Head and open sea.
The water was rough now, the ocean lapping between cliffs on one side and rocks on the other. The passage was narrow, but not too difficult to maneuver. Fogo Head loomed above us. We had climbed it many times, over 400 steps to the summit. From sea level looking up it was even more imposing, if less physically taxing.
Once we rounded the head and hit open ocean paddling became more difficult. It was worth the aching shoulders. In the distance, out to our right, we saw the first tell tale spray of mist. Humpbacks. We watched as they circled, spouting then breaching. We counted seven before they went down. Turrs bobbed on the surface of the water then disappeared, dipping under in search of food. One curious fellow kept flying past, wings flapping constantly to keep him airborne. Perhaps he was wondering just what kind of creature we were.
Brimstone Head was close, and my excitement built as we prepared to round the corner of the earth. We could see people on the trail leading to the observation platform, so tiny they were barely discernible among the rocks and vegetation. The view from the top of Brimstone head is magnificent; the view from the bottom was just as spectacular. It is a place of breathtaking beauty.
Once we rounded the corner of the earth the water calmed. We got a good look at the layering of the rock at the cliff's base.
The last leg of the trip was the easiest and we took our time, paddling lazily and enjoying the view. The town seemed to rise out of the ocean before us, little houses and churches sheltered by the rocks. It was a beautiful sight, the stuff of greeting cards. We made our way into the harbour, past the stages and through the canal. Two little boys came out to wave to us and one of them asked if we were in a boat.
Our trip around the corner of the earth took 3.5 hours to complete. We didn't fall off, but we did have an unforgettable experience. I look forward to tempting fate again.