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Road tripping along Quebec’s Route des Baleines, I encounter not just whales but also the best of Canada








发表于 2024-5-20 23:00:40|来自:加拿大 | 显示全部楼层 |阅读模式

A whale in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park, near the start of the Route des Baleines.By Jean-Pierre Sylvestre / Le Québec maritime
Travelling along this seaside stretch of Quebec, the question hangs in the air, long before you step onto a boat. It’s one that will make or break the day, and change your vacation stories, and memories, and the photos you’ll show your friends. Namely: Will we see any whales?

It is, of course, an awesome prospect, the possibility of encountering another intelligent form of life, just by motoring out a little ways from shore. And here, in the village of Tadoussac, about a three-hour drive from Quebec City, the marine mammals don’t make me wait long. The first two blows from humpback spouts come within the first 10 minutes.

Soon, I’m witnessing a baleine ballet, with whales all around our boat. Flukes and fins in the air, often in perfect co-ordination, a dance of mighty beasts. One dives just a couple metres off the starboard side. “La proche,” says our guide with Croisières AML, a little breathless herself. “That was close!”

A total of 13 whale species swim in the St. Lawrence River, with May to October being the prime season to spot them. The area around Tadoussac, where the Saguenay Fjord empties into it, is particularly rich in krill and other fish for feeding, attracting many marine mammals. On this day, in addition to the humpbacks, I spot minkes, belugas and fin whales. But while Tadoussac is among the best places in Canada to spot marine mammals, I won’t be in town long. This is only the beginning.


                                    Travellers whale watching with Croisières AML in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park.

                                    By Marc Loiselle / Le Québec maritime
        I’m here to road trip the entire 845-kilometre length of Quebec’s Route des Baleines — so named because it’s possible, if you’re lucky, to see whales anywhere along the way.

Beginning in Tadoussac, it traces the north shore of the St. Lawrence to the end of Route 138 in Kegaska. As I navigate there, I’ll encounter not just whales but also the best of Canada: wild forests, rushing waterfalls, charming villages, friendly people and some of the freshest food you’ll get anywhere. Plus, this is an opportunity to work on my halting French, on this road trip deep into Quebec.

The scenery gets pretty wild, pretty quickly. Within an hour or two on the highway, I’m in a land of boreal woodland, where small creeks and rivers charge out of the forest, forming roiling waterfalls before they empty into the St. Lawrence. The great river is omnipresent and grows wider by the day. It will be 100 kilometres wide by the time it becomes the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

I take little detours to hidden beaches and lighthouses, like the postcard-perfect one at Cap-de-Bon-Desir, set on rocks and painted red and white. The two-lane highway undulates and curls and dances along cliffs. Route 138 isn’t just baleines — it’s dramatic falaises, too.


                                    The Whale Route also takes travellers past beautiful beaches, like this one at Sept-Îles.

                                    By Mathieu Dupuis / Tourisme Côte-Nord
        In the city of Sept-Îles’ Parc Aylmer-Whittom, I encounter some rather unique “wildlife.” Walking up and down the wooded paths, I hear them chittering, up in the trees, down in the long grass, heralding my arrival.

The squirrels. Tentative at first, but then, totally unafraid, they approach, one by one, to within a foot or two of my feet, as I wind through the fragrant pine forest. This is informally known as Squirrels Park, and people come to experience these unusually tame and curious little creatures.

I see plenty of locals, down on one knee, feeding a peanut to a lucky squirrel. “Magnifique journée!” I attempt in my fumbling French. “Les écureuils sont mignons!”

As I drive, the landscape and villages begin to change, feeling both more Northern and Maritime. Near the start of my road trip, Forestville lived up to its name, seemingly carved out of the heavy woods surrounding the town. Here, much further up the road, where the land flattens out and the forest becomes sparse, the multicoloured houses of Baie-Johan-Beetz (population: just over 80) huddle around a protected harbour.


                                    The picturesque village of Baie-Johan-Beetz, another location along the Route des Baleines.

                                    By Mathieu Dupuis / Tourisme Côte-Nord
        I spend a couple of days in the hardworking fishing town of Havre-Saint-Pierre. On the wooden waterside boardwalk, I encounter a seal floating by — but still, no more whales. Driving up to a lookout point, I take in a sweeping view. At my feet sit the heavily wooded islands that make up Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve, and a long crescent beach, lapped by shimmering waves, that leads all the way back to town.

I eat well all along the Route des Baleines, almost always without white tablecloths. I have the best poutine of my life — steaming homemade fries, local cheese curds, just-perfect gravy — in a little snack bar called Casse-Croûte au Capayou, in Havre-Saint-Pierre. In Natashquan, at Le Gout du Large (The Taste of the Sea), I enjoy snow crab sandwiches, the seafood fished out nearby, served up without an ounce of pretension.

Route 138 ends in the tiny village of Kegaska, the last stretches of landscape looking like something out of an A.Y. Jackson painting. A green road sign — which became an unlikely tourist attraction during the pandemic — announces FIN.

Beyond it, I see a beach and the gunmetal grey waters of the gulf. I want a photo to commemorate the moment, and I’d practiced my question, in French. The problem: there’s nobody around.

Finally, a man in a camo jacket and a trucker hat rumbles by on a four-wheeler. I flag him down and ask, haltingly, “Pourriez-vous s’il vous plaît prendre ma photo?” He climbs off the vehicle and smiles. “Oh, no problem, man, I’ll take your photo!”

It turns out I’ve travelled to the end of the road in Quebec to find a community of English-speaking, long-ago-transplanted Newfoundlanders. It’s a truly Canadian, bilingual moment. After he snaps the picture and proceeds on his way with a wave, I climb into my car. There’s only one thing to do now: drive all the way back to the whales waiting in Tadoussac.

Tim Johnson travelled as a guest of Le Québec maritime, which did not review or approve this article.



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