Class, let us start with a geography lesson.
Firstly, the province of Newfoundland has been technically known as the province of Newfoundland & Labrador since 2001. On the right hand portion of the above map, you will see the province highlighted in green - where Newfoundland is the island and Labrador is the mainland portion northeast of Quebec. Labrador extends from the 52nd parallel up to the 61st parallel, putting it on par with cities like Juneau, Anchorage, Stockholm & Saint Petersburg.
Labrador is a territory slightly larger than Michigan; yet the miniscule population of 26 000 puts the density at a mere 1 person per 10 square kilometres0. I had read wikis and travel guides prior to this journey, so I half expected a windswept, barren land. Famous bird man James Audubon once called Labrador the "most extensive and dreary wilderness I've ever seen."
Hell, this is a place where the Germans installed a weather station in World War 2 and nobody found it until 1980.
Anyway, to reach Goose Bay, our Central Labrador destination, you could either:
¤ drive 5 hours on the Island of Newfoundland and then take the 34 hour ferry to Goose Bay
¤ drive from Quebec on secondary logging roads where there are towns 300km (~160mi) apart
Since we didn't have 2 days worth of travel to dedicate to this journey, I had to get over my fears and fly for my first time - out of Deer Lake Regional Airport.
You know...your first? You probably just got drunk and entered whatever floozy airport would let you inside...but Deer Lake was special. Its halls weren't gaping and jam packed with tourists like O'Hare or La Guardia; Deer Lake cared that she was my first airport.
Nervously moving forward into the airport, I was lost amongst the [one] baggage claim, searches and [two] gates. Thankfully my buddy was there and he helped me out by telling me where to give out my id and where to go. I went through security relatively smoothly, boarded the plane and as I was putting my stuff into the overhead compartment; my friend from Goose Bay startled me below. My one friend from a town of 7 500 people, just happened to be on the same Monday evening flight.
We exchanged a few words, but this was a small plane of 45 seats and I needed to sit down. I took my seat next to the emergency exit with a window overlooking the propeller. Things were starting to set in now as my palms were sweaty, knees were weak, arms were heavy. I was happy I didn't polish off that spaghetti my mom sent.
I watched the blades begin to spin and envisioned them breaking off and crashing into the side of the plane, cutting me like a machete cuts through Vietnamese forest.
If I'm here writing this, then I obviously survived.
I started to calm down as we reached 20,000 ft and my brain started number crunching the amount of planes that fly per year versus the number of crashes, also factor in non third world countries, yadda, yadda, yadda.
The landing was delayed because the pilot miscalculated the height of the ground, but eventually we landed and my 70 minutes of airtime was over. Where it had been rainy and cool in Corner Brook, we got out into a blizzard in Goose Bay...ah, here resides that scary Newfoundland weather everyone has told me about.
Walking 10 feet into the Goose Bay airport, you come to the main hallway where the only thing you can't see is where you X-ray your bag and wait in a room of 20 chairs for the upcoming flight. Even though this was only the second airport of my life, I was still shocked by its small size. I imagine others would be even more shocked as they have actually been in larger airports and not just seen them in the movies.
The airport also had signs in English, Inuktitut & Innu-aimun (30% of Labrador is populated with Native populations of Metis, Innu and Inuit).
The first night, I wasn't feeling very well because my ears hurt from my first flight; so I took to bed and the next time I could go out was Tuesday. My buddy left me the rental Malibu to roll through the Goose Bay streets in style.
I decided to head up to the Air Force base located in town. Labrador's northern location and its proximity to the east coast of North America, were the primary reasons the US had originally set up a division on the base in 1941 and continued through the cold war until 1969.
My buddy had pointed out, upon our landing in Goose Bay, an area where the Yankees had left a bunch of jet fuel and other chemicals after they left in 1969. As I made my way over to that area, the only things I could find were building eaters and cement chemical enclosures.
So I took to just generally wandering the base. I learned that throughout its history, it had played home to the Brits, Germans, Dutch and Italians as well.
All had left by 2006 since they no longer required a desolate place to practice low-level aerial combat.
The Germans were by far the most apparent of the 5 foreigners. German flags and the German Language were prominent throughout the base.
I drove around for about 2 hours before it was dinnertime. I took one last picture of this weird machine which churned snow and shot it away from the road, as I had never seen one before.
I spent dinner with my friend that I met on the airplane and we went to Jungle Jims. Talking with her, I found out that she had moved to Goose Bay about 6 months prior and absolutely loves it. I was a little thrown off by how someone can love such a desolate, lonely place; I thought about all of the people who would probably hate all of the American cities I love so much.
Different strokes for different folks.
Anyway, she insisted that I get a hurricane while at 'Jungle Jims'...a hurricane? that doesn't sound THAT fruity...why not.
Anyway, I quickly removed the umbrellas, cherries and oranges and hurriedly drank the monstrosity. Oh well, 3.5 oz of booze and she paid for it - I can't complain.
We parted ways after dinner and I made my way back over to the Air Force base. Powered by that fruity drink, I figured I would check out the German barracks on the base.
Alright, so the Germans left in 2006, and here we have their barracks. Why are there car tracks through the middle? Why is the power still on?
Ok, so there's steam tunnels. So even if there are very few footprints...could people be coming inside from other buildings?
I didn't know what to make of the German barracks situation, but I didn't want to push my luck on an active military base. Therefore, after 2.5 hours outside in the frigid Labrador night; I decided to go back to the hotel.
The clouds continually spread during the 25 minute walk from the German barracks to the hotel. As the stars emerged from behind the clouds, it was some consolation to not finding the German barracks wide open.
Waking up the next morning, I went out to the back patio and watched the sunrise for a short period of time.
Going for a walk during lunchtime, I decided to go check out the town lake.
I also snapped a few shots of the actual community of Goose Bay.
That afternoon, my friend picked me up in her truck and we hit the only paved highway out of town to a small village 30km (~18mi) away.
(To get to any other town in Labrador, you have to take the Trans Labrador highway which is gravel and heavily rutted from the trucks. A Trans Labrador Highway fun fact is that when Caribou season comes, herds of approximately 100,000 come through the area and you better hope your car is out of the way because they won't all be able to go around and will go ATOP your car. Also, usually at the start of the season, hunters will shoot caribou from the ditches along the highway (you have to be off the road to discharge a firearm in Labrador). Usually these hunters will skin and cut up the caribou right there, leaving behind heads, hoofs and blood patches beside the highway.)
Okay, enough about a highway that I wasn't even on. My friend and I went to check out the one town you can get to by paved road from Goose Bay.
The previous day, my friend had interrogated her boyfriend on places that could be worth checking out. She continued to propose places and he continued to shoot them down. Things weren't looking very promising until we came upon this old hospital building in North West River (the town we could reach from Goose Bay).
Unfortunately there was a myriad of problems: it was dead in the centre of town, we wouldn't be able to use flashlights at night, the next day I already had plans, all of the bottom floor windows had bars across them and the half-ground doors were all snowed in.
So much for that.
We departed from North West River back to Goose Bay and I couldn't have been anymore happy that my friend had satellite radio. The terrestrial radio in Goose Bay consists of 2 talk stations, 1 half talk/half Christmas station and 1 Christian station. Understandably, the local radio was wearing on me and I was happy to be able to listen to some Weezy F. Baby1.
In fact, the terrestrial radio was so bad that I was super close to buying a Better Than Ezra CD at a local shop because of it; but, alas, $6 seemed a little steep for a Better Than Ezra CD.
Once back in Goose Bay, we made our way over to the local pub for some dinner.
I figured I might as well do something new while in Labrador so we got the cod tongues and scrunchins for an appetizer.
Scrunchins are deep fried cubes of pork fat. Another friend of mine, when he heard I was moving to Newfoundland, told me to get scrunchins EVERY time they're offered. After his vehement recommendation, I was quite surprised when they weren't very good. To me, they just made everything salty...and they were particularly unbearable when consumed alone.
The other component to the appetizer was cod tongues. Apparently back in the day, this tradition started when people would take the tongues and cheeks from the cod heads left by local fishermen. I've even heard of cod head stew.
The cod tongues were really fishy and had the strangest texture. It was almost like a fishy toffee where you would have to really grind your teeth and work the meat.
Thumbs down to both.
I continued with the new food plan by trying the weiner schnitzel! I know it's not a Newfie food, but I still hadn't had weiner schnitzel in my life (the pub offered weiner schnitzel because they had a German chef).
Looking up Weiner Schnitzel, I found out that it was usually veal, but my particular Labrador weiner schnitzel was pork coated with bread crumbs and deep fried.
The verdict on the weiner schnitzel was that it was pretty good; and since that is coming from someone who's not a big meat eater, you have to postulate that weiner schnitzel is pretty good.
I'd definitely have it again. Thumbs up to weiner schnitzel!
Weiner schnitzel & cod tongues in Labrador? I don't even know what to say.
Instead of mocking the German gods by eyeing their barracks while full of fruity drink, I now thought I had better odds after devouring that German delicacy.
Trudging through the snow and walking the grounds, I realized the Germans still weren't on my side. They took my Czechoslovakia in 1939 and they couldn't give me this in 2008?
Eventually I accepted my fate and took a passing glance inside the German Club through the window. It was time to take my ball and go home.
I wasn't the happiest camper, but it wasn't terribly cold out, so I decided to relax by the airport and watch the planes leave.
After about 3 minutes, a car was coming down the road and I needed to move my tripod. It was at this time that I realized I was cold and that I should go home.
The next day, we finished up and took off for lunch. Unimpressed by the 2 Newfie foods I already tried, I decided to go third times a charm and hit up the fish & brewis.
From Wikipedia: "Fish and brewis (pronounced like the word "bruise") is a traditional Newfoundland meal consisting of codfish and hard bread. With the abundance of cod around the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador it became synonymous with all Newfoundland households as a delicacy to be served as a main meal.
The recipe may vary from community to community or even household to household but, the ingredients were always the same. The typical recipe called for salt fish that had to be soaked in water overnight to reduce the salt content of the fish. The hard bread was broken into bite-size pieces and it too was soaked in water overnight. Next day the fish and hard bread are boiled separately until tender then both are mixed together and cooked together for final preparation.
The traditional meal is served with scrunchions , salted fat pork which has been cut into small pieces and fried. Both the rendered fat and the liquid fat is then drizzled over the mixture of fish and hard bread.
The meal was originally developed by sailors that were often at sea for weeks and even months where few fresh ingredients were able to withstand such lengthy trips. Therefore long lasting foods were a necessity and fish and brewis became the crew's favorite. They called the hardtack or sea biscuit brewis (pronounced 'brews') because of their practice of bruising or breaking up the bread into bite size pieces."
Yes! I even get to have more of those delicious, deep fried, pork fat cubes!
Anyway, the Fish & Brewis was mediocre at best. I kept biting into harder portions and it was completely bland overall. I quickly saturated it in ketchup.
I don't care if it's 'tradition'; people on boats ate this because they had to. The best part of all this was me telling my Pennsylvanian buddy about these foods and him stating that know he understands why all those Labradorean restaurants keep failing.
After lunch involving that third serving of delicious Newfie food; we went over to the Northern Lights Store, which was highly recommended by others because of the variety of items they have.
This bottle of syrup alone was enough to leave me amused as I busted out laughing inside the store.
Moving into the basement, I realized you could buy yourself a nice gun.
(Disclaimer: I have no bloody clue where these are guns are nice.)
Moving upstairs, there was a nice selection of lubes.
Or if you didn't have anyone to lube up, you could just finish yourself.
While high of course.
Or you could just buy your honey some lingerie for those long, cold, Labradorean nights.
This was only the tip of the iceberg, as all of these items were amongst Carhartt jackets, Labrador shirts, crafts, old lady clothing, vibrators, oars, snowshoes, &c, &c.
Checked the hockey arena out quickly.
(Yeah I know it's random. I just like small, old school hockey arenas.)
The next store we went to was an old army surplus store where I was super excited to find a shelf of $0.25 tapes!
The only thing that pissed me off was that I didn't realize my 2 Live Crew tape wasn't 'As Nasty As They Wanna Be', but in fact, 'As Clean As They Wanna Be'.
My buddy didn't have a chance to come with us to North West River the day before, so we spent our last hours in Labrador heading back there again.
When I had went with my friend, I asked what the town across the river was, to which she answered Sheshatshiu - the Native town, and then proceeded to tell me that no one goes there and how people throw rocks are your car for being white.
I rolled my eyes and let her think what she wanted. I was terribly cynical, but that was last night and this was today - I had no other option but to ask my buddy if he'd wheel through town.
Living in North West River for 3 years, my buddy thought it would be fine and said we could drive through Sheshatshiu.
I was overwhelmed with joy. Yay!
There were a few teenage kids that tried to mean mug us, but overall most people couldn't care less.
The town was sort of run down in that it seemed very few people had pride in their community. Also, there were a few wide open, abandoned houses.
I broke out in laughter at the G-Unit tag we came across on the town convenience store. I asked if he could stop for a second and I got out to take some pictures; but I could tell he was becoming really nervous because of the neighbourhood children. I felt sorry for him and we left.
He sped away, talking about how he doesn't understand why people want to be tourists and take pictures of abandoned houses and communities. I felt like saying I don't understand how you can enjoy snowshoeing and taking pictures of nature; but I just let it go...I appreciated that he brought me around the community and if he thought I was a weirdo, I must be one.
Back onto the 520 and into Goose Bay, we gassed up the rental, dropper her off and boarded our airplane back to the Island of Newfoundland. The winds were 200mph (or 80 knots), so there was some turbulence, but we made it fine.
A short drive later and it was nice to be 'home'.
1 - Labrador - Wikipedia