The tourist influx is in full swing in Twillingate, with people racing from cove to cove asking “Have you seen any icebergs?” like it was a game of real life pokemon. It’s an energy that’s hard to describe, but I haven’t felt it since leaving the crowded Bay of Fundy. I’ve come to thrive on the solitude I’ve experienced since being in Newfoundland, and as my friend Ed recently said, “I miss the empty.” My favorite Jimmy Buffett mantra kicks in, “There’s just too much to see waiting in front of me, and I know that I just can’t go wrong with these changes in attitudes, changes in latitudes.” So I leave Twillingate after only 24 hours.
I’ve been shadowing Ed and Marti for a month now as we move in synch, clockwise around the coastline with me being a couple of weeks behind them. I’ve come to realize that we have a similar cadence when it comes to travel styles, moving slow enough to seek out the remote locations, but fast enough to keep it fresh. So when they hole up for an entire week on tiny Fogo Island, I take note.
National Geographic has this to say about Fogo Island, “Fogo Island is not so much a place as a state of mind.” And since Newfoundland itself is an island, that makes Fogo “an island off of an island.” An island state of mind…of course, I have to go!
It’s another ferry ride, this one much cheaper at only $24 CAD ($20 US) round trip. The good news/bad news is that they don’t take reservations, and the first ferry is known to fill up fast. If you’re not in line at least an hour beforehand, you’ll likely be waiting on the next ferry at 11:30am. So I decide I’ll try boondocking on the ferry dock in order to be on the 8:30am ferry.
I arrive to find the dock much more remote than I could have expected. In fact, there is nothing there but a closed “chip wagon” (food truck) and a travel trailer holding a construction crew of two. I don’t see any restrictive signs, so I ask one of the guys in the construction crew if he thinks it will be okay to overnight on the dock. His response is one of my favorite Newfie answers yet… “Why by Jingles, yes!”
The relaxed atmosphere is palpable after only a short stop at the visitor center. It’s a bit of a paradox in that there doesn’t seem to be anyone here, yet there is infrastructure to support a summer crowd. I send a text back to Ed and Marti saying, “Why on earth are all those people bunched up back there in Twillingate, when they could be here for only a $20 ferry ride?” It’s a puzzle.
But then, it would appear there’s not much to do on Fogo Island. Unless you like hiking. Or photography. Or free museums. Or art and architecture. Or local culture and traditions that have been passed on from generations of European settlers to modern day fishermen intent on not letting the collapse of the fishing industry force them out of their “place.”
Fogo Island is made up of ten different townships, the largest being that of “Fogo.” Others with quirky names like Joe Batt’s Arm, Seldom, and my personal favorite, Tilting, are all within a 20 minute drive. It’s larger than I first thought, with over 300 square miles and around 2,700 people who call the island home.
Fogo Island is definitely one of those places best explored on foot. It would be near impossible to explore any of these townships without stopping to engage in conversation with locals along the way. They are very proud of their heritage, and are eager to share it.
The Newfoundland fishing stage, or shed out over the water is as ubiquitous as a conical hat in Vietnam, and a magnet for a photographer wannabe like me. I stop to ask a man if I can come on to his property for a photograph, and he invites me into his stage for a tour. He proudly points out the over 100 year old construction using “longers,” or split logs from small trees his grandfather used to build the stage.
He explains that though once used to store salted fish, stages are more commonly used today to store gear, or to store their “punts,” or small boats for the winter. Each stage has a wooden splitting table used to clean fish, with an easy access opening to the water called a “trunk hole” to dispose of the unwanted offal. He also shows me the “pounds,” or wooden compartments lined up along the wall where fish were stored. Each has a slot where boards could be added to increase the depth of the pound as more fish were added.
Next, he leads me down to the water to show me his small rowboat that he made. He will be taking his grandkids out cod jigging later this evening, if I want to come ‘round. I regret not having returned.
There are over 20 hiking trails on the island, and I walk at least one each day, sometimes two. They are all scenic beyond description. Each one hugs the coastline or climbs up for some view out over the sea.
While sitting on a hand-carved bench at the top of the hill in Tilting watching the waves crash below, I strike up a wonderful conversation with a local woman. She lives over on the island of Newfoundland now, but she and her husband are building a retirement house in Tilting. As we look out over the crashing cobalt blue surf below, she tells me she likes meeting visitors, because seeing it fresh through someone else’s eyes helps her not take it for granted. This strikes a cord with me, because I always said those exact same words about visitors when I lived in Manhattan. About as great a contrasting comparison as you can get, but working at a fast paced job, I often took my unique surroundings for granted, forgetting I lived and worked in one of the world’s biggest tourist attractions.
I tell her how friendly the people have been here on Fogo Island. She says “I reckon about the friendliest in all of Newfoundland.” I add, “I reckon in all of North America….”
Next Up: From a Fogo State of Mind to a New York State of Mind…