Red Bay, Labrador , 9/5/2022, National Geographic Explorer
National Geographic Explorer
Today was the day that the winds and clouds finally caught up with us. None of us were displeased with this, as we all knew we have been lucky with the weather thus far. The wind blew on the faces of our guests as we ventured forth like Vikings in the surf – though, not really. The conditions were not as bad as we initially thought, and National Geographic Explorer was only a few hundred meters from the dock.
Red Bay is home to one of the best-preserved marine archaeological sites on the planet. Between 1530 and the early 1700s, members of the Basque people ventured here to hunt whales. Whaling was a lucrative profession for centuries in the North Atlantic. This site is one of few that possesses highly studied shipwrecks, consisting of several whaling vessels, small boats called chalupas, and even large galleons. These submerged artifacts provide huge insights to the Basque people and how they managed to sail across the sea in search of whale oil. In 2013, Red Bay became a UNESCO heritage site to preserve and educate the world on this magnificent discovery. Red Bay is of monumental importance, literally.
Born and raised on the edge of the Mojave Desert, Nick was accustomed to hot dry days, far from the ocean. Everything changed when he attended California State University Monterey Bay, a short 1.5 miles from the beaches of Central California. This is...
We spent another fine day in Twillingate, a community of 2,000 folks on a five-mile-long island on the east coast of Newfoundland. The guests split up into different walking groups led by the natural history staff. Several adventurous folks hiked up the hill outside of town to observe an overlook over the whole community strung out along the bay. Other groups went on nature and photo walks on the outskirts of town. We walked across the metamorphic rocks on this extension of the Appalachian Mountains, admiring the colorful layers and quartz veins. There were many brightly colored buildings, wood crab traps, and quaint fishing boats along the harbour. Sprinkled throughout the town were several churches and cemeteries of different sizes and shapes. Most surprisingly, we observed wild and domesticated flowers everywhere. After our walks, many of us converged on a brewery to sample the various types of beer made there. There were several gift shops and art galleries in this artistic community, including a digital arts festival happening this weekend. Perhaps the most unique artworks were the large, knitted characters displayed on several buildings, which provided much humor for the guests. During the afternoon, we relaxed and packed our bags for the departure tomorrow. We admired the beautiful coastline as National Geographic Explorer cruised southeast along the rocky coast. Then, we spotted whales! We spent an hour in the sunlight watching humpback whales surface with spouts. They swam along the surface and then dove back down to feed in this rich ocean along an upwelling zone. During the evening, we had the captain’s farewell cocktail party and dinner. It was a relaxing way to finish this amazing journey around the Canadian Atlantic provinces.
Our visit today was a special one. I’m calling it: Visiting with Vikings. Not only did we visit several places with recreated Norse dwellings, including interacting with local actors portraying realistic Norsemen and women, but we also had the distinct pleasure of visiting the remnants of the past, involving real, historical Vikings. L’Anse aux Meadows is famous in archaeology as the only site with evidence that confirms what so many thought to be true–Vikings really did make it all the way across the Atlantic to North America. What a treat for our guests to enjoy the festivities and the rich history of some of the most interesting historical communities on Earth.
Today, we fell in love with Red Bay. This fishing community of about 140 residents is set in a secluded inlet on the east coast of Labrador. The community cemented itself in our hearts with its beautiful scenery, extremely well-documented historical interpretive centers, enticing Basque whaling history, delicious fried cod / fish’n’chips lunch, and, perhaps, most of all, its incredibly warm hospitality. For a place that so many guests had never heard of before today, Red Bay might be one of our new favorite sites in the Canadian Maritimes. Red Bay has a notable history dating back to the 1500s as a seasonal Basque whaling station. UNESCO designated this location as a World Heritage Site in 2013 for its remarkably complete and well-preserved examples of the European whaling tradition starting in the 1530s, including the remains of trypots (pots for rendering whale blubber), living quarters, cemeteries, and wharves. Red Bay is also home to the remains from shipwrecked whaling vessels. Earlier in the week, we learned from undersea archeologist Clara Fuquen about the wreck of the galleon, San Juan, and the associated rowing vessel for pursuing the whales, called a “chalupa.” When the San Juan was uncovered near Saddle Island, just off the coast of Red Bay, archaeologists also recovered a wonderfully intact chalupa, which is now on display in a new Parks Canada Interpretation Centre. Using a local boat, we transferred in small groups to Saddle Island, now an idyllic, offshore isle with a well-maintained trail and Parks Canada historical interpretation. In the Basque era, this was the site of the main whaling operations, and it has been the focus of extensive research and past archeological digs. Across the water in the main town, we visited a 400-year-old whale skeleton with displays about the protection of Bowhead and North Atlantic right whales. Undoubtedly, there are many more whale bones in Red Bay and the harbor, and there are even whale bones washed ashore along a local hiking trail. The whaling story is a grim one, but the oil allowed Europe to develop and flourish. Fortunately, with hunting moratoria in place, some species of whales have made a miraculous comeback. This couldn’t have been more evident than by our encounter with two humpback whales just after leaving the Red Bay anchorage. The sea water was so clear that we were able to watch the white pectoral fins of these graceful creatures as they hunted small fish. It was the perfect way to spend a spectacular day!