Saturday, July 07, 2012

Icebergs, Whales & Vikings

We’re at the northernmost point of Newfoundland, and the area has a sort of Alaskan feel to it. The town is St. Anthony, and if you feel like looking at a map, you’ll find it on Newfoundland’s western peninsula, at the very tippy-top. The most surprising thing I learned was that in the Spring, polar bears actually come onto land here chasing seals. We haven’t seen any seals, and certainly no polar bears, which I think is a good thing.

The other thing we’ve learned was that my preconceived  notion, mentioned earlier, that this area was once populated by Eskimos, was partially correct. The early natives were related to Eskimos, but were mostly separate tribes. Those black and white photos I recall from elementary school or National Geographic of Eskimo-like people with bad teeth and dressed in furs did populate this area a little more than 100 years ago. But the area is quite civilized now—regular small towns and a a serious fishing economy. St. Anthony actually has a decent-sized hospital.


Now for the icebergs. This little fella was the first one we saw. He was nice enough to get himself stranded among the rocks right next to a viewpoint, which was convenient. He’s not long for the world though, since the temperature today is around 80.

Each year, mainly is late Spring or early Summer, chunks of ice that fell off the Greenland glaciers float on by this area.We were told that last year a seven-mile long ice sheet came floating past. It’s a good thing most local boats have radar on board.


Also visible from the same viewpoint, way out past the point of land, was an iceberg big enough to make the Titanic captain take notice…if it was daylight and if he was looking.


To give you an idea of the size of this ice cube, this picture was taken from the tour boat while we were about two miles away, chasing whales.  We were told that this iceberg is about the size of a cruise ship…700 feet long, and about 200 feet showing above the water.


And you know what they say about the tip of the iceberg? Well this one is grounded on the bottom of the ocean which is 450 feet deep in this spot. As the tour boat approached, the crew played the theme from the “Titanic”, which seemed somehow to be inappropriate.


We circled the iceberg at about 500 feet away and were able to see waterfalls along it’s sunny side where it was imitating the Wicked Witch of the North, but doing it quite a  bit slower than Maggie Hamilton.

We’re told that DSC_0204this berg had already lost about 1/3 of it’s bulk in the few weeks it’s been stuck on the bottom. In a couple of months it will be completed melted.

The tour boat stayed out about 2.5 hours and we saw a bunch of humpback whales feeding on schools of small fish that populate the area.  We also learned that Orcas show up in these waters later in the Summer. We didn’t see any Orcas. It we had, it would have made a whale of a tale. (Sorry.)


A few miles from St. Anthony is a National Historic Site called L’Anse aux Meadows and it is widely accepted as the spot where the first Vikings landed in the new world more than 1000 years ago. The site was discovered in 1960 by a Norwegian archeologist.  There’s a reasonable chance that this is where Leif Ericson first came ashore in North America, but there’s no way to substantiate that as fact.


The actual site of the settlement was excavated during the 1960s and 70s, so the foundations of the sod houses and other buildings are plain to see. Very few artifacts were found at the site, leaving archeologists to believe that this was a temporary settlement and the Norsemen (and women) either returned to Greenland, or moved further south. Parks Canada has rebuilt the village nearby the old foundations. DSC_0227

Here’s one of the reconstructed buildings. The person in the doorway is not a Viking. The area was known as Vinland 1000 years ago, and those of you who know Penny will know that the name of the place somehow seems appropriate.


This guy isn’t a real Viking either, although he looks like one. He’s a re-enactor who works for Parks Canada. Like re-enactors we’ve met in many Canada Historic Sites, he’s extremely knowledgeable about the era and people represented at the site, but I don’t think the authorities allow the re-enacting to go as far as plundering and pillaging.


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