Last week, we stayed in Lubec, Maine, which is about as downeast as downeast can be. In fact, it's just a little east of Eastport (and yet about forty miles by land from it), and just across a narrow channel from Campobello Island, which belongs to New Brunswick, Canada. In fact, some say the only reason why Campobello belongs to Canada is that the man in charge of allotting the border between the United States and Canada didn't know the area that well, and so didn't realize there was a big chunk of land about two hundred yards into the fog just there for the claiming. Later, it became a resort destination, back in the days before air conditioning, and the Roosevelts had a Newport-scale “cottage” just a few minutes drive from our rented house.
Lubec sits at the edge of the Passamaquoddy bay region and the Bay of Fundy, so you know when the tide is in or out. There are a few destinations in the area (Friar's Head, the East Quoddy Lighthouse, both on Campobello) which are accessible by foot at low tide.
Lubec used to have many sardine (herring) canneries back in the day, but nearly all of them are gone, and tourism has not been able to pick up the slack. Fish farming had been touted as a way out of the doldrums, but the farmers are being undercut by lower-cost producers of Atlantic Salmon from Chile (which must be confusing for the fish, since Chile faces the Pacific.) A lot of the older housing stock is rotting, and it seems like half the town is for sale. There are a lot of failed businesses and, even more disconcerting, stillborn attempts at renovating various structures. That said, there is a lot of community spirit that drives various festivals and initiatives, and there's a small-town feeling that I recall from my childhood. When I saw my son running ahead in the street on the way from a nearby schoolyard playground, he looked perfectly at home.
We drove up on Saturday, and it went quicker than expected. (Aside from the stupid confusing as the Hampton tools in New Hampshire started accepted EZ-Pass. Doesn't anybody read signs anymore ?) Further norther, we had lunch at Dysart's truck stop outside Bangor and headed east on the route 9, “the Airline,” before turning south to the coast. Blueberry season was just about to start last week, but, disappointingly, we didn't see any pick-your-own places in Cherryfield, the self-proclaimed “blueberry capital of the world,” and, even more puzzlingly for us, the local supermarkets (Hannaford and IGA) were stocking blueberries from (horrors !) New Jersey. After unpacking at the house, we had dinner in Canada, at a seafood restaurant (hey, when in Rome) called Family Fisheries. We were already joking that bilingualism was a great way for us to get free, bite-sized French lessons. You can also pick up CBC on radio, broadcast TV, and cable.
I've put lots of pictures on Flickr.
On Sunday we went back over to Campobello, picnicking near the East Quoddy Lighthouse and then going on a whale watch. In fact, the boat we used sailed right over the low-tide walkway that was rapidly submerging as we ate lunch. The whales, Minkes and Finbacks, were out in full force and put on a great show. It was really cool when one Minke swam under the boat, the white patches on the body clearly visible. This sure beats the Boston-based whale watches were you spend a lot of time going out to sea and back again.
After dinner, we walked through our part of Lubec out the tidal flats to see what we could see. The Lubec flats are enormous, with acres of mud recovered and uncovered by the cycles of tides.
We went southwest a bit, south of Machias to Roque's Bluffs State park, which has a small lake and cove-like sandy beach, the northermost in Maine. Anybody who can swim in that cold seawater has my utmost respect for their fortitude, if not sanity. Some New Yorkers were looking for the bluffs, but I think the park is actually named after the road, and the bluffs, if any, are along the road on the way to Jonesport. It was still funny, though.
And this analogy seems to hold: New York: Vermont :: Massachusetts: Maine, and that we saw a lot of Massachusetts cars around Maine, and even in New Brunswick. In fact, Maine was part of Massachusetts until around 1820, when it entered the Union. So we're just checking up on things.
S0 asked when we'd go into Canada again. And although we'd have pretty good weather during the week (75°F in the day, 55° at night), this is the first night we'd hear the foghorns.
This time we made an excursion up to Calais (“Callus,” not “Calay”), then into St. Stephen, New Brunswick, to the Ganong Chocolate Museum, which the kids loved. (Popkult enthusiasts: take note at what I spotted on the way.) We also bagged a few Tim Horton's sour cream Timbits, which were pretty darned good, although we miss the chocolate sour-cream variety. I don't know if Tim Horton's donuts are any good, but the Timbits we like don't have the machine-made texture of the baked goods at, say Dunkin' Donuts. The kids also played in a sprinkler in the park before we headed back, with a quick detour to Eastport to see what's what.
Looking at the state of housing around there, I mused that there are only about two winters separating “picturesque” from “dilipidated.”
For dinner, O made scallops with veggies and Trader Joe's kung-pao sauce, and it was yummy, and somewhat a grim reminder of the lack of variety of vegetables in the area. For desert, we wanted to go to Not-So-Famous Phil's ice cream, and we created out in agony as we read the sign: CLOSED TUESDAYS ????. But Phil was just around the corner, took pity on us, and sold us ice cream. S1 talked with some girls who lived nearby on the way back, with their seen-it-all, nearly tail-less cat.
It was puffin day for me, while O and the kids hung around Lubec village, using the library and getting hand-made chocolates.
Later, we went back over the Campobello to check out Herring Cove Beach, and this time we had to get out of the vehicle for a search. The agent looked about 20 years old, and I don't think the black leather gloves she wore unambiguously gave her a mantle of authority.
An all-Lubec day, with beachcoming and exploration of North Lubec, which reaches out to Eastport. We also stopped at “Broomstick Creations.” I'm not a good match for their wicca book section (Wicca For One – could any title more succinctly capture the Zeitgeist ?), but their free coffee spoke to my soul. I also picked up a little history of Campobello with typewritten text and Xerox-like pictures, which a local was inspired to write when a movie about the life of FDR was filmed (in part) in Campobello around 1960. The construction on the International Bridge was just about to start then.
After dinner, we did more beachcombing on the flats near “Sparky,” the Lubec channel lighthouse. The great thing is you get oozing mud foot treatments for free.
The big Quoddy link day. Once again, across the bridge to Campobello, from which we'd take a ferry to Deer Island. While we were waiting, I heard an enormous splash and we were treated to whale-watching from the shore. We could see seals from the ferry as it carried our vehicle. There's something about being on a boat that makes people talk more. After a short, surprisingly hilly drive across Deer Island, we take a larger ferry to L'Etete, and headed of the resort town of St. Andrew's.
We stopped for lunch at the Clamdigger, which served good fried seafood. I think if you're from New England, you'll feel at home anywhere in the Maritimes where you can get a decent friend clam (and that includes Prince Edward Island.) There's definitely a shared history that is significant for both New England and the Atlantic provinces. Later on in St. Andrew's proper, I saw a lot of cars from Massachusetts, and noted headlines in the local newspaper: “NB relations with Ottawa at an all-time low,” and more about the separatists in Québec.
Our first stop in St. Andrew's itself was a nifty little protected beach called Katy's Cove. It's only a loony ($1) to get in, and it has very warm water and white sand (probably trucked in). The kids loved it. Per S0's requirements, we went to the Huntsman Aquarium and watched seal feeding time, then scoped out the downtown, such as it is. This is definitely somewhere we could vacation in the future. At this rate we'll be steadily marching north until we'll be in Newfoundland when the kids are in high school !To complete the circuit, we headed up along the St. Croix river to St. Stephen's, crossed at Calais, then went down the riverside and had dinner in Eastport at La Sardina Loca, the country's easternmost Mexican restaurant (hey, it's a unique selling point).
And so we headed home. We stayed overnight in Brunswick, Maine, where we finally going to (1) play mini-golf (there's a promising-looking but sadly closed place along the way to Calais) and (2) have spicy food with vegetables and even – gasp – tofu. We can't help it, we like that stuff. But downeast was fine time.