Neither of us had ever heard of Saguenay, the northern-most city in Quebec Province below the Canadian Arctic Islands save a few isolated Cree and Inuit villages. We had to look it up on the map when our campsite neighbors in Sanibel, Florida some three months ago told us that’s where they’re from.
We’d enjoyed chatting with Enid and Mario, sharing wine and cheese at twilight and trading thoughts about life, travel and our mutual appreciation for the simple things in life. When they invited us to visit them this summer in their Auberge des Cevennes on the Saguenay fjord we couldn’t resist – and promptly added the town of L’Anse-Saint-Jean 163 miles north of Quebec City to our itinerary for the northern pass of our Perimeter trip.
That’s Enid on the back porch of the 15-room auberge that Mario built and that they’ve operated for decades. (An auberge is an inn – a bit of a cross between a B&B and a small hotel.)
As you can see, the setting is soul-nourishingly lovely.
And remote. It took us three days to get there from Cape Breton, driving across New Brunswick and up beyond the northern-most tip of Maine. We crossed the massive Fleuve Saint Laurent (St. Lawrence River) at Trois Pistoles on a ferry that took nearly two hours to traverse the 34 kilometers (21 miles).
There are only one or two ferry crossings each day and the times vary according to the tides, which are nearly as dramatic here as they were at Hopewell Rocks on the eastern coast of New Brunswick.
When we left on the 9:30 a.m. ferry, you could barely see land on the other side, just a faint blue-gray line slightly darker than the blue-gray water and the lighter blue-gray sky….
And when we docked at Les Escoumins on the other side, it was the furthest north we’d ever been on this continent.
It was also where, on the morning after our arrival, as we were sipping coffee in our Casita parked in the orchard beside the auberge, that we got word that my 90-year-old mother in Dallas had been in a car accident.
Time stood still.
The accident occurred just a few blocks from our house. Mom, broadsided on the way to her usual Tuesday-morning round of golf, had the presence of mind to call our Beloved House-sitter as the paramedics and police arrived. Bonnie was on site in a flash. As a result, I was able to listen in on the much of the conversation at the scene.
The good news – the amazing news – is that both drivers walked away from the accident. It was good to hear Mom’s voice on the cell phone, shaky but assertive, answering questions, completing sentences.
The accident was serious. She was hit on the driver’s side and the car spun around so it was headed west instead of east when it finally came to rest against a construction barricade on the side of the road. She had to be extricated from the passenger-side window as both front doors were jammed shut. Bonnie took her immediately to the emergency room at nearby Baylor University Medical Center.
Never has 2,000 miles seemed so far away. We thought about rushing to Quebec City to snag a flight to Dallas, but that was a four-hour drive through the mountains and it seemed more important to stay within cell phone service as Mom underwent a CT scan and other tests for injuries.
I was on the phone to listen in when, hours later, the doctors determined that there were no broken ribs or apparent internal damage. Mom would be sore for several days – very sore – but she seemed miraculously free of any longterm physical injuries.
The next morning we headed to Quebec City. By the time we got there, Mom was settled in semi-comfortably at home, dutifully applying ice packs and swallowing ibuprofen on schedule….
God bless FaceTime. We’ve spent hours together on it. It’s not the same as being there in person, but it’s close – a real comfort as we seek to console and cheer one another.
And God bless Wimbledon and the World Cup for providing needed distraction. As Mom relives the horror of the accident and frets over whether to keep driving, she’s also able – always the sports enthusiast – to pass several hours glued to the television rooting at various times for Belgium, Serena, Federer, Isner and England.
(Admittedly, not a great win/loss record there.)
She’d already planned to join us for a mini cousins-reunion in Ohio along Lake Eerie next week, and that’s a date she’s determined to keep.
Georges has always talked about the guardian angel that sits on his shoulder; I’m a believer. That angel worked overtime last week in looking after my precious Mom, and we are thankful to the moon and back.
While in Saguenay, we stayed in our Casita, as is our preference, but the rooms at the auberge are lovely. And starting at $85 a night (about $64 U.S.), they are practically a steal.
Here’s the link to their website.
Here are two photos from our time together in Sanibel in April. The first is of the Enid and Mario in front of their treasured Grande Citrouille (“grand pumpkin”), a 1974 Westfalia van.
The second one is of the window of their van, with this great quote stenciled on it (in both French and English) from renowned Belgian poet-musician Jacques Brel: “Il a fallut bien du talent pour etre vieux sans etre adult.”
Attentive readers of this blog will remember these photos from a post here last April.
Meeting up with Enid and Mario in lovely Saguenay is an example of double serendipity. We would never have come this far north had we not met them in Sanibel so far south. And we would never have been in Sanibel to meet them in the first place had our friend Miriam from Kansas City not recommended Sanibel as a must-visit spot on our Perimeter adventure. (Thank you, Miriam!)
On our drive to the auberge from the ferry, we visited the Parc Marin du Saguenay-Saint-Laurent, a wonderful marine park and whale preserve. Sadly, we didn’t see any of the famed whales, though the rangers we chatted with had sighted a minke whale earlier in the day. I had been especially looking forward to spotting a snow-white beluga with the winsome face….
But my disappointment was salved somewhat by the memory of the humpback who had waved her fin to us several times last month when we were on the ferry across the Cape Cod Bay from Plymouth to Provincetown. And by the fact that we learned many other interesting things about this unique area, including:
• The St. Lawrence channel in this area is exceedingly deep. You could put the Eiffel Tower at the bottom of one particular trench and its top would be covered by water.
• Canada has about 175,000 miles of coastline – the world’s longest – along three oceans and around the Great Lakes.
• Sailing up the St. Lawrence to the Great Lakes has always been fraught with hazards. There are 84 islands in the 200 miles. Captains are required to bring specialized pilots aboard here to guide them successfully to the Great Lakes.
• 7,000 merchant vessels ply the waters of the St. Lawrence year in and year out….
Our first night in L’Anse-Saint-Jean in Saguenay, Mario grilled pork chops on the BBQ and we enjoyed a warm and chatty dinner with their good friends from the area, Robert, Regane and Francoise. The doors and windows were wide open and a cool breeze from outside wafted through the kitchen and dining area. Later, it began to rain, adding flickering light and a bit of romance to the evening.
The conversation was mostly in French, though G, Robert and Enid made sure to season it with English for my benefit from time to time. We talked of Robert’s salmon fishing, the joys of travel and the group’s pension for bridge.
That’s the thing about Quebec. While both French and English are commonly spoken in New Brunswick and parts of Nova Scotia, in Quebec it’s all French. Totally French. Only French. Many of the people here grow up having no need to learn English, the dominant language in Canada. It feels totally European, like you’re in France – or Belgium (the Walloon portion where G is from).
Our evening was punctuated – appropriately – by music. Robert plays a fine piano and Enid has a lovely soprano voice. Their repertoire included La Mer by French composer and showman Charles Trenet.
The Quebec countryside is gorgeous. There’s a lot of it. The largest province in Canada, Quebec is five-and-a-half times the size of Texas.
We drove along the dramatic Saguenay fjord, the top-listed sight to see in the province by at least one tourist magazine. A glacier-carved river whose depths reach 900 feet in some areas, it’s one of 350 rivers that, together with the Great Lakes, feed into the St. Lawrence River as it drains into the North Atlantic Ocean.
At one point, we found ourselves at La Pulperie, a regional museum dedicated to the area’s logging and pulp industries. It just happened to be hosting a special “World of Tintin” exhibit.
Talk about serendipity. Tintin is to Georges what Nancy Drew is to me – on steroids. He grew up with Tintin, loved Tintin, wanted to be Tintin….
Tintin is a boy-journalist-turned-detective who solves mysteries and murders that befuddle his seniors and make him a hero. G knows nearly every Adventures of Tintin comic book by heart. So do most European men over, say, the age of 40.
So popular are the comic books that they’ve been translated into more than two dozen languages.
The creation of Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi writing under the pen name of Herge, Tintin was one of the world’s most popular comics of the 20th century.
G delighted in reliving some of Tintin’s adventures at the special exhibit and posing with Milou (Snowy), his canny canine companion; Captain Haddock, his generally sloshed sidekick; serious Professor Tournesol (Calculus); twin bumbling detectives Dupont et Dupont; and the rest of the gang.
The second evening with Enid and Mario, dinner was on us. G made a deliciously tender poulet-bordelaise in Enid’s kitchen – with a flambé dessert, of course!
We loved the time together and hope that Enid and Mario – already so well traveled in the U.S. with their Grande Citrouille that they offered us camping suggestions in North Dakota and Montana – will visit us sometime in the years to come in Dallas or Tucson….