I got away from the city again this weekend. My second adventure in the wilds of Québec thanks to Karine's incredible good fortune - and generosity. She won first prize in a competition she knew nothing about. The prize was seven night's (broken up or together) accommodation in Québec's National Parks 'huttopia' tents. Last month we spent a few of those nights in the Bic and this time we ventured north to Parc national des Grands-Jardins, about five hours from Montréal.
The park is beautiful and it was a nice time to see it, with all the autumnal oranges and golds. We slept under poplars which howled during the strong winds and showered the ground with leaves. Surrounding us were - do I call them mountains or hills or even rocks? They looked to me like giant boulders rising up from the flats.
We had arrived just after dark on the Friday night and so I had that strange feeling of not knowing where I was or what I would wake to. Inside the tent there were lanterns so we were able to get organised, eat and make up the beds without too much hassle. There was also the (very welcome) heater which had been left on to take the chill off.
Yes, a tent with a heater.
The huttopia tents have a heater inside, a table and four chairs and a kitchen, complete with fridge. This time our fridge was outside though and unplugged - the outside temp enough to keep things chilled. The rear of the tent is a raised timber platform with mattresses. It's split into two 'bedrooms' which have inner black canvas walls for privacy and darkness. Just outside the door is a two burner stove and a fireplace and another table. I could live with that really, it's everything you need except a bathroom - but a two minute walk away you have a heated bathroom with hot showers and a communal kitchen.
This is not camping, it's glamping.
This was the view from inside the tent and Karine in her new giraffe blanket.
We all slept soundly after the long drive and had no idea that the local wildlife was tucking in to all our food. I said I wanted to meet a moose, not a mouse. Must be my accent. We found holes in everything, tiny toothmarks in the cheese and droppings in the cereal box. Somewhere in the Great Gardens was a fat and deliriously happy rodent.
Jeremie's cousin Matthieu and his partner had joined us and they, along with another friend of theirs, were staying in an identical tent across the road. I was very grateful to them for speaking in English for my benefit and I had really enjoyed their company around the fire the night before. They and Jeremie were all heading up to climb the nearby peak, Mont du Lac-des-Cygnes, while Karine and I, less inclined to climb the inclines, took the jeep and explored the park a little on our own.
I have to say, I've really missed driving.
First stop was an area we dubbed the dead zone. Vast tracts burned out in forest fires leaving little but dead trees. There was regeneration in some places but others were eerily lifeless, strangely beautiful.
We walked along a track that eventually wound up and into a forest of (living) pines. By the time we reached it I had warmed up and my fingers weren't freezing when I tried to use the camera. We sang to the bears to make our presence known and took pictures of upside down canoes and trees that looked like graceful hands...
Also that morning I had come across two things I don't see every day: snow and bear prints. Here I had them together which gave me twice the buzz! (see previous post). I wanted so badly to see some wildlife here. We'd had a resident fox at the Bic camp but nothing else. To know I was this close to a black bear gave me chills.
The day ended with potatoes in the coals and veges in foil over the fire, far too much wine, much frivolity and wonderful conversation. Genevieve had spent time in NZ and Australia so there was some nice reminiscing as well. Despite being un petite peu pompette we remembered to lock up everything edible in the car before bedding down. About half an hour later I woke to a scratching sound and Jérémie, wearing only his underpants, a headtorch and a fighting spirit. I think the mouse was terrified.
Sunday morning: quite a late start, chai pancakes with maple syrup and fresh coffee, a new forest to explore. J took the jeep for an hour or two so K and I made some collages and drawings before heading out. This time we wanted to check out a forest carpeted with ancient lichen - something that shouldn't be found for another 500kms or so north. Why it thrives here is unknown to me but it's likely that the park was built around it. The lichen is incredible. At home I see it growing on rocks and trees but it's a fairly flat carpet, maybe a mm or two high. What I saw on Sunday was like a shagpile of coral-like growth - spongy and soft underfoot. Apparently it's fine dining for the resident moose and caribou herds. It also reminded me of a sea of cauliflower which is odd, because I've never seen a cauliflower sea.
It was along this path that turned and twisted that we came across something else I'd never seen, a porcupine. We rounded a corner and there, on the narrow trail ahead, was a black shape and for a split second, both of us stopped breathing and wondered where the mother was. It really looked like a bear cub and though I wanted to meet a bear, I didn't want to be between a mother and her baby....
Sunday did bring another near-encounter though: following some fresh tracks on the road we saw them veer off into the trees and decided it would be unwise to follow them any further in. But standing there on the side of the road we could hear an unmistakeable voice and, well aware that our bear was very close by, we decided to head back to the jeep. It's exhilarating to be that close to something so wild and beautiful but I'm not inclined to create a scary experience for either party. Oh but I had goosebumps!
Before heading back to get firewood, we met up with the others and Genevieve showed me a stick that had been chewed by a beaver. And right behind me was the beaver's dam. Industrious little things.
I checked all the wild spaces I could check but there was never a sign of the elusive moose.
Aside from the obvious signs...
Sunday night: bolognaise sauce with vodka and pasta, veges in cheese fondue and much less wine.
Monday: early start to beat Thanksgiving traffic, breakfast for six at a cosy little diner and a long drive back to the city.
My next trip will be well and truly in winter's grip - I had enough trouble with all the layers required for October's temperatures - god help me at thirty below zero! But I am looking forward to seeing more snow and more ice and trees with their bare, wintery limbs. And this time, please, a moose - not a mouse.