Quebec Revisited_ Beluga Whale Watching and catching up with old friendsAfter a very long day travelling we finally arrived back in Quebec to Riviere du Loup, on the eastern side of the St Lawrence river.

Unfortunately the bus station was located on the outskirts of town, and 6km from the camping ground we were going to be spending the night in. There are no public buses and as we weren’t keen on walking 6km with all of our stuff (we really do carry around a ridiculous amount), we decided to try hitching after our good luck in New Brunswick.

We tried to get a ride for about 30 minutes but there was no love so we walked about 3km, heaving our bags with our thumbs out, still hopeful that someone might take pity on us. Luckily two young guys in a beat up car that were driving in the other direction did just that.

They had hitched themselves before and felt sorry for us so drove us the last 3km to the peninsula where our camping ground was located, and where the ferry leaves across the St Lawrence for Saint Simeon.

Hot and sticky, we set up our campsite then I went for a walk along a waterside hiking trail to end of the peninsula. The water was murky but there were great views over to the town centre of Riviere du Loup, and the sunset from the ferry port at the end was an amazing palette of reds and oranges projected on the low clouds.

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We walked the same path the next morning to catch the ferry to Saint Simeon. The river this far north is a mixture of fresh and sea water and takes 1 hour to cross by boat. It was quite choppy but luckily I had taken a seasickness tablet.

On the other side we found a prime hitching spot on top of a hill overlooking the beach, with a wide turnout point for cars to pull over for us. After 1 hour, thumbs out with no one slowing down, we were starting to doubt that we would ever get to Tadoussac, 45 minutes drive north of Saint Simeon.

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A young girl spied us from her house and felt sorry for us patiently waiting for a ride in the heat, and brought us out a bottle of cold water. So sweet!

After another half hour, finally we were in luck. A Professor based in Tadoussac who founded the Marine Mammal Intrepretation Centre there, also felt sorry for us hitching in the dire heat and gave us a ride.

There is a free ferry that crosses the Saguenay Fjord that separates Tadoussac from Baie Sainte Catherine and he pointed out Beluga whales as we crossed. They are a lot easier to spot than other whales because although they are small, they are also white. Our driver kindly dropped us at the Hostel where we were camping for 3 nights.

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Tadoussac is a beautiful but tiny town, with a beach and harbour and a few short hiking trails where you can spot Minke and Belugas from. Year round, Tadoussac only has approximately 1000 residents which swells massively in summer, with tourists coming from all over Canada and abroad for the fantastic Whale watching. After all, the Tadoussac area has the only population of Beluga whales outside of the Arctic and is one of the best places in Canada to see whales from land.

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The weather continued to swelter for the next couple of days, but it was still too cold to swim in the St Lawrence’s icy waters. Luckily there was a clean and picturesque lake only 5 minutes walk from the Hostel, so we swam in there instead. It was still cold but in a refreshing rather than painful way.

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Over the following days, we walked the short coastal trails around town and spotted lots of Belugas, little white blotches popping out of the water intermittently. A longer trail we did was along the rocky coast and deserted beaches to the sand dunes, about 7km from town.

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We saw a seal offshore, a goose waddling down the beach and a groundhog hiding in the rocks.

What we didn’t see were other people.

We got to a point where we couldn’t pass over the rocks anymore as it was getting too dangerous, so we hiked up the steep bank behind the beach on an overgrown trail and ended up in someone’s backyard. We only had to walk about 10 minutes more to get to the dunes.

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Pretty exhausted after hiking for 2 hours, we enjoyed the view without feeling the need to hike down to the beach (as that meant we would have to hike back up again). There was no way we were going to walk back to town either so we hitched. A jeep stopped for us straight away. They were full but they said they would give us a ride if we wanted to stand on the outside of the jeep, one of us per side. It was a really fun ride back! The guy was hooning and it was incredibly unsafe but we loved it. Jeep surfing.

 

One of the old guys that volunteers at the Hostel leads Beaver Tours every night at 5pm for a donation. Beavers are the one North American animal that I really want to see that I hadn’t had the chance to see yet so we signed up.

He took us around the lake, visiting old beaver dams and trees that beavers had gnawed before abandoning. We scrambled up steep rocks and through dense underbrush but couldn’t find any beavers. Almost back to our starting point, we stopped at a recently made beaver lodge where he had spotted them over the last few days but we didn’t see any sign of them until our guide noticed a green speck slowly moving across the other side of the lake. It was a beaver with a branch in its mouth, making its way back to the den.

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We watched it with our binoculars before it disappeared into the underwater opening of the beaver lodge. Shortly after this, a little boy on our tour fell in the water and his mother had to rescue him. Excitement overload.

Our last morning before catching our rideshare to Quebec City, we decided to do the 1.5km Peninsula loop walk again to see if we could spot anymore Belugas. We didn’t see any Belugas but as we were about to give up, we were rewarded with a Minke sighting instead. This little guy came so close to the shore and kept rolling around and showing us his belly. I went right down to the water and when he surfaced next, I was only 10 metres away. Pretty amazing experience being that close, especially as I wasn’t on a boat.

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Our whale watching luck held as when we were on the ferry heading across the Fjord, we saw five different pods of Belugas that came really close to the ferry, saying goodbye to us.

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It took a couple of hours to get to Quebec City, where our friends Ben and Lisandre were picking us up and taking us back to stay with them in Trois Rivieres for 3 nights.

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We first met Ben and Lisandre when we were in Hawaii in 2009. They were staying at the same guesthouse as us on the North Shore of Oahu then we bumped into them again a few days later when we stayed in the same Hostel on Maui. We exchanged facebook details and hoped to see them again at some point.

In 2010 we were back living in the UK and Ben and Lisandre moved to France for a year. They were based down in Biarritz so when we were going to Paris for a weekend for the Christmas Markets, we didn’t think of contacting them to meet up. Trav and I were sitting in a Café near the Eiffel Tower when Ben and Lisandre walked in. They had relocated to Lille and had come to Paris for the weekend. It was such a nice coincidence to see them and we spent the afternoon walking around the Christmas Markets together.

Four months later we were visiting beautiful Saint Malo in Brittany over Easter. Walking back to our Hotel we heard someone call out ‘Trevor!’ (this is Ben’s nickname for Trav). We turned around and Ben and Lisandre were sitting there. Mind blowing that it could happen one time but it must be almost impossible for it to happen again. They had been relocated again, this time to Brittany, and had come to Saint Malo for the Easter weekend.

So after all of the coincidences, we were excited to see them again, this time actually planned. Since we had seen them last they had two children, Noah who is nearly two (Lisandre was pregnant with him when we saw them in Saint Malo) and Alie who is only 1 month old.

Ben’s parents have a holiday home, situated right on the Saint Lawrence in Portneuf, and they kindly invited us there for dinner. We sat on the front porch and admired the view, watching the tide slowly come in. Ben’s parents were so welcoming and tried their best to speak English with us, as unfortunately Trav and I know little French.

After a delicious BBQ dinner we said our goodbyes to Ben’s parents, then drove to Ben and Lisandre’s place in Trois Rivieres. They just bought a new house complete with pool and jacuzzi in a really nice neighbourhood. We had a couple more drinks and more of a catch up before bed.

The next day was hot and sunny so we had a picnic overlooking the Shawnigan Waterfall and Lisandre and I picked some wild blueberries, growing on scraggly plants growing out of crevices in the rocks. To cool down on a hot day, the Quebecoise head to one of their many beautiful clear lakes. We drove to Lac Bell for a swim. Complete with a sandy beach, it was a great place to spend a sweltering afternoon.

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We swam in the pool back at the house and after delicious homemade nachos, we left Noah and Alie with Lisandre’s niece and headed out to see some live music at the local Irish Pub. A fantastic Irish folk band called Irish Bastards played. Despite them never setting foot in Ireland, they were really good. They were also really friendly and chatted to us outside during their intermission.

We chilled out for our last day in Trois Rivieres. It was really nice to just hang out with our friends and not do much. We soaked in the jacuzzi in the evening with some beers before a crazy thunder storm set in. Luckily when we had to leave the next morning it was over.

After a great couple of days catching up with old friends, it was time to journey back to Toronto to catch up with some new ones, our couch surfing hosts from weeks earlier, Anna and Roger.

I really like Toronto. It is an exciting, diverse city that is truly multicultural and has the feeling of being very well integrated, more successfully than some other big cities that we have visited like New York, where it felt more segregated.

 

There had been some serious flooding in the city so we were very lucky to have great weather for the two nights that we were back there.

After a long day of travel, we went local for dinner and had pizza from Pizza Pizza, a very popular Ontario Pizza chain. We both really like their pizza and it is so damn cheap. Anna and Roger got home late so we caught up with them for a while before retiring to bed, exhausted.

I think that the best thing you can hope for when couch surfing is to make some genuine friends that you will keep in touch with and hopefully see again one day. I definitely feel that we found that in Anna and Roger and I am really glad that we got to see them again on this trip.

We spent our one full day back in Toronto exploring the bustling St Lawrence Market, rated the best food market in the world by National Geographic. After lunch and a great coffee (and lots of taste testing), we got the streetcar to the beaches.

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I had read somewhere that Kew Beach was the nicest beach close to the city, so we went there after walking along Woodbine beach.

It was cold and a bit murky but I am proud to say that I swam in one of the Great Lakes! It is a goal of mine to swim in all of the Great Lakes so only four to go. Relaxing in the sand it really felt like we were sea side.

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We went to Red Lobster for dinner as they had a great deal on a 4 course meal and we were keen for some affordable seafood. It was actually pretty good despite being a big chain.

Full and content, we met Anna, Roger and some of their friends for drinks at a place downtown that specialises in beers from around the world. It was expensive but they had some amazing beers there. We left the others at 11pm as we had an early bus and another long day of travel the next morning.

So after nearly 8 weeks in Canada, it was time to say goodbye for a while because we were heading to CHICAGO!

Quebec has continued to surprise me with its beautiful, untouched scenery and amazing wildlife watching opportunities, and Toronto has been cemented as one of my favourite Canadian cities.

Thanks to our lovely friends and their hospitality, we are still on track with our budget although I’m not sure it will stay that way in Chicago – so much food, so little time!

You gotta splurge sometimes though right?

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