"Canada 2003" story # 15

Rocher-Perce, Quebec           July 11, 2003

Adam and I got driven into Perce, on the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec, Canada. We were easily able to meet up with Johnny and Julie, who'd arrived a day before.
     It was a dreary-looking day, and it soon began to rain on us.

Minutes before, a young, French couple was driving Adam and I over a hill, and we got our first view of Perce. Its beauty was almost fictitious.
     The small town's white houses and buildings were a combination of old, Melville fishing village and modern, trendy/touristy architecture. These buildings marched on the low coast like mice following the Pied Piper. They followed a green-tipped cliff ridge that roared its neck out from the mainland like the Loch Ness monster.
     But, what locked a person's eyes into Perce was the huge rock that squashed the sea, just offshore. This "rocher" (rock) was as long as an aircraft carrier and several stories tall. Waves dragged against its side or rushed through its eye-like hole. It was like something C.S. Lewis would've imagined at the end of his earth.

We four Canada-trekkers had this beauty to enjoy.
     Only, it was raining. So, we pretty much just vagabonded along, lugging our backpacks, wearing our poncho's, trying to stay dry.
     There were lots of tourists around, also in poncho's, and they were friendly to us backpackers. "Bonjour, chien," I said to a dog and his owner, since it was the only thing I could say. (Hello, dog.) The dog gave a puzzled look, and the man laughed at my misplaced accent.
     The people, and dogs, were probably friendly to backpackers because many French-Canadian kids hitchhike or travel and camp out Argentinian-style. Why, in Perce, alone, outgoing Johnny had befriended three such kids to join in the fun, poor-backpacker-planned activity of the day: avoiding wet. Ooo, fun.
     The late evening dried, but it also darkened. We all went up a hill and behind an abandoned-looking house, to make camp. Johnny led, calling this place "great." He assured that no one lived in the house. We settled in and gathered around a fire.
     I kept observing one of the Canadian "frogs," a redhead named Eloise. I'd never seen anyone like her; I got a kick out of her. She spewed happy energy like an overbright light bulb and smiled big for simple things. She was so hyper and excited. If a zoo-keeper would've been around her, he probably would've pulled out his tranquilizer gun.
     Eloise told excitedly about a plan to go to Guatemala to help the needy. This was Julie's type of thing, and she came alive with a big interest in the humanitarian problems there and what Eloise hoped to do.
     This only egged Eloise on more. And, where you consider that Adam is crazy for redheads, it was a wonder any of us calmed enough to sleep.

A brighter, better Perce was what we woke and left our tents to. From our high hill perch, we could see down across the town and to its magnificent rock, being sprayed by the sea.
     On this day off from hitchhiking, I plotted to make some money. My aides in this plotting were some Brazilians and Colombians.
     These Brazilians and Colombians, I'd observed, were youths or travelers who make handicrafts then sell them on the streets of cities or touristy spots. They support themselves selling bead necklaces, hemp bracelets, earrings, table-top figurines, paintings, and anything else artsy.
     In Perce, I began my lucrative, travel-story-selling-on-the-streets business - no, "enterprises" would be a better word for it.
     I sat down next to a local girl who worked a new, black necklace with her hands as she sold other ones. Her name was Mary. She was a thin, cute girl, with long, straight brown hair, wearing a long, green dress. She was "five-teen," she said. Her English wasn't the best.
     I laid down my $5 travel story booklets, and a steady stream of tourists glanced at Mary and I as they passed by. We were on the Perce town pier, where boats took tourists to visit the open-sea, cliff-bordered, inhabited round island off land and to look for sea-gulls, gannets, puffins, and other sea-birds.
     It was beautiful work. Mary and I talked, while Mary's mom sang with her guitar-playing husband on the pier's other end. Like the Brazilians and Colombians, Mary and I never made sales pitches but just waited tranquilly for the tourists to come to us. Above us, the sky was blue. Behind us, Perce's picturesque rock and its eye-like hole loomed over our shoulders.
     It was beautiful work, but my "enterprises" had to wait a long time to make a little money. Remy, a dread-locked hitchhiker guy who'd camped the night with us, bought one of my booklets, and I sold another. $10 would help me on my trip, though.
     After three hours, I grew impatient. Once Johnny and Adam came by and invited me to goof around with them, I knew my workday was over. Mary was a much more lucrative businessperson than I.
     Between the pier and Perce's rock, a short beach dropped steeply into thick, light-purple sea. It was great for running on and diving into the sea from, while chasing a tennis ball thrown by Johnny or Adam, an event known as "The Infamous Amphibious Tennis Ball Game." The sinister northern ocean engulfed our vulnerable bodies and chilled as deep as internal organs.
     The remainder of this nice day we passed at the town's ocean-side park. Julie was in need of some time away from the rest of us, so she sat on a rocking bench and read. Within minutes, she was joined on the bench by two other people, and she kept reading.
     Johnny would later joke to Julie that only she was capable of sitting on a small, intimate bench between two other people and not saying a word to either of them. Julie defended herself by saying that the people were French-speaking.
     Johnny and Adam pulled out their stove, proudly cooked us eggs with onion and peppers and beans for dinner. We stayed at the park long enough to watch the sun set, which created a pink sky that stood on-guard beside Perce's bulldog-like rock, waiting for night.
     Johnny and I washed our dishes in the chilly sea, being careful not to let the surf rob any of our silverware, as the stars came out above. We Americans (Remy, Eloise, and our other French-Canadian camping companion had all left earlier to travel east) headed back to our campsite, retrieved our backpacks from their hiding spots in the plants, cooked marshmallows over fire, and slept again at Johnny's "great" spot behind the abandoned house.

Eight o'clock the next morning, we were awaken by the low hum of a car nearing us from behind the house.
     A single guy appeared, behind the wheel, and I sat up in my tent. He asked:
     "Vous le vous le blah blah blah (incomprehendable French) ...
     You didn't need to speak French to know the answer to that one. I nodded my head. "No." We didn't have permission to be there. The guy drove off.
     Adam, Johnny, and Julie and I scrambled to pack up the site. Three minutes later, the guy returned with the proprietor of the site, a little, old French lady in a sun-hat who wore a dress that seemed out of the 1920's.
     She was shaking angrily, and she waved her finger at us in a mad rampage. She incited the guy, who was calm, into asking us what a grocery bag near her was. We told her it was "food," and she bustled over to grab it and then put it in the car's trunk. I guess that was how she was "getting" us.
     The guy told us we had five minutes to leave, or they'd call the police. The lady gave us one last look that said she would like to kick us, and they left. We finished packing. We'd done a good job of cleaning up our fireplace of the night before, and so the site was largely un-damaged.
     We walked towards the end of town, and Johnny titled our "great" campsite "Permission Hill." I spotted Mary and waved good-bye. We passed a white cathedral upon the cliff-side hill which reached over a small gap of sea to nearly touch Perce's amazing rock.
     Perce was a mystically beautiful place, but it was too based upon tourists who earned more than $10/day to cater to travelers like us. I imagine it would be a very peaceful place to be during offseason.

Later - Modern Oddyseus
with Johnny, Adam, and Julie

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