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Bonjour, Moniseur Whale!

(Or should that be Moniseur Baleines?)

As I've asked a few questions about Quebec ahead of my trip, I thought it might be entertaining to share what I did and saw there.

Part I, The Coast of Saint Lawrence. at the conflunce with Saguenay river

It was almost noon, which was the time I set for myself to leave home, in order to make it to Montreal before it gets dark. But half of my stuff are still in piles in the garage instead of IN THE CAR! Problem being, the car looks to full already and I'm at a lost where to put the rest of the stuff into that little car of mine...

The kayak is on top, but the entire kayak gear (pfd, skirt, paddle, radio, gps...) took up half of the back seat. The rest of the back seat, were filled with camping gears. Mind you, I was once a backpacker and a lot of my camping gears are rather compact. But since I'll be camping for 5-6 days in the same spot, I thought I should include a bit of "comfort" items to make the stay more enjoyable, things like camp chair, tarp, and a cooler! Well, my first choice cooler took up too much room, it got "down sized" 3 times till I'm left with just a tiny one good for a couple of days worth of dinner.

The bike, I'd rather carry INSIDE the car, in the trunk for the long part of the drive. That left preciously little room for anything else. Hiking boots, biking shoes, camp shoes, they all got tossed in there.

The rest of the car was filled with clothing, camera, computer and chargers. I had to leave some of the things behind, one or two items that I would later deeply regret not having as the trip progress.


The drive:

The 5 hr drive to Montreal turned into 6 due to the nearly hr long wait at the border crossing. Gone are the days of crossing the border to have dinner at Montreal and back to camp in Placksburgh!

Thank god for GPS, or I'd never able to find the hotel I was to spend the night in the dark.

Next morning, onward to Tadussac at the mouth of the Sagueney river where it joins the Saint Lawrence. This is still familiar territory, Quebec City went by a couple hours later, without stopping. I have a rendeavour with some whales near Les Bergeronnes, at our campground!

A little past Quebec city, I stopped by a tourist office to grab some maps, and to refresh the cache of my phone's GPS. It's a bit expensive to turn on data service while in Canada. So I do the poor man's substitute by caching the maps of my day's destination from tourist offices' wifi. On leaving, I left my zipcode and casually asked "how far is Tadussac?" "4 hrs". Ouch, that's more than what google map had me to believe!

Beyond Quebec city, it's all 2 lane highway. Little villages every 10-15 miles. Cjharmig, but there's a lot of slowing down, getting through the villages. It actually only took 3 more hours to reach Tadussac. But the wait for the ferry to cross the Saguenay river was nearly an hour long!

By the time I pulled into the tourist office of Les Bergeronnes, I was beat from the nearly 15 hr on the road! God, this better be worth it!

Hello, Mr. Whale!

Bill, my paddling buddy, had arrived at the campground the night before. So he got us a nice site with view of the water. As he watched me setting up camp and making small talk. So I asked, did you go out paddle today? Yep! See any whales? Yep!

Really? That easy? Let's hope I have the same luck.

The tent is now up and I was throwing sleeping pad and sleeping bags in it when Bill said "There's a whale!"

I jumped out of the tent and look towards the water..."where?". "Oh, over that direction, just wait till he surface again". And sure enough, 30 seconds later, a faint black form emerge from the water, then a dorsal fin!



That, was TOTALLY worth the 15 hr long drive!!!
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The Food

It was nearly 8 by the time I finish setting up camp. My buddy Bill suggest we go out to have something to eat rather than tackling the task of cooking in the dwindling daylight. I was all for that. And I even had the foresight to have asked for suggestion at the tourist office earlier. So we went to the one and only place in Les Bergeronnes for our first meal.

Bill was afraid of the language barrier. But I was not. I've been to eastern part of Quebec and somehow I managed to get what I wanted and got to where I wanted to go. So I volunteer to translate the menu. (I don't speak French at all, but having travelled to Montreal every year for bike tours, I've by now memorize many of my own favorite food items) Fortunately for Bill, the waiter offer an English version of the menu! So he gets to choose what he like to eat rather than limited to what I like and know.

I drove all day, and Bill only paddled a short time. So we both ordered "half portion" of their seafood paste, which was plenty of food for even active adult! The food was so good we instantly made the decision that we're not going to bother with cooking but to enjoy the local cooking instead! We joked it alone would be worth the long drive!

The campground has a little cafe that serves simple though quite tasty breakfast and lunch. But its menu feels limited after a couple days. So on one of the days when the weather was not paddling friendly, we ventured out to a bakery in the next village Les Escoumins for a full on breakfast:


Now, THAT alone is worth the long drive!!!
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Ski Diva Extraordinaire
Thanks for the report. I don't think it's possible to get bad food in Quebec and I got hungry just looking at the picture!
Here's the short version of the rest of the week:

Day 1, paddle from campground to Les Bergeronnes (whales here, whales there, and whales everywhere we look!)

Day 2, paddle from campground to Les Escoumins (whale comes too close for comfort)

Day 3, Too windy to paddle, had a leisurely full breakfast and a hike later, but sadly, no whale sighting

Day 4 paddle the Saguenay River (but who turned off the whales?)

Day 5, paddle out of les Bergeronnes river. (Oh, what a whale of a good time we had!)


Angel Diva
Here's the short version of the rest of the week:

Day 1, paddle from campground to Les Bergeronnes (whales here, whales there, and whales everywhere we look!)

Day 2, paddle from campground to Les Escoumins (whale comes too close for comfort)

Day 3, Too windy to paddle, had a leisurely full breakfast and a hike later, but sadly, no whale sighting

Day 4 paddle the Saguenay River (but who turned off the whales?)

Day 5, paddle out of les Bergeronnes river. (Oh, what a whale of a good time we had!)
How close? Did you get a picture or were you too busy paddling away?!
Here's the long version, for anyone who has too much time in their hand...

Day 1 (for me that is, it's day 2 for my buddy Bill). The wind was from the west, so for safety sake, we head east (upwind) to start the day. No sooner than we got our "sea legs", there came that familiar "puuuufff" sound accompanied a whale exhale. We both turned to look at the direction of that sound, and waited...

(the way to spot whale requires patience. whales only surface long enough to get a lungful of air before going under water again. But we know he's going to come up again for another breath of air, so we kept looking at the direction of his travel and wait for the next surface)

Sure enough, a dark arch appeared, a dorsal fin. Then it's gone.

Wait a minute and look in the direction of travel, repeat.

When the whale got too far away for our eyes to see, we resume paddling. We stayed in the main current to optimize our chance of whale encounter, and happily paddled away. Within about 1/2 hr, we saw another whale.

And then, no more whales. Instead, we saw rocks under our boat from time to time, which means the bottom is kind of shallow. Realizing whales aren't coming into the shallow, we tried to move into the middle of the river. But without charts, we didn't realize there's a fairly large shallow area around this part of the river. So we didn't see any more whales.

Instead, we spotted the village of Les Bergeronnes from the water. Figure we might be able to find a pub by the dock and grab some lunch, we beelined towards it.

For the next 1/2 hr, we paddled and paddled and paddled. The village didn't seem that far so something wasn't quite right. I started measuring our progress using landmarks on shore. It become obvious we were not making much headway. The next thing, Bill noticed the water was receeding, exposing more and more of the rocky bottom!

Putting the 2 and 2 together, we got it. The tide was ebbing and the current from the Bergeronnes river was pushing us out while we tried to fight our way in. Bit of a losing battle for us, especially with an (two?) empty stomach. So we turned around and headed back where we came. But before that, we needed to get into the deep water so we don't get stranded as the tide was falling fast.

No sooner than we reach deep water, came the whales again. This time, several of them all together!

With so many of them going around, I chance taking my DSLR out of the day hatch and started snapping away. Not the best photos, but nonetheless unique enough to worth the trouble.


The return trip, helped by both wind and tide, took less than 1/2 hr! Bill helped me carry my boat up the ramp before heading back to take his own boat. I turned around and saw his bright yellow jacket and orange boat contrasts with the deep blue water and green alge covered rocks made for a lovely picture. So I asked him hand me his camer and stand by his boat so I can shoot a picture. He joked "yeah, and a whale in the background would be nice!"

And right at that moment, we heard that by now familiar sound again "puuuuffff"... And I could see a whale was surfacing not too far away!

Unfortunately, Bill's camera has a shutter lag. So although the whale surfaced a couple more times, I was never able to catch it on picture when the dorsal fin was above water. Several showing the back of the whale look like just another rock... (sigh). Still...


Day 2,

Now that we figured out the tides, we started paying attention to it. The wind also picked up today. That add up to be easy going down river and hard to go up river.

But we did up river the previous day already, so we went down river today. That entails a shouting match between me and my paddling partner on what the turn around marker needs to be based on the tide and wind. We reached an agreement and set off down river.

The scenery was spectacular! We were staring at the rocks ahead when both
of us spotted something moving straight ahead. A moment later, we saw it: a dorsal fin looking like a knife edge, because it's heading straight at us!

Another 20 seconds, we saw it again: the knife like dorsal fin, still heading straight at us!!!

I couldn't help but stopped paddling immediately. When something much larger is heading straight towards me, it's only natural to get the heck out of its way! But first, I need to figure out which way, right or left, I need to move to "get out of the way" of the incoming whale. Trouble is, the whale is at the moment under water... the next time it surfaced, it was 20' right next to me! It's mesmerizing to see this great big giant creature, slowly and gracefully appeared right next to me.

Then, 5 seconds later, it's gone, disappeared under the surface of the water again.

Wow! Whale encounter, the close and scary kind!

(while the marine protection regulation requires us to stay no less than 100 metre from the whales, no one figured out a way to tell the whales that regulation!)
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Day 3,

High wind rattled our tents. It's not a good day to paddle.

We had wanted to paddle the Saguenay river and a windy day is a good day to go hunt down some information about where to launch and what the tide and currents are like, etc.

So, after our beautiful and tasty breakfast at the bakery at Les Escoumins. We headed down to Tadussac to find any information we could. That where we found out the Beluga whales spend summer in a particular bay in the Saguenay river to breed. So there's a provintial park with an overlook of the water the whales are frequently seen. We drove there, hiked to the overlook. Down below us, the high wind was making waves and waves of white cap on the water. Beluga whales are...WHITE! There's no chance whatsoever to spot white whales from all that white water!

But the scenery was worth the drive:


Day 4

Since we didn't see whale the previous day in their breeding ground by looking down from a lookout, the next best thing to do, when the wind died down the next day, was to paddle our way into their mix!

Bill was not convinced of my tide current calculation so didn't feel comfortable enough to join me. So I went on my own, with my eyes peeled for white belugas. Unfortunately, though the wind wasn't blowing like the previous day, it was still making white caps here and there. And the wave also means I don't get a long view into the distance. So unless a whale got close to me, I wouldn't have been able to spot it. So, as if someone had turned off the whale, I finished my paddle day "empty handed", as far as whale sighting goes.

But it was yet another clear beautiful day. And on my way back into the campground, I spotted this:



How close? Did you get a picture or were you too busy paddling away?!
Too busy trying to paddle away and too scared to reach for my camera!

About 20' away. Mind you, these are 30' long whales. So you got the idea...

(fortunately, he's on a parallel course. though at the time, it looked as though we were on a collision course! :fear:)
Day 5: What a whale of a good time we had!

Today, we decided, instead of launching from the campground's beach as we did so far, we drove a short distance to Les Bergeronnes and launch from the marina there and keep going up river to Tudassac.

The last time (day1), we saw 3 whales near the mouth of the Bergeronnes river. Maybe we'll get lucky again.

We didn't see any whale nearby but did see quite a few giant, fantastic water spurts at a distance. These are probably made by the bigger whales (blue whale or fin whale) than the ones we've been seeing (mostly the smaller Minke whales). We saw the whales too but much further away, so no pictures.

After a couple hours, we've covered about 5-6 miles. We were ready to get out of our boat and stretch our legs a little. We spotted a lovely beach and made it our private lunch beach:


It has some lovely looking rocks, too large to carry home on our boat.


After lunch, we got back into our boat and ride the tide and wind back to our launch. But before we got on our way, a curious seal decided to check us out:

(seals are a lot smaller than whales so less alarming having one in close quarter)


Some spectacular scenery in this stretch of the river:


With the help of the tide and wind, we would have been back to our launch in no time. But instead, we were 'delayed' repeatedly by sighting of whales in all directions!

By now, we've gotten pretty "jaded" with whale sightings and even whale photots. Unless a whale is close by, we don't bother taking pictures of them any more. But I do still find these gentle giants fascinating and awe inspiring!

Even as we were ready to turn back into the Bergeronnes river, we were still further delayed by one whale that runs a big circle around us. Too bad it was too far to get good picture of.
Night of Day 6, we were rattled by high wind and rain again!

Morning, the rain had stopped but the wind was still on, more over, grey sky threatening more rain to come. So, lazy full breakfast in the bakery again in the morning. :smile:

The weather forecast was for more rain going all the way east to Gaspe, where I would be heading the next day. I don't relish setting up camp in the rain. Once the gear got wet, they tend to stay wet! Nothing is more miserable than crawling into a wet sleeping bag! I decided to use the non-paddling day to hunt down a motel for the first 2 nights, to stay dry. That proved challenging. For some reason, hotel/motel were rather scarse at Gaspe. After some struggle, I ended up one in the village. Not cheap, but I'd be dry. Plus, it's time to do laundry after 5 days of paddling. (the campground actually has laundary facility but was a bit of a walk from our ocean-view site. One can't have everything, right?)

After the leisurely breakfast and motel hunting, the sky magically cleared and the wind died down. So I invited Bill, who had decided he was heading home a day early due to the rain, to go out for another short paddle. He declined and I decided to go for a bike ride instead.

I brought my cycle-cross bike for this trip (basically two bikes in one, depending on what tires I put on it). And earlier I had spy a walking/biking trail going right through the campground that seems to go to the Provintial Park next to us. So I put the fat tires on and off I went.

Lovely trail:


The trail took me to the coast with an overlook:
(but where did the sun go?)

It's time to start sorting stuff out to break camp. I have a ferry to catch the next day. It's sad to leave this little heaven of peace, with a ringside seat at all the action of whales coming and going. (and kayakers too, coming and going in hope of seeing whales up close, I'm sure they were not disappointed, just like us)

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I don't think it's possible to get bad food in Quebec and I got hungry just looking at the picture!
Well, I wouldn't exactly call it "bad food". But the food in Gaspe and Perce aren't in the same league as those we had in the Saguenay area. More touristy and not quite as earthy.
Last day in the Saguenay area, the sun came out for just long enough so I got to break camp and packed up all my stuff without getting wet.

Another leisurely full breakfast before boarding the ferry to cross the great Saint Lawrence. By then, the rain had started to come down and the wind was chilly.

Shortly after the ferry left the dock, a pair of dophines came along side the ship and played in the wake!!! That caused the entire troup of passengers to came onto one side of the ship to watch! And cameras were clicking all around me as everyone starting zapping away with their phones and iPod. (I've seen dophins often enough when I used to live in California so wasn't motivated enough to stay out in the driving rain)

What a fitting end to my stay at the Saguenay area. I've seen numerous whales, a few seals, and now a pair of dophins!

The drive to Gaspe was along the coast, and the road ran right next to the beach. Would have been a gorgeous drive but for the non-stop rain, some of them heavy enough I had trouble seeing where the road ends and the sea starts! So a 6 hr drive ended up taking nearly 8, arriving at Gaspe nearly 9pm, exhausted.

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