September 22nd 2004 Massachusetts – New Hampshire – Maine
I discovered that packing after a two day stop is just as hard as packing after two weeks! I’ve had all sorts of advice over the years about this; about rotating clothes in your suitcase so that you don’t ever have to hang up more than a couple of items, about packing things in cubes, etc, etc but it all seems like rather a lot of effort. Still, I was ready for the 8am departure and a 281-mile journey today, stopping at Portland for lunch and then on to Bar Harbor.
There was another brief stop at “Perry’s Nut House”, a tourist stop in Belfast, Maine, to sample various nuts and fruits. Perry’s has been a feature on Route One since 1927. According to Wikipedia, it even had an advertising jingle in the 1950s which went:
“Pack up the kids. Jump in the car. Drive to Perry’s Nut House and there you are. Right on the coast, Route number 1, Belfast, Maine. Oh golly, what fun!”
Back on the road, the scenery was magnificent, both along the coast and inland. Various scenes as we came around bends or as bays came into view, made me gasp. From time to time we saw groups of trees where the leaves had already changed to red. This is exactly what I came to see – and what I remember seeing on the holiday programme so long ago – and I hoped that we would see many more of these as we headed inland later in the week.
Bar Harbor is a small town on Mount Desert Island in Hancock County. Our motel was some distance outside the town, so they drove us in on the bus to look around and get something to eat. It is a beautiful little town. At low tide a sand bar from the town to Bar Island is exposed. Although it’s wide enough to drive a car across, this is not allowed. But the sandbar is a popular place just to see what is uncovered when the water retreats. It was a pleasant warm evening, so we walked to the marina at the end of Main Street, where we saw the boat which was going to take us whale watching the next day.
September 23rd 2004 More Maine
I got up to a lovely clear blue sky. We set off at 8:30 to visit the Acadia National Park, just outside Bar Harbor. First of all, we drove up Cadillac Mountain (named after Le Sieur Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, a French explorer, who has also, famously, given his name to a car). At 466 metres, this is the highest mountain on the east coast of the United States. We were allowed to get out for the most tremendous views of Bar Harbor, its bay and islands. It was freezing cold in the strong wind. We had a tour of the national park and stopped at Sand Beach, where my feet and jeans were soaked through not moving fast enough as the waves hit the shore. Then the Thunder Hole, where the sea rushes up a narrow gap in the cliffs and makes a loud noise (not quite thunder on that day) when it strikes the end of the gap.
We headed back to Bar Harbor where there was just time to have some lunch – today the pleasure of a simple cheese sandwich and a coffee – before we boarded the boat for our trip to (hopefully) find the whales.
I joined another member of our party, Mary, whose friend had sensibly decided to stay on shore. We were heading 25 miles out into the Bay to look for whales. We flew along at 30 knots and it was absolutely freezing, despite wearing everything warm which I had brought along plus a waterproof. I began to hope it was going to be worth it. We were looking for “spouts”, which is the air that whales force out of their lungs when they exhale. I must add here, before anyone gets any ideas about my breadth of knowledge, that we were accompanied by an excellent naturalist who was there to map whale sightings rather than simply entertain a group of tourists. They were so knowledgeable that they could identify the species of whale simply from the shape of its blow.
The first to be seen was a Northern Right Whale. We were told that, at the time, there were only 300 of these amazing creatures left in the world, so it was a tremendous privilege to see one. We waited for it to come back from its dive and saw it breaking the surface several times before it dived again. We waited 12 minutes before it came up again and it waved its tail before finally diving for a second time. In all, we saw it dive 3 times, then we dashed off (more freezing wind) to where they expected to see different species and here we saw 3 finbacked whales, (sadly another endangered species) again quite close. There is a strict code about how many vessels should approach any whales encountered in the bay and the guides were in constant contact with other boats to advise of where they could sail and to plot the sightings.
I think no-one really wanted to leave but, eventually, we had to turn back towards the shore. Mary and I took refuge on a lower deck with a cup of cocoa. In all, we had been at sea for about three and a half hours – a fantastic experience. We were back at the hotel with only about an hour to spare before going out for the evening. I had hoped to swim (this always used to be one of my “things” on holiday – swimming every day whenever possible) but I opted for an hour spent in my warm bedroom instead. I have quite a long spell of video of this trip. Most of it is simply of grey sea or sky. Even when I could see a whale with my naked eye, I found it impossible to control the zoom and I was mostly zooming in on a bare expanse of sea where a whale had just dived but I did capture two of them swimming on the surface, plus one amazing tail slap.
At 6pm we set off for our lobster restaurant. It was so different from the previous one, big and airy, clean and efficient, with a magnificent view across the bay. We started with mussels and then I had halibut which was delicious, followed by blueberry cake (even more delicious). Everyone who had lobster said that it was much better this time, fresher I think, and you could ask for a waiter to come and take it apart for you if necessary (I have regrets here I should have been a bit braver and gone for the lobster).
Altogether a wonderful day!