Percé took me by surprise.
I had heard of its famous rocks. (Les Rochers de Percé) I had heard of the Isle Bonaventure, which is a provincial park known for its huge colony of nesting gannets. I’d decided not to visit either because getting there involved complications: parking for the trailer, expense, making reservations for a boat tour, blah, blah.
So, I just decided to do a drive-by and didn’t expect to see much.
Percé is one of the larger fishing towns along the rim of the Gaspé, so from Forillon National Park, we continued south along the coast, which continued to be scenic and tranquil. I was enjoying the heathlike fields against a background of blue sea, and Julia was enjoying a nap, when suddenly—there they were like a bug on the windshield. The rocks of Percé!
I stopped more suddenly than usual, thinking this would be my last photo-op of the iconic rocks. Julia was roused from her doze more abruptly than usual.
But the rocks stayed in view as we drove along, and the road wound around and through low mountains, finally dodging between the cliffs and dropping steeply to the coast, making a hairpin curve at the bottom of the drop.
Light foot on the brake. Downshift. Don’t build up speed. Navigate turn. It’s situations like these that have me rethinking my rig. I’m wondering whether a smaller, one-piece vehicle might be easier to manage.
We are suddenly in the midst of Percé, and it’s not the sleepy village I’d imagined. The one-lane road is bustling. Tourists dart into the street like suicidal sparrows. Cars and RVs crawl through town. Parking is a game of chicken. Shop doors are wedged open; restaurants are full; and boats of all sizes are zipping around the harbor.
I am schizophrenic. The introvert wants to get the hell outta Dodge; the curiosity seeker wants to poke around and see what’s happening. I opt for poking, but first have to rustle up a parking space. That takes me through town to a hilly road at the very end, which, granted, isn’t very far.
Because of its famous rocks and the gannet colony on the island, Percé is a big tourist town by Gaspé standards, so it’s full of hotels, restaurants, and “craft” shops.
Julia and I wandered down the main drag to the wharf. The rocks loomed right offshore—no boat needed to see them. Apparently, there are hiking trails and a scenic tour through the mountains behind the town, but I’d just completed my own scenic tour of them and wasn’t about to climb back up.
I’ve experienced tourist towns in several languages now. They usually involve a small local population that, in the space of a few weeks, is overrun with tourists who pump money into the economy while exhausting the locals.
It’s a lot more fun to visit these places off-season.
Julia and I poked around and had our picture taken by a boat tour operator, who gently urged us to sign on for the next outing. ($60/person).
The shops were the usual stuff—dreamcatchers, mugs, t-shirts, but mostly gannet statues, lots of gannet statues.
It was time to get outta Dodge. The problem was—where to stop for the night? Campgrounds near these places are typically crammed with huge rigs cheek-to-jowl like pigs at a trough and are charging exorbitant rates for the “ocean view.”
They are the stuff of nightmare for me.
We drove on down the road with nary a pull-off or parking lot in sight. I was getting that determined, desperate feeling. I was reminding myself that there’s always a place to camp. We passed field and forest. Finally, we passed a small gas station with a generous parking lot and a green field behind.
Determination + desperation=lack in inhibition.
I pulled in and approached the trio of pork-bellied men who were jaw-jacking at the end of the day. They all fell silent.
Ma fille et je voyagons et nous sommes très fatigués. That was as far as I could get. I threw in a few random words like stationnement (parking) and pour la nuit (for the night).
The men grinned and tried a few words in English. Cracked a few jokes in French. Explained to the head man what I wanted.
He sat like a Buddha behind the counter.
“Of course you can stay here. Do you need anything? Water?” One of the guys translated haltingly.
At times like this I become a little weepy. This, friends, is the meaning of hospitality—opening your metaphoric door to the weary—an understanding I’ve found sorely lacking in the “hospitality” industry. Some of my worst travel experiences, in fact, have been in places in which I was paying to stay. Someday I’ll tell you about the hellish overnight at a public campground in Muncie, Indiana.
I thank Mr. Buddha, whose name is René Berthelot, profusely, and we pulled onto the sweet, green field behind the station. It was perfect: secluded, pastoral, and level. Home sweet home.
Mr. Berthelot wouldn’t take money, so after a peaceful night, we filled up at his station. We hoped to complete our tour of the Gaspé and reach the New Brunswick provincial line that night.
We didn’t quite make it.