Quebec’s Gaspé: The Rocks of Percé


The main street in Perce

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!

The famous rocks of Perce from afar

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.

View of the rocks from the wharf

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.

Catch all the mackerel you want–just be sure to rince.

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).

Julia and me and the rocks.

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.

Monsieur Berthelot, hospitality extraordinaire

“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.

Does it get any better than this?

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.

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7 Responses to Quebec’s Gaspé: The Rocks of Percé

  1. Tanya Paquet 10 October, 2012 at 9:17 am #

    Hi there Kate!

    Had a lot of fun reading this blog post. I actually found your blog, thanks to a Twitter user who was smitten with your travel stories!

    It really felt like “déjà-vu” when I started reading this post about your imminent arrival in Percé…and for multiple reasons. I remember visiting Percé for the first time and wanting to opt-out of the traditional expedition to Île Bonaventure, for lack of time. Curiosity got the best of us and we ended up doing the tour anyways. I do have to say I’m surprised though at the 60$/person fee the boat operator told you. Usually, it’s more around 20$ for a boat ride around the Rock and then to Île Bonaventure. (???)

    As for me, I’ve visited Percé several times since and I’ve always planned a visit to Île Bonaventure. The great thing is that it’s always been at different times in the year so I see it in a new way every time!

    I also noticed that you were able to experience the friendliness of the Gaspesian people. I always tell people that part of the Gaspé experience is the chance to interact with the locals!

    Anyways, I would love to hear more about your trip in Gaspésie and the other parts of Québec. Are you planning more blog posts on the subjects?
    Might you be interested in a collaboration? If so, please contact me by email so we can “chat” some more!

    Keep up the great travel stories!

  2. Marcia Davis 6 October, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

    Gorgeous photos. Thanks for opening doors to this wonderful place. I hope to get there sometime soon!

    • Kate Convissor 9 October, 2012 at 8:40 pm #

      You will, if I know you, Marcia. And I want to help! I’ll send you the stuff I’ve collected soon (once I finish blogging about it), then we can talk, and I can do all kinds of reminiscing, and you get to listen. Deal?

  3. Ainlay Dixon 1 October, 2012 at 10:50 am #

    Loved this post – so exactly captures the many feelings one goes through in one ordinary day. Also – great photo of you and your daughter! When it gets to that time of my life when I am riding around in an RV (as opposed to flying off to the other side of the world) I will get you to lay out for me exactly which rig to get.

    • Kate 2 October, 2012 at 10:24 pm #

      Ahhh. It’s a deal. You tell me where to go in South America, and I’ll give you a tutorial on RVs. Think of all the misadventures I’ll have had by then! (I already have matching dents on both sides of my Durango from jackknifing the trailer. GAH!)

  4. hoz 29 September, 2012 at 1:30 am #

    Thanks for the tour, you and daughter are amazing.
    “We didn’t quite make it” is that a cliffhanger?

    • Kate Convissor 29 September, 2012 at 9:55 am #

      You nailed it! My attempt at a cliffhanger–but it’s a very small cliff. And that’s my attempt at foreshadowing. 😉