Our vacation to the Cabot Trail was rather impromptu. In fact, we only decided to go the night before when we saw that we would be getting a few days of sunshine (this has been pretty rare this month). We left with our tent and some blankets, still not sure whether we would camp or check out some bed and breakfasts along the trail.
On the ride up, we stopped for some lunch in New Glasgow. If you happen to be in the area, I highly recommend stopping at Baked. It is a cute little place with some scrumptious food.
Our first night there, we set up camp in an area along the trail called Ingonish and went looking for a place to have dinner. We ended up at a pub called the “Thirsty Hiker”. We weren’t really expecting much when we walked in but we were simply grateful to have found a place that was open past 9. To my surprise though, that night turned out to be one which neither of us will never forget. We met and were invited to join a Cape Bretonian family that was gathered for a wedding happening two days later. We sat with the parents of the bride, uncles and cousins. They taught us all about the island of Cape Breton, its history, its people’s and its culture. J and I loved every second of it. In between stories they sang along with the performer (who was singing some Celtic folk songs). We were in awe of how they knew every song seeing as we had never heard any of them. The whole atmosphere felt magical, maybe because it was so unexpected. We felt like we were in a different world and yet we hadn’t even left the country. What fascinated us the most was how this little island (which is a part of Nova Scotia) has managed to blend and preserve its Scottish, Irish and Acadian roots so nicely. One side of the island is more Scottish and Irish (creating a general blend of Celtic culture) and the other side is completely Acadian (the descendents of the initial French settlers). That night we were on the Celtic side (hence the music), and the next day we would be continuing along our journey towards the Acadian side.
Our friends told us all about the history of the Acadian people and how they were expelled from the island in the 1750s because of their culture. Anyone choosing to stay had to assimilate rather quickly. In fact, our friend told us that one of his ancestors was named “Jeune” (French for “Young”) and that in an effort to assimilate, she changed her name to “Young” and completely stopped speaking French. It was terribly sad to hear about how these people had been treated, and even sadder that this is barely talked about today. J and I had heard parts of this story here and there but had never really put everything together. Interesting fact – when the Acadians were literally shipped off of the island , many of them wound up in Louisiana. We learned that the word “Cajun” actually comes from the word “Acadian”. Fascinating stuff! Only much later did some of them start to return to the Maritimes.
We left the next day with a much greater appreciation of the people and history of Cape Breton and felt more ready to see the Acadian side of the island. As we drove through many little fisherman villages, we admired the beauty of the land, but both agreed that it was the interaction of the people with their land that really spoke to us. As a side note, the soundtrack to our trip was the Peter, Bjorn and John album “Gimme some”. I recommend giving it a listen.
It was amazing to arrive to the other side and hear the Acadian French mixed in with English where the day before we had just heard Gaelic.
On our last day there we took a break from driving to relax. We went on a whale watching tour, saw some whales – and even spotted a moose! We also went to check out a beach near our camp site and spent a few hours relaxing and reading on the beach (I am reading Teta, Mother and Me and am really enjoying it). We felt like we had our own private beach because we were literally all alone there with our books (for anyone planning a trip there, this beach was called “Petit Étang”). Once we had enough sun, we decided to go for a swim. We had the option between the Ocean and a lake but chose the latter because it was warmer. Our experience in the lake added to the serendipity of our day because since it was fairly shallow and not too big we actually decided to walk all the way to the other end. WE WALKED ACROSS THE LAKE! At the other end was lush, untouched natural beauty. We were in a valley surrounded by trees and mountains and just as we thought it couldn’t get any better, an eagle perched itself on one of the trees nearby. We stood there watching the eagle and admiring the scenery for quite some time. Neither of us had ever seen a bald eagle before. We went home that night and grilled some turkey sausages and roasted some marshmallows and counted our blessings. What a special little vacation this was.