The group bus tour today went to places we've already seen, so we struck out on our own, intersecting with them at lunch time for a buffet lunch that featured local seafood. The huge pile of empty mussel shells in front of us after we were done eating was downright embarrassing.
In the morning we went to Signal Hill, an enormous hill that can't be missed if you arrive in St. John's by ship. It stands over a narrow harbor entrance that was easy to guard when this area was at war. It is the spot where Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless signal in 1901 and where the last battle in the Seven Years War was fought. Today this area is laced with walking trails and many fit Newfies were boosting their cardio striding up and down the steep slopes.
We were there to visit the Geo Centre, a museum focused on all matters earth and space, that was dug into the base of Signal Hill. The exhibits on plate tectonics were especially thought provoking. An animation showed the continent Pangea, which was the original all-in-one continent and how the plates moved and the continents we know today were ripped apart and moved around. The island of Newfoundland started out near the equator and quickly boogied due north to the cold spot it occupies today. During its time at the equator it accumulated a great deal of biomass, which is being drilled out of the ground by three platforms off shore. Thinking about the solid ground beneath our feet sliding around and creating pressure at the edges that generated enough heat to melt stone was somewhat disconcerting. We also saw a 3D film made by James Cameron, as he commissioned a special immersible globe strong enough to travel to the bottom of the deepest trenches in the sea. His trip down was hair raising as he encountered the immense pressure at the bottom. At that depth there did not appear to be any life at all. The Titanic Gallery told the familiar story of the sinking, but with a twist. The glowing facts about its luxury were in stark contrast to all the corners that were cut in its construction, as White Star raced to compete with its transatlantic competition. The arrogance of the captain, the White Star company and all the major decision makers was incredible. No one likes government interference, but the sinking was the logical consequence of decisions made for the bottom line and PR.
Then we drove to Bay Bulls to take a puffin and whale watch tour. This has become kind of a joke in our group since others have gone on boat tours to see both these creatures to no avail. We were much luckier today, because the boat traveled to the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, which is the second largest puffin rookery in the world. More than 260,000 pair nest there during the breeding season. They shared their steep cliffs with muerres and kittiwakes. The sound was raucous and the cliffs were streaked in guano. It is fun to watch puffins try to fly because they are so plump and unaerodynamic. They fly like fat bumblebees, flapping their wings to beat the band. Whales are a bit harder to count on, but one lazed around the boat, spouting and bobbing through the waves. We even got to see its tail a few times. The sun was out, but we were cold, especially sailing into the wind. Summer in Newfoundland is not very summery.