London to New York. New York to Halifax. Halifax to here. I had left home tired from the weight of living and working in the bustling city. I was still that and more as our flight, hours delayed, landed with a thud, the force waking me suddenly. It is said that John Cabot the explorer cried, “O buona vista” (oh, happy sight) when he first set his eyes on this land in 1497. In the sharp fluorescent light of St John’s Airport at 12 a.m., it felt anything but. Then again, you know what they say about first impressions.
The weather had changed for the worse just before our arrival the previous evening, as it often seems to do for travellers. It wasn’t a day to be on a boat, yet here we were, heading out of the harbour on the promise of seeing an iceberg near Cape Spear, one of the hundreds calved from glaciers in the Arctic that slowly make the journey as far as St John’s every year.
I stood on the upper deck, one eye scanning the horizon and the other searching for my sea legs below. The roll of the boat left me uneasy and I struggled to maintain my focus until an icy white mass came into view, seemingly stranded on the shallows closer to shore. As we cautiously approached the dry-dock-shaped behemoth the stark white of her top seemed surreal against the backdrop of the sheer, dark cliffs of the coastline behind her. Ten thousand years and a little bit more had brought her to this point, the result of ice, snow and rain slowly combining and compressing to become what I saw before me. Closer still, I found her body rippled through with streaks of every shade of blue, formed by meltwater that had found its way into cracks and crevasses and frozen, bubble-free, over the years, trapped until it would one day be released back into the world, perhaps to begin the same journey once again. I realised that this would no doubt be soon as the mesmerising roll of the Atlantic Ocean swell carved and carved again at her base in a patient battle which could only have one outcome, but which she endured stoically nonetheless.
The roll of the ocean was replaced by the undulating hills of the Avalon Peninsula as we journeyed south along The Irish Loop, weaving our way through the small villages that dot the coast. With time to think and explore we stopped wherever or whenever the fancy took us. A hidden pond here, to dip our feet in the cold water. An ocean lookout there, to gaze out over the rocky coast to where ships – famous and lesser known – had been wrecked in the sea beyond. A walk along some forest track, one of the many on the eastern coast, to see where it might lead and the treasures it might hold.