I was sent to Gaultois to check out the newly established Gaultois Inn and to explore one of the more isolated areas in the Coast of Bays. Yes, more isolated. After driving four hours on the TCH West, turning off down the Bay dâ€™Espoir highway for another 127 kilometres without a gas stop, then driving another 60 minutes before reaching the ferry…I arrived in Gaultois, where there are no roads and people navigate the area by ATV.
By the way, itâ€™s pronounced â€œGall-tis,â€ not â€œGall-twoi.â€ Just to clarify.
The Innâ€™s website describes Gaultois as a place of â€œauthentic outport culture.â€ The word â€œauthenticâ€ usually sends travel writers screaming, but in this case, itâ€™s true. On the ferry surrounded by good-natured elderly ladies complaining about their aches and pains (but eagerly answering all my questions about the insanely cheap $1.50 ticket price), I was swept up in homesickness and nostalgia. I missed my Nanny. I missed my home. I missed wood stoves and banana bread and old accordion music.
Ange and I didnâ€™t know where the inn was. One of the ladies told us to follow her, as she lived right next to it. I told her that one of my best friends, Leon, grew up in Gaultois. She pointed at the house where he was raised.
Just like that, all I had to do was mention a first name.
We were greeted at the inn by Souren, who knew who I was upon arrival and happily escorted us to the room. He turned out to be the innâ€™s chef, in addition to playing role of the innkeeper…and the bartender. Ange, with an ear for absence of accent, immediately picked up on the fact that he was from Toronto.
We asked if there was WiFi.
â€œNo, sorry! The network is full,â€ Souren replied. I donâ€™t even know what that means.
I didnâ€™t expect such a fancy meal of shrimp linguini in the middle of the Gaultois. The garlic bread sticks in my mind. You know, like the kind of toast you roast over an open fire on a handcrafted piece of wire? Like that.
Nor did I expect a random man to burst into the dining area demanding to know where he could find some squid, and then another man standing up to stay he wanted some squid as well, and then everyone discussing squid for some time.
I asked the waitress if there were a convenience store nearby. There were two: one next door, and another â€œup Bottom,â€ aka over the hill. It so absurdly made sense!
The Inn itself is a novelty. Jane Pitfield, the owner, was formerly the councillor of Toronto. She came down here and bought up property at ridiculously low prices, including an old captainâ€™s quarters for $10,000 (five bedrooms, now Pitfieldâ€™s home). She recruited Souren to come live there for awhile, to take over the kitchen and get some experience as head chef.
Take a second to envision what it must be like to move from a city of millionsâ€”filled with concerts and parties and traffic and skyscrapersâ€”to a tiny former whaling town where the population can almost be counted on one hand and you have to wait for supplies to come by ferry.
While Pitfield wasnâ€™t around, Ange and I did get to know Souren. He admits he didnâ€™t know what to do with himself when he first arrived, and people didnâ€™t know how to take an outsider with the dangerous intentions of butchering fish and serving up gourmet. But on our final day, as Souren led us down to the wharf to catch the ferry, he paused to talk to every single person he met, young and old alike. He even helped the lady carting her mail in a wheelbarrow up the boardwalk.
Thereâ€™s your picture of Newfoundland community again.
His highlight, of course, was being given a whole blue shark to play with. And eat, presumably.
Did not know there were sharks in our waters, by the way.
And that, my friends, is that real, honest-to-goodness authentic outport experience we all want in Newfoundland…except perhaps with â€œbrown foodâ€ rather than gourmet.