Area called Cote Nord (North Coast) is the second-biggest administrative region of Quebec. It has a population of less than 100,000 in the area the size of the UK. Canada is certainly not short of space - now wonder it's possible to buy a plot of land with sea views (but no electricity or water) for less than 10k here. Cote Nord stretches from Tadoussac (the oldest European settlement in Quebec) all the way to the Labrador border, along St Lawrence River. We stayed in a small (bust spread out along the highway and the coast) village of Les Escoumins.
The main industries in the area are mining, logging, hydro-electricity and tourism, mostly in the summer. But there is a lot of nature here and not very many people and the essential wildness of the land. This area is part of the Canadian Shield, a glacier-polished, thin-soiled, mineral-rich great curve of land around the Hudson Bay that stretches from Quebec to Ontario to northern Manitoba to North West territories that for me defines the quintessential Canadian wilderness. Covered mostly in boreal forest, with a sprinkling of maple and birch further south (birch mostly in the north), with much exposed rocks, the Shield has an almost ethereal, ascetic beauty, one that is not so much inhospitable to but disinterested in human life, even though some humans make their life here.
The St Lawrence estuary and particularly the area near the confluence of the Saguenay fjord is in the summer abundant in krill and other whale fodder and thus becomes a feeding ground for all kinds of marine mammals, including belugas, fin whales, sperm whales and even the blue whales.
We were told that the whales were not back yet, and that they don't come back until May but on a sunny Easter Saturday, as we moved from the house of one of our kind Couch Surfing hosts to another, the sun came up, the fog (or rather the "sea smoke") cleared and in the dark blue waters of St Lawrence estuary appeared groups of belugas. We stood on the rocks (by the way, these were the iconic, grey, prehistoric-looking Canadian rocks) and there they were, bizarrely white (REALLY white!), showing their curved backs above the water, moving swiftly up the river towards the Saguenay fjord. One of them came near the shore and we could clearly see not only the back but also the tail and strangely shaped head and face: my first ever whale!
The next day was even nicer, and we spend half a day basking in the sun on the rocks surrounding Les Escoumins, looking at the sparkling blue and grey river, with the snow melting all around us and the sun rays hot and strong. We saw some seals playing in the water, and towards the afternoon we spot a huge, long, dark, sleek curve with a small fin appearing in the water not further than 20 metres away from the rocks. With breath held, we wait, and it appears again a few meters closer, and then, after about five minutes, reappears good fifty meters away. This was almost certainly a finback whale, the second biggest marine mammal out there, and our second whale!
We leave the coastal rocks in joy and even getting stuck in the deep, melting snow on the way back doesn’t dampen our spirits.