While we were no longer iceberg virgins after our tour of Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula, we were far from experts. Twillingate, proclaimed as the Iceberg Capital of the World, could help us change that. The town sits in the heart of Iceberg Alley, the path bergs typically travel along the Labrador Current on their way south from Greenland.
But before viewing some of the floating chunks of busted glacier, we wanted to taste them.
That meant a stop at the Auk Island Winery.
Getting Funky with the Puffin and Loose with the Moose Joose
Chief cook and bottle washer, Danny Bath, was kind enough to show us around the winery.
The wines are made from local fruits and berries in a building that was a school up until 1991, and Danny happily runs the show from the old principle’s office he once dreaded getting called into.
By strict definition these beverages are not technically wines, they are spirits, in that they are distilled, not fermented.
Our first taste showed us that didn’t matter, the Funky Puffin, Moose Joose, and Krooked Cod were all fruity, fun, and fabulous.
Auk Island even has a couple selections that contain Newfoundland’s notorious rum, Screech. The fire water seemed okay when mixed with the berries, but we had heard many tales of this treacherous libation.
This was our first encounter with the unofficial provincial potent potable, but it would not be our last. We had an appointment to be “Screeched In” later that night.
But before we faced that fate we sampled some tasty treats made from the expended wine making mash.
The leftover berries are used to flavor ice cream, and the result is a veritable taste explosion. Some of the best ice cream we have ever tried.
Now that’s some ingenious recycling.
But we had to keep moving, we had one more stop before our date with destiny later that night, The Split Peas were performing at the Touton House.
For over twenty years this group of women have been entertaining and fueling locals and visitors alike with authentic Newfoundland music, accompanied by toutons and tea.
Toutons are a traditional fried bread, served with molasses or partridge berry jam and washed down with tea, while The Peas provide homespun humor and harmonies.
During our refreshment break we also learned a bit about The Orangemen while wandering around the Touton House, which used to be the town’s Orange Lodge.
The Orange Order was originally an Irish Protestant organization founded in 1796 in honor of King William of Orange. It came to the new world with Irish immigrants and became quite popular in Newfoundland, and to a lesser degree eastern Canada and the northeastern United States. Back in their heyday they were known to get a bit unruly from time-to-time in their opposition to all things Catholic. Over the years membership declined and they settled into a more run-of-the-mill fraternal order.
After the show our time had come, we could no longer avoid our fate. Truth is we were both looking forward to it, even a little giddy at the prospect of getting Screeched In.
As a couple of what the locals call “Come From Away,” we relished the opportunity to become honorary Newfoundlanders. We would gladly accept, but there are rules, the ceremony must be performed properly.
Wilma at The Anchor Inn was kind enough to provide all of the necessary arrangements, so at 9 PM sharp we stepped up to the bar for our initiation.
Dressed in full fisherman regalia, our presiding officer swore us in by having us repeat an oath, kiss a cod, and take a shot of Screech rum.
WATCH: Your GypsyNesters get Screeched In – one did a WAY better job than the other!
Then our presiding officer made it official by asking, “Is ye a Screecher?” To which we replied (in varying degrees of success), “deed I is, me ol’ cock, and long may your big jib draw,” meaning indeed we were old friend and may your sails always be filled with wind. At that point we were issued certificates confirming our new found (land) status.
So we were Screeched In. We don’t know the origin of the name Screech, but our theory is that it is from the sound one makes the first time they try it. No doubt that is also the last time for most of them.
It seems safe to assume that if not for use in these services Screech rum might have gone out of business years ago. All we knew is that we wanted to make sure to sleep off any lingering effects because we had an early morning cruise scheduled to get crazy close to some icebergs, and hopefully whales.
We met Grant of Ocean Quest Close Encounters on the dock bright and early and loaded a couple kayaks onto a motorized zodiac.
On our way out of the bay Grant gave us an overview of the history and geology of the area and took us into a small cove where thousands of capelin were bunching up in their annual spawning ritual. After reviewing our underwater camera footage we revised our estimate, there must have been millions.
Interesting as they were, we came to see the big suckers, so onward to the huge hunk of ice. Grant knew right where the berg was, they don’t move too fast, but whales could be anywhere.
So the ice would be our first stop, but before we got to the iceberg he got to do his best “Thar she blows.” We looked up excitedly, just in time to catch a fluke sliding back into the sea.
As excited as we were about bergs, we were even more pumped to spot some humps, humpback whales that is, so Grant set a course for the giants and mashed the motor.
Next thing we knew he was putting the kayaks in the water and asking if we were ready. Ready? Is anyone ever really ready to approach an animal that dwarfs a Greyhound Bus in a small plastic boat? You bet we were ready!
WATCH: Seriously, one of the best days of our lives! We were right in amongst a serious amount of sea creatures – and icebergs!
Something must have snapped in our brains because we jumped in and started madly paddling directly toward a pair of the mammoth sea mammals.
We rowed and gawked while the humpbacks breached, spouted and splashed, but we never caught all the way up to them because they are much better swimmers than we are kayakers.
We did get close enough that one took a dive and swam right under us. All David could think was don’t come up, don’t come up. Veronica, however, was thinking about the viral video she could film – Crazy Old People Get Taken Out by Humpback Whale!
After humoring us by hanging around for a few minutes the pair moved on. Try as we might there was no keeping up with them, so we turned our attention to the ice. This had to be the only way in the world that sitting in a kayak just a few feet away from an iceberg could ever seem anticlimactic.
That feeling evaporated in a matter of seconds though, once we became mesmerized by the beauty of the blue ice. Grant warned, “don’t get too close, it looks a little tippy,” but we weren’t concerned.
In fact, every care in the world disappeared while we stared into 10,000 years of frozen history.
Finally the frigid water, and Grant’s need to meet his next group of lucky explorers, forced us back aboard the zodiac for the ride back to Twillingate.
We were downright babbling with excitement all the way in, but with good reason, this had been a truly unbelievable morning.
We had just done two of the coolest things we’d ever done in our entire lives in the span of a few minutes.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com
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