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jorgesanchez L'Anse au Meadow - A travel report by jorge
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L'Anse au Meadow,  Canada - flag Canada -  Newfoundland
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jorgesanchez's travel reports

The Vikings are coming!

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L’Anse aux Meadows was declared a UNESCO National Historic Site in 1978. Since there is not bus service in that part of Newfoundland Island, you can only get there by car (or hitch hiking, as I did) along the Viking Trail Route 430.

Labrador Métis Nation Head Office
Labrador Métis Nation Head Office
I was in Goose Bay, Labrador, city that I had reached from Quebec after hitch hiking during four days. The town in itself was not attractive for a traveller; all the interesting places to visit were hard to reach, such as Nunatsiavut, a fragment of Labrador Peninsula, whose inhabitants, mainly Inuits, claimed for its autonomy. There were also Moravian missionaries and some other aboriginal people, such as the Métis, or those descendants from the union of Inuit women with European men, including Basques whalers from Spain.

In Canada there are not only social problems with Quebecois people (in Quebec you only find signs in French, none in English, and Quebecois people refuse to learn and speak this language, in spite that in the rest of Canada everything is in both languages: English and French), but also with the Aboriginal people, as I had noticed in Nunavut, Yukon and Northwest Territories during that journey.

In the Métis Head Quarter’s office in Goose Bay, that I visited, I read the following plaque regarding their claims:

“Our resources belong to us.
We’ve always been here.
This is our Home!”

Those days of the year 2008 the Aboriginal subject was a hot topic; the Canadian Government had just apologized for the atrocities committed in the past against the Aborigines and Indians, especially with a law at the beginning of the XX century to, virtually, “kidnap” their children to “educate” them in the Western way in institutes, what resulted in physical, psychological and sexual abuse of the children, and when they became adult they were not integrated in neither society, European or Aboriginal/Indian. The Australian Government, too, had apologized that same year for doing the same aberrant practices against their Aboriginal people, even using the children as substitute of foxes during their popular English sport Fox-Hunting, or exterminating a whole race of Aborigines in Tasmania island, with the help of dogs and poisoning their waters with arsenic.

Favourite spots:
Stop in Blanc Sablon, Quebec
Stop in Blanc Sablon, Quebec
In order to visit Nunatsiavut from Goose Bay you have to fly, with the sole exception of a weekly ferry calling at several ports along the Labrador coast. There are no bus service, no even roads to get there. That is why I decided to leave for Newfoundland Island immediately.

There was a weekly ferry to Lewisport, northern Newfoundland, but I had to wait five days in Goose Bay, a perspective not appealing.
I was sleeping in a park because I could not afford the cheapest hostel (40 Canadian dollars per a bed in the hostel Friendship Centre), and ate only once a day, in Tim Hortons fast food restaurant, because everything was very expensive in Labrador, so I resolved to fly immediately to Saint Anthony, in Newfoundland, for around 250 Canadian dollars, what I did not consider expensive, since the ticket on the ferry to Lewisport was 118 Canadian dollars, and from there to L’Anse aux Meadows there are still over 600 kilometres.

The plane made a short stop in Blanc-Sablon, Quebec.

What's really great:
L’Anse aux Meadows and the sign “NORSTEAD: A Viking Port”.
L’Anse aux Meadows and the sign “NORSTEAD: A Viking Port”.
Once in Saint Anthony airport I hitch hiked until L’Anse aux Meadows, where I arrived after three hours and eight rides. Local people are very nice and they all want to help you to visit their tourist attractions.

First, I visited the small fishing village, where I noticed a sign saying: “NORSTEAD: A Viking Port” and I walked there. Soon I saw a complex with barracks, a reproduction of a drakkar, or ship used by the old Vikings, plus other artefacts. Then I entered in a kind of longhouse covered with earth and herbs, reproduction of a supposed Viking settlement around the year 1000 AD. The place was in the open air, by the beach, without fences, in an attractive environment, facing an island and icebergs.
There was an almost extinguished fire in the house that I chose to spend the night. Inside I saw kitchen utensils and animal hides everywhere. The place was very warm. Next day I would learn that a “Viking” show had been performed that night for the tourists.

The Three “Vikings”
The Three “Vikings”
The next day I visited the UNESCO site, just next door. The entrance fee was cheap. Inside, there were a museum, a shop selling souvenirs and a cinema showing a didactic film about the discovering of the archaeological site.

When I watched the film and studied all the artefacts and documents exposed, I walked until the place where the Vikings were supposed to have spent more than a winter. There I saw several grassy mounds with explanatory signs: small and large dwellings, furnace and smithy, workshop, room for Irish slaves, the chief Viking dormitory, etc. In a reconstruction of the site there were several “Vikings” (Canadians dressed with Viking clothes) smiling at the tourists, who took them pictures without coercion.

They were preparing their breakfast (lots of eggs and bacon) and invited the tourists to participate in the feast (I gladly accepted, since I had not eaten since the sandwich that I was given in the airplane the previous day).

I went back to the museum.

In the museum: Sagas and stones telling the history of the Vikings
In the museum: Sagas and stones telling the history of the Vikings
In the museum I read that some Iceland Sagas (legends and historical tales written in prose) affirm that, in the year 985 or 986 AD, a merchant from Iceland, called Bjarni Herjolfsson, claimed to have seen Helluland (perhaps Baffin or Ellesmere islands), Markland (perhaps Labrador peninsula), and Vinland (perhaps Newfoundland island). Leif Erickson (the son of Erick the Red, the discoverer of Greenland) met him and bought him his ship to repeat Bjarni journey to those places around the year 1000 AD.
When he sailed back to Greenland, he described Vinland as a place where grow wild grapevines everywhere. Some years later he gave his boat to his brother Thorvald, and in the year 1004 or 1005, Thorvald travelled to Vinland, where he was killed by the local Aborigines, called in the Sagas “Skraelingjar”, what means in old Norse language “Barbarians”, term that was also used by the Vikings to describe the People of Thule, or Greenland Inuits.

Monument to Helge and Anne at the entrance of the museum
Monument to Helge and Anne at the entrance of the museum
In the sixties (of the XX century), the Norwegian historian and explorer Helge Ingstad and his wife Anne Stine, an archaeologist, spent several years travelling along the coasts of north east America determined to find the legendary sites mentioned in those Iceland Sagas, especially Vinland (land of wines) named after the wild grapes that Leif Erickson had found during his hypothetical journey from Greenland.

In 1967, Helge and Anne found this site in L’Anse aux Meadows, thanks to the information that supplied them a fisherman of the village. They excavated the place searching for artefacts and discovered an iron nail, a Viking coin, a needle and several other items, and resolved that it was the legendary Vinland, and that in that place had been founded the first forge in America.

But, where are the grapevines? They only grow in Massachusetts and Maine, but not in cold Newfoundland inland.

They did not find any tombs or weapons.

Reconstructed Vinland Viking site
Reconstructed Vinland Viking site
After Genoese sailor Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot) disembarked in Newfoundland in 1497 and Portuguese explorer Gaspar Corte Real did the same in the year 1500, many European whalers and fishermen have called in that island, where they spent winters. So, why attribute that archaeological site only to the Vikings?

It is right that if the Vikings could navigate from Greenland to Norway, a distance of over 1400 kilometres, then, why not to North America, at less than half that distance?

But I found that the proofs in that site did not meet the requirements to confirm that L’Anse aux Meadows was the legendary Vinland.

In fact, according to the documents and opinions given by several scientists and historians about L’Anse aux Meadows that were exposed in that museum, it was speculated that, most probably, that site was not the real Vinland, but a sporadic settlement of the Vikings, that must have been used once or twice before abandon it forever.

Vinland continues to be a mystery.

Reproduction of an old Viking boat
Reproduction of an old Viking boat
The Aboriginal people living in Newfoundland in the past were the Beothuk (a tribe extinct at the beginning of the XX century, owing to the cruelty of the white men, who killed them and made them slaves). Before disappearing they said that many years ago they were visited by white men in boats looking for wood (and also for slaves), but those foreigners killed the inhabitants of a whole village of Beothuk, including women and children. Only one Beothuk escaped alive. He reunited many Beothuk men, then camouflaged a canoe with ice, looking like an iceberg, and went to the place where the Vikings were sleeping, to punish them. A watchful Viking saw the canoe moving, but he thought that it was an iceberg, and did not alert the sleeping men. Then the Beothuk disembarked and killed all the Vikings. Only one Viking survived (perhaps Thorvald?), but nobody knows his whereabouts.

The Icelandic Sagas say that, after some incidents with the natives, the Vikings stopped sailing to Vinland.

Other recommendations:
Beautiful Gros Morne National Park
Beautiful Gros Morne National Park
Today, Vikings are too much idealized and seen with sympathy (when I was a boy I loved the charming little animated series of Vicky the Viking). Yes, they were great navigators, explorers and good artists, but they also were horrible criminals who looted villages after killing everybody, women and children alike, kidnapping the stronger and younger men to use them, or sell them, as slaves. They came several times to Spain and pillaged Cadiz and Sevilla killing much of its population and robbing the gold inside the churches.

That is why the tale of the Beothuk is a more solid (although rather sinister) proof that the Vikings had arrived to North America before Columbus.

After L’Anse aux Meadows I continued hitch hiking to visit another UNESCO wonder: Gros Morne National Park, arriving two days later. I enjoyed the place very much, and then followed until Port aux Basques, where I took the ferry to Nova Scotia to continue my long journey around North America.

Published on Friday July 18th, 2008

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Tue, Jul 22 2008 - 11:45 AM rating by marianne

excellent information about an interesting place

Fri, Jul 18 2008 - 03:59 PM rating by krisek

Another great report from this super adventure! Very exiting read. Sleeping in a park, hmmm? Isn't it cold there?

Fri, Jul 18 2008 - 12:13 PM rating by eirekay

Great Historical facts and terrific detail! Thanks for a wonderful report!

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