THE BLOG
08/21/2014 09:54 am ET | Updated Sep 27, 2014

There Are Cars, Then There Are Cars -- When Fusion Means Confusion: Canadian Odyssey on the Looney Front, Part 6

OK, this is where the real fun starts. I'm in Deer Lake, western Newfoundland, where the province's only long-distance bus line takes a very distinct turn east, while I take a very distinct turn north. But first of all, how did I get here on my overland-or-by-sea-public-transport Canadian odyssey?

In North Sydney, Nova Scotia, I board Martime Atlantic's MV Highlanders. It's raining, it's as foggy as a London pea-souper, I can't see more than a few yards out of the windows, we've had no lifeboat drill, I can't see any life vests, it's been a very severe winter and icebergs and great chunks of ice are lurking off Newfoundland's coasts unusually late this year, and I'm thinking TITANIC!

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North Sydney

It's a six-hour crossing. Wow, it took the Titanic less than half that time - just two hours and 42 minutes - from hitting its iceberg off Newfoundland to sink. How do I know our ultra-modern radar is working? The sea's 50 shades of hostile grey though not yet roiling, I've just eaten a three course meal (chicken soup for the soul, baked cod and strawberry shortcake), now the sea is indeed roiling ever so slightly, there are even a few white caps, and if it ain't gonna be TITANICS-VILLE, it may well be PUKE-EARLY-AND-OFTEN-Ville.

The ferry's virtually empty so there's at least enough lifeboats to go round, unlike the Titanic, so there's no way we're going to rival it with our toll. Now the guy at the table over there is rocking jerkily and turning his head this way and that as he attacks his roast pork, a fine performance of St. Vitus dance if ever there was. He's giving every one very strange glares. I hope he hasn't stashed an AK-47 on board.

I've located a cupboard on deck 7 with green life vest icons on it, and I now notice that screens all over the frigging place are playing emergency life vest and lifeboat drills in a continuous loop. But nobody's looking at them and it's gonna be total pandemonium as we collide into and trample each other when we hit that iceberg, and... and... and...

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Icebergs at sea

Hi, Uncle Gus! Remember me?

After all that, we do arrive in one piece at Port aux Basques on the south-western tip of Newfoundland. It's a spot favoured over the centuries by Basque fishermen, hence its name. It's still raining, it's still 50 shades of grey, but there's an austere beauty to the rugged cliffs and a deep green to the scant vegetation that is reminiscent of Iceland.

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Port aux Basques



The daily DRL bus leaves at 8 a.m. sharp for the nearly 14-hour drive to St. John's, Newfoundland's capital. I'm down at 7.15 to make sure I have a seat - totally unnecessary in this age when public buses seem to be going the way of the dinosaur and the dodo. There are less than a dozen people on board.

It's still raining and the sky is 50 shades of grey, but the scenery is magical in its austereness - craggy outcroppings looming out of the mists, low mountain ridges, short dark green pines and slightly lighter bushes, snow caught in crevasses, clouds swirling in mountain folds, frozen waterfalls on rocky precipices, lakes and inlets. Once again a scene for Tolkien or Game of Thrones.

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Newfoundland landscape

We pass through Stephenville, dubbed by Lonely Planet as 'possibly the least appealing town in Newfoundland.' There's a U.S. army jet on a pole attesting to its former career as a U.S. Army Airforce, then U.S. Airforce base from 1941 to 1946. Its streets still bear the names of U.S. states - Minnesota Drive, Tennessee Drive etc.

At over 42,000 square miles Newfoundland is larger than either Cuba or Iceland and a good bit bigger than Ireland. It was inhabited by the indigenous Beothuk at the time of European colonisation. They painted their faces red with ochre, providing the original 'red' for the Europeans' generic appellation of Red Indians. They were totally killed off by fighting with the newcomers and European diseases

Meanwhile the bus conductress has put on Son of God on the video and guards are now rushing all over biblical Jerusalem looking for Jesus in what resemble ancient Chinese helmets in the shape of coolie hats - hardly very kosher.

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More Newfoundland scenery

Red Indians and Chinese coolies aside, we arrive in Deer Lake just after noon. It is here that Yours Truly and buses part company.

Now Viking Express once ran a thrice-weekly bus from Deer Lake the 300 miles up the Viking Trail along Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula to St. Anthony, gateway to Vinland, where Leif Eriksson and his band of Norsemen beat Christopher Columbus and his band of Italians, Spaniards and converted Jews by more than a nose in 'discovering' the 'new world' - by 500 years in fact.

But like Leif, Viking Express too has gone the way of all flesh. So this is where Yours Truly, unwilling to pay thousands of dollars for a chauffeured limo, is obliged to rent a car for six days to see the sites despite his coronation by his kids as the world's worst driver.

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Western Newfoundland

All papers signed at the rental desk, key in hand, I make for the black Ford Fusion, which I am ominously told is brand new, never been used before, not a scratch, a shining glory. I press a button and hey presto the doors open, but I can't open the boot. Back at the desk I'm told to hit another button twice.

A few minutes later I'm back at the desk again. I can't start the frigging Fusion because there's no frigging key. I press a button which says start/stop, a whole lot of screens flash on like the TVs in a high security guard office, and that's it. They return with me and tell me to press the brake and the 'start' button at the same time. Well, how the hell was I to know!

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Moose ahead - dangers on the road besides the Fusion

At last I'm on my way, but there are so many dials, arrows and buttons that I might as well be flying a Boeing 747. Fortunately it's an automatic, otherwise I would have buggered the clutch up by now, my usual practice. The scenery can wait, I'm having too much trouble understanding all the dials.

There are buttons and arrows on the doors, there are two blocks of arrows and squiggles on the spokes of the steering wheel that look like the controls of game consoles, and the levers sprouting all over the place do not augur well for this Luddite.

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More danger beyond the Fusion

Every so often the frigging Fusion starts ringing like a telephone. Hello? Hello? Nobody answers. I think it's because I'm going above the speed limit of 90 kilometres per hour. I slow, and it stops. Then it starts again and I notice a little screen near the speedometre flashing 'Driver Alert Warning Rest Now,' above a cup of steaming coffee. I fiddle for a coffee dispenser under the dashboard. There is none.

Now orange lights are flashing on the side mirrors and another screen is flashing 'Blindspot Sensor Blocked See Manual.' I think I'll fill up with some petrol, but I can't open the cap and see no signs on any of the levers in the cockpit or on the non-key key door- and boot-opening device.

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Close-up look at danger

A quick look at the 16-page 'Quick Reference Guide' leaves me none the wiser and I'll have to wade through the 454-page owners manual later to see how one now performs that previously simple manoeuvre of opening the fuel rank.

But it does give me a quick insight into what I can do with the frigging Fusion including - yes, to talk to it. My aforesaid 'hello, hello' is only half in jest. I can be a Jetson, a Star Trekkie. With certain fiddlings I can command it to play tunes, and dial my phone when stationary.

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Blue sea ice along the road

Some of the technological gimmicks seem to make good sense - especially the rear-view video which shows you when you're backing into a wall - critical for me after my Azores incident - the lane-keeping gizmo, the collision warning, the automatic speed limit etc.

But wow, I just want to drive up to see where the Vikings landed. If I wanted all that, I'd have joined the air force and rented a Boeing 747.

When I'm not staring askance at the dials I'm being told by numerous signs along the Viking Trail to look out for moose. I've barely left Deer Lake before a large yellow sign with a massive antlered creature says: 'Watch for moose.' A little further on they don't even use words; there's just a large, angry looking antlered creature staring down a car - and it's not clear who's going to win.

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How amoosing

Another sign with a dirty great ton-heavy moose does have words: 'Be moose cautious.' Yet another, just to drive home the point, has yon dirty great beast with the moose-on-car or car-on-moose accidents so far this year: 07.

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Speaks for itself

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Well it does if you see it up close

Well, between the frigging car and the frigging moose alerts - I don't want to become 08 with a ton of meat and muscle crashing into me - it's a wonder I get any look at the countryside at all. But we pass through the dramatically beautiful Gros Morne National Park - rugged snow-streaked pine-clad mountains, sparkling lakes, sea inlets, all looming out of mists and clouds. Tolkien would love it.

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Gros Morne view

After about six hours driving in driving rain I reach my destination at Gunners Cove, just five miles from the Vinland archaeological site. I must have hit some hidden control inside the Fusion, because the right-hand wing mirror is now staring at me instead of the road, and I can't get it to go back.

I get out of the frigging Fusion. Now my confusion is compounded. The automatic door lock won't lock. I press it, it locks, waits 10 seconds, then clicks open again. I have no idea why, it worked OK earlier. Oh bugger it. I'm not gonna go through the frigging Fusion Owner's 454-page manual.

Let them steal the frigging Fusion! Luddite today, Luddite tomorrow, Luddite forever.

______________

By the same author: Bussing The Amazon: On The Road With The Accidental Journalist, available with free excerpts on Kindle and in print version on Amazon.

And Swimming With Fidel: The Toils Of An Accidental Journalist, available on Kindle, with free excerpts here, and in print version on Amazon in the U.S here.