By Walter Charles Willett
To prepare oneself, it needs to be said, your very first “up close” viewing experience of the famous Perce Rock and Ile Bonaventure (literally translated as Isle of Good Adventure), will no doubt have an impact on your soul for the rest of your days.
Your Gaspe Road Trip will no doubt be punctuated by SO many selfie moments and breathtaking images, however, this experience, is the topper… the icing on the cake… the reason you journeyed hundreds or thousands of kilometers or across oceans to get here, connecting in kindred spirit and following the paths of explorers from ancient times to present-day.
That time and nature have combined in such a unique manner to create such a pleasure for the human senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell), means words themselves cannot be summoned to capture, whether imagined or in real life, the feeling in one’s heart and mind. The approach from the East along the Baie-des-Chaleurs offers the most breathtaking surprise as the Rock remains hidden and out of view. Then at the very last minute as you reach a crescendo of anticipation over the “Cote Surprise”...AWE.
Akin to a visually stunning nuclear bomb going off, you reach the summit and there it is in full majesty (providing of course it is not a foggy day, like the one in 1534 when Cartier arrived there and could not fully view the rock for several hours as the fog burned away). Try to stay on the road between the lines as you make the slow descent into the marvelous sea-side refuge of ancient Perce, now a tourism mecca complete with modern lodging and tourist amenities, fabulous seafood restaurants and gift shops, historic buildings, and all backdropped with incredible vistas and vantage points of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The approach from the West is equally spectacular but different in flavour and feeling, not as much a shocking reveal but a mysterious adventure that unfolds with each approaching kilometer. The Western approach from the Town of Gaspe offers sneak peeks and glimpses in a sort of “hide-and-seek” game, as you travel across the Barachois salt marches beginning at the turn around Saint-George-de-Malbaie, you catch first glimpses of the rock forms along with Bonaventure Island, without fully appreciating its grandeur or full size. Then, it hides as you climb and push through the hills of Perce, ancient rocks from time memorial, laying bare the very history of the entire Appalachian range stretching from the Gulf of Mexico through Mississippi, Tennessee, Carolina’s, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York State, Maine and slicing through the Province of Quebec... and ending….here!
As you go up, and down again, through that winding hilly road, every few minutes the Rock appears, then disappears, until finally, you begin to descend from the summit, full imagery of the Rock and the stunning little tourist town of Perce, backdropped by Bonaventure Island, a panoramic view of all of it. As you descend that steep hill, things do get bigger, and bigger, and bigger!!
From either direction as you make your way towards the rock, visualize for a moment a hot summer day in the mid-1500s, a few years after Cartier’s passage but long before Champlain and the settling of Nouvelle France… and hundreds of wooden sailing ships in and around the Perce Rock and Bonaventure Island, the shrieking of hundreds of thousands of Gannets filling the air, the smells, and sights of the massive volume of salted cod flakes drying on the old wooden racks that are perfectly lined-up on the rock-laden beaches you will soon walk. Here on shore you will encounter the many languages and dialects of the hardy fishers, the Basques, Normans, Bretons, and combined with the hospitality of the local hosts, the people of the Mi'kmaw nation.
As you open your eyes to the very modern Perce, in a flash you are sharing the sensations that for millennia have been witnessed in this most unique “tourist” destination, and the human feeling of being in the midst of such distinct and remarkable natural beauty, knowing this aspect has changed little (save for fewer holes in the rock that the sea has claimed as its own). Your journey and arrival on this day now cementing your inclusion in that rich tourism, and human, legacy.