I’d like to share our experience during a recent trip to Newfoundland that, unfortunately, ended badly due to transportation issues. I have also written to the municipal council of Fogo Island as well as to Transportation Minister Paul Davis.
My wife and I had the pleasure of spending two nights recently on Fogo Island (Aug. 16-18). We had a chance to visit all of the communities, see many studios and meet many of the very kind people living on the island, including the wonderful owners of the Landwash Lodging, Leo and Madonna. We also had an excellent dinner experience at the new Fogo Island Inn and, at the end of the trip, wished we could’ve stayed longer.
Fogo Island seemed to be the perfect end to our 10-day trip across Newfoundland, and we felt so much at peace and decided that this was a place we had to return to again, soon.
Where things went wrong, however, was when it was time to leave. We arrived at the ferry dock an hour and 10 minutes ahead for the 1:45 p.m. ferry to Farewell. Most folks were doing some calculating and the common opinion was that up to, maybe, 10 cars behind us would safely get aboard.
When they started to load the ferry, the line ended up getting stopped one car before us. Having lived in the Maritimes for six years, my wife and I decided to at least ask the ferry crew, as there was clearly quite a bit of space still left on the ferry.
We explained that we had a flight to catch out of St. John’s that evening and if we missed this ferry, we would not make our flight. The gentleman replied that they had to take on 15 cars on Change Islands and could not take us aboard. I asked if they could make an exception, as missing our flight would cause a lot of issues for us. He simply replied that if we walk on, we could go, otherwise, he could do nothing.
We even said that if they could take us to Change Islands, we’d ask the folks waiting there if we could continue on and if they said no, we’d get off at Change Islands. He said no to that, as well.
We were fairly shocked at the response, to say the least, but could do nothing more and didn’t want to delay the ferry departure so we stepped off and began trying to figure out our way back to Toronto for the next two hours before the 4 p.m. ferry.
Our tickets were Aeroplan rewards tickets, so Air Canada could not assist with alternate flight arrangements. The earliest available rewards flight back would’ve been Aug. 30. We had to put these tickets on hold and now have 12 months to reuse them (but they have to be in the direction of the Maritimes to Ontario).
We then looked into buying new tickets, the earliest available being the following afternoon, Aug. 19, for over $1,000 per ticket. We looked into travel disruption coverage with our credit card company but this situation was not covered.
The final option we explored was to drive back to Toronto, but due to the ferry situation, the earliest we could get space for getting to Nova Scotia was Aug 24.
We ended up buying the new tickets as it was the only real option we had. We were fortunate to find a vacancy at an inn at Spaniard’s Bay, which was close to St. John’s. And the rental car company waived the extra day after hearing our plight. They also told us that many of their customers had been stranded on Fogo during the festival a few days earlier, and had ended up being airlifted off the island.
At the end of the day, what made this so frustrating was that Fogo Island was, in our opinion, the gem in our 10-day trip to Newfoundland. To have such a magical end to the trip ruined in this manner was tragic.
Besides the unexpected costs (new plane tickets, accommodations, meals and a missed day at work), it was having such a wonderful experience snatched away. Having such a ferry situation is quite surprising considering the investment that’s been made (and is still being made) on Fogo Island for tourism that features an establishment the level of the Fogo Island Inn. To have to wait hours in advance to get off the island is really not helpful in getting folks to visit the island, nor is there clear communication for folks who have never been on the island.
When we left on the ferry at 4 p.m., it could not take everyone in line and when it stopped in Change Islands, it left many cars behind as well. The lingering question is whether an exception really couldn’t have been made in our circumstance, as they could not take everyone on Change Islands anyways.
We knew it would’ve been
an exception, and didn’t make demands or treat anyone in any manner we wouldn’t want to be treated ourselves. We simply asked for some help. The indifferent response seemed more typical of what we see back in Ontario and certainly not what we expected in the Atlantic provinces, where during our six years living there, we’ve seen time and time again the very best of people coming out when there’s a need.
There is indeed a very real transportation issue between Farewell, Change Islands and Fogo Island, especially if the intention is to attract more and more visitors to the islands.
Fogo Island is just one of numerous treasures that Newfoundland has to offer but there just isn’t enough infrastructure in place to support the growing number of people choosing your province as their vacation destination. This was pretty evident in conversations with many fellow travellers in each B&B, or at attractions along the way on our journey.
The locals are stepping up to keep travellers informed but that, in itself, will become strained as the number of visitors grow. We used our experience travelling throughout Cape Breton to take the necessary measures to stay safe and plan smartly when travelling through the more remote areas of Newfoundland, but what are the statistics on travellers, adventure-seekers and hikers having accidents each year?
We do wish to return to your province, especially Fogo, but it’s so hard to forget how it ended which is truly the biggest loss for us as all we wish to do is embrace the memories of when we were there.
Kyo Song and Mini Ryu live in Toronto.