Pennsylvania to Newfoundland, 2021: Hurdles to a Happy Place
The US borders with Canada and Mexico are opening for shorter visits in just a few weeks. Finally Americans will be able to take weekend trips without as many requirements as have been in place. The welcomed news reminds me of my recent trip to my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Fair warning: Like the trip itself, this post is long and, at times, tedious.
It was tough not seeing my siblings for two years. Even though technology kept us in close contact during the pandemic - dare I say we grew closer? – we were overdue for a few long hugs!
Despite our almost annual visits, Vince and I hadn’t driven to Newfoundland in forty years, but we were up for it. We made ferry reservations in late June, on a hope, a prayer and a rumor that Covid restrictions would loosen. At least the fare was refundable.
A few weeks before our planned departure, we finally learned that American spouses could accompany Canadian citizens. Vince would be my “plus one”!
The plan was to cross into Canada on a Sunday, so on Thursday, 72 hours prior, we uploaded proof of vaccination and proof of a negative Covid tests. We couldn’t upload Newfoundland’s requirements – all of the above, plus copies of utility bills and a marriage certificate – until our departure day, since it was a 4-day trip and we needed to submit forms within that 72-hour window.
It seemed as if our plans were falling into place, until it occurred to us… do we also need permission to travel through New Brunswick and Nova Scotia? A quick google of New Brunswick's requirements informed us that such an application was due 5 days prior to any arrival in that province. We were leaving in only 3 days and ferry reservations were hard to come by. What if we had to call off the trip? I held my breath, applied anyway, and heard back within three hours. Exhale.
Vince took care of Nova Scotia. No problem there.
In the spirit of two retirees cruising up the highway, we'd been planning to choose hotels during the drive, but our numerous hurdles caused us to rethink that strategy. Not knowing how long crossing the border would take, we looked into hotels in northern Maine for Saturday night. Hampton in Bangor: $400. No way! Nothing in the area was reasonable, except for a resort just off the highway. It had decent reviews, so I made a reservation online.
Saturday came. I uploaded the Newfoundland forms and off we went. I was going to see my sibs!
We lost a few hours in Massachusetts due to weekly rentals in Massachusetts and were tired by the time we turned off the highway at 10pm that first night. Thankfully, our destination was only five minutes off 95. Awfully dark, we thought as we drove up the gravel road. You guessed it. The office was closed.
The only note on the door was an emergency number for a maintenance guy. We called him anyway. Two women finally arrived by 11pm and were apologetic. It seems they hadn’t checked for additional reservations since Friday afternoon. Thankfully the chalet was lovely and the salty Maine air gave us a good night’s sleep.
We woke to a glorious Sunday. When we arrived at the border for our 11am reservation there was only one car ahead of us. Still, it took another 20 minutes before they were processed.
When it was our turn we had our passports, hard copies of every required form, and answers to their multitude of questions. Then they asked, “Where will you quarantine?”
“We’re double vaccinated,” we told them. We had understood that 2-week quarantines were only required for the unvaccinated. They advised us that once we were at our destination we were free to travel after we completed another Covid test. The border agent gave us a test kit and told us to take the test within 24 hours of arriving. Yet another precaution, but no problem.
We travelled on our merry way, stopping only for a delightful lunch with good friends. Thank you Ann and David! That night we stayed at a resort on a gorgeous salt lake, Bras D'or, on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.
The next day we ate a lobster lunch and visited the Alexander Graham Bell Museum before heading north. We enjoyed an early dinner in a funky-cool restaurant in Sydney, Nova Scotia before driving a few more miles to the ferry terminal in North Sydney. At the checkpoint we showed them our Newfoundland Covid Reference Number. We’d be “on the rock” in a few hours!
I’m guessing many of my readers haven’t ever taken the ferry to Newfoundland. Most of the ferries have six decks, including at least two for vehicles and two or three for passenger cabins. They often carry over a thousand passengers and a few hundred cars and trucks. Due to this year’s Covid precautions, however, there were fewer passengers and there was no restaurant or bar service. No problem. I was almost home!
The distance from North Sydney, Nova Scotia to Port aux Basques, Newfoundland is around 110 miles. The crossings take approximately 6 hours and most are smooth sailing, but every now and it can be rough going.
After a quick walk around the ship to check things out, we headed for our cabin – two single beds and a private bathroom - and settled in for the night. There’s something about a boat - I was asleep before we even left port and knew nothing until 6am when an announcement came through the speakers in our room.
“Prepare to dock within the hour.” Cars exited the ship quickly, but not so much from the checkpoint in the parking lot.
“Welcome to Newfoundland!” said the guy with the clipboard.
We shared our Reference Number and then were asked for another one…
“We only have the one number,” we told him. “Doesn’t that count for both of us?”
“Afraid not,” he answered. “You each need to have one.”
“Here’s proof of our vaccinations,” we offered.
“It’s not for me to evaluate,” he said. “I have to put you on the unvaccinated list.”
Would that mean a 2-week quarantine requirement for Vince? I had assumed that since New Brunswick included us both of us on one application, the same was true for Newfoundland. My mistake.
“You’ll be contacted by the Newfoundland Health Department,” he said.
We were there… yet we weren’t.
The early fog was lifting as we started the 5-hour drive from Port aux Basques to the lake. Halfway along, a woman from the Nfld. Health Department called. She checked the lot number of our vaccination and told us that, as far as Newfoundland was concerned, we were able to travel freely. As far as Canada was concerned, however, we’d be free upon receipt of our negative Covid tests.
We arrived at the lake to hugs and a warm welcome from my brother. We’d be seeing my sisters shortly.
Before dinner I logged onto the government website, where a nurse was to guide me in the proper swabbing and packing of the Covid test materials that had been given to us at the USA-Canada border. I was #352 in line! Two hours later, after a delicious meal and a game of 120’s, (I won, but who’s counting??) I bounced from #95 in line to #1. I’ll spare you the details of the swabbing, stickers and plastic bags. Vince took his test the next morning and all that was left to do was leave it on my sister’s front porch for an overnight delivery company to pick it up.
We stayed low until we finally received word of our negative tests, our 5th day in Newfoundland, our 9th day since leaving Pennsylvania. We were finally "there"!
Passing all the travel hurdles seemed like an endless ordeal at the time, but there’s so much more to remember than uploads, miles and precautions.
There were the walks along the beach, wonderful homemade dinners, and pontoon rides up and around Badger Lake. There were visits with friends, aunts, uncles and cousins both in Grand Falls-Windsor and in and around the City of St. John's. We were made up for lost time.
We also made an excursion to Brigus, a charming outport where I was thrilled to walk inside the home of Newfoundland's premier mariner of the 20th century, Captain Bob Bartlett.
Returning to Newfoundland this summer was something beyond simple joy. Those two weeks were healing for whatever ailed me and sustenance for whatever lies ahead. That said, we’re hoping our next trip to Canada’s youngest province will be a little less complicated!
Josette writes memoir, historical fiction, picture books and blog posts. She especially loves writing about her Newfoundland experiences. To learn more, visit her webpage at Josette Abruzzini/STEAM Educator/Writer .
You can also follow her on her Facebook author page, Josette Abruzzini | Facebook, on Twitter at josette abruzzini (@josetteabruzzin) / Twitter and on Instagram at Josettewrites (@josette.abruzzini) • Instagram photos and videos.