Soaking in the charms of New Brunswick - literally

You'll have to excuse my appearance; my clothes are in the dryer.

Allow me to explain:

My week in New Brunswick started high and dry in Canada's oldest resort town, St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, at the Algonquin Hotel & Resort.

This gracious old grande dame sprawls across a grassy, flowered knoll overlooking the Bay of Fundy and has a decided Old World flair. Ian, a young bagpiper, comes by to squeeze out a few droning Scottish ditties each evening before dinner.

The town itself consists of artsy-craftsy shops, no-meter parking, cozy restaurants, kids selling sea heather for a buck a bunch, and all sorts of tours to tempt you into the salty deep.

I signed up for whale watching with Fundy Tide Runner, one of several whale-watching tours here.

All went swimmingly as we bounced through the ocean spray. Feeding minke whales circled our Zodiac, bald eagles twirled overhead, and harbor seals "bottled" in a nearby lagoon. ("That's when they bob vertically in the ocean with only their head out of the water," our guide explained.) Finback and acrobatic humpback whales also feed in these protein-filled waters.

I returned to the dock with only my hair and feet wet. Ominous clouds, however, were beginning to play hide-and-seek with the sun.

Time to leave this delightful town, but first I dove into the best meal I ate during my week here. Dinner was at the impeccably restored Windsor House of St. Andrews, circa 1798. I always look forward to Quail Filled With Cranberry and Chicken Forcemeat in a Nest of Ribbon Vegetables, topped off with a Mango Pernod Mousse Encased in a Coconut Macaroon Biscuit with Fruit Coulis and Creme Anglaise, after a day of whale watching, don't you?

It would be cruel to dwell any further on the menu, but if there's better fare in this province, please let me know.

Off to Saint John, 75 miles up the coast. Now it was beginning to rain, but just slightly.

Saint John is an old working-class town that has a lot of diversions for travelers with a nose for exploration. A must-see is the Old City Market. Its roof, shaped like an inverted ship's hull, is considered an architectural wonder. But I was more interested in the wonders under the roof. There, vendors pitch their wares: fresh fruits, even fresher fish, slabs of meat, local cheeses, lobsters, produce, and dulse. Silly me, I didn't know that Saint John is the "Dulse Capital of the World."

So what's dulse?

It's a purple seaweed picked from costal waters, dried, and snacked on as you would potato chips. As you would if you never got out of New Brunswick, that is. The Lay's Potato Chip folks aren't losing any sleep over this snail's fodder.

Keeping with the water theme, go next door to the New Brunswick Museum, have your picture taken in the jaws of a whale, and get a flounder's-eye view of the bones of a rare right whale.

Time to hit the road again. Now it was really pouring.

You can't leave this town without experiencing the fun of the near-death experience of jet boating at Reversing Falls. Or perhaps you should.

Marc Gasselin, who runs the business, is a wild and crazy man who takes perverse delight in shaking, shocking, and soaking his captured passengers.

Dressed in yellow rain pants and slickers, an unsuspecting group of us plunked down our $25 and boarded the white and yellow boat. I somehow got a seat in front, just behind Mr. Gasselin. Big mistake.

Gasselin hit the throttle of the 420-horsepower jet engine, and we were off like a cannonball - churning up the water and spinning around like a chicken in a hurricane. He then slammed on the brakes - and a wall over water came over the boat, dousing everyone, especially the front row. Gasselin turned toward us and gave one of those maniacal "Heeeere's Johnny!" grins. (Remember Jack Nicholson in "The Shining"?) And then pushed the pedal to the metal again. And so it went for 20 breathless, water-spewing minutes. (Note: If anyone finds a reporter's notebook washed up on the banks of the Saint John, please contact this writer.)

The slicker suits didn't keep anyone from being soaked to the bone. After a stop to change into dry duds, I threw my soaking pants and shirt atop my van to dry off, and was off to my next wet adventure - this time to the Bay of Fundy, home of the world's highest tides and the remarkable icon of New Brunswick, the Hopewell Rocks.

Oh yes, one more thing: It's not a good idea to dry your clothes on top of a van. Some absentminded folks just might foolishly forget about them before driving off. (Note: If anyone finds a pair of Calvin Klein jockey shorts - size 32 - a pair of chinos, and a black-knit shirt along Route 114, please contact this writer.)

Farther up Route 114 is Hopewell Cape, home of New Brunswick's most photographed icon, the magnificent Hopewell Rocks. These towering limestone sentinels have been sculpted by the flow of tides here for millennia. You can view these giants at a safe, dry distance, but the most fun is to paddle among them at high tide. (I was wet anyway, and besides, it was pouring rain.)

I signed up for a sea kayaking excursion with Baymont Adventures, and after a few lessons, we snapped on our red life vests and shoved our fiberglass kayaks off among, around, and through the Hopewells. It was like like paddling among giant Henry Moore sculptures.

Then more rain, this time with an added touch of thunder and lightning.

Now one thing we all learned from old Ben Franklin, is that lightning, water, and metal don't make good company. (Our paddles were metal).

"OK, better head for shore. On the double," one guide shouted as we paddled towards the beach in the pelting rain.

I was doing all right maneuvering the rudder in our two-man kayak. Until, that is, we hit the rocky shore. That's when we capsized, dousing my buddy and me in the chilly sea. (If anyone finds my silver, waterlogged Olympus point-and-shoot 35mm camera, see above notes.)

So ended the final chapter on a wet, but altogether wonderful week in New Brunswick.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I must retrieve my clothes from the dryer, pack up, and get back to New Brunswick. Oh, and I guess I'll need to pick up another camera, as well.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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