Fogo Island, Newfoundland, Canada
I am of this place and yet I have no claim to it. I am not a Newfoundlander, not even a Canadian. But my ancestors were Swedish island dwelling folk and the Norse were the first Europeans to set foot here, so who knows if my soul has been here before. How else can I explain this overwhelming feeling of being home, when nothing physically ties me to this place?
I first came here in the depths of winter. It took two attempts to land at Gander airport. The wind was howling, the ice pelting the plane, it went dark and we could only make out the mad rush of snow and ice in the blinking lights of the aircraft wingtips. And it was not coming down vertically. One landing attempt was aborted due to the runway being too icy. This is Canada. There must have been a lot of ice. We turned around and the copilot informed us that we were refuelling and that we would ‘try again’. I had missed my ferry when we finally landed. This trip was turning out to be as much about the journey as the destination.
I did not see much of the island that time, but what I did see left a lasting impression and a wish to return and see it in summer began to stubbornly nag at my heart. I wish to return to many of the places I travel to and never do, as the list of places to see is still much longer than the list of place to return to. However, the draw of Fogo was strong.
What brought me here in the first place was the Fogo Island Inn. I arrived as a traveller having arranged a stay in a luxury hotel for New Year’s Eve. I left a little in love with Zita Cobb and her vision for the Shorefast Foundation. This is a place of probity. If you share its values it’s hard not to leave a little something of yourself here and take something of what they do home with you. It makes you think about how you live and how you want to live. It is so much more than a hotel. The name says it all – ‘Inn’. Humble and modest. It’s exemplary. We need more of this.
And Fogo, for me, is more than a destination. I returned in the summer, to rain, fog, berries, sunshine, wind, sunsets and bonfires. I walked for hours without meeting a soul. Hiking in winds that took your breath right from you, seeking shelter behind rocks to just sit in the sun and look at the sea and the seagulls taking off and hovering perfectly balanced in the gale. Watching a fishing boat enter a cove. Waving to the crew. Taking my shoes off and wading in the clearest water on a sandy beach, ice cold against my hot feet after 3 hours of walking. Bliss. Wandering off the path into waist high grass to find minute wild raspberries, more flavourful than anything you have ever bought. Being amazed at the springy, black soil, which lets you feel like you are floating and much lighter on your feet than you actually are. Forests and cliffs greet you in turn, every corner has a wonder of small lakes and puddles, of swaying grass and colours that warm your soul.
The people greet you like long lost cousins. When you come here you feel part of the community for the duration of your stay. It does not feel forced or artificial, it just is. People ask you if they can give you a lift when it’s raining.
It’s a place with a difficult past, bound inextricably to the cod fishing industry and its place in the world economy and the fate of the fish stocks. The vision of the Shorefast Foundation has tried to find a way to give a small community and its people a secure future long before the fish stocks recovered and the moratorium was lifted. I am not sure that you could distill it into a formula as so much of its success seems to be intrinsically linked to its people, but lots of communities could learn from this place.
Come and wonder. But only when I am not here.