The endless views and incredible sunsets of Kamouraska were a distant dream for a Virginia bicyclist who was unable to travel because of the pandemic. This is Quebec’s most beautiful place and a yearly reminder of my love for it.
It was finally within reach. My car and the bicycle were packed and ready for me on Aug. 9, when Canada opened its border to U.S tourists. But I was not. I had delayed the coronavirus test to make sure I received the results on time.
With my paperwork now completed, I drove north and crossed the border. Soon, I was cycling along a tapestry consisting of canola fields, storybook villages and wild rose hedgerows, which ran along the length of the St. Lawrence River.
Canadians who want to see Canada’s autumn and winter landscapes again can do it again. However, getting there means navigating through many hoops. Being here requires adapting to hypervigilance in the face of the virus. Canada isn’t faking COVID-19 and it’s not causing any problems.
Are you ready to jump through all of those hoops? You must have all necessary vaccinations to enter Canada as a tourist. Before you can board, you must submit a PCR-variety COVID testing within 72 hours.
Pre-registration is required to receive a code from the Canadian government. In case you are randomly tested and found positive, you will need to present the basic details of a backup plan.
It’s impossible to be like the Atlanta man border guards were referring to when I crossed. He had pulled up unvaccinated, with no pre-registration, and no hope of entering Canada, 16 hours away from his home.
I crossed the Thousand Islands Bridge in Ontario where there was no waiting. Before I could cross the Thousand Islands Bridge in Ontario, two officials reviewed my test and vaccine documentation. I was then allowed to proceed to the border station where my information was checked again. After asking a few questions, the guard sent me on my route.
People were seen wearing masks both outside and inside Brockville. People were seen wearing masks in downtown, waterfront parks, and parking lots. When I indulged my unnatural craving for Tim Hortons coffee, a rarity in most of the U.S. but everywhere-just-everywhere in Canada, a group of about 10 people walked in together.
They were not socially separated, but they were masks. They were immediately taken out by staff who instructed them to return properly separated.
This contrasted with the laxity of Interstate 81 and upstate New York where customers were not masked and distancing was not enforced. New York’s St. Lawrence County saw 12 times more COVID cases after my visit than the rate across the river in Ontario.
Only after I arrived in Quebec, did the vigilance increase in Ontario? These were the early days for Quebec’s “vaccine passport”, the first in Canada.
To be allowed to sit inside or on the patios at restaurants, bars, concert halls, outdoor events involving more than 50 persons, and other public spaces that aren’t deemed necessary, residents over 12 years old must have a passport. The passport is not required for outsiders. However, they must show proof of vaccination and an ID proving a residence outside Quebec. You do not need to have a valid vaccine to stay in a Quebec hotel, but you must show it to enter the lobby and other common areas.
My friend Suzie Loiselle was a tourism official in the vast Quebec Maritime region. She scanned her passport app as she entered the restaurant l’Estaminet in Riviere-du-Loup.
The screen flashed in green with the words “Adequatement protege” meaning “adequately protected”. We were seated with that and my vaccination card.
Quebec was hard hit by the pandemic, just as Ontario before Canada overcame vaccine shortages. Canada outpaced many other countries in immunizations. 70% of Canadians have been fully vaccinated, compared to 55% in the United States.
Christian Dube, Quebec’s Health Minister, said that the first three waves of vaccinations were “hell” when he announced the passport. “People want to get vaccinated, and they want to live a normal lifestyle.”
A system that records people’s movements in public places is not a good idea for many Americans. Loiselle stated that it was accepted by the majority of Quebecers in its initial stages. She said that most of the population wants to have access to items that were closed due the pandemic. They now have the freedom to move and assemble again via a government app.
I stayed at Auberge sur Mer, as I usually do, in Notre-Dame-du-Portage, a village on the outskirts of Riviere-du-Loup, in a plain room next to the elegant main house and its fine restaurant. The river flows into the sea and the mountains of Charlevoix are visible on the other side. It is stunning from my balcony, as well as all along the shore.
It is a 40-mile ride, or 64 km, that takes you to Kamouraska by bicycle. There are misty islands, banks of fog, and coves hidden under a turbulent sky. This is the recipe for spectacular sunsets, which attract crowds from all over Europe during normal hours.
This road is part of Route Verte 1 in Quebec, a major leg of Quebec’s vast network of over 3,300 miles and 5,300 km of cycling roads. Route Verte (Green Way), was created to provide safe long-distance cycling routes with amenities like guaranteed parking at campgrounds, inns that are accredited with bike storage, and healthy food.
You can bike alone on this beachside route or other roads in Kamouraska’s hills. You might find that solitude is something you choose, not one that a virus makes on you.