KAMOURASKA, Quebec – When the pandemic subsided, Kamouraska’s unlimited views and crazy sunsets became a distant and unattainable dream for this Virginia cyclist. This is one of the most beautiful places in Quebec and, for me, an annual touchstone that I could no longer touch.
It finally came within reach. On August 9, the day Canada conditionally reopened the border to American tourists, my car with the bike was full and ready to go. But it wasn’t. I had postponed the necessary coronavirus test too late to make sure I would have the results on time.
FILE – A cyclist contemplates the view of St. Lawrence in Notre-Dame-du-Portage, Quebec, on August 12, 2015. Along the south bank of the St. Lawrence River in this area around Kamouraska, the panorama of the river, sky, flowers and gardens define the magic of cycling on the Route Verte network in Quebec. (Photo AP / Cal Woodward, file)
On Labor Day, my documents already complete, I drove north, crossed the border in a breeze, and soon cycled through a carpet of fairytale villages, canola fields, and wild rose hedges along the wide extension of the river Sant Llorenç.
Americans who want to experience Canada’s vibrant fall or its winter landscapes can do so again. But getting here means jumping between hoops before leaving. And being here means adapting to hypervigilance against the virus. Canada is not fooled by COVID-19, and it does not suffer like people in many parts of the United States.
Those hoops? To enter Canada as a tourist you must be fully vaccinated. You must take a PCR variety COVID test no more than 72 hours in advance, with the results ready to present you at the border if you are driving or at the departure airport before you can board.
You must pre-register with the Canadian government and obtain a code. You must present the basics of a safety quarantine plan in advance, in case you try again at random when you arrive and it proves positive.
You can’t be like the Atlanta man the border guards were talking about when I crossed paths. He had stopped a few nights before, unvaccinated, untested, unregistered and with no hope of entering Canada, more than 16 hours from home.
I crossed the Thousand Islands Bridge in Ontario, where there was no waiting. Two officials checked my vaccine and test documentation before I could go to the border station, where I re-checked the information along with my US passport. The guard asked a few questions and cheerfully sent me my way.
Jimmy Staveris, left, manager of Dunn’s Famous restaurant scans the QR code COVID-19 of a customer in Montreal on September 1, 2021, when the passport of the vaccine against COVID-19 comes into force of the Quebec government. Residents over the age of 12 must have a passport to sit in or in the courtyards of restaurants, bars, concert halls, outdoor events with more than 50 people and most other public places that are not considered essential. Foreigners do not need or be able to obtain a passport, but must present proof of vaccination, as well as an identity document showing domicile outside Quebec. (Graham Hughes / The Canadian Press via AP)
In nearby Brockville, people wore masks both outside and inside. They were masked in the streets of the center, in the park in front of the sea and in the parking lots. When I satisfied my unnatural desire for Tim Hortons coffee, a rarity in most of the United States but everywhere, just all over Canada, a group of about 10 people came together.
They were masked, but not socially distanced. The staff immediately ordered them out and told them to re-enter properly separated, a few at a time.
This contrasted with the laxity of much of Interstate 81 and New York State, where few customers in off-highway stores were masked and the application of distancing was not evident. After my trip, St. Louis County. Lawrence of New York was seeing new cases of COVID at a rate 12 times faster than on the other side of the river in Ontario.
Surveillance in Ontario only intensified when I arrived in Quebec the next day. These were the first days of the Quebec vaccine “passport,” the first of its kind in Canada.
Residents over the age of 12 must have a passport to sit in or in the courtyards of restaurants, bars, concert halls, outdoor events with more than 50 people and most other public places that are not considered essential. Foreigners do not need or be able to obtain a passport, but must present proof of vaccination, as well as an identity document showing their home address outside Quebec. No vaccine test is required to stay in a hotel in Quebec, but it must be shown to enter lobbies and other common areas.
Entering the bustling L’Estaminet restaurant in Rivière-du-Loup, my friend Suzie Loiselle, a tourism officer in Quebec’s great maritime region, showed me her phone’s passport app for the host to scan.
“Adequately protected” – “adequately protected” – flashed on the green screen. With that and my vaccine card, we got our seats.
The pandemic greatly affected Quebec, as it did Ontario, before Canada overcame its shortage of vaccines and overtook the U.S. and much of the world in vaccinations. Now, 70% of Canadians are fully vaccinated compared to 55% of Americans.
“We went through hell in those first three waves,” Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said when announcing the passport. “People want to get vaccinated and they want to have a normal life.”
For many Americans, a system that records the movements of people in public places is not a principle. In Quebec, Loiselle said, it has gained widespread public acceptance in its early years. “The majority of the population really wants access to things that were closed during the pandemic,” he said. They now have their freedom of movement and assembly again, from a government application.
I stayed at Auberge sur Mer, as I usually do, in Notre-Dame-du-Portage, a village on the outskirts of Rivière-du-Loup, in a simple room next to the elegant main house and its good restaurant. . Here the wide river makes the transition to the sea, the distant Charlevoix mountains on the other bank. The view from the balcony of my room and the whole coast is stunning.
The bike ride to Kamouraska and back, about 40 miles or 64 kilometers, traverses foggy islands and fog banks nestled in coves under a sky that always seems turbulent, except in the early hours of the morning. It is a recipe for magnificent sunsets that, along with kayaking, whale watching, hiking, cycling and food, attract crowds from all over Europe in normal times.
The road here is part of Route Verte 1, a major stretch of Quebec’s huge network of more than 3,300 miles or 5,300 km of bike routes. The Route Verte (Greenway) system was developed to offer cyclists safe long-distance roads with amenities such as guaranteed space for cyclists in campsites and accredited inns with safe storage of bicycles and healthy food.
On this seaside route and other roads in the Kamouraska hills, you can ride a bike in quiet solitude. You may find that the loneliness of your own choice is very different from what a virus forces you to.
IF YOU GO: Download the Canadian government’s ArrivCAN app and follow the steps. All of them. Save screenshots of all key documents in case your phone doesn’t connect to the border or has paper copies. Or both.