Up on the rooftop garden of the Cupids Legacy Centre, Peter Laracy is delivering some stern advice. About fairies.
"If you hear strange music, don't follow it. It could be fairies trying to lure you away," the manager says.
Reaching into his pocket, he pulls out a fist-sized rock-solid piece of hardtack. "Here, take this to throw at 'em," he says. "You never know when fairies are going to get you."
In any other setting, you'd walk the other way. But in this rugged, remote and, yes, strange land, you take the hardtack and slip it into your pocket. Just in case.
With its dramatic coastline, quaint villages and pristine wilderness, Canada's northeasternmost province is one of North America's last unexplored frontiers. (Newfoundland, an island known as "The Rock," is the most populated portion of the province. Labrador, a vast, empty mainland expanse north of the island, has a scant 30,000 inhabitants.)
Signs reading "Puffins, Whales, Icebergs Ahead" pop up on the roadside the way "Gas, Food, Lodging" do in more mundane realms. There is one moose in the province for every four human inhabitants (150,000 and 500,000, respectively). And its jagged, 18,000-mile coastline means there are few direct routes from Point A to Point B.
But its quirks extend beyond geographical kinks: Newfoundland Time runs a half-hour ahead of the next time zone over. The favorite local brew, Iceberg, is made from 25,000-year-old iceberg water. It's one of the few spots on the planet where you can swim with 50-foot-long humpback whales. A popular snack is cod tongues with scrunchions (fried pork fat, and quite delicious).
Find your Heart's Desire
And then there are the place names that hearty seafaring settlers — English, Irish, Portuguese — bestowed on this land. Some are sentimental: Heart's Desire, Heart's Content, Heart's Delight. Some are ominous: Horrid Gulch, Witless Bay. And some, like Dildo (not to be confused with South Dildo), are just plain curious.
"We're just a little community," says Doreen Higdon, a waitress at the Dildo Dory restaurant on Dildo's picturesque harbor.
But its name does entice tourists to pause for a photo with the Dildo sign at the edge of town. Among recent visitors: singer John Mellencamp and actress Meg Ryan, who stopped by the restaurant and left an autographed photo raving about the "to die for" Dildo sticky pudding.
There are no accidental tourists to this end-of-the-road island. Visitors come by design, and it isn't for the weather. They come for the natural beauty, the welcoming people and its uniqueness. There's a lilting musicality to local dialects and enough idiosyncratic verbiage to fill a 5,500-word Dictionary of Newfoundland English.
"The thing about a developed destination is its predictability," says John Fisher, who runs the family-owned Fishers' Loft Inn on the stunning Bonavista Peninsula. "This is an emerging destination. It's Newfoundland, not Disneyland."
A scant 40,000 visitors annually make their way to this craggy spit of land jutting off the province's east coast, also the location for the movie The Shipping News. But tourism is growing here and elsewhere.