The best-known town on Mount Desert Island is Bar Harbor (pronounced Baa Ha Ba by the “Mainers”). Bar Harbor has a number of shops, restaurants, bars etc. The town also offers many boat tours, including a sail on the “Margaret Todd” a 151-foot schooner and the only four-masted schooner operating in this area in over fifty years. We’d spotted this beautiful vessel while driving through, and kept seeing it from different vantage points but we never took the tour. There were, of course, other beautiful boats in this harbor, but the Margaret Todd was a standout.
We’d found out that this was the season for lobster boat racing. The races take place on weekends from mid-June to August and the circuit includes various harbors along the coast. The schedule included a race in Bass Harbor during the time we were in the area. So we headed out to the lobster boat races. Some of the lobstermen who participate soup up their boats for the races, going as far as swapping out the boat engine, rudder and propeller. Alas, we arrived after the race had ended but instead found a festive scene with boats rafted together and a harbor full of boats.
But we did get to see the “blessing of the fleet” which happened here after the races. The boats come around to the dock in single file and the local parish priest sprinkles holy water (from a bucket, with a little mop) on each boat as he wishes them health, safety and a bountiful season.
It was very touching because he obviously knew the lobstermen and made each blessing very personal. Calling each boat out by name and often the skipper too. He reserved an extra warm blessing for the harbormaster who was the last boat in the procession. This was clearly a special day for this little fishing community, and for us.
Afterwards, Hector, Angel and I took a walk to the grounds of the Bass Harbor Light. The lighthouse and the keeper’s house were built in 1858. It’s a working lighthouse that originally had a fifth-order Fresnel lens but is now automated with a fourth-order Fresnel lens installed in 1902. The lighthouse has an occulting red light every 4 seconds (three seconds red, one second darkness). The keeper’s house is currently used for Coast Guard housing. The original fog bell is on display on the grounds, which have a fabulous view of the surrounding islands. There are also a couple of trails leading out to the cliffs around the lighthouse.
“After turning the high, rusty-red crag, called Bass Harbor Head, where a squat little lighthouse, in white cassock and black cap, sits demurely looking off to sea, we see before us…a large cluster of islands, covering the approaches to a deep indent of the sea, over which the mountains bend down as if to shut it out from all intrusion…”Samuel Adams Drake, The Pine Tree Coast, 1891
Our campsite was right on the water on East Bay which separates Mount Desert Island from the mainland. We pulled Island Girl in so that the windshield faced the water (or mud flat at low tide). A nice ocean view right out our picture window!
One day we kayaked right out of our campground into the East Bay. We had to wait for high tide, and as we left our kayaks were surrounded by seals. They apparently were just arriving to munch on shellfish and other critters brought in by the tide.
Bar Harbor is named after a natural gravel land bridge or “bar” that connects it to Bar Island. This land bridge is only accessible by foot during low tide. There are lots of warnings to only walk the bar 1 ½ hours before or after high tide, otherwise you might get stranded on the island until the next high tide (about 12 hours).
As we took a walk out to Bar Island, we noticed that lots of people build stone cairns on the bar, which have a short life expectancy due to the tides. And we found a big group of amazing ones. And even added one of our own.
As we walked back, at right around 1 ½ hours past high tide, we got to see the water starting to cover parts of the land bridge. People were able to walk across the still low water line in spots but it was clear that it would become impassable in a little while. That is, unless you enjoy swimming in 55 degree water.
As we drove some more around Mount Desert Island we found more towns with beautiful harbors. Two of the most memorable towns were named Southwest Harbor and Northeast Harbor. There were incredible “mansions” in both of these towns, and I imagine that the mansions had matching yachts in the harbors.
We went out to dinner on a couple of evenings. At some point, we’d both developed a craving for Mexican food. Two Mexican restaurants in Bar Harbor didn’t pass muster and we consulted our handy guidebook “Moon Maine” as well as Yelp for more ideas.
And we found out about an authentic Mexican restaurant called XYZ, located in the Southwest Harbor area. XYZ stands for Xalapa, Yucatan and Zacatecas, areas in Mexico known for their cuisine. So, we drove over after our bike ride (after confirming there was no dress code) and once arriving in town, drove down a dirt road to this interesting sounding restaurant, which by the way, requires reservations and is somewhat pricey. But it’s totally worth the money, as we confirmed that it was a truly authentic Mexican restaurant, just like many of the classy restaurants we experienced when Hector lived in Mexico City. And it’s owned by Americans who spend many of their winters in Mexico.
On our last night we decided to have one last Maine lobster and went to the Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound. An incredible operation, where you order your lobster, they pick them and weigh them, put them in a mesh bag with a number, then give you a paper with that number on a clipboard to check off your additional food order.
The lobsters are boiled in salt water with seaweed in their numbered bag, and when they and your food are ready they call your number. Totally old school but it works. While dining we met a couple from Massachusetts, Pamela and Wayne, and had a nice chat with them.
So, what did we like best about Maine?
The food, especially lobster
On to Canada!