Tiny waves are lapping against the rocks. A breath of wind rustles through the bushes and the branches of birch and pine trees. Otherwise it is quiet and everything far away – appointments, phones, the crises of this world.
The peaceful atmosphere could scarcely be more beautiful on this nameless tiny island in the wilderness of Lake Temagami in southeastern Canada. The pervasive feeling on this final night of our five-day canoe excursion is one of happiness, that all the effort, the sweat and pain in the arms and shoulders was worth it.
Even the mosquitoes and flies are showing a bit of mercy in this moment. Through the tent entrance, you can follow the aerobatics of the loons on the water in the evening sun. Later, their calls will echo eerily in the darkness as I drowse off following five days and 75km of canoeing.
Day 1: In the rain (11km)
Temagami is a provincial nest about 450km north of Toronto, close to Ontario’s border with Québec, and the gateway to a wilderness region that includes countless lakes. As we head towards the northeastern arm of Lake Temagami the mood inside the van is subdued, what with the pouring rain. Once at the lake there is the initial stress of transferring the camping gear, provisions and the two double canoes to the water.
Tents and luggage are wrapped in water-tight sacks, the food is stored in a barrel, heavy as lead.
There are four of us – three tourists and nature guide Mitch Bowmile, 27, from Ontario. Wrapped in ponchos, we set off in the two canoes. In the quietude, as we glide past forest-covered peninsulas, the raindrops on the water seem like detonations.
Aside from the maps that Mitch downloaded beforehand for navigation, we are completely offline and in the process of getting away from it all.
Paddling quietly in the rain, we reach the first campsite in the afternoon where we unpack the canoes and pitch the tents amid swarms of mosquitoes. Mitch predicts good weather starting the next day before the drumming of rain on the tent roof lulls us to sleep.
Day 2: Slowing down (20km)
Turns out, Mitch was right about the weather. The next morning the sun is shining golden yellow in the treetops, where shrouds of mist still linger. On this day, Mitch informs us, there will be three portages, meaning carrying canoes and gear overland between lakes.
The first destination is Diamond Lake, whose waters fluctuate between dark green and blue. Other canoeists are paddling in our direction, while in the distance a motorboat, then a hydroplane, briefly interrupt the quiet. We glide along silently, at a leisurely speed of 4kmph, as bald eagles circle above our heads.
Our gear has dried out, but is soon soaked again from the sweat of the strenuous portages. Anyone who says they enjoy this is a liar, Mitch comments. But he is also right about another thing: Afterwards, there is always a beautiful lake waiting.
Day 3: Beaver dams, whitecaps (9km)
The tiny Wakimika River flows from the lake of the same name, winding past ferns and bright-green shoreline grass. Dragonflies are whirring above the water and trunks of fallen trees lie in the lake. The canoes glide through carpets of plants in what is one of the prettiest stretches of the tour. But today’s excursion turns out shorter than planned, for up ahead whitecaps are forming on choppy waters and the sky grows dark, signs that a storm is coming.
It’s too dangerous to try to continue in the canoe.
After landing on slippery rocks, we head quickly into the woods to pitch our tents and then wait until the storm has passed. Time to relax, to read, to let your thoughts wander. Mitch brews a tea of cedar needles. Finally the sun comes out again and bathes the bark of an American red pine in flaming colours.
Day 4: Indigenous voices (16km)
Lake Obabika is home to Alex Mathias, a member of the indigenous Teme-Augama Anishnabai – which translates as Deep Water by the Shore People – who are also known as the Temagami First Nation.
“I make the rules and laws here,” Mathias says. Against the will of the authorities, he left the indigenous reserve on Bear Island in the middle of Temagami Lake and built a wooden cabin on the land of his ancestors. He hunts beaver and elk for food.
“I am the only one still living on the land of our ancestors. It is my right,” says the 74-year-old who is one of the last persons alive still fluent in the community’s ancient language.
Meeting him and Raymond Katt, 61, who lives in the Bear Island reserve where he works as a counsellor for addiction and mental health issues, means confronting a painful topic: the marginalisation and discrimination of Canada’s indigenous peoples to this day.
With the wind at our backs as we canoe through Obabika Lake, we have one more portage ahead of us, leading to a bay filled with water lilies. Our camp on a solitary island is bathed in the sound of silence.
Day 5: Farewell (19km)
The next and last day, it’s up early out of the sleeping bags, when mist is still rising from the water. Barely two hours to break camp, make breakfast and load the canoes is a new record for our small group.
Slowly, it’s time to say farewell to this world of islands, loons and forested shores. Soon, signs of civilisation begin to emerge on Temagami Lake, including houses on the shore and more and more motorboat traffic.
The magic is over as we end our journey at a drab seaport. – ANDREAS DROUVE/dpa