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Trip Report Monhegan Island - daytrip report

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During our quick trip to Maine (which coincided nicely with a huge need to escape reality - see my "floored" post), we decided at the last minute to take a day trip to Monhegan Island. It's such a weird little place - of great beauty but odd zeitgeist - that I thought I'd write up a few notes.

Getting there: There are ferries from more than one place in Maine, but we took the one from Port Clyde. It's about $36 round trip plus $5 parking. And be aware that getting to Port Clyde is itself a small adventure so allow enough time to get there 1/2 hr. early. There are 3 ferries a day ( 7 am, 10:30 and 3pm) but there's only about a 1/2 hr. turnaround at the other end, so it makes most sense to take the 10:30 am and aim at the 4:30 return. It's about an hour ride in a smallish boat (no cars, just pedestrians), and with any wind at all, it can be a little exciting. We had a following sea coming home, and the engine had to be stopped when a lobster-pot line got fouled in the propeller, leaving us temporarily lurching toward a rocky shoal.

Being there: Stunning vistas and impossibly quaint houses dotting the island, surrounded by sumptuous flowers - lupine, peonies, and a bunch of others whose names I don't know. Best appreciated by those with good shoes, good cameras and/or good joints. A trail map will set you back a very worthwhile $1, and even then, you'll be confused about distances and which path goes where. But finding your way up and down the steep grades amid some lovely houses, gardens, meadows, trees, etc., is the whole point: you get some incredible, unforgettable sea/cliff vistas. That's why you're there.

You are not there, I'm afraid, to eat well, find good local crafts, or - and NOTE THIS WELL - go to the bathroom! Today when we went (pre-season, but still), the only public toilet on the entire island (behind the Monhegan House) was not ready for use, so the only option was to use the single restroom in the Monhegan House dining room - with the kind generosity of the Monhegan House owner/manager. A thousand blessings on him.

Otherwise, not one - NOT ONE - little shop, cafe, studio, public building, gallery, or anywhere else (esp. not on the dock when you arrive after an exciting ferry ride) has a loo available to non-resident tourists. The shop owners say even they go home to pee. (I understand that waste on an island is an issue, but where do they intend we leave our "waste"?)

Now about those shops, cafes, etc. They are oddly duplicative, in 2 categories: small deli-food shops offering very casual food or "gourmet groceries" (cheese chunks and domestic wine or beer) to eat on premises (or maybe take to one's rental cottage) - of which there are at least 3; or a little gift-plus shop, which offers some nominally Maine-ish tourist gewgaws and otherwise a lot of crap stuff from China or India - at least 3 of these. A true local-craft cooperative would be a stand-out here, but no . . .

The Inn and the Monhegan House do serve breakfast and reputedly good dinner but not lunch. Daytrippers are therefore s.o.o.l if they don't really fancy a wrap or sandwich (or, kid you not, a slice of generic pizza - offered at the snack shop behind the Monhegan House where the restrooms aren't but soon should be -- btw that shop does have good ice cream). Inexplicably, when those heading back on the 4:30 ferry gathered to rest and recoop from the somewhat strenuous trail-trekking at the Barnacle snack shop by the dock (run by the Inn), there was almost no food left -- none of the advertised soups, chowders, sandwiches, salads, etc. - only a few muffins and pastries.

The island belongs to the artists (who may want as much $1000 for their work if you buy it from the Lupine Gallery), the gardeners, and perhaps the summer cottage dwellers - who arrive on the ferry encumbered with multiple coolers, boxes of groceries, and leashed or crated dogs. It's a very doggy place, altho most seem to be of the littler breeds.

It's as if the island will tolerate short-stay tourists and want them to spend there, but they are somewhat contemptuous of them at the same time and don't want them to like it too much or be too comfortable.

I've read that people think the inns/B&Bs there are overpriced for what you get. I would certainly believe that, except that the setting IS pricelessly pretty in that spare, white and gray and ocean blue Maine palette, splashed with gorgeous greens and purples and yellows of the trees and gardens at this time of year.

Bottom line: definitely worth the trip, but requires stamina and good planning re: food and toilet issues.

PS: Should you stay the night instead of making it a daytrip? It'll cost you, and you might be at the mercy of Maine's changeable weather - and you may run out of things to do once you've "done" the walkabouts around the island. But at least you'll get a decent breakfast and dinner, perhaps seen sunset and sunrise, and I'd guess a clear night would bring you right close to heaven itself.

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