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Niagara Falls

The Canadiana Hostel is a pick-up point for three separate tours going to Niagara Falls. There’s Jojo, leaving at about 8:30 for $50, Magic Bus, leaving at 9:45 for $40, and Moose, leaving at 11:15 for $50. Having ascertained that a return coach ticket would cost me $46, I decided to go for one of the tours instead of making my own way. Then I decided to go on the 11:15 tour – it would give me more time to prepare in the morning (for which read sleep later and then wait for a bowel movement after breakfast). However, the woman on reception couldn’t contact that operator, so I took the cheaper option.

I had breakfast yesterday morning in the main building, went back to my building to brush my teeth, discovered that my very nearly finished tube of toothpaste had mysteriously vanished (I can only imagine that I must have left it in the bathroom the previous night and that it had then been binned) and brushed my teeth with water.

Back in the main building, I had ten minutes before I had been told to be at reception and twenty minutes before the pick-up was scheduled. I went to the toilet. As I did so I overheard a receptionist say to someone, ‘Have you got everyone?’ That someone replied, ‘No – I’m early yet, though.’ When I got back (from a somewhat unsatisfactory bowel movement (and as I wonder whether anyone would actually want to read about my bowel movements I remember that I haven’t taken my bowel medicine today – and do so with my last swig of Tim Hortons tea)) there was a man asking was there anyone for the tour. I said Yes, and off we went.

There were a few other people from Canadiana, plus a few others already onboard. A further few people were picked up at the remaining two stops. Two girls got on at one of these – one of whom sat down next to me and promptly turned sideways so her back was to me and she could talk to her friend. These two girls turned out to be of the Essex variety and spent most of the outward and in-bound journeys chatting to a locquacious Portugese lad and his Iraqi-Indian friend. At one point, the Portugese guy asked the girls what the population of London was. One of them said she didn’t know, but it was a lot; then – and I’m sure I heard this right – she suggested that the population of Britain was about 4 billion.

The first aspect of the tour was a DVD to be shown in the minibus – but the sound was distorted and unlistenable. I suspect that even had the sound been OK the engine noise would have made it equally unlistenable.

After about an hour driving round the western coast of Lake Ontario (which I only really saw on the way back because I was on the right-hand side of the bus) we arrived at a winery. The winery aspect was a feature of all three tours. Personally, I couldn’t care less about wine, but – whatever. The presentation given by a girl who looked like she’d much rather be doing something else was very brief. It included three free samples of wine (the Iraqi-Indian chap was a Muslim – he requested Coke and was given juice) – one white, one red and one ice wine. Ice wine is made with grapes that have been left on the vine to freeze (they’re picked at night when the temperature has been -10 to -15 for three days), which gets rid of most of the liquid in them. The result is a sweet, syrupy wine. All three wines were surprisingly pleasant.

The winery appeared to be housed in a very modest single-storey building (although there was another house in the grounds). It can’t have been much more than ten yards square – and half of that contained the gift shop. The lass who gave the presentation said that Dan Ackroyd had just bought a stake in the company and that the winery and house were to be torn down soon and replaced with a Dan Ackroyd winery.

The tour resumed and we were driven through the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. This was a very pretty place – it’s been maintained in a billboard- and fast food restaurant-free state; it reminded me of places like Ilkley and Františkovy-Laznie – and it’s a shame we didn’t stop there. The Iraqi-Indian guy and a Singaporean couple and their daughter opted to go on a 15-minute helicopter flight (which cost them $85 each, reduced from $110 for the tour). While they were doing that the rest of us went to the world’s biggest whirpool.

The river is contained within a gorge and, from the point of view of the platform we stopped at, flows towards you from slightly to the left. It enters a crater-like section of gorge, flowing towards the near wall and then around to the right, anti-clockwise. Then it crosses itself, running out on the left. Apparently, the whirlpool is good for fishing because the fish like the oxygenated water.

Then we picked up the helicopterers and went on to the Falls. First stop here was the Maid of the Mist tour. Tickets cost $14, but got a massive discount of 50 cents. Once you’re issued with your fetching blue plastic raincoat, you cue up by the water. We arrived here just after the last boat left – which was good because it gave us a chance to take pictures and also allowed us to be first on the next boat.

When next Maid of the Mist (there appeared to be three Maids of the Mist on duty yesterday – two on the Canadian side and one over on US soil … I mean water. And they’re all called Maid of the Mist: Maid of the Mist V, Maid of the Mist VI etc) arrived and was emptied I made my way to the front right corner of the upper deck.

The boat went out into the middle of the river and very slowly made its way past the section of falls opposite the dock – the American Falls. (The Bridal Veil Falls are also there, next to the American Falls, but I didn’t notice or realise they were separate.) A recording played over the boat’s PA, giving some general information in English and French; I wasn’t paying too much attention. After five or ten minutes in front of this lesser (but still massive) waterfall cascading on to a row of boulders like a seawall, the boat put on some speed and forced its way against the current to Horseshoe Falls – the main attraction.

This iconic, crescent-shaped waterfall thundered incessantly, casting up a column of vapour like a cooling tower. In fact, these clouds obscure your view of much of the waterfall. The boat came and sat in front of the cascading arc for maybe ten minutes – a very short ten minutes. The best view for me was on the right-hand side (I seem to have been on the right constantly yesterday), where the water poured over its cliff 50 or so metres up. A little further back on the right was a long structure built into the face of the gorge. Up above, tourists looked out over the falls.

I took a number of pictures and a couple of video clips. My camera got quite wet. As did I – around the edges, anyway. The blue plastic cape is very lightweight, and the wind from the falls pushes the hood back and forth, obscuring your view or leaving the top of your head open to the waterfall rain. If you have your hands in front of you – to take pictures, say – then the wind also blows the sleeves back up your arms. And the cape only comes down to your knees.

When the your time is up in the biggest shower in the world, the boat revs the engine again and begins to turn back. This causes the vessel to fall and rise alarmingly in the churning water, but a minute later you’re safely back on the calm part of the river – although still being rained on. After another few minutes in front of the smaller waterfall – this time facing the other way – the Maid of the Mist quickly returns to her place beneath the cliffs. Then you have to wait another few minutes as people reluctantly trundle out and on to the land.

Next stop for me was the bathroom – not least to dry my hair with a hand-dryer – the first time I’ve ever used one that way – and comb it. Then I got tea.

After that I walked. And at first I went in the counter-intuitive direction. Which is to say, I went to America. To walk from Canada on the bridge joining the two countries, you pay 50¢ and go through a turnstile. I had intended to take some photos from the bridge – and I did, but unfortunately my camera was steamed up inside. I tried holding it tightly in my hand to make the water condensed on the inner side of the lens evaporate – didn’t do much good – at least while I was up in no man’s land.

I went into the US immigration post and was told I needed to fill in a form and pay $6. I said, ‘I think I’ll just walk back across’. In the Canadian immigration post, the man on duty said, ‘Did you just walk across?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ As he was looking at my passport (I may have been stupid enough to try to cross the border without looking into what was required, but I wasn’t stupid enough to try it without my passport) he asked, ‘Why’d you go over?’ I said, ‘Um, just to have a look, really.’ He said, ‘OK,’ and motioned for me to go through.

Then I walked over in the direction I probably should have gone first – towards the great crescent waterfall. I couldn’t even do this properly. There’s a reasonably nice park area and an old administrative building with a small, tree-clothed ridge behind it. Going up through the trees was a path, and it just looked so inviting. There wasn’t much at the top: a road, a carpark. The carpark was for the Skylon Tower overlooking the falls. I didn’t go up the tower.

I walked round and back down to the water and along to the big waterfall. The path at the top goes right by the water at this point. The thundering rush of water is just a few yards away from you, and you get to see the boulder-strewn upper reaches of the river.

I took photos (the water in my camera had cleared away) and asked a Spanish bloke to take one of me with the fall in the background – and I offered to return the favour. I wasn’t all that happy with his photo of me, but, of course, when he asked was it OK, I said, Yes, it’s fine. Back near where the Maid of the Mist departs and our bus was waiting I got a Japanese man to take another photo of me. I suppose the Japanese should be good at taking photos – and this was a better snap, although the falls are a lot further away.

According to my watch it was getting on for five o’clock – our pick-up time – so I went for another tea (one for the road). In the café, the time on the tills showed 5:05. I looked at my watch: it said about 4:47. I worried that my watched had stopped for a while during the day. I worried that I might get left behind; the driver had earlier joked that if we weren’t back for five, well, the Greyhound station was just over there. I got to the bus stop and there were a few other people from the tour there – the two Essex girls and an Australian woman about the same age as me who I’d spoken to earlier. I sat next to her.

We chatted. I spend so much time not talking to people, stressing about not talking to people and whether I should talk to people, and who, and what about, that – on those rare and fleeting occasions when I do talk to people – I’m moderately surprised that I can even put coherent sentences together. She asked me what I’d been doing in Canada and I told her about my friend and my trip; she suggested that when I returned to Britain I’d be going back to work, and I told her about my plans to go to India. She said she’d been to India – a friend of hers had got married there, and she’d done the Golden Triangle; I asked her if there was anything, apart from the Taj Mahal, she’d recommend I see and she mentioned the fort at Jhansi (I think. It sounded like she said ‘Jasmine’). I noticed as we talked that she glanced a few times at either my mouth or my goatee.

The bus turned up and we all returned to the same seats we’d sat in on the outbound trip. I was on the second row from the back and she was on the second row from the front. I had a female Essex back at my side while she had a shaven-headed fellow Antipodean to talk to – and they seemed quite happy. Strangely, I’d felt much more depressed and lonely on the way out than on the way back. Actually, I felt quite content. The Essex girls and the Portugese wannabe Casanova even fell silent for a time and I allowed myself to fall asleep.

As Stephen King would say: Coda

The first half of this report on my trip to Niagara Falls (and I keep wanting to call it Viagra Falls … hmm, I wonder using the V-word will do for my viewing figures) was written at the Metro Center food court. The second half was written here, at a table in the reception area of the Canadiana Backpacker’s Hostel. And who should come and sit down opposite me and eat her soup? Yes – the Australian girl. And what did I say to her? ‘Hi.’ Then I kept on writing. Yesterday, I’d decided that when we had a rest-break on the way back I would ask her if she was going to put any of her photos on the internet, and if so could she give me the address. Of course, we didn’t stop on the way back. And, of course, I didn’t take my second chance just now.

Categories: Life, Travel
  1. savasana
    19 October 2007 at 2:07 am

    You entirely should have said something to her! Perhaps not about your bowels…..but definitely something lol!!

  2. 20 October 2007 at 6:52 pm

    Well, yes, I should have.

    Life is full of should-haves.

    Stupid bloody life.

  3. savasana
    21 October 2007 at 1:33 pm

    “Life is full of should-haves.”

    You have direct control over the quantity of “should-haves”. 😛

  4. 23 October 2007 at 6:58 pm

    I SHOULD HAVE direct control… 😛

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