23.05.2012 - 25.05.2012 22 °C
The following day was more of the same. Long empty roads, several scenic stops for wanders, periodic drizzle. And then, as perfectly timed as always, the Toronto ring road in rush hour. Slow progress. Heavier rain. Some idiots driving. But using a combination of luck, guesswork and dumb luck, I managed to thread my way through the network of free-ways and even avoid the toll roads. The next 3 hours or so, I skirted Lake Ontario crossing the fancily named Burlington Bay James N. Allan Skyway (it's a bridge) until eventually I rolled into the Canadian city of Niagara Falls. I found the hostel with relative ease and discovered that everybody was going out to a live music bar a bit later. The hostel manager was one of the poor and extremely rare people that I could really bounce with (eg: completely on same wavelength and similar warped sense of humour), and we traded unlikely barbs to looks of amusement, bemusement, incomprehension and laughter from the – mostly German – crowd that gathered. More than one asked if our banter was scripted, and could not believe that it wasn't. But that explains why I ended up in a bar in the local part of town, and not looking at the rushing water that most do when in town.
Around midnight, I finally saw the falls. I don't know if it was because it was night, or that my current state has desensitised me to such things, or whether my travels have knocked it back, or that the setting took something away, but my first view of the falls, from the apparently more spectacular Canadian side was distinctly underwhelming. The approach and local area looking kind of like Skegness on steroids, and in many ways not unlike how I expect Las Vegas to look. Lights, amusement arcades and unnecessary, well, stuff. I will look again more closely in daylight, but initial impressions are that Victoria Falls were more powerful (so much spray, I barely saw the falls) and Ruacana Falls much more impressive overall, and more accessible.
This doesn't really give the full impression of the horrors of the town, but i wasn't going to stick around and look for a good photo spot...
The following day, the falls were more obvious but still tainted by association with the hideous town. I drove back towards Lake Ontario, spending a little time in the very pretty town of Niagara on the Lake, before stopping to trek down into the gorge and alongside the Niagara River. And that was really cool. I will have to come back and walk the whole thing, ideally without having to then walk back to retrieve a car. But in the gorge there were paths, forests, boulders, rocks and of course the mighty fast flowing river, and no signs of civilization at all. The Niagara River is often overlooked by tourists, but it is of huge importance. It is part of the Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO recognised biosphere, and the river is the only one to drain the great lakes
The Niagara River
Simultaneously satisfied and dissatisfied, I retrieved my car and drove back to Buffalo, where I spent a few hours and sorted my stuff out, before returning in the evening to view the falls on the American side (everybody says the Canadian side is better, and yes, you do get the panoramic view, but on the American side you get really close to the water and edge of the falls, and I found I enjoyed much better. Ignoring the mess of Niagara Falls Canada town on the horizon, naturally) and then walked back into Canada to view the falls lit up at night - something I had missed the night before – before again pondering the horrors of Niagara Falls town, walking back to the USA and driving back to Buffalo for the final time.
Though it hadn't gone according to anything resembling a plan, it has been a fruitful week in other, more important ways. What had been a very relaxing trip had helped me enormously and I was starting feel passable and mostly robust again: I felt like I would be able to deal with places and people, and maybe even normal life again. I think this is a good sign.
Above, the falls on the American side, where you can get nice and close to the water, and below, the falls lit up at night