Exploring Niagara Falls – “The skiing in Ontario is great!” earnest people told me when I announced my plans to get acquainted with Canada’s east-central province last January.
“Oh, and you should check out the golf courses – sublime!”
That may be the case, but I can’t ski, I had no immediate desire to learn (or more specifically, I had no desire to pay for lessons) and I was fairly sure the golf courses would be up to their flags in snow.
Plus, I don’t like golf.
Various other suggestions were mooted – most of them entirely predictable – but oddly none involved the most predictable thing of all: Niagara Falls.
Exploring Niagara Falls
Unashamedly unoriginal, yet magnificently majestic, I had wanted to view these colossal cascades for as long as I can remember.
It didn’t bother me that everyone went there – sometimes you have to swallow your nagging doubts about venturing on to the dreaded beaten track and just accept that popular things are popular for a reason.
The Niagara Falls are as synonymous with Ontario as Ayers Rock is with Australia, or as the Eiffel Tower is with Paris, or as the pyramids are with Egypt, so I had a pretty good idea of what to expect.
Namely, a very large, very powerful, very scenic waterfall.
And, with a gluttonous dose of posing tourists, that’s pretty much what I got.
Something wasn’t right though.
Something was missing.
Here before me lay the most iconic waterfall on the planet.
A sweeping horseshoe of turquoise plunging into a seething cloud of white mist; momentous, beautiful and lethal in equal measures.
Yet I didn’t feel a thing.
Not a hint of excitement and a level of interest that could best be described as mild (unlike the freezing temperatures, which could best be described as vicious).
The problem, of course, was that there was no sense of discovery – the catalyst for any meaningful travel experience.
So when I overheard a young couple whispering something about going behind the falls, I did what any self-respecting journalist would do.
Unfortunately, their conversation branched off into other unrelated matters soon afterwards, and that’s all I wish to say about that.
My interest, however, was now primed.
New opportunities had emerged and I began to ponder the marvelous possibility that there was a secret passage known only to wise locals.
There was, as it turned out, except the passage wasn’t secret and although the wise locals were probably aware of its existence, so was everyone else within a 10,000 mile radius.
None more so than the people running Niagara Parks, who wouldn’t let me in until I’d handed them the best part of $15.
Still, not to worry, I got my discovery fix.
Observing the waterfall from the ‘wrong’ way was a peculiar experience.
A series of gloomy tunnels led off the main corridor at right-angles, and it was through these – at considerable distance – that the falls could be observed.
So not much to report on the visual front – imagine looking out an open window during a ferociously heavy downpour, and then multiply it several times – but it was the thunderous noise that grabbed me.
The kind of noise that’s so loud you can feel it vibrating in your bones.
The kind of noise that seems to have metamorphosed into a physical being.
It was like the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse had paid their $15 entrance fees and were galloping about the place, or to use a more up to date analogy, like a Boeing 747 had lost its way disastrously on its descent into Toronto.
I felt satisfied leaving Niagara Falls.
Not because the trip behind the waterfall was particularly life affirming, but because it was unexpected.
So I suppose the overriding point I’d like to leave you with is this: do as little research as is humanely possible before going to a place.
The more familiar it is, the bigger the anti-climax.
But if you’re the organised type and you’re thinking of heading over this way, you should probably have a look at My Destination Ontario just to be safe.
Jack Jones – This quote from Pete McCarthy pretty much sums me up… “He instinctively understands that the purpose of travel is to be able to tell your friends about it and make them feel that staying at home was the poorer option, even if it wasn’t.”