Niagara’s Walls

Last week, the Voyager achieved its own American dream by reaching Maine, the fiftieth and final state of its journey across the continent. In week sixteen, the endless frozen tundra of Quebec province is left as far behind as is possible as the final destination appears on the frostbitten horizon.

Day 106 – Montreal to Ottawa

The penultimate week of a ridiculous journey began with a relatively short drive South-West towards the capital of Canada, Ottawa. By relatively short I mean any drive under three hours. Anything beyond that now feels like a normal day behind the wheel, I am certain my spine has altered in shape accordingly.

Today is Thanksgiving Day, and as is traditional on Thanksgiving, even more so on a wet Thanksgiving, we abandoned our tourist duties, found a local bar, ate wings and watched American Football. The pub was full-to-the-brim with Canadians either drinking with their families or drinking to forget the fact that they had families, either way the atmosphere was extremely jovial.

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Having eaten more wings than you would find in an aviary, and with the game completed, we thought we would at least attempt a glance around the sodden capital, inside our comfortable and mostly dry minivan of course. Rush hour, utterly wet, and with the sun fighting a losing battle against the dark clouds overhead, we retreated to our camping spot just outside the city limits. I am sure Ottawa will look more appealing tomorrow.

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Day 107 – Ottawa

Or maybe not. If you did not already know, the day following Thanksgiving in America is Black Friday – and no this is not a day commemorating the emancipation from slavery in the nineteenth century. Unfortunately, Black Friday is the day every shop and supermarket slashes their prices in order to steal precious customers from each other in the run up to Christmas. How festive.

Rather naïvely, on the busiest pre-Christmas shopping day of the year, we had camped in a Walmart car park, as was usual. However, it just so happened to be the very supermarket that invented the Black Friday sales a few years ago. Which was a rather large mistake. We woke up surrounded by packs of crazed animals fighting over hoovers, fairy lights and festive toilet seat covers, and these people were mild-mannered Canadians, we weren’t even in America.

With nowhere to conduct our morning wash we scrambled to the nearest community centre in order to have a much-needed shower and some respite from the shopping madness. Once again, the prospect of heading into downtown Ottawa on yet another miserably grey day was too much to overcome and, following a distinctly average burger for lunch, a library was found instead. Peace at last.

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With the crowds dying down we headed back to Walmart and, with a cinema literally on our doorstep, decided to watch the new James Bond movie. The film mirrored our own horrific day. Badly chosen locations, a Brit doing whatever he can to survive and evil men trying to kill each other over electrical goods. I think that was what the film was about?

Day 108 – Ottawa to St. Catharines

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Finally, the mirk lifted from the Capital, hopefully giving us a chance to explore a politically historic city in all its glory. Today, like the difference between chalk and cheese, day and night, Corbyn and Trump, the parliament buildings in the heart of the city looked remarkable, with crisp azure skies above and crisp white frost under foot.

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Newly appointed Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau happened to be in London so the grand constructions were empty and fairly easy to walk in and around. A far cry from the maximum security prison that is Capitol Hill in Washington D.C.

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Having learned the entire history of Canadian independence from a board outside parliament, a rather large one at that, we continued our travels South towards another ‘great lake’, Ontario. Having driven around half of its entire circumference to reach St. Catharines, our stop for the next two nights, I can safely say it looks no different from any other great lake, at least until you reach a rather large obstacle in front of the road…

Day 109 – St. Catharines

St. Catharines is the gateway to one, if not the most infamous geographical marvels this side of the Pencelli swamps, Niagara Falls. But before you can reach the waterfalls you must drive into the unique town of Niagara Falls in order to find a parking spot, and what a depressing procedure that was.

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The town looks like Barry Island, for those who know, that was bought by an American business tycoon, moved to the states, made worse and then left to decay for twenty years. This is an extreme frustration of mine with American and Canadian national parks, as I mentioned last week. Bill Bryson sums it up in a way I cannot…

“At the foot of the mountain, the park ended and suddenly all was squalor again. I was once more struck by this strange compartmentalization that goes on in America – a belief that no commercial activities must be allowed inside the park, but permitting unrestrained development outside, even though the landscape there may be just as outstanding. America has never quite grasped that you can live in a place without making it ugly, that beauty doesn’t have to be confined behind fences, as if a national park were a sort of zoo for nature.” (Bryson, 1989)

Thank you Bill. As soon as you leave the town you see the falls, and they are bloody impressive. The American falls appear first, as dramatic a thing as I had seen on this trip, that were immediately surpassed by the Canadian horseshoe falls which were even more magnificent. What little daylight remained danced on the relentless and merciless torrents until the signs for casinos and hotels began to light up the skyline.

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What an absolute shame, there should be no developments, no high-rises, no Boston Pizza’s within three miles of this place, not too much to ask I think. Big corporations have done their very best to ruin this place, it is fortunate for them that the falls win.

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Day 110 – St. Catharines to Toronto

With every passing day, the length of our drives has slowly been shortening and today’s one-hour meander to our final resting place was a rather emotional ride. At the beginning of the voyage, after completing our first hundred kilometres, we never could have perceived that after twenty-eight thousand kilometres Shu and I would be fighting to drive some more. It is clear we will miss this element dearly.

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We circled around Lake Ontario until we could see Toronto’s most prominent landmark, poking a cloud on the distant horizon, the CN Tower. As we drew closer we realised this would be our last stressful city entry and our last chance to roll down the windows, turn the country music up and power down the freeway, well as much powering as a twenty-year-old minivan allows.

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Following a precursory look around Toronto we made camp at Walmart and had dinner, which was interrupted by a steady stream of people walking past our boot along the grass verge. The steady stream turned into a torrent, a torrent which we decided to join in order to, in the words of Mr. Trump, “figure out what the hell is going on?”

We discovered that a festive train was to pass straight by our minivan in a matter of minutes so we dutifully waited, along with several hundred children, for Santa to arrive on the back of a locomotive. Although he did not make an appearance himself, as he was a Muslim Santa sent back to wherever he came from… Ottawa I believe, the train did bring some festive cheer to signal the start of December. How pleasant.

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Day 111 – Toronto

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Our first full day in Toronto and a mutual decision was made, not by me, to go Christmas shopping in downtown. That was not strictly true as I did need to pick up a few items myself and, to give it its dues, the shopping district is a rather nice place to be. It has large multi-coloured sign telling people with amnesia where they are, as well as numerous skating rinks and festive stuff.

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With the price of a skate more expensive than a new pelvis, after I undoubtedly fall and break my own, we decided to head back to the Voyager and, having booked into a B&B for the next three days, savour our final night of car camping. Cooking from the boot, washing our faces in freezing temperatures, melting frozen bottles of oil, urinating under the stars, this has been our life for so long that every element, no matter how unpleasant, will be sorely missed.

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Day 112 – Toronto

A beautiful morn gave us the perfect opportunity to forget about Christmas shopping and visit the CN Tower. Once the tallest tower in the world, its prodigious height makes it rather difficult to get a photograph of, especially when standing next to or underneath it. Watching people struggle was rather entertaining whilst observing from the superb brewery next door.

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Following a glance at the Blue Jays baseball stadium we headed, not to a Walmart car park, but to a B&B where we could start preparing to be thrown back into our normal lives. After hauling all our possessions up two flights of stairs we sat on an extremely old and sullied mattress, attempted to fix the broken fan heater whilst preparing to put our minivan ad online and… no WIFI. We have actually managed to pay $40 a night for a place that is more uncomfortable than sleeping outside in a 1997 Plymouth Voyager.

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Off we went to find WIFI and a thoroughly depressing nearby Burger King obliged. The kind of place where you could not quite tell if it was the staff or the customers that wanted to be there less. With our adverts to sell the Voyager complete and online we could put your feet up and wait for the plethora of offers to flow in…

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However, having done over 350,000 kilometres in total, its extremely unique selling points mean very little. The fact it survived, and indeed thrived, in flash floods, tropical thunderstorms, the hottest place on earth and being frozen every night for three weeks straight was irrelevant, a tedious number on the odometer appears to be all that matters. We simply have to wait until some lucky soul takes it off our hands… please.

Next week, the Voyager’s journey is truly done as a buyer must be found before an awful farewell takes place in Toronto Airport. A new continent awaits.

Total kilometres: 28,343

J

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