#WOMBATSDOAMERICA, Day 3
Blogging our recent trip day by day, four weeks after the event.
Thursday 7th August – Oh Canada.
Another hot, bright day, leading us to imagine that perhaps all days in America are glaringly sunny, and clouds unknown. Tom, professional driver that he is, had hired a huge car that bulleted us up the Interstate for a couple of hours. Again this was fascinating both for the landscape and for the everyday American things that enthral me. I got to ride shotgun, while Mary, Kim and Viv chatted in the roomy back seats. There was a thick traffic queue to reach the Canadian border, but eventually we arrived at a booth.
“Three from the US, two from England. Just up for the day,” said Tom, handing our passports to a brisk young woman with a nameplate that read ‘Jennifer’. She eyed the horrible photographs that make us look like zombie terrorists, then peered in at us.
“You’re from England?” she asked me, “How long are you staying in America?”
“Yes, we got in on Tuesday. Going back to England in two weeks.”
“Did they give you an R64 at Border Control?”
“Um, no.” Puzzlement.
“A card this big?” she frowned, holding her fingers a few inches apart.
“No, sorry.” Panic. Would they turn us back after a two hour drive? She turned back into the booth with our passports and fiddled with her computer. After a tense half-minute, she returned the passports with a beaming smile.
“Have a pleasant visit,” she wished us. A communal sigh of relief filled the car.
“I have a niece called Jennifer,” Tom told her, incongruously, before flooring it and speeding into the free Canadian wastelands. Or, to be more accurate, the QEW.
Now, this mysterious border form has puzzled me ever since. What the donkey’s doodah was Jennifer talking about? Google showed no results for any border document called an ‘R64’. However, I do believe that I have finally found out what manner of thing it was to which Jennifer referred. Could it have been an ‘I-94’, a form that non-US citizens used to have to hand in when leaving the States? The requirement to use this form was dropped in 2010, however, when ESTA came in. It seems that our border guard was a little bit behind the times. I know, it’s trivial, but this sort of thing nags at me. I can properly relax once more.
At Welland Locks we met up with the rest of the Wombat Gang, and tucked into a wonderful picnic. I must say it’s brilliant to be chauffeured around and waited on. St. Catherine’s Lock is exactly like a normal canal lock, only far more colossal. We met Leslie there, tiny Leslie, who had driven more than a few hours south to meet us. I spent my first dollars therefore in Canada rather than in the USA, buying her an ice cream. I had myself a sneaky peanut butter ice cream too, because peanut butter.
“I’m afraid the change will be in Canadian money,” the assistant apologised.
“Hurray!” I ejaculated. You heard. No, it means something else, too. It does! Look it up.
“We don’t usually get that reaction,” she smiled. I received a very attractive Canadian two dollar coin (or toony, I was told, probably spelled ‘twoney’) and a one dollar (a loony).
Post-picnic we watched, along with a fair crowd of folk, a huge, nay gargantuan ship-cum-barge thing pass through the lock, rising between the massive gates like some awful slow-motion turd in a poorly flushing loo. I’m sorry, but that’s what it reminded me of. It was filthy and ugly. The lock itself and the gate mechanisms were mighty impressive feats of engineering though.
On we went to Niagara, which was as throng as Throp’s wife, and where a cute traffic cop directed both vehicles and pedestrians, the latter group now including us after we had piled out of the car. She was very pretty and serious behind her cool shades. I wondered if she wore the uniform home.
And then there were the Falls themselves, gobsmackingly wide and majestic and brilliantshiny and splashnoisy and pluming great gouts of sun-soaked white spray from tumbling turquoise water. Now, I’ve seen photographs of Niagara Falls before. Who hasn’t? I thought I knew what I was going to see, but my mind was not in the least prepared for the reality. The Falls were breathtaking, and I mean that literally. It seemed plain that Tom had chosen wisely; we had a far better view from the Canadian side of the two separate falls – the American Falls to the north, and the slightly more impressive, by virtue of being curved, Horseshoe Falls. Peering closely I could make out tiny coloured dots moving close to the surging water – human beings, humbled by nature.
Two or three miniature boats – but wait, they weren’t miniature. They were simply far away, and dwarfed by the scale of their aquatic backdrop. They too crawled with blue or red dots, plastic-enveloped tourists, as they forced their way against a strong current to poke their mischievous noses into the spume. Close by the Horseshoe Falls I leaned over a wall to gaze at the teal-shaded river surging towards the precipice. The caesious flow filled my vision and dizzied my mind. I thought of Annie Edson Taylor toppling over that edge in a barrel, rolled in an old mattress and clutching her lucky heart-shaped pillow. It beggared the imagination that her desperation to avoid the poorhouse should force her into such madness.
I thought briefly that it was raining heavily, but soon realised that the water spattering onto my head was simply falling river-spray. We climbed some steps and ate seventeen dollar burgers on the patio of a restaurant overlooking the Falls. Mary and I looked at each other – this was a bit special. We were served by a delightfully self-effacing young lassie by the name of Emily, who took a really rather outstanding photograph for us.
“Well, dip me in shit.” – Tom
“You don’t need to teach your kids to avoid busy roads, just bang ‘em with the car a couple o’ times, they’ll learn.” – Dave
There are more photographs of Day 3 here.