Niagara… No trip to Niagara Falls would be complete without a trip on the Maid of the Mist.
Ah… Maid of the Mist. When one looks down on the Canadian falls, you can see a pretty dense white mist rising up above the height of the falls…
When you stand at the viewing platofrm near the Canadian end of the falls, a gentle mist wafts down on you, necessitating the odd wipe of the camera lens or glasses (sunglasses for me!).
And then there is the Maid of the Mist, the name of the boat(s) that sail from both the Canadian and American side, taking passengers up into the mist of the Canadian Niagara Falls….
With my companions, we flashed our tickets at the attendant and were waved on down to the boats. Now, being at the top of the gorge, it seemed a bit optimistic when the ticketbooth operator said we had 5 minutes and could make it down for the 1.15pm boat… So we started the descent – a gentle zig-zag concrete passage. This did not bode well for being down in 5 minutes! But after about 10 turns, we came to an elevator with a bunch of elevator operators ready to press that important button and express us down.
We crowded into the left and a few seconds later were disgorged at the top of a complex maze of metal bars and tents. More than one of us was relieved we were there in spring and before the summer crowds! This whole thing was clearly designed for allowing 100s and 100s of people to slowly inch down to the boat…
We had to pass through one more tent where we were hastily assembled on the green screen X and they took our photo (seems like every activity here entails having your photo taken and then you when you exit, you can flash your ticket and see a picture of you (or your group) superimposed onto a photograph of the falls. Could all be awkward if you went on a cloudy/rainy day and here’s this photo of you with a beautiful sunny Niagara Falls behind you…
Fighting our way into the blue plastic ponchos that had been handed to us, we rushed down the last set of concrete and metal barricades and joined the small crowd just getting onto the Maid of the Mist. That’s another thing about seeing the falls on the Canadian side – its the better side… So while the Maid of the Mists leaving the American side were invarariably heaving at the sides with blue-plastic poncho’d people, the Canadian boats (pre-summer) were about 1/4 full…
There were announcements in english and french (check – haven’t yet slipped over the US border…) and surprisingly, no mention of where the life jackets were should we opt to fall over the side… And then we chugged off, passing close enough to the American falls to be engulfed in the thunderous roar and gentle mist from the American Falls. Lots of birds drifted in the updraft from the water falling.
We sailed past Bridal Falls (a smaller waterfall adjacent to the larger falls) and the rickety wooden walk way with American’s standing on it, looking tiny against the massive torrent of water pouring over the dolomite up above.
Then there was a quiet few minutes while we sailed up to the Canadian falls, the roars of the two waterfalls somewhat muted in this dead space inbetween. Approaching the Canadian falls, there were some nice photographs to be had of the sides of the waterfall tumbling over, silhouetted against the rocky cliffs.
And then the water began to get slightly choppy.. and a gentle mist began to envelope us…. The wind began to pick up, zigging and zagging in from all directions…And the roar began to increase again as we drifted towards the west side of the falls.
And suddenly it was VERY choppy and we were not in any mist, we were in a situation that can only be described as a standing under a fire hose. This ‘mist’ had turned into thick, heavy rain drops which were pouring down on us. I wrestled with my now violently flapping plastic poncho, trying to take a quick photograph, wipe the lens of the drops and then pull the poncho down before another wave of water fell on me, as the boat rocked in the turbulent waters. Around me everyone was shreiking… the poncho was flapping… people tried to take photographs… people bumped into eachother as their poncho’s blew up… and the water tumbled endlessly, the sheer noise blotting out all other senses!
I had, I thought, sensibly rolled up my trousers to prevent them getting wet, but the wind was whipping up the poncho that I ended up with thoroughly wet legs anyway. As I turned to try and take a photo through the dense downpour of the white top of the falls, the boat jolted on a turbulence bubble and an even bigger splash fo water tumbled down and saturated my left arm. At that moment, the wind blew my hood off as I got slapped with another pail of water from a random direction.
Lets be truthful here… my memories of being in the ‘mist’ of Niagara falls are a blur of water, wind, wet and more wet. And my photography suffered as a result of it as I ended up just trying to see something… anything, through my new wind-blown rotating poncho. And throughout it all, I couldn’t get over that the water was fresh… It seemed weird as the last times I had been in driving wet windy conditions on a boat, was in Antarctica, where the water was definetely salty!
And did I mention it was cold as well?!
After what seemed like endless hours, suddenly the turbulence stopped and the wind abruptly dropped. I blinked and the fire hose of water suddenly became a gentle mist again, and then a few seconds later we were back in undimmed sunshine and all was calm.
I think everyone was shellshocked for a few moments – the ones who has remained on the front deck that is! We gradually realised we could finally orientate our poncho’s correctly and dry the camera’s and look again!
As my companions and me wiped off the excess water, we commented that “Maid of the Mist’ was bit of a euphemism for this experience and maybe the boat should be named after something that would more convincingly convey what it was like to stand under a fire hose of water… And then we guessed that might not be the best marketing ploy!
The trip back to the dock was quick and uneventful. The drying took longer…