Fools at the Falls – Niagara, Canada

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Jetlag can be a terrible thing. It stops our brains from functioning and inhibits decision making.  It is not what we need when attempting to deal with the new and unfamiliar.  In the UK we love giving and following instructions.  This is evidenced by the quality and quantity of our road signs.  There is significant warning in advance of any turning or exit; there are also copious roundabouts (apparently a peculiarly British institution) to help correct you should you accidentally head in the wrong direction.  Not so in North America.  There the sign is likely to be at, if not slightly after, the exit.  There the roads are five lanes wide.  There even the smallest cars are the size of lorries and have no qualms about undertaking.  There are no roundabouts and everything is ON THE WRONG SIDE.  These factors, combined with jetlag, conspired to make us the cause of a small international ‘incident’ on the aptly named Peace Bridge border crossing between Fort Erie, Canada and Buffalo, USA.

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We had landed from the UK that morning at Toronto airport, picked up our hire car and headed straight out of town towards our first campsite on the shores of the Niagara River, just north of Fort Erie. The location was intentionally remote; in researching our trip I had read that the sites nearer to the falls could be noisy.  In hindsight this caution was probably not necessary, it was early in the season and when we arrived at our chosen spot, following my pre-printed directions (we were too cheap to pay for sat-nav in the hire car), we were the only tent.  We had brought our tent and sleeping bag from home, vacuum-packed in our luggage, but planned to buy pillows, seats and cooking equipment at a Walmart, or equivalent, on arrival.  Tent pitched we asked the site owner for directions to the nearest store.

At this point we had been up for nearly 24 hours. We were not paying close attention.  It did not help that our guide was uncertain of the exact street name or the turning we would need from the highway.  None the less we set off.  How hard could it be?  Pretty hard it turns out.  Forty minutes later, in the no-man’s land between Canada and the US, we were being escorted back to safety across eight lanes of traffic by a Canadian border patrol truck with flashing lights.  What had happened?  The last turning in to the town, helpfully, is not marked as such and so we had missed it whilst searching for the street name we only half remembered.  Before we knew it we were headed inextricably for the border.  In desperation we pulled in to a carpark designated for lorries to undergo customs checks.  Here we drove around for a while in panicked circles wondering what to do.  Occasionally we stopped, got out, waved our arms wildly at each other and got back in.  Our antics attracted the attention of the Canadian border guards.  Fortunately, perhaps stereotypically, they were very friendly and understanding.  Technically we had left the country and would need to re-enter, they would halt the traffic and guide us to the toll-booth.  We would have to pay the entry fee, for which they were apologetic, but we were just grateful to have been rescued and that we had kept our passports in the car when we unpacked.  To say the lady in the toll-booth was confused when she checked our documents and saw that we had only arrived in the country hours before, yet somehow had already left and wanted to come back, is an understatement.  Eventually, sweaty, exhausted and wracked with adrenalin, we found the Walmart, bought what we needed and headed back to camp.  All’s well that ends well.

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Jetlag can be a wonderful thing. When your body clock is five hours ahead of the country that you are in you wake up fantastically early, particularly when sleeping under canvas.  Early rising, combined with early season, makes for minimal crowds.  The morning after our escapade we drove up the Niagara River Parkway in glorious sunshine, toured the deserted streets of the city and took the first boat of the day out to the falls with a handful of others.  It was truly magical and a welcome salve from the stresses of the previous 24 hours.  A brief stop in Niagara on the Lake, a small town pretending hard to be 1950s Britain, and we were on the road again, looking for our next adventure.

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Have you suffered any ‘incidents’, jetlag related or otherwise, on your travels?

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