We were more than ready to start travelling again, after a long week in Toronto we couldn’t wait to leave the city so we drove the highway straight out of there. Without gearbox trouble on our minds we cruised half way to Niagara at the lake and stopped at the locks. Being Dutch the lock systems did not interest me all that much but actually seeing the big ships go through a lock was fun. Cruising the highways was a different experience with the rebuild gearbox, we didn’t know the gearbox was so noisy before but driving the highway now we could talk normally while hearing the engine zooming.
We drove into Niagara at the lake in the early afternoon and found a nice little town right where the river found its way into the lake. The whole town looked flawless. Beautiful little wooden houses surrounded by perfectly cut lawns. The main street was buzzing with tourists, we joined them for an hour or two to dip our feet in the river and have an ice cream. When the parking meter run out of money we got back in the van to drive to Niagara Falls.
Following the river upstream we drove into Niagara Falls. The town called Niagara Falls is cut in half by the river that creates the falls, on one side is Canada and the other side in the US. We have only been in the Canadian side of town and we were a bit sad about its appearance. The roads were all broken up, leaving big holes in the asphalt, all the buildings looked crappy and some were boarded up. Driving into town you would never guess the falls would be right there. In the middle of the town there was the “iconic building” called the Skylon tower. The tower itself is OK but not really special, but we parked the van on the Skylon parking for $10 and started walking to where we thought the falls were.
We descended down some shabby concrete stairs to get to the more fancy part of town that consists mostly out of the area directly at the falls, a big mall and a casino. When we got off the stairs we saw the mist of the falls and got excited. It was already dark when we followed the stream of tourists down the hill and arrived at the street where all the mist seemed to come from. It got more and more crowded the closer we came to the river until we finally got to the wet sidewalk right next to the river. It felt a bit like being in line trying to get into a festival. In between the river and the sidewalk there is a concrete barricade to keep the people from falling down the cliff. There was no way of seeing this barricade because as far as you could see at least 3 lines of people were blocking the view.
Trying to navigate through the selfie sticks and families asking other tourists to take their pictures we now and then elbowed our way to the barricade to catch a glimpse of the falls. The falls were coloured in tacky LED light from all over the river banks. The white water rushing from the top took the colour really well as the LED changed colours every minute or so from red to green and blue. The Falls are really separated in 2 falls, and in between the falls the 3 lines of people slowly came down to 2 and later just 1 line until the barricade showed itself. We decided to walk back to the van when Paco got scared, he heard the fireworks before we did. While walking by the river we enjoyed the fireworks as we returned home. We set the alarm at sunrise the next morning to see the falls with less tourists around.
We walked down the same concrete stairs the next early morning to arrive to the mist that was just ours this time. The mist was heavier than last night because of the morning dew. We walked the same sidewalk but by daylight and only some jogging people in neon coloured shirts were there. Despite knowing that it was not allowed to fly a drone above the falls I figured there was nobody around to catch us in the act. After quickly taking some shots I packed up the drone and we walked by the falls. The view in the morning is totally something else, the rising sun gave the whole scene a warm feeling as we walked the same sidewalk as we did the night before. We snapped a million pictures while we stopped about every 20 meters to get a different angle.
Through the mist of the falls little birds dived from the rocky cliffs, I stopped to watch the birds while I made out a bigger shape flying the same 250 meters every 3 minutes or so. I knew this bird well form the Netherlands, it was a peregrine falcon. At home I would only see this bird from far away, high up in a church tower or tall building, but here it was shooting through the mist just 20 meters away or so. When I narrowed down the spot where it had been flying to I couldn’t believe my luck! A juvenile was sitting on a rock just 3 meters away from the concrete barricade. The mom was trying to make the juvenile fly from this rock but it wouldn’t move, not even when I was hanging half way over the barricade to find the birds. I lost all interest in the falls and watched the birds for a long time. At some point the mother falcon dived back down from the cliff and grabbed a sparrow mid-air to bring it to the juvenile. When people started to gather around me and the birds I moved on to see the rest of the falls.
Walking further down the sidewalk there is a restaurant/info center right where the water plummets down. beyond that point the river looks rather calm, If you would only have seen that view you would never guess the falls were right there. We stayed at that spot for a while to see the calm clear water suddenly dive down the cliff and chance from clear water to white foam.
We walked back to the van feeling all smart because of seeing the falls before the rest of the tourist arrived. The falls are amazing, and everybody knows them from the pictures, and that is exactly what you find. What really made the falls special for me were the falcons and being able to see them so close. We passed right through the casino and mall this time to use the toilets and take their drinking water before getting back on the road.
We tumbled down the roads of Niagara Falls to get out of town, from here on out we would travel North around the Great Lakes. I remember clearly feeling secure about the gearbox and good about being on the road while making a right turn after a stop sign. Speeding up in first gear and changing to second the old familiar clunk of the gearbox violently jumping out of second gear was back! I really felt sweat instantly jumping from my pores while trying to force into second gear. In a couple of seconds my calm relax state of being changed into total stress while the gearbox slammed out of gear and rattled just as it did before.
We pulled over while I tried to grab hold of my stress, I crawled under the van to see if I could see anything. One bolt of the bellhousing totally had come loose and I could see oil dripping from the gearbox, while this is a bad thing it could not be the reason why the old problems where back. I called up Dave and told him what happened, and he had a clear answer. Something was wrong, we had to come back in and start the whole gearbox rebuild from the start. On top of that, it was a Friday, and on top of that the next week was vacation week. If we could make it back to the garage on time Dave would install a “spare gearbox” before the weekend would start.
Back on the highway to Toronto we couldn’t believe we would have to go through this again, but we tried to stay positive. The biggest difference between this time and the time before is that this time it was not our problem but the problem of the garage. We were not happy at all but managed to stay half positive as we drove into Toronto.
To lighten the mood we brought some ice tea for Dave and Brian, this situation was shit for us but was also not good for them. After a short talk with Dave we realised we were all in this situation together and we got working on getting the gearbox changed. They swapped around the gearbox so fast that the engine did not even needed to preheat to start up when we drove it out the door. We agreed on calling Dave the Monday of the week after his vacation to make a planning. Dave and Brian planned to stop early that Friday to go on vacation, but they left the garage at 6. We rebuild the top box and got out of the city as fast as we could.