...is that Victoria Falls hasn't gone the way of Niagara Falls
08.10.2008 - 08.10.2008 15 °C
Niagara Falls is probably one of the most well-known landmarks internationally. I'm not sure what the stats are (highest / widest / most water) but I'm sure there must be many. If there weren't, the Americans would make some up! Alright, I concede that I am being very cynical (if you take offense, please don't read the rest of this post) but my visit to Niagara Falls today brought out all of my cynicism in full force.
The approach to Niagara on the train was nondescript - lots of small towns and industrial areas. It was a bit of a visual shock after the stunning Canadian Shield countryside of the approach into Toronto from the northwest, but I expected it from reading the guide. This area is called the 'Golden Horseshoe" because of its huge economic importance (mining and manufacture) and horseshoe shape, not for any whimsically 'pretty' reason.
Upon arrival at the VIA rail station in Niagara Falls (3km from the falls) I looked everywhere for a map to aid my trip to the falls and orientation to the area. No luck. Apparently independent travelers don't visit the falls. After questioning the only unfriendly bus-ticket-seller-worker-man I have met in Canada, I found that I was expected to get a 'transit bus' to the falls. Which I duely did.
Upon arrival at the main 'welcome centre' I got the first glimpse of what makes Niagara so 'special'. Rampant, raging commercialism. Hordes of coach tours and tourists (I use the word "tourist", not "traveler", and concede that I am being condescending) of the worst kind.
The falls are spectacular, don't get me wrong, but in order to justify the 'day trip' that it has become (and marketed as such) a whole host of "activities" have been devised to occupy visitors attention, and on which they will spend their money... You can see the falls from any viewpoint imaginable; walk under the falls, on a boat in the mist, from a helicopter, from a tower, from a ferris wheel - the list goes on. Each, of course, you pay for. The town has become (well, maybe expanded to) a theme park. There is not a single independent restaurant, shop or cafe to be found, I don't think the market is there. All the tourists are happy to stay at the Sheraton, eat at Tim Hortons or Burger King, and drink their coffee at Starbucks (at at least a dollar more expensive than in Toronto, I might add!).
I am lucky enough to have visited the spectacular Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe on two occasions, and some 'higher being' (well, the people who planned Niagara Falls) seemed to be pointing me in that direction at every turn: the major road going through the town is "Victoria Avenue", and one of the subsidiaries is "Livingstone Rd". I walked from one side of the town to the other (about 5km, probably) and the whole walk (which was along a road called "Fallsview" and runs literally parallel to the falls) I didn't see the falls once for all the hotels and casinos in the way. They jostle and elbow each other out of the way to get the best view; the competition being for the biggest and highest, with the best views to sell to their clientele. The falls don't seem to belong to the people that live in the town that bears their name, they belong to the tourists.
Needless to say, I was overwhelmed by all the marketing so decided to boycott it. I didn't pay the $12 to go up the tower, or the $30 for a ride on a boat under the falls, etc etc. So, in summary. If you absolutely need to go Niagara; go. I'd recommend Victoria Falls over it any day. Even with Bob still in power. And the 32 (ish) hour plane ride from Canada.