If you want to know the true essence of the US of A, a journey by the Greyhound bus service is a must. Its like traveling by our ramshackle STs. You get to see the underbelly of the American way of life. You meet all sorts; from fiercely independent senior citizen fallen on bad times to loud mouthed bra burners; from medieval style traveling musicians to students going home from college. And then there was us, going on a trip to the Niagara Falls, looking forward to enduring a 14 hour bus ride through Toledo and Cleveland in Ohio to Buffalo in New York. They all had one thing in common with us though. Shoestring budgets!!
An hour’s journey by the local train, Metra took us downtown from where the Greyhounds start their journey. Report an hour earlier they told us, as if it were a plane ride. The reason for this became clear when we stepped into the station. There were baggage check in queues and since the best seat went to the early bird, they had queues in front of platforms. Funny, we thought, don’t they think of giving seat numbers here??
Anyway, we got of to a start at 5.20 pm sharp after much confusion over which queue led to which platform. The bus departure time was 5.00 pm as listed on the tickets. Ahem! This was certainly backward. The Chicago traffic slowed us down till we left the city at about 8.00 pm. The first stop was for dinner, little before Toledo. A surprise awaited us in Cleveland at about midnight. You need to change buses they said. ???? This was news!! Well, one more queue (which was already well populated) later we were on the bus to Buffalo. All this changing and queue business should have brought out the best of the Desi spirit in us. We ought to have crowded together in the line so that we all could rush into the bus at the same time. We should have misdirected other passengers so that there would be less people on our bus. (Cackle, cackle!)How enterprising, no? Yet the people are such that you want to be nice to them.
The town of Niagara Falls is about a 25 min. bus ride away from Buffalo. We reached there at 7.30 am, a bus change later. We had arrived!!!
You can finish having a dekko at all the sights Niagara has to offer in a day’s time. It makes sense to carry the lightest of luggage and return by the late night bus the same day. It saves you the hotel expenses which, at this time of the year, are quite high due to the holiday season. And you don’t need a guide to show you around. Just take the Niagara State Park Passport. It includes tickets to all the attractions, plus unlimited rides on the trolley which moves continuously around the park, and a map. It worked very well for us.
The boat ride in the Maid of the Mist has to be the highlight of the trip. This boat takes you right up to the Horseshoe Falls. This is where 90% of the water from the lakes deposits itself in the Niagara River. If you ever wanted to take a shortcut to the Atlantic Ocean, this would be it. Water droplets rise about a hundred meters into the air due to the sheer force with which the water hits the rocks below. This is the ‘mist’ that visitors see and it is visible miles away. And due to the mist, there is a permanent rainbow in the sky over the Falls. This entire view is best seen from the Canadian side. We were glad to do the Falls on the US side for this trip.
The other attraction there is the Cave of the Wind experience. A wooden ramp takes you right next to Falls. The water roars beside you and the agitated air throws you back. Khadakvasla anyone?
On both these attractions they give colored barsatis to keep visitors from getting wet. From an elevated view, people wearing these look like slave workers at an assembly line.
Besides the Falls themselves, there is an aquarium, a discovery exhibit and a bridge, half way into the Niagara River, to enjoy the rest of the day.
Our bus back to Chicago was at 10.00 pm that night. We made it well in time, so no standing in lines this time. (he he he!). But the best was yet to come. We arrived at Cleveland for our bus to Chicago at 2.30 am, only to stand in a queue again. The onward bus was to leave at 4.00 am. The prospect of spending 1.5 hrs in the line at this ungodly hour did not look appealing. To add to that, we had not slept the previous day. We consoled ourselves, the images of cozy beds and warm baths floating in front of our eyes.
Finally it was time to board; the ‘driver cum conductor’ was letting in passengers on the bus through a door leading to the platform. Whew!! Finally we were sure to be left in peace till we reached Chicago about 7 hours later. But wait, the driver, had closed the door in our faces saying the bus was full. We were still optimism personified. They could arrange for a new bus we thought. There were still many people in the queue. Just then the supervisor came. Without much emotion, she announced, “The bus to Chicago will leave at 7.00 am because there is no driver available till that time!” Who was she? The Supervisor cum devil? And where was this? USA cum Bihar? My friends had to keep me from attacking her. This is not happening I thought!!!
Used to fatalism as we Indians are, I squatted on the station floor till 7.00 am. Never mind, I thought, we could act as poor as we wanted here. Who was there to stand up to anyway? We were in the same bus (boat). I might as well have gotten drunk too. Who cared?
The driver of the 7.00 am bus turned out to be wise lady. Sensing our thin patience, she used wit and humor to get us all packed in and we drove off towards Chicago as the sun rose.