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400 Day LETS Odyssey
Copyright � James Taris

JAMES TARIS around the World- (2003-4)

I didn't realise that Niagara Falls was in the heart of the city!

CANADA - Niagara (Wk.3 of 5 weeks)
Week 31 of World Tour

Niagara Falls

I always thought Niagara Falls was in the middle of nowhere, just like Ayers Rock, another Natural Wonder of the World, in Australia. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Niagara Falls, the natural wonder, is situated on the border of Canada and America, with both countries calling their cities, Niagara Falls, and both countries owning part of the falls, although Canada has the larger and more picturesque of the two, the horseshoe falls.

My trip to Niagara Falls started off at a leisurely pace. After all, nothing else was planned for that day until later that night. We left at 8.30am and soon drove by a dead raccoon in the middle of the road. Road kill is one of the most reliable ways to see the natural fauna of a country, and even though raccoons are quite a common sight in Canada, they are a nocturnal animal, and unlikely to be seen unless you’re out camping and they come into your tent!

Soon afterwards we saw 3 deer running across the road and along a small stream ahead of us. A cardinal (a very common bright red Canadian bird) flew across the windscreen of our van and perched itself on a roadside tree. MaryBeth was taking me to see her summer holiday home in Byng, so we were taking the scenic route to Niagara Falls. And one of those scenes was the fish ladder. Many Canadian fish, such as salmon, swim upstream to spawn, and have difficulties getting over man-made dams. So these concrete fish ladders have been designed to allow the fish to climb over these dams like steps on a staircase.

MaryBeths holiday home wasn’t at all what I expected. Their house in Welland is a massive 3 level building with a floor space of about 3,000 sq. ft, so I was surprised to see an 18 ft. caravan and equally sized annex (totalling 200 sq. ft.) being called home for about 6 months of the year (April to October). Nevertheless, each year, MaryBeth, John and the kids were always looking forward to going back to Byng, their caravan home by the lake.

We’d left in a hurry that morning, so we stopped for breakfast in Dunnville, the town right next to Byng. And for $2.99 each, we enjoyed a hot cooked breakfast of bacon and eggs on toast. MaryBeth then took me to the Marshville Heritage Village in Wain Fleet, where lots of very old log-constructed buildings were on display. But the thing that caught my eye was the mountain of snow in the car park. These snowdrifts are created when snowploughs clear the roads and car parks and the snow is piled up on the roadside or car park boundaries. Then when the sun comes out again and melts the snow from the roads and houses, etc., these snowdrifts, being several feet high and made mostly of ice and compacted snow, tend to linger on for weeks and sometimes even months!

As we headed for Niagara Falls again, we came across another road kill. This time it was a freshly killed opossum, and I even got MaryBeth to stop the van so I could go for a closer inspection. Whereas the possums in Australia are very cute and cuddly with long bushy tails and very soft fur, the opossums are very rat-like, with ratty faces, spiky fur and short hairless tails. But apart from the similarity in name, they do have one thing in common with the possum. They are the only marsupials not found in Australia.

Our next stop was a surprise. We stopped outside a castle in Ridgeway. But this was unlike any castle I’d seen in Europe. Yes, it was very grand and had a moat going all around it, but it was just brand new. In fact, it was still being built! And even though it was definitely a crowd-drawer, I don’t think that was the intention of the owner, who seemed to be doing all he could to retain his privacy and keep everyone OUT!

A Tim Hortons drive-thru was too tempting to pass up and soon I was trying one of their Toffee Coffees and assortment of donuts.

We passed by hundreds of Canadian geese and lots of squirrels (brown, black and grey). Then, as we drove through Fort Erie, MaryBeth pointed to the skyscrapers on the other side of the lake and told me it was Buffalo (USA). The bridge going across the lake to America was crammed with cars and trucks, which, according to the radio reports, had been waiting for 5 hours to cross the border. This was due to a Terrorist Alert which had been issued, something which the Canadians and Americans have reluctantly got used to.

At last we arrived at Niagara Falls, population of 76,000. And even though it was a clear day with a clear blue sky, there was a heavy mist rising from the ground in the distance. And as we approached the city, the mist grew heavier. Actually, the city is built around the Niagara Falls, and the mist comes up from the bottom of the falls as tons of water crash hundreds of feet down into the river, sending the spray more hundreds of feet into the atmosphere.

There’s an old rusted barge stuck right on the top edge of the horseshoe falls. It’s been there for 60 years and has only moved a couple of inches in all that time. But I guess it’ll be quite a sight if it finally takes the plunge over the edge. With all that weight it could put a larger hole into the riverbed below.

Hundreds (or thousands?) of tourists were everywhere. And because MaryBeth couldn’t park the van anywhere, she dropped me off by the side of the falls so I could take a few photos, while she circled the block before coming back to pick me up again.

Driving through Clifton Hill, Niagara Fall’s central area, was also interesting. It looked very much like Las Vegas with lots of brightly lit hotels, restaurants, amusement centers and a casino.

Later in the evening we returned to Niagara Falls again with BettyAnn as well. But this time the focus was on seeing the popular Festival Of Lights, a colourful display of lights depicting Christmas themes, animals and Disney characters on the waters around the falls.

Then as we drove homeward at the end of the night, I saw a live skunk walking casually along the roadside. At last, a road-LIVE! (as opposed to a road kill).

Breanne interviews me about LETS for a Channel 10 programme.

LETS in Niagara TV Interview

LETS Niagara were leaving no stone unturned, and they added another coup to their LETS Agenda for James Taris. A TV interview. Breanne Sheffield, daughter of my hosts, and LETS Niagara member, was asked to be the interviewer, and she did a great job.

It was filmed on Saturday, January 3, but not to be screened until Friday and Saturday, January 16 and 17. John Sheffield said he’d videotape it for me because I’d be in Kitchener by then, so I’m looking forward to seeing it when I get back on January 25. And as a bonus, John videotaped it while the interview was happing, so I’ll also have a “The Making Of …” version too.

Here’s the TV Interview text …

Channel 10 TV Interview
Saturday, Jan 3, 2004
(for LETSniagara in Welland, Canada)

Hello, my name is Breanne Sheffield. I am a member of the Local Niagara
LETS. We are to interview James Taris, an international LETSer from
Melbourne, Australia. A LETSaholic, if you like. James is travelling around
the world in 400 days.

1. James, would you tell us what LETS is all about?
LETS stands for Local Exchange Trading System and is a group of people in a small community all agreeing to exchange goods and services with each other without the need for cash.

2. So it’s kind of like Canadian Tire money?
It can be. All LETS groups around the world operate in their own unique way.

3. How many LETS groups are there around the world?
In 2001, I created an International LETS Directory called LETS-Linkup.com. It’s the largest LETS Directory in the world with over 1500 LETS groups from 39 countries. But I’ve heard that there could be as many as 6000 LETS groups from 55 countries participating.

4. Niagara LETS has a membership of approximately 60 members. How many members are there in your LETS group?
I’m a member of 2 LETS groups in Melbourne, Australia. One of the groups has about 400 members and the other has about 150.

5. What is the average number?
In my travels around the world, I’ve noticed that LETS groups have about 100 members on average. But once they get to 200 or more, things get very exciting with over 1000 goods and services usually available for their members to select from.

6. I’m sure that while you were travelling you have seen some interesting things. Could you share some of these experiences with us?
I’ve already been to about 15 countries around the world and written 4 books about my travels, so it’s always hard to pick which ones are most memorable. But I do have a soft spot for my snake and massage experiences. In Marrakech, Morocco, I had a couple of snakes wrapped around my neck, while in Ningbo, China, I had snake for dinner. In Zhengzhou, China, I had a very painful massage by a blind masseur, which is very common in China. But in Aas, Norway, I had a most relaxing Polynesian massage by a Norwegian guy.

7. How easy is it to become a member?
LETS groups welcome people from all walks of life. And everyone has something they can offer. So it’s just a matter of contacting your local LETS group, in this case it would be LETSniagara, but for those from another area, they could look up the closest LETS group to them by going to my web site LETS-Linkup.com and searching there.

8. Is there any cost of being a member of a LETS group?
Usually LETS groups charge a small cash registration when they join. This is just to help cover the cash costs of postage for newsletters, etc. Then there’s a monthly account keeping fee paid in the local currency (LETSniagara use Niagara Dollars) which goes to the people who are running the group.

9. What sort of things do people offer within the system?
There’s hundreds of things which are offered through a LETS group.
Computer services – h’ware repairs, s’ware repairs, tuition, desktop publishing, word processing …
Household services – lawn mowing, gardening, rubbish removals, window cleaning, house cleaning, snow shovelling, handyman services (painting, jammed doors, leaking taps) …
Domestic services – household cleaning, ironing, cooking (ideal if you’re busy or single … “cook for one extra”) …
Plus - massages, baby-sitting, piano lessons, bicycle repairs, garden produce, recycled items: books, CDs, s’ware, …

10. What is the most interesting thing you have seen offered?
I am constantly amazed with the variety of things offered through LETS. It’s like going through a market stall. But as a writer I’m always on the lookout for any type of holiday accommodation. Back in Australia I spent 5 glorious days alone in a beachside caravan. It was winter, so it was very quiet. Blissful. I wrote one of my most memorable works during that break.

This article is taken from the ebook,
400-Day LETS Odyssey

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