(June 18 – July 11, 2015)
We were welcomed to Ontario to perfect summer weather, ice cream, the first Tourist information center that was actually open and even higher camping prices than in Quebec.
“From Dusk Till Dawn”
Our plan was to spend our first night in one of Ontarios Provincial parks. They have a lot of them here and we thought that we could visit a few of them along the way. We arrived late afternoon and tired at the Charleston Lake Provincial Park thinking to simply set up camp and fall into bed. But as we got the to entrance gate we couldn’t believe our eyes. They want over $40 for an un-serviced camping site! Seriously! It’s tenting, no electricity, exposed to the elements, and a long walk to the outhouse in the middle of the night. Not only that, you have to make sure your food is bear, wolf and most importantly squirrel safe stowed. They told us the cost of park entrance fee was included in the camping cost, though that didn’t really make it any better in our opinion. We hauled out the camping guide that we got from the Tourist info and were once again shocked. Just about every private campground charges similar prices, and they get it too, as we learned later. With the summer vacations just about every campground is booked solid.
We simply were not willing to pay so much money to sleep outside and so after driving around a bit looking for a free spot we stopped by a horse ranch and asked if we could spend the night parked near their stables, which they agreed to. The first thing we noticed was the complete lack of something. Mosquitoes. There weren’t any, in fact there weren’t flies of any kind. It was getting late and dusk was just about upon us, but since we hadn’t spotted a single Mosquito we figured we could start cooking a late supper. Wrong! As soon as the stove was going we noticed a few, and then more and more. Apparently the heat and the CO2 that the stove emitted attracted them. Suddenly they started swarming around us in uncountable numbers! We’ve never experienced something like this before. They kamikazied our stove and our Citronella candle! What? Yes our citronella candle seemed to be doing the exact opposite of what it’s supposed to be doing; soon the melted wax was black with mosquito corpses. They landed in our food in droves and flew up our noses and into our ears. We couldn’t stand it any longer and fled into our roof tent with our half cooked supper. Here we are safe, at least for now. But as we sat there picking corpses out of our supper we heard them; a monotone buzzing noise as they packed themselves against the tents screens looking for a way to get in. It was like some kind of horror film, something perhaps Alfred Hitchcock would call “The Mosquitoes.”
After eating our most uncomfortable supper we realized someone was going to have to go out there again and pack the dirty dishes in the car. Not surprisingly no one volunteered to venture out into the swarm. So after a very nerve-wracking and intense match of rock-paper-scissors the loser, that would be me, had to brave the swarm. Oh well, being a girl I would have had to go out anyway at some point before bed to pee, which of course is a lot worse when you think about having to bare your bum to a hungry swarm of blood sucking monsters, but I won’t go into that here, instead I’ll let your imagination tell the story of that little adventure.
Sunset On Lake Ontario
Just south of Picton, with the help of some locals, we found a perfect little camping spot directly on the shores of Lake Ontario. After the mosquito horrors the night before this wonderful spot felt almost like Ontario was apologizing to us. We were ecstatic; this spot was very close to the dream of the road that leads to the perfect camping spot. We were even able to have a little fire on the beach with the driftwood we collected along the shore. Not only that we didn’t see a single mosquito. We also pointedly ignored the no-camping signs after advice from the locals that no one really ever pays them any attention or enforces it. We also felt somewhat reconciled with Ontario and got a wonderful sunset and a star filled night sky as icing on the cake! Naturally we didn’t break camp immediately the next morning, instead we enjoyed the morning with a nice breakfast, yoga and a refreshing wash with lake water before heading toward Toronto.
A Visit With New Friends
On our trip through Labrador we met Jeremie who stopped to chat after seeing our Defender. He invited us to come and visit him on our way through Ontario. We decided to accept his invitation and headed towards Newmarket, which is quite close to Toronto. As we reached Toronto’s “greenbelt” we noticed a very big contrast to the previous landscape. The Houses. Huge villas and gated communities lined the country roads, we even spotted a castle with crenellated walls and a tower! Of course we also saw one golf course after the other with it’s own mansions along the fairway. Apparently we chose the route through the affluent burbs of the GTA (Greater Toronto Area).
We arrived in Newmarket to a warm welcome from Jeremie and Jessica who made us feel right at home. We were spoiled with avariety of wonderful vegetarian meals, interesting talks and relaxation in their garden. We also had the opportunity to meet Jeremies family and spend time with some sincere, welcoming and interesting people. The visit was not only thoroughly enjoyable but also turned out to be inspirational, with respect to vegetarian food, and we decided to do a little experiment: to go dairy free for 30 days starting july 1st and see how we feel. We’ve talked about doing something like this a few times in the past and now it seemed like the right time to give it a try. By now the experiment is almost finished and we are quite surprised to find that we don’t really miss the milk products all that much (Though it was quite tough on those hot days without any ice cream). There haven’t been any real noticeable changes in how we feel, but it certainly has provided us with a lot more creative energy in preparing our meals, which is always good.
We originally wanted to visit Toronto while in Newmarket, but we found it much nicer to spend time with our new friends instead of subjecting ourselves to the bustling big city. So after leaving Newmarket we decided to take Yonge Street directly through the middle of Toronto to at least experience a bit of the hustle and bustle instead of taking the highway. It was quite an impressive experience, at least for me, since I haven’t seen skyscrapers like that before.
The Niagara Falls are enormous and are definitely worth the visit – also when I actually didn’t want to believe it at first. I first thought it would be some kind of typical crowded tourist attraction and wasn’t really sure if it would be worth the effort to do the side trip in the first place. But Gary, who had visited a couple of times, managed to convince me that I should definitely see and experience it. Thankfully, and in spite of it being a crowded tourist attraction, the falls are simply incredible and majestic. It’s unbelievable how much water pours over the falls every second and I was so mesmerized by the play of the water and the mist that I didn’t want to leave, much to Garys amusement. The surrounding parkland is also very quaint with trees, gardens, picnic tables and even a rose garden.
Now that were here with all the tourists we decided to also do something typically tourist and go on a boat ride to the falls. An experience worth every penny! You really get to feel the pure natural power of the falls, and you even get a free shower :) We definitely had a lot of fun and left the boat with freshly washed hair.
After our boat adventure we decided to take a walk through the tourist area next to the falls. What we saw, almost made us speechless: we arrived suddenly in some kind of mini Las Vegas with one amusement hall after the other. Everything is covered in blinking lights and sounds blaring from speakers trying to attract the numerous visitors. We expected Niagara Falls to be crawling with tourists, but we certainly didn’t expect to find an amusement park directly next to this amazing natural wonder, even Gary was surprised, as he didn’t see this on his previous visits. We stood there a few minutes with our mouths open in disbelief like two country bumpkins on their first visit to a big city. We really couldn’t believe what we were seeing. How much fun and distraction do people really need? We walked a little stunned through the crazy circus and almost had to pinch each other to make sure we weren’t dreaming.
20 dollars, that’s what the parking costs directly next to the falls, it’s pretty expensive, but after spending the day there we noticed that there wasn’t a sign saying that camping or overnight parking is not allowed. We talked to one of the attendants at the gate and although she couldn’t give us permission to stay the night, she did inform us that what is not expressly forbidden is allowed. So we decided to take advantage of the situation and spend the night. We packed out our camping stove and used the available picnic tables to cook our supper and relax a bit before we headed back to the falls. The falls are lit at night until midnight with rainbow colors, which we find a little bit tacky. Since we were here and had a spot to park we headed back to our parking spot by detouring through the casino and hotel areas. We strolled through one of the casinos and decided to risk $5 on the slot machines, we even managed to leave $6 richer too, hah! What an exciting day it was!
A New Camping Experience
After our picturesque side-trip to Niagara on the lake we started towards Bruce Peninsula were we spent a few days in the national park with hiking, and we even managed to go swimming for the first time this year. For the first time on this trip we were confronted with something we never had to think about before. A full campground! The summer vacations have just begun in North America, and since the park is only a couple of hours from Toronto it was packed with visitors. We managed to get the last available site and over the next 4 days we experienced a whole new level of camping in a National Park. Where normally the only sounds are those of nature here we heard the stereos music like at some kind of beach party. Since the grotto and rocky coves are quite easy to reach it is a very popular destination and so we had to adjust to suddenly seeing so many people in the parks. What really annoyed us though is that some people just don’t get the whole garbage thing. We know we’ve mentioned this in other blog posts but seriously though, it’s a national park. You can find Chip bags, Chocolate bar wrappers and used toiletries just about everywhere you look. There are even park employees walking around and collecting it instead of dishing out hefty fines. “If we didn’t go collecting the garbage every day it would look like a garbage dump by the end of the summer” we were told. “We don’t have the authority to fine the people, and most of them don’t listen to us or become belligerent when we tell them not to litter.” We think it’s pretty sad and indigent.
Along The Great Lakes
We crossed lake Huron toward Manitoulin Island on the Chi-Cheemaun ferry accompanied by ideal summer weather. The drive along lake Superior is really magnificent. It stretches almost like an ocean to the left of us as we drove the coastal highway. The road sometimes lead us directly along the coastline and then along steep bluffs and hilly landscapes that reminded us somewhat of Italy. By calm weather the water is still and almost mirror like whereas when windy, the waves can make you forget that it’s actually all fresh water. We even had to taste the water a couple of times to remind us that we weren’t driving along an ocean.
We ended up staying a whole week at the quiet and somewhat out-of-the-way Pukaskwa National Park. Actually we had only planned on staying here a couple of days to take advantage of our National parks pass that we bought in Quebec, but we felt so comfortable at the park that we just didn’t want to leave. The park is situated in the traditional region of the Anishinaabe tribe with lots of historical artifacts and informational walks. We set up our complete camp, went hiking almost every day and tried to catch up on writing our blog. Contrary to what we expected it’s a lot harder to write our blog while travelling. There always seems to be something getting in the way. Mostly it’s finding a comfortable place to write and of course also the inspiration, not to forget having Internet as well. Thankfully the visitor center in the park turned out to be the ideal place. It’s super comfy and relaxing with a beautiful view of the natural cove, traditional native music and a warm fire on those cool rainy days. A perfect place to relax and we took full advantage of it.
We realized that our original plan, to be in Alaska by July, is no longer possible to meet. It is possible to drive across Canada in a week, and you can manage to drive through Ontario in 2 days, but there is so much to see and do along the way which we simply didn’t want to miss, that our plan really became more of a burden than we wanted. So we have decided to let go of trying to plan so strictly and let the adventure simply unfold.
“No Camping” Means No Camping!
We spent our last night in Ontario at Vermillion Bay at an exceptionally nice spot. Without really looking we stumbled upon a quaint little lakeside picnic area with covered picnic tables, bbq stations and a boat launch. We did see a “no overnight parking” sign but thought it referenced the nearby municipal building than the park. Just to be on the safe side we asked a local who told us that people park overnight all the time. It doesn’t get any better than this, so we jumped into our swim suits for a swim, set up our tent and even hung a washing line to dry some clothes that weren’t quite dry from our visit to the Laundromat. We went to bed without much worry, but were woken up twice during the night seeing the police drive by. We thought that perhaps they would throw us out, but they left us completely alone. Though the next morning, during breakfast, we got a visit from a gentleman from the municipality. He brought a written warning, informing us of our infraction; apparently the no camping or overnight parking did in fact reference the park and not only the municipal building. We must immediately remove our vehicle from said premises or we could be fined for trespassing. He also told us that there are lots of campgrounds (expensive ones) nearby where we could camp instead of here. With that he left us with our warning. We always wondered what would happen if we simply ignored the “No Camping” sign and were caught. If that’s all that happens, then I think we can live with it…
After almost 3 weeks in Ontario and quite a lot of different experiences we set off westward into Manitoba and the prairies.
A Little “Danke Schön”
A big thank you to the Charleston Lake Riding School for letting us camp out on your parking lot. Jeremie and Jessica for opening your home to us, we had a wonderful time, super interesting talks and culinary inspirations. The Island Jar in Little Current for the dairy free tips, motivation and the tasty strawberries. Justin & family from Manitoulin for the awesome supper, camping spot, and ideas for self-sufficient living. Last but not least a thank you to Pukaskwa National Park for creating a really comfortable and relaxing atmosphere.
More Photos on Flickr: Ontario