I am terribly afraid of small planes.
Which is peculiar, because I am in one.
As I delicately claw my fingers into the leather hand rest, I lean my forehead against the window and risk looking down. Wow, are we close to the ground. New York City in the morning sun is such an awesome sight though, that for a moment I forget my malaise.
Also to be just, this plane is not that small. It’s a private plane, a turbo prop, seating 30 people comfortably. And by now we’re about 1500 feet above ground or so, sipping coffee and getting to know each other. But still, I am way out of my comfort zone. My knuckles turn white. Oh mother of god, how did I get myself into this adventure?
Rather quickly, as it turned out when I stumbled upon a unique travel company that peaked my curiosity.
As a European in America I must say: I LOVE the US and I love to discover the unusual and breathtaking natural wonders this continent offers. Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, Niagara Falls – these are all terms of endearment to me, words that make my heart melt and my eyes shine. Sadly the loves that I long for are located all over this huge country of ours. And they are rather inflexible, none of them would meet me half way. Unfortunately, I am not a skilled road-tripper. Driving endless hours to see them is not titillating.
Imagine my delight, when I heard about Mauiva AirCruise, a Florida based air charter, whose owners came up with the concept of air-cruising: think flying from one awesome place to the next in a private plane, significantly cutting down on travel time and airport hassle.
As I browsed their All American East tour description, I perked up further. A one hour flight from New York to Niagara Falls instead of an eight hour drive? Then hopping down to Pennsylvania to visit the Amish before flying on to Washington, DC to learn about the capital’s history? A 6 day/5 night trip that won’t involve endless road-tripping?
Screw my fear of small planes, Niagara, I am on my way!
Slowly I am easing into my seat. So far my gut decision to fly Mauiva AirCruise worked out very well. Our tour group – a colorful mix of Americans, Europeans and Aussies – met very early this morning in the lobby of a NYC midtown hotel, where we were picked up by a coach bus and driven to the private airport on Long Island where the Mauiva jet awaited us. The bus drove right onto the tarmac and we boarded the plane without wait, security check or even time for me to have an anxiety attack.
By 9:30 AM we’ve landed again, boarded a new coach bus (luggage, hotel-check-ins, dinners, attraction tickets etc. are all handled by the Mauiva tour host) and now we are cruising along the Niagara River and I see a huge cloud ahead of us hovering over the water. “That’s the mist from the falls,” explains our tour host, and my excitement rises. We are approaching the biggest falls in the United States and Canada and I swear my heart starts pounding harder. What might the Native Americans have felt when they first discovered the falls thousands of years ago?
As we cross the Rainbow Bridge towards Canada, our bus is getting overcrowded on one side since the whole group is rushing to the driver’s side staring at the falls and snapping the first photos of the water – water that started to gather thousands of miles away and traveled through four of the Great Lakes (Superior, Michigan, Huron and Erie) before crashing down 176 feet/54 meters right in front of us sending a huge cloud of mist up into the sky. Thirty-two hundred tons of water flows over Niagara Falls every SECOND. A million bathtubs would be filled in something like a minute. My jaw drops a bit.
“The Niagara River is ferocious and unforgiving”. I think of this quote by Niagarafrontier as we embark on the thrill I am after: riding one of the Maid of the Mist boats – the former ferries between the US and Canada – upstream into the steam of the falls. We all fumble with the thin blue raincoats that we were given before boarding the boat and there is a sense of fun and excitement in the air, as we glide closer to the falls. This is pure fun for us – for others, the falls meant hope, luck and death.
Fifteen (crazy, if you ask me) people have intentionally gone over the falls, some of them survived. The first to strap herself in a wooden pickle barrel and shoot down the falls was 63 year old retired school-teacher Annie Edson Taylor in October 1901 – on her birthday. She survived, and so did her cat. Annie was hoping to gain fame and fortune from her stunt so to not end up in the poorhouse. She risked her life to avoid what was still her fate: she gained fame but not fortune and died destitute.
In 1911, a decade after Annie, a man name Bobby Leach went down the falls in a tin barrel. He, too, survived with injuries that eventually healed but only to slip on an orange peel in New Zealand, infect his leg and die of gangrene – mind-boggling, right? And in 1960 a seven-year-old boy was swept over the falls after his boat accidentally capsized. He wore nothing but a life-vest. The boy was plucked basically unharmed from the furious plunge pool beneath the Horseshoe Falls after grabbing a life ring thrown to him by the crew of the Maid of the Mist.
As we’re heading towards said furious plunge pool the roar of the large Horseshoe Falls keeps swelling. I took my place at the very front of the boat, right at the rail. Supposedly that’s prime real estate. “Don’t use the upper deck, stay down, close to the water, right at the tip of the boat”, another travel writer had suggested to me. Done – I have the best spot on the boat to see the falls from the bottom up.
By the way, Mauiva is a Polynesian term that means making something from nothing. In Hawaiian folklore it references the fisherman who pulled the Hawaiian Islands out of the Pacific Ocean, essentially creating something out of nothing. As we are heading right into the fall I have a similar feeling – out of nothing but the sky falls the biggest body of water I’ve ever seen creating some frightening magic.
The steam becomes thicker, the water sprays more intense. We huddle together on the stern, small little figures in blue, soaked in water, with huge smiles on our faces and all cameras tucked safely away.
First I am hanging on to the rail as we go deeper into the mist and the thunder of the crashing falls drowns out any other noise. The tip of the boat rocks up and down and my body starts swaying. I squint my eyes and stare down into the froth where the falls hits the river and it’s all white and wild and primal. Awesome.
I decide to let go of the rail and raise my face so the water hits me straight on and makes breathing difficult. I sway, hit the person next to me, try to stand up straight again and get doused with another wave of raindrops. Can’t stop smiling from ear to ear. I want to be part of a most intense natural performance that has been going on for millennia. I want to feel it, smell it, inhale it. Nothing but falling short of going over board will do.
Best 30 seconds I’ve had in a long time.
(So intense that I throw water in my face just writing this. Just kidding.)
As the ship slowly veers away back towards the port I am happy I overcame my fear of small planes to indulge in this experience. “Thank you, Mauiva”, I silently say to myself – meaning the company, sure, but more so the force of nature that “pulled these falls out of nothing”.
As a side note: I took the Mauiva AirCruise tour not only as a travel writer, but as a professional tour director which I also am. On this particular tour I found out if I could overcome my un-easyness in planes with less than 300 passengers. Turns out, I can. Between you and I: flying private planes is quite becoming. Heavens, by now I think I should have my own! 🙂
There is a second stop on the Mauiva All American East experience that I found fascinating and unique: the Amish People of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Sign-up for the updates to not miss this upcoming story on the life of the Amish!
Category: Explore the World With Me