Driving Under Water

Trip Start Jun 12, 2012
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Trip End Oct 18, 2012


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Flag of Canada  , Ontario,
Sunday, August 12, 2012

Howdy folks,

With only 20kms to drive into downtown Detroit, there wasn't much rush to get ready early. We took our time and lazed around the hotel room until checkout at 11am. Having said that we did have to get the oil changed and buy a new air mattress, so we located the nearest Walmart and headed there to buy groceries, air mattress and there was a garage on site as well so we knocked them all off at the same time. Walmart is always convenient, but one does feel that when you can buy groceries, clothes, electronics, car tires and Subway under the same roof then you may be selling your soul by killing the competition. Nevertheless, it has been good for us while travelling because they are nearly as widespread as McDonalds.

After lunch, we drove to the Motown museum which is just north of the city located in one of Detroit’s poorer neighbourhoods. We were going to park behind the museum except the lack of other cars plus all the beat up and boarded houses made us think again. Detroit was a blossoming motor production city until the 1970s when people started buying Japanese and it has kind of gone downhill since then. General Motors is still making cars here albeit on a smaller scale and there doesn’t seem to be much else going on. We lined up outside Hitsville USA where 'Motor Town’ became ‘Motown’ back in 1959 and artists like the Four Tops, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, young Stevie Wonder, The Marvelettes, The Supremes and many others came to record in tiny Studio A and changed the sound of popular music. That was until 1972 when the entire operation outgrew its residential premises and moved to the big city lights of Los Angeles. One gets a feeling that once Motown moved to bigger things, the city was never quite the same.

Unfortunately for us, the popularity of the museum meant that we endured an hour wait in front of the house just to get in for a guided tour. The small confines of the building meant that only a dozen people can get shown through at a time. We watched a small movie and toured through some exhibits before going back in time to see the original lobby which was open 24 hours a day. Apparently the owner thought that creativity knows no time limits so the door was always open to recording artists. The original cigarette and candy bar machines were there right next to the studio which was a converted car garage. It was pretty well preserved and the large gift shop ensured the continuing survival of the museum. We must have been there for over 2 hours.

It was time to head downtown to our beat up little motel right near the tunnel to Windsor, Ontario. It wasn’t any better than the Voyager, but then again it was about half the price so we settled in. It was car park noodles for dinner and we enjoyed the last of our cheap American booze knowing that the next day all the prices for gas, food, accommodation and alcohol would all be going up.

The next morning, we got up for a crappy continental breakfast and planned our day. We hadn’t seen anything of downtown Detroit, so our first stop was Belle Isle. Detroit and Windsor are separated by the Detroit River which flows from Lake St Clair to Lake Erie and Belle Isle is in the middle on the US side. It is a strange thing for an Australian to have 2 countries separated by only a river. There was a nice spot at Sunset Point which gave us a clear view of both cities. Next we drove to the Renaissance Center which is the world HQ for General Motors. The high, gleaming skyscrapers are just about the only modern buildings in the whole town. The indoor circular layout seemed to be trying too hard and the concrete walls made the place feel cold and empty. Not exactly the best piece of architecture I’ve seen on this trip.

We tried to walk to the plaza, but the Windsor tunnel divided us so we had to walk all the way around. In the central plaza were many homages to the city’s blue collar persona like the giant fist. The market stalls for the Rib and R‘n’B were still making smells to make the mouth water and there was even a Sunday outdoor church complete with evangelistic preacher. It was interesting to note that in the middle of the 19th Century, Detroit was a point of exodus for black Americans looking to gain their freedom in Canada via the underground railway.

There is a monorail called the People Mover which does a loop down the downtown area, so we paid our 75 cents to go for an elevated view of the city. The shuttle was just about empty and I was beginning to wonder just where people where because they weren’t hanging around anywhere but the plaza. We looped around the Joe Louis hockey arena, Transit Center, past Comerica Park. The Opera House, library, casino and back to General Motors. We had seen enough and were keen to get moving.

It was $4.75 to take the tunnel under the Detroit River and 5 minutes later we were in Canada. For a change we had a really nice border guard who was helpful, informative and we didn’t even have to have our car checked. The whole thing took 20 minutes which is some sort of record for us and we were officially in Canada. I could definitely tell because the visitor centre was right next to a Tim Hortons and there was a Macs Convenience store, Canada Post and CIBC bank down the street. Ahh, it’s good to be home!

We made a quick stop on the other side of the river to look back at Detroit one last time before hitting Highway 3. We had planned to take the main highway that runs all the way to Toronto, but by change we decided to take the scenic route instead. That brought us to the town of Leamington and we drove past the Heinz ketchup factory for our first view of Lake Eire. Our good luck had in fact brought us to Port Pelee National Park which is the southernmost point of the Canadian mainland with the most southern point being Middle Island just past the tip in the middle of Lake Eire.

We stopped for supplies at our first Canadian Walmart in a month and were disappointed that the prices that gone up. At least it was still cheaper than the price of food in Banff, but the petrol was up at $1.30 a litre instead of $4 a gallon. Oh well…

We stopped at the lakeshore and it was a beautiful sight. Lake Eire is one of the great lakes and so big that it could be classed as an inland sea with sandy beaches and tides. We drove down to the Visitor Information Centre where we caught the shuttle out to the tip of the peninsula and walked the last little bit to the tiny sandbar which holds the claim to fame. Needless to say we weren’t alone in claiming the geographical feat which is actually below the 42nd parallel: on par with Barcelona and Rome!

On the way back we stopped at the Wetlands Boardwalk, but we were lazy so we just climbed the tower. I can definitely say that this type of landscape is much different than anything else I’ve experienced in Canada so far. It is hard to believe that it is all part of the same country. We continued driving along Highway 3 until we reached our destination at Rondeau Provincial Park where we set up camp for the evening. The campsite was pretty busy and there were a few inspects and spiders to keep us company for the night as well.

Next stop Niagara Falls!
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