- by Alyson Shane
I'm on a flight right now.
Sitting in a middle seat between a quiet dude and a lady with a baby with big brown eyes. The baby keeps grabbing my hair a bit and pulling, which hurts but not too much, so I'm not too bothered.
We've been in the air for a few hours and I've finished reading The Handmaid's Tale, which is the book I brought for the trip. I've read it before, but it's been nice to revisit it given the current political climate and recent tv series starring Elizabeth Moss.
Margaret Atwood manages to be so quietly sinister in her writing. I forgot how upsetting this book was.
But now that I'm done I have nothing to do, so I'm writing this and looking over the dude's shoulder out the window.
(I covet window seats, but I didn't book these so it wasn't up to me.)
We're descending into Pearson Airport right now and I can see Toronto in the distance. The sun is setting and it's misty. I can see the dim outline of the CN Tower against the misty lake.
There's a big, wide highway that leads from a suburb
(Mississauga? Brampton? Oakville?)
into the heart of the city. Like a big, thick vein.
An artery for cars.
I used to know the names of these streets, once. I pored over Google Maps, memorizing the streets and picturing myself walking down their sidewalks.
Once upon a time I daydreamed about disappearing into this big, noisy metropolis. Forgetting my name, history, family.
All the things I knew or believed about myself.
Every city has that appeal for someone, I suppose. People looking to start over. For an opportunity. A big break. A culture shock.
Or just to get out of their own damn hometown.
Toronto used to be that to me, once. I was obnoxious with how much I wanted to live there. How I compared it - unfairly, of course - to Winnipeg.
(How annoying I must have been.)
It's weird to see it now and feel that same familiar pull. Like a fish hook in my navel, pulling me towards those towers of glass. The possibilities.
But we're about to land and if I'm being honest I can't wait to get back to Winnipeg.
I miss home.
- by Alyson Shane
On our second-last night on the island we finally decided to go to Pippy's restaurant.
Pippy (pronounced Pépe) spends his days hanging out in front of one of the Chinese grocery stores with a menu in his hand heckling people to go eat at the restaurant where he works, telling them about the day's specials.
It was getting dark and we'd just finished watching the tarpin over by Tarpin Watch, which is a dock on one end of the island where a bunch of huge tarpin congregate
where you can buy bags of anchovies for a few bucks and when you pinch them between your thumb and forefinger and hang your hand over the dock the wild fish will jump up and take it from your hand
and I was ready to eat, so when we walked by Pippy and he hollered at us about the conch soup we were like
"fine, okay. Take us to the restaurant."
He starts walking us down a residential street with no restaurant signs to be seen and it's getting dark and I'm wondering where the heck this restaurant is
and we round a corner and find a picnic shelter with a few picnic tables and some rowdy folks enjoying some amazing-smelling food.
They were finishing up but stayed around to chat for a bit. Their names were Jen, Brian, Zane, Nick, and I think we also met another Jen and Shawn that evening, and an older lady named Kale and her husband Ricky Lee, and we all bonded over being from cold places.
Jen and Brian were on the island to get married and invited us to their wedding the next day which of course we agreed to. They went on their way and we stayed at Meldy's (the restaurant's name) to finish eating some of the best damn curry shrimp I've ever had.
Afterward we were treated to a series of rum punch drinks courtesy of a young Belgian couple we ran into while buying beer from the store. Her nipple piercing was infected (!!!) and we helped them buy Hydrogen Peroxide so they made us drinks as a "thank you"
(people are so nice on vacation!)
But after a few of those I was feeling tipsy and needed a snack so we walked up Front St to a street vendor selling the best damn burrito you'll ever eat, and a golf cart pulls up and we hear
"Hey John and Alyson!"
and it's Jen and Brian and Nick and Zane on the golf cart and Pippy's on the back and we hop on and go up to the street and party with them all night. Pippy rapped and we did way too many shots and had the blurriest night filled with so many laughs.
The next morning we slept through as much of our hangover as possible and spent the day wandering around the island, soaking up our last day and hunting for lobster to eat.
At 5pm we walked to The Split where the wedding was supposed to start and noticed some local police officers driving up on a golf cart behind us. Over by the bar were all the friends we'd made the night before, as well as some of the locals from the island and some of the expats Jen and Brian had met during their stay.
It felt like a weird, beautiful culmination of many of the faces that had started to feel familiar over the last few weeks. Even Thug Taxi was there!
We grabbed beers and waited for Jen and Brian to arrive and since the weather was getting dark and the wind was picking up Nick decided to get things underway.
I took video and John snapped photos and everyone formed a semi-circle around the couple as Nick officiated. One of the police officers on the island, Lieutenant (or was it Constable?) Terrance played Charlie Pride and George Jones.
Pippy, the unsuspecting catalyst for all of these amazing memories and new friendships was Brian's best man.
When the ceremony was over we saw Jen and Brian off in their "chariot"
(a golf cart with a plastic cover to guard from the rain)
with beers in hand and walked up Front St. to a restaurant called Hibiscus where we drank martinis and ate amazing food and laughed until our throats felt raw.
It was a nice reminder that weddings don't have to be a big hoopla.
That they can be about you and a couple of people you love and some random people you invited into your life.
That it can be a chance to make new friends and help other make great memories, too.
Honestly that wedding was the best possible way to end our trip.
P.S. Hi Jen, Brian, Nick and Zane!
- by Alyson Shane
For most of our stay we rented an AirBnB in a place called The Bahia which is a thirty minute walk or so from the village of Caye Caulker.
When we arrived on the island it was after dark and the golf cart taxi that we caught at the water ferry dock almost got lost because he took the long way around, which didn't have street lights or signs.
As we pulled up to the big yard the security lights came on and three friendly dogs came running up to us. These dogs would become good friends in the coming weeks, despite one of them chewing up one of John's shoes when I moved them outside to sweep.
Our AirBnB host was waiting to walk us through our space: two bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom, living room, and two-tier deck that we would call home for the next 10 days.
I'm surprised in retrospect how easily we settled into quiet days in our house.
Most mornings the sunlight and heat would wake me up before 7AM and I'd spend quiet mornings on the couch working, or laying in the hammock with a book and petting the dogs while John snoozed.
Waking up and standing on the deck and looking at the ocean while I sipped my coffee filled me with a sense of contentedness that I don't often feel.
It's surprising how at peace one can feel when close to water, or the ocean.
On the first day we biked into town and got breakfast, but in the following days we ate most of our breakfasts at home. John would make eggs and sausage and I cut up fresh tomatoes, papaya, and slices of thick cheese. We ate sitting across from each other, our legs brushing under the table.
The AirBnB came with two cruiser bikes and most days we rode our bikes into the village in the morning and rode them back in the early afternoon after we'd gone swimming, kayaking, or scuba diving.
In the evenings we would shower and walk back on foot to get dinner somewhere, dodging potholes and petting the various dogs that lived in the neighbourhood.
At night we'd walk home or catch a golf cart taxi if it was raining, or if we were too tired. Whenever we came home the dogs would be there to meet us, running up to our bikes or jumping onto the back of the taxi to say "welcome back!" when we arrived.
One night when it was storming we retreated to our little home and listened to music and talked and drank beer as the rain pelted the house. I spotted two geckos on the walls that night.
The following morning I woke up and there was a man breaking up seashells and debris in our yard using a machete. I watched him for a bit from inside and we waved at each other when I stepped outside to set up the hammock. He had two little boys with him, one of which was his son, and I enjoyed watching them chase the dogs around the yard while he worked.
Since The Bahia is still in development - there are several streets that are planned, but not built, and the area is undergoing a surge with new houses and AirBnBs bleeding into the area - it was far enough from the village that most of the people around weren't tourists.
Around 8AM every morning one of our neighbours - I use this term loosely because there were several feet of swampy mangrove roots in-between our houses - would start playing music. Loudly. Usually it was some sort of salsa or Spanish fusion.
Within a few hours one of our other neighbours - this one was further up the street, I think - would start blaring his music (usually Top 40's hip hop) and the two of them would wage a war of attrition against one another all day. Each one slowly turning up his or her music to drown the other out.
I found this exchange to be particularly hilarious coming from our stuffy North American "too polite" standards.
Heaven forbid someone else hears your music!
In the mornings when I would stand on the deck the construction workers across the street would wave at me and shout "good morning!" and I enjoyed watching them get deliveries of sandwiches and Fanta throughout the day.
At night we would walk home and pass people's houses with doors wide open, usually with the TV on or sometimes playing the radio. We experimented with different streets to see which way was the most efficient (and had the fewest potholes), and got to know all the local landmarks which helped us find our way home in the dark, or the rain, or after a few drinks.
Our location allowed us to immerse ourselves in island life in a way that isn't available with a hotel or resort.
There's an ebb and flow to neighbourhoods and cities, and I deeply miss the early mornings, busy days, and quiet nights that we experienced in The Bahia.
One night we were hanging out at the Windsor pizza place and the guy managing the restaurant decided to bike home with us as we walked. We passed by the convenience store with its bright, fluorescent lights cutting through the darkness and he pointed at one of the wooden houses on stilts across the street:
"See that place?" he said "that's my home. I own that place! I moved here from Belize City and now I own my own home on this beautiful island. I'm living the dream."
And I realized: maybe he actually is.
- by Alyson Shane
One of the things I love about travelling are the people you meet.
I've met heaps of Aussies. Brits. Belgians. Puerto Ricans. French. Italian. Spanish.
Canadians upon Canadians upon Canadians.
And of course tons of Americans. Most of whom are nice, thoughtful, and really interesting and intelligent people with unique perspectives and lots of stories to share.
This story is about Americans who were none of those things.
We met them when we were sitting in The Penalty Box which is a bar where Canadian expats on the island get together to drink beer and watch hockey.
It used to be a liquor store called the Liquor Bin but has since changed to an actual bar with tons of sports jerseys on the walls, team photos, and heaps of Leafs paraphernalia all around. It's owned by a Canadian expat. Big surprise.
I'm not a big sports person myself but we needed a rest and Canadians are friendly so we sat down and ordered a beer, said "please" and "thank you" and "sorry" to the dudes watching the TV because we walked in front of the screen.
Typical Canadian stuff.
A few minutes in I was looking out the front of the bar, which is one of those big garage-door types that you roll up during the day and roll down at night, and this girl walked by.
We locked eyes and she screamed
WHAT ARE YOU GUYS DOING?
and jumped right into the bar through the open window over to where John and I were sitting.
Her name was Angela* and she was wasted.
She immediately hopped behind the bar and started taking beers and pouring shots for everyone, us included. So we did a shot with her
(because nobody turns down a free shot while on vacation)
and her boyfriend Josh* walked in off the street and sat down.
Angela said "we got wasted last night and I thought Josh was going to get Advil... but instead he came back with a bottle of tequila so we sat in bed passing it back and forth for a few hours and here we were now!"
And here they were, indeed.
Josh ordered another round of beers for the bar and she ordered another round of shots, and we watched in polite Canadian style as Angela made a scene in the bar for the next 45 minutes.
Now let me paint this picture for you: this girl was stunning. Tall, thin, beautiful with this adorable little nose and huge, long eyelashes. She could have and maybe even was a model. I don't know.
What I do know is that I saw more of her booty grinding on everything in that bar than I saw in all my nights out clubbing as a kid. This girl was waggling her stuff everywhere, twerking all over the place and climbing onto the bar Coyote Ugly style for her boyfriend (who was mortified), a bunch of 40yr old Canadian dudes who just wanted to watch some hockey,
There was some sort of construction happening upstairs where the bar owner lived so she ran up there and was harassing the dudes working, then after a few minutes she would come down and pour herself another beer, write in her "log book" and generally make a giant scene before running back upstairs to start the cycle over again.
Her bf turned to me and said "we've only been going out for three months and when we get back to NYC we are breaking the fuck up"
which usually I would think was shady but if my partner was twerkin' it in booty shorts for strangers I'd probably be re-thinking my life choices, too.
Anyway at some point
(probably after Angela ran down the street and took someone's bike and began riding it back and forth in front of the bar)
he got tired of her shenanigans and went to go pay. We tuned out a bit at this point but a few minutes later Angela's back in the bar asking "where did my boyfriend go?"
After checking the bathroom and looking up and down the street it was obvious he'd left. Just up and abandoned her on an island she'd never been to. Alone. Wasted.
Oh and did I mention she didn't know where she was staying, so she was also completely lost?
Luckily some nice Canadians (us) were on the scene so we settled up and started to walk her home which of course took over an hour because she had to stop and chat with everyone we met, including shaking her booty in front of the local island gangsters on a dock in the ocean, which was an experience in and of itself.
By the time we got her to her hotel room where her bf was passed out it was after dark and we needed to go get something to eat to balance out all those shots we'd had earlier. So we left her in her room with a bottle of water and headed on our way.
Later that night we ran into Josh at the local pizza place where we were indulging in Caesars and Winsdor-style pizza I gave him an earful about leaving his gf behind, because honestly I don't care what a shitshow your gf is being you never leave anyone alone when they're that wasted, especially when they don't know how to get home safely.
Like, c'mon dude you save people's lives for a living and you can't even keep your gf safe?
That's a loser move.
Eventually he went off to go have a threesome with his cousin and his cousin's gf who was feeding him pizza in what I assume was supposed to be a sexy way
and when we saw them both walking down Front St. the next morning Josh and Angela were cuddling and kissing and holding hands like nothing had happened the night before
and didn't recognize us at all.
* Names have been changed to protect the wasted.
- by Alyson Shane
I really didn't want to learn to scuba dive.
I'm from a landlocked province with nice lakes but not ones that you really go diving in because Manitoba's soil has a lot of clay in it, which is great for growing barley and wheat and other crops but it makes our waterways look murky and brown.
Mostly though I didn't want to learn to scuba dive because the idea of going deep down underwater with only a tank strapped to my back scares the living daylights out of me.
But I don't want to be the kind of person who doesn't push herself, so when we arrived on the island I booked a 4-day course at Frenchie's Diving, a super-reputable place and where John also got certified to scuba dive several years ago.
Maybe you already know how to get certified to scuba dive but here's basically what's involved:
Day 1: You fill out your forms and waivers and spend 4-5 hours sitting in a room watching DVDs about scuba diving and following along in a book because there's an exam at the end.
Day 2: You learn how to check your gear (the most important part) and start learning how to use it in chest-high water in the ocean, kneeling on the sand and showing you can perform a series of movements.
Day 3 + 4: You practice checking your gear and diving a few more times. In total you do about 4 dives at progressively deeper and deeper depths throughout the course.
My biggest fear (besides not being able to breathe) was having to keep my eyes open underwater. I need glasses or contacts to see, and it stressed me out to think of losing one - or both - of them if my mask got flooded. It's not exactly like I can take off my mask and put them back in underwater, and I was worried that it would impede my experience, or distract me
Then, on our first dive, my contact lens fell out of my right eye.
Like, right away.
So I just carried on diving and made the most of it. It was one of those weird reaffirming moments where the worst has happened and you just manage it and then go:
"why was I even worried about this in the first place?"
and after that I wasn't worried anymore. It's like a switch turned on in my brain and I was able to chill the heck out and pay attention to what I was experiencing.
Which was, of course, amazing.
On our second dive, our dive master found a white sea urchin and handed it to each of us to hold in our hand. When it was my turn I could feel its tube feet cling to my skin, and when I turned my hand over the urchin stayed stuck to my palm!
We saw two sea turtles, a barracuda, a big arrow crab, a grouper fish, and lobster, eels, and enough coral that it felt we were like swimming through an underwater garden.
On our last dive we were performing a controlled ascent
(which is where you swim up slowly and wait every few feet to let the nitrogen in the compressed air you're breathing dissolve in your body so you don't get the bends)
and our dive master noticed a tiny crab living on the shot line.
It crawled over our hands as we passed it around and it felt unbelievable to be holding this little creature in my hand in his natural habitat. He was maybe half the size of my finger and covered in the same seaweed as the shot line so he was camouflaged perfectly.
We put him back safely and resumed our ascent but I felt emotional for a bit afterward.
It made me glad that I'd gotten over my anxiety to experience something that reminded me
we're all just a bunch of weird animals doing what we can to get by.
- by Alyson Shane
A small collection of memories from our trip in Caye Caulker, Belize, over a series of blog posts.
Cars aren't allowed on Caye Caulker so everyone drives around in golf carts, and some of them are available to rent as taxis so you can get around.
One night John and I needed to get back to our AirBnB and then get back into town, so we hailed a taxi and hopped on.
We'd seen the driver around before: he looks like he's straight outta compton, and since nobody else on the island dresses like that he stood out.
He gave us a lift there and back and was really quiet, which was unusual.
Most of the taxi drivers are super chatty and give you their name and phone number so you can call them whenever.
Some of them will even deliver your groceries for you.
Like I said, the Caye Caulker hustle is real.
So anyway fast-forward to a few nights later when we're out with some friends we made on the island.
We're talking about Thug Taxi and our friend Jenn gasps and says
"that guy isn't a taxi! He gave us a lift from the water taxi and someone told us later that he doesn't have a taxi license."
The next day we saw him as we were on our way to the laundromat and he waved at us. John yelled "hey, what are you up to today?" and he held up a bag of clothes and said
"it's laundry day, man."