I was eating a plantain in the common area of the hostel, my first morning in Maui. I was sitting with a cup of coffee and a book, when a guy named Kyle approached me and we started chatting. A few hours later we were cruising down the Road to Hana, in a Jeep with the top popped, the wind in our hair.
This became a routine throughout the week, when I wasn’t touring about. I’d spot a friend in the lounge, we’d crack a beer, start chatting. We’d find some new recruits, hop in someone’s rental car, head to the nearest supermarket to stock up on snacks and beers. And then we’d find a sandy beach to sit on to watch the sun go down.
I have never seen vibrant sunsets like those in Hawaii. You know that kind of beauty where you’re not even really sure it’s real? That kind.
In Jasper National Park, in the Canadian Rockies, I went on a snowshoe trek across frozen Maligne Lake. It was crisp and clear, but not too cold. I was there with the media for gay pride, and so I trekked across the ice with the others in pursuit of champagne.
“Are you going to write a blog titled ‘Candice and the Lesbians’?” my friend Kathy asked.
I still haven’t done that.
In Alberta I reconnected with many friends I hadn’t seen in awhile. I stayed with one of my best friends, Ashley, for weeks. I hadn’t seen her in two years. She took me to my first ever NHL game. (It was the Oilers, but still.) My cousin April and my friends Coady and Melissa came for St. Paddy’s Day. I had that bursting feeling of happiness about having a little family even on the other side of the country.
Then I headed south to Calgary, to see Matt and Laura, and my other friends. There was one blissfully warm April afternoon when Matt and me headed to a deck, and then invited some Newfoundland friends to join us. We had a full crew by five o’clock – even some old friends we bumped into in the street. In the middle of a major city.
Shaun and I reconnected in Toronto and headed south to El Salvador, where we met with Kate and some other new friends. One of my favourite nights was an impromptu beach party in El Tunco, hosted by Golden beer.
Everyone had water guns, so we filled them and sprayed one another and danced and drank cheap beers. We befriended some Salvadorian brothers and hung out in the tourism agency across the street from our hotel. Evon was our man – he sold us cheap bottles of homemade liquor.
Jaibalito in Guatemala stands out the most for me. There wasn’t much to do there, and perhaps that why I liked it. We had a balcony at the Vulcano Lodge overlooking all of Lake Atitlan.
We’d wander down to Club Ven Aca to take a dip in the questionably clean hot tub. We’d order cheap beers from the five year olds at the corner store. Most often though we just took solace in our little jungle hotel, playing card games and chatting and taking advantage of free Internet. No roads in or out, no loud clubs or bars. Just the occasional festive church music flowing over the jungle.
Forcing aside my fear of heights, and trekking across that narrow ridge of rock at Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. Nothing but steep drops thousands of feet deep on either side, but if I just kept looking ahead instead of being preoccupied with everything around me, I could focus on the green valley opening ahead of me and the light dancing across the mountains.
A good analogy for life?
The food, the glamour, the fun. The opportunity to dress up for one week and pretend I could afford three-hour spa sessions and five course dinners.
The ridiculous amount of fun in between it all: a party bus, the boys from California, the gangsters in the hot tub, the video game club, the zip-line across Fremont Street.
Leading up to my Germany move, Leila and I designated every Wednesday to Womanly Wednesday in St. John’s. We ‘d seek out new restaurants and spend more money than we had on plates of oysters, bottles of wine, fancy cocktails. We’d dress up and break the routine of being single and bored. It was nice to play pretend.
There were several birthday dinners, a few nights out, and lots of good-byes.
And then Come Home Year in Bay d’Espoir connected me with some relatives I hadn’t seen in years, mostly from Dad’s family. One evening, I was reading a book in the armchair by the window when I noticed some relatives hauling a wagon of booze across the garden.
Everyone gathered around the fire pit and we spent the evening there, roasting wieners and marshmallows and drinking beer, and telling stories. I talked with Uncle Kevin about a book by a Newfoundland author, and that’s the last I ever saw of him before cancer took him in September.
Learning how to use Berlin’s transit system for the first time. Something so small and insignificant for most travellers, but a monumental feat of anxiety for me. I got lost for hours on my first day. But when I showed up at Brandenburg Gate for my tour, I was elated. I met a Portuguese man and an American man and we went to Alexanderplatz and ordered beers, and I was proud of myself for this insignificant but significant accomplishment (although at the time I hadn’t realized how much of a hole Alex is).
A few months later, the same things keep me happy in Berlin. Having a sense of home. Climbing the familiar stairwell to my apartment at the end of a fun evening out, the clanging of trams outside my window, my neighbour singing loudly from her bedroom. These things fill me with inexplicable joy.
Then there are all the chance encounters with new friends. Christmas Eve with bloggers and Cards Against Humanity. Christmas Day at a comedy show with a table full of strangers. My surprise Christmas present, a candle. Eating plates of burrata at the Italian restaurant with my Dutch and Danish friends. Christmas market visits. Bottomless glasses of gluhwein.
Discovering that Oktoberfest really does live up to all the hype and pomp. I can’t remember ever laughing so hard as I did when Cailin and I watched drunk, confident fools step up to the Toboggan conveyer belt and…fail miserably. Arms flailing like cockroaches.
Don’t be discouraged by Oktoberfest’s notoriety. It isn’t one of those “overdone” festivals. The Bavarian spirit is strong.
Volunteering with refugee children in Berlin. The celebrations of Eid, where a bouncy castle was rented out, and volunteers brought heaping plates of food, and there were henna tattoos and a football net. People danced in circles to Arabic music and we all had fun, even me, who doesn’t know the first thing about hanging out with children.
Since then I’ve raised money, volunteered at a kitchen, and transcribed refugee interviews. It’s never enough, but it’s something.
Cruising Croatia with a team of ten people I had connected with only through Facebook, but clicked thoroughly with in real life on The Yacht Week. Days sailing the Adriatic while lounging on a catamaran’s hammock. Sunsets at sea. Elaborate dinners with seafood and glasses of wine followed by DJ parties until sunrise. The most pure sense of “freedom” I’ve ever known, for one week at least.
Returning to Sligo, to find my home exactly how I left it, but with more good friends this time around. Late nights returning from Irish shows to my apartment with my hosts, drinking tea at the kitchen table and dancing to Christy Moore.
My favourite evening was on Lough Gill, around the fire, seeking cover from the drizzle. Seeing my stand-up paddling friends again after two years. We fired up some barbecue and went for a paddle to the Isle of Innisfree, where we walked barefoot through the mud for a view of the lake. David’s daughter recited the Yeats poem to us.
The way the light hit the water as we took the boat back into town. The calm of the river, the Irish countryside that feels more like home than home. The dead sheep that got tangled in the motor.
A random trip to Mallorca, Spain, to see Cailin, Kate, and Vicky. No plans, and no prior research. Just a trip on a whim to a villa with some wonderful friends of mine. All we did was search out the best tapas in Pollensa, and wander around the markets, and lounge by the pool.
One day I hiked to the monastery at the top of the hill. I need exercise and I needed fresh air, so I went alone. With my headphones. I can’t listen to Odesza without thinking of standing on top of that hill overlooking the ocean.
Sensing a trend in my favourite 2015 travel moments? All these moments were spent with people I love dearly. It’s always the people that make the place. For me, at least.
Happy 2016, everyone! See you in the New Year.