Buffalo to Belize: Vignettes from spring break

Buffalo to Belize: Vignettes from spring break

(Photo by Brian Gentry | Staff Columnist)

The Pitt News Staff

March 12, 2018

Hot takes painting college students as overgrown babies aside, it’s hard work studying at a school like Pitt — and we all need a break every now and again. Whether we sought out our reprieves from schoolwork at home or abroad, we here on the Opinions section staff took full advantage of our week off to escape and reset. As we head back to classes today, here are some stories from that time — just don’t ask us if we’ve finished our homework yet.

Maggie Durwald, Columnist

Nothing screams spring break quite like 12 inches of snow.

I didn’t see much sunshine or any sandy beaches this past week, but then again, it wouldn’t be March in Buffalo, New York, without gray skies and a snowstorm. Buffalo perpetually sits at the top of the charts as one of the dreariest cities in the United States (only behind Seattle), and its reputation as one of the most run-down, decrepit cities on the Rust Belt truly precedes itself.

But in Buffalo, we take ownership of our misery and turn it into a point of pride. And when we get walloped overnight with a sheet of snow, we pull out 100 pounds of wool clothing and make a snow day of it.

My family’s winter pastime of choice is ice-skating at Canalside, an outdoor rink downtown that sits on what used to be a dilapidated lot next to the Buffalo River. Abandoned grain elevators sit just across the water, and when the wind blows you can catch the sickly sweet smell of Cheerios from the General Mills factory nestled among them.

The ice was rough this time, hurling children to the ground when they hit it wrong with the blade of their skate. Half of it was cordoned off to allow room for curling ― Canalside offers ice time, brooms and stones for beginners and experts to practice their game. These curlers were most definitely not experts.

Skating provides a couple of hours of fresh air, runny noses and bruised knees. But the best part is what follows ― a trip to Tim Hortons, the Canadian-born chain that I miss almost as much as the snow.

Brian Gentry, Columnist

Sunlight filtered in between the leaves of the live oak trees, waking my friend and me up at 6:40 a.m. Monday. We lazily pulled ourselves out of our beds, dressed ourselves in shorts, T-shirts and running shoes and left the house.

At about 39 degrees, it was certainly brisk — especially for South Carolina — but after three blocks, I hardly felt it. Sidewalks lined the road the entire way, but we preferred to jog on the berm to ease up on our shins. Our destination was the nearest grocery store, Harris Teeter, and when we got there we examined the seafood selection for later purchase. The store had very little out for viewing, so we decided to come back later to make a more informed decision.

We arrived back from our six-mile run slightly sweaty and certainly winded. I was ready to call it quits, shower and sleep some more, but my friend thought this went against the rules of “beach week” and convinced me to walk with him on the coast.

The sand was frigid despite the sun, but my bare feet didn’t care, and I didn’t really, either. The Atlantic Ocean was gorgeous — that was enough of a distraction. Still tired from the run, we talked drowsily about anything sea-related. He brought up his beach week in high school, and I tried to explain my unintelligible, deep-rooted fear of eating oysters — a fear that I have since conquered.

When we got back to the house, I made French press coffee in a bright yellow mug — yellow is my favorite color — and read more of a book I’d started over winter break. It was 8:05 a.m., and I was content. Even though I had work to do, I was happy to let it go and enjoy the simple things.

Maggie Koontz, Senior Columnist

Bleary-eyed and tired, I started my Sunday morning driving to the Pittsburgh International Airport at 2 a.m. By the end of the day, my toes were in the sand, and I was watching the sunset.

I spent 12 hours traveling to get to Caye Caulker, an island off the coast of Belize in Central America. To get there, I took five different forms of transportation — an early morning car drive, two short flights, a perilous taxi ride, a surprisingly smooth water taxi and a bumpy golf cart ride.

Every minute of my five days on the island was worth the long journey. Thankfully, I travelled with a friend, and we stayed with her parents, who live on the island for part of the year. Slathered in sunscreen, we went outside each day to explore the island on bicycles, pedaling through the sand-covered streets. We saw iguanas and seahorses. I fed a small fish to a larger fish, which was a terrifying experience. Sometimes, we were content to sit in the shade, sipping our drinks. Almost every day, we would swim to keep cool under the hot sun.

Although all these activities were fun, nothing matched canoeing in the Caribbean Sea. The sun was bright and relentless, and we paddled smoothly across the sea, which looked as if it stretched out forever. Sailboats were mere dots in the distance. Returning to Pittsburgh has never been so difficult.

(Photo by Sarah Shearer | Contributing Editor)

Sarah Shearer, Assistant Opinions Editor

I have to read “Hamilton: The Revolution” in one of my classes this semester, and thought I’d try to get a head start on it since I spent my break at home in Lancaster.

I stopped by the library Monday morning to get a copy, but only an audiobook version was available. I knew there was a very small chance I would actually listen to the audiobook — I’m a devoted car-singer and you can’t sing along to a book — but I checked out the audiobook anyway because it made me feel like I was getting something done.

Sliding the first of six CDs into the player as I pulled out of the library parking lot, I was immediately confused. It didn’t sound like the beginning of a play, but rather the preface to a book.

This is probably a good place to say that, unlike most of the people I know, I’m not a particularly huge fan of “Hamilton.” It’s not that I don’t like it, I just don’t really know anything about it. So perhaps it really was the beginning of the play. Honestly, I’m still not sure. If you love “Hamilton” and want to try to convert me, please do.

I decided to skip to the next chapter, because if I was going to get anywhere with this six-disc audiobook in one week, I wasn’t going to be able to waste time on the preface. I wound up skipping the first eight or so “chapters” and was getting started on the ninth when I pulled up to a red light.

I noticed something strange when I tried to gas it again — my car wouldn’t run! I rolled it to the side of the road and called AAA, who said they’d drop by with a tow truck in about 30 minutes. For a fleeting moment, I was happy about this.

“This isn’t bad,” I thought. “That’s 30 minutes I can spend listening to ‘Hamilton.’”

But with what I later learned was a fried alternator in my car, a six-disc audiobook has never been more useless.

A nice man named Kevin came to tow me away after only about 11 minutes, which was a pleasant surprise. A mechanic quickly fixed my car, but I still didn’t listen to “Hamilton: The Revolution” the whole week.


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