If you've been to Itz'ana in the last few years, you've likely run into Shaylene Todd. Our sales manager is always smiling, mostly because she's loving life here in Belize. Originally from Canada, she's lived in Placencia for five years after first discovering Belize nearly a decade ago. "I wanted to write a novel, so I was looking for a place where I could afford a little cabana on a beach all to myself for some privacy to write."
Belize left an impression, and she came back for a month or so for the next five years before moving to Placencia. "I love it here," she says. "I love the village life, the local community. How everyone knows and helps each other. I love the beach, the palm trees, the full moons. And I love that when I'm not working, I'm immediately on vacation—boats, islands, waterfalls, they never get old to me. I always say I fell in love with a place, not a person," Shaylene tells us.
Her first job in the area was as a first mate and chef for a catamaran, which sailed up and down the Belize coast. "I was so lucky to see Belize from the water—both north and south, inside and outside the reef," she says.
Living in Placencia, she became friends with members of the Itz'ana team, and even waitressed several of our pop-up dinners and coordinated the resort's groundbreaking ceremony. Two years ago, she officially joined the Itz'ana family, working first as a sales and marketing coordinator, and then as sales associate. Now, she's managing our sales team, and leads potential buyers through the entire process. "I love taking them around Placencia and showing it to them through my eyes." She has a set route: walking along the beach, lunch at Barefoot Beach Bar or maybe Tipsy Tuna, gelato at Tutti Frutti, and ending at the the municipal pier to hop on a boat back to the lagoon at Itz'ana. "It's my chance to show people what a friendly place this is. Everyone says hi as they pass, and they answer all the buyers' questions."
Shaylene still helps at the pop up dinners, no longer waiting tables though. Now, she's at the table with guests. "We're typically twelve people, treated to a four-course meal from Chef Dean, complete with wine pairings and a rum tasting at dessert," she explains. "It's a really hard job, but someone's gotta do it!" she jokes.
Shaylene's been such an integral—and successful—part of our team thanks to her genuine love for the region. She makes the most of her free time here, too. Most days involve a run ("rounding the airstrip and seeing the ocean is always my favorite part"), and she has an action-packed weekly routine. On Tuesdays, she heads over to Jaguar Lanes to play in the bowling league she founded. "Everyone is welcome, best combined score of the night wins," she says. "They have great pizza and it's loads of fun." Thursdays mean karaoke at Tipsy Tuna, and Sundays see her up before 6am to run on the trails of Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary, a 40-minute drive from Placencia. "We run a trail to a waterfall, swim and meditate, and are back in the village by ten," she says. "It's a great way to start the day." Her weekend continues with Sunday Funday at the beach. Locals bring their families to barbecue and swim in the sea.
In between, she volunteers at the local orphanage, collects running shoes for children in the region, several of whom she's taken under her wing. "I enjoy spending time with them and taking them for pizza. There's so much need here and so many ways to give back," she says. "Giving back balances out the feeling of being spoiled by living in paradise." Shaylene also finds time to contribute to our local paper, The Placencia Breeze. "This is something I've done from the start," she says. "I do feature articles on tour guides and local restaurants. I've always loved the process of writing, and it's a very sneaky way of getting to try everything!"
Where does she recommend visitors go during their stay at Itz'ana? During her five years here, Shaylene has become quite the local expert, and has a full roster of local recs. She loves Maya Bistro and Rumfish for dinner. "Everyone should try them at least once." And she "always always always" sends people to Tutti Frutti for gelato, "daily if it can be managed." For pizza, she sends guests to Rick's, Above Grounds for coffee, Wendy's for "good creole food," Brewed Awakenings for a seaweed shake, and Barefoot Beach Bar "for a good time."
As for activities that don't revolve around food, she's got opinions too. Always drawn to the sea, she recommends the Silk Cayes excursion. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience to swim with turtles, rays and sharks, and to be on the most picturesque little island, surrounding by amazing coral." And after a day of activities, a massage from Kristine at Tree of Life studio is just the answer, says Shaylene, who likes to use "spa" as a verb.
She encourages travelers to venture inland, too, to see a different side of Belize at Ka'ana, our sister resort. "The jungle is so diametrically opposed to the sea, and it's such an integral part of what makes Belize unique," she explains. "Caving, hiking, Maya ruins—they're all a must do."
Shaylene has done a lot during her five years in Belize, but she's got more planned. This year, she's hoping to swim with whale sharks and also hike Victoria Peak, Belize's highest point. Go, Shaylene, go!
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