Aly Coy’s off-grid cabin is a long way from the Spanish Pyrenees, but for the last five years, her experiences in Europe have been vividly close at hand.
Coy has just finished her first book, titled Unpacked: A Memoir of Checked Baggage, about the five years she spent backpacking and living in Europe. During that time, she got into a relationship with a man and moved into an off-grid community in the mountains of Spain. However, that idyllic life turned dark. Coy felt trapped by her situation and her partner, and not knowing the language was left with nobody to turn to. The book begins with her facing two paths, to take a leap and book a plane ticket back home, or to sign insurance papers and resign herself to another year of living in a toxic relationship.
“I knew there was a story there. I also had to process a lot,” Coy said. “I used that to get it out of my head and onto paper.”
“I couldn’t talk with anyone, nobody really spoke English other than the partner that I was trying to get away from. It was very isolating,” she added. “I felt really stuck, physically and emotionally . . . It was very therapeutic for me to work through some of the things that at the time I didn’t have anyone to talk to about.”
The story covers two timelines, one during her time in the off-grid village in the Pyrenees, and the other looks at how she ended up there. She arrived in Europe in 2008, just as the Canadian dollar went into decline, and suddenly found herself with very little money. Coy recounts times when she did not know how she would get her next meal, when she had to dumpster dive, learn to garden, discover herbal medicine, fall for the wrong people and live on a commune.
“In the book I talk about the unhealthy behaviours that I had. I was experimenting with sex and drugs,” she said. “Here I’m selling soap at the market and going for hikes. I think I work too much, but other than that it’s a lot more of a healthy lifestyle.”
Coy did most of her writing in her off-grid cabin on Salt Spring. The book was finished in a stretch of time between Christmas and New Year’s, when she separated herself from other people in a self-imposed writing retreat. Though most of the island was living “off-grid” at the time because of the windstorm on Dec. 20, Coy hardly noticed. However, going through some of the moments described in the book brought up a different kind of darkness.
“Some of the scenes in the book are the worst moments of my life,” she said. “It feels lighter now that it’s shared . . . So many people already have said that they’ve been in a similar situation, and that a lot of the similarities are there. At the time you feel like you’re totally alone and that nobody has ever been through this, but when you share it in such an honest way, it feels lighter.”
Coy launched her book on Salt Spring in June, and will be touring the country to launch it in different cities. Unpacked is available at local bookstores, at Coy’s stall in the Saturday Market, and online through her website at https://www.barefootdaughter.com/unpacked.
For more on this story, see the July 10, 2019 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.