I had a wonderful trip to Mexico, and I saw and learned more than I expected. While most of my trip was full of creepy, strange and downright bizarre locations, the trip's actual purpose was for a much more normal, although still very magical, reason: the wedding of my two friends, Mari and Luis.
I met the bride, Mari, in Japan several years ago. Since I've met many people in my travels I've never seen again, I assumed the Facebook wedding invitation I received must have been by accident. A quick email later and I realised it was in fact deliberate. Since it's not every day one gets invited to a wedding in a different country, especially a tropical country in the dead of winter, I said yes.
I also learned that another friend I had met in Japan, Katarina, would be coming to the wedding too. Katarina is from Australia, so she did a trip through the United States before the wedding. It was great to catch up over the years and swap stories about our travels since Japan.
I've been to enough Canadian weddings to know how they play out. Everybody meets up at a church, there is a service, the couple kiss, everybody cheers, and then there is a few hours to mingle before supper and a dance. This, in my experiences, is a traditional Canadian wedding typically goes. Since I knew just about nothing about Mexican culture leading up to my trip, I decided it would be a good time to research just how different these weddings are.
I learned that since Mexicans are religious, the wedding would be in a church. The weddings are also very colourful, so women would wear bright dresses. Men could dress a little more casually and wear shorts and a loose shirt. There is also usually a beach involved, a roaring ocean, some tequila, a mariachi band and some torches.
"Okay," I figured. "I got this. No awkward cultural surprises this time!"
The only problem is, somewhere along the way, somebody forgot to tell me Puebla was in the mountains, and thus there were no beaches, no oceans and no torches. There was tequila and a mariachi band though, so I wasn't completely wrong!
But, the first thing I misunderstood was the clothing choice as I read online to wear shorts and a dressy but loose shirt. The morning of the wedding I went for a walk around the neighbourhood and saw several members of the wedding party – not in shorts and shirts, but suits and ties. I was floored! This wasn't at all what I had expected! Thankfully, I had packed away a suit and some dress pants for an emergency and I wore those instead.
After brushing off my suit jacket, and getting the groom's father to help me with my tie (and a lot of gracias, gracias before and after it), I was set to go. Within about ten minutes of getting my tie in proper order, we loaded the bus and headed out. I took a quick selfie on the way and noticed for the first time just how sunburnt Xochimilco and Teotihuacan had left me.
The bus ride took about 30 minutes before we arrived at the base of a very steep hill. We navigated up its winding gravel path and found ourselves outside a beautiful stone structure, called Hacienda San Juan Bautista Amalucan. This is where the wedding service would be held.
(A "hacienda", I learned, is a Spanish word for an estate, like a plantation or any kind of structure that takes up a lot of space.)
Construction of the hacienda started in 1584 by several Jesuit priests and was completed in 1726. It has since passed through the hands of over 30 different owners. Today the hacienda sits on private property, and the building bears the marks of a multi-century year old structure, with some water damage and peeling paint. Nevertheless, the church was beautiful, as was the rest of the grounds, and it made the perfect backdrop to the wedding.
A lot of family and friends came to the wedding, so the small church was very full. Coincidentally enough, Katarina and I got sitting beside a couple that not only knew where Saskatchewan was, but had even been here! What are the chances!?
The wedding started with traditional Mexican music, flower girls and ring bearers. The bridesmaids and groomsmen came next, and then the groom, escorted by the bride's parents. Within a few minutes Mari arrived, dressed in a beautiful white flowing dress. Although it's not a tradition in Mexico for the bride to conceal the dress prior to the wedding, Mari insisted Luis not see it, leaving him as anxious as the rest of us.
The whole wedding was in Spanish, so I followed along the best I could. At one point the bride and groom both kneeled on a cushioned bench and had a silver or gold chain laid across their shoulders. I wasn't sure if this was a Catholic tradition, a tradition based around the Lady of Guadalupe, a Mexican tradition or what, but the symbolism of being chained in love together made sense, even with the language barrier.
After the wedding ended, we were taken around the church to a courtyard to drink and chat among ourselves. There, Katarina and I met a man was trying to give his girlfriend English lessons. For the next 30 minutes, we helped with the lessons, drank tequila and picked up a little Spanish too.
Once we were done mingling, we moved from the courtyard, through the brightly coloured stone structure to a beautiful staircase and a cascading white tent. Here we sat, talked and swapped stories throughout the rest of the evening. During post-wedding speeches, the bride's father got up and thanked myself and Katarina for coming so far for this special day. There was only a scatter of clapping hands when he made the speech, so he repeated it in Spanish and the tent exploded in applause. It was at this point I realized just how little English was spoken in Mexico. This differed greatly from Japan or Hong Kong where everybody I met spoke English.
When I arrived at the table a menu for the evening was waiting for me. It was all in Spanish, so I had to ask what they would be serving. We had about five dishes, and they ranged from blue tortilla soup to stuffed chicken with mushrooms to a chocolate tamale and rice pudding ice cream. Everything I ate was fantastic, and although it was all very foreign, it was a great meal and I wouldn't mind trying it again. Later in the night we had tacos, but I had been all taco'd out at that point since Mexicans have them with just about every meal.
The wedding was beautiful, and it was great to see old friends again. Although the dress code caught me a little off guard, I would have felt much more comfortable in a suit and tie than shorts and a shirt, anyway. The food was good, the company was great and I had some fantastic tequila. After a long and difficult week in Mexico, it was great to kick back, relax and make some new friends.
I want to take a moment and thank Mari and Luis for inviting me to their wedding. I had a wonderful time. I know my shenanigans sometimes got everybody stressed out, but it means the world to me that you wanted me to be a part of your special day. I really appreciate it, and if I ever get married, we'll reserve a spot for you. Congratulations again, to the both of you!
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And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.
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Most people know how to ride a bicycle. They learned sometime as a child and never forgot. I am not one of those people. I tried learning when I was a child, a teenager and an adult, and I have never mastered the two-wheel contraption. Whenever I see a child zip past me on a bike, I get a little jealous inside. I've always wanted to learn, but it's just something I've never been able to do.
On my recent trip to Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, Alberta, I explored several of the many biking paths that wind through the area. The paths are also hikable, so I walked them instead. Although I've visited Cypress Hills several times, I never get used to the hills and lakes throughout the area. With dozens of kilometres of trails, you can spend a weekend there and never do the same thing twice. Although hiking around the park was incredible, I imagine it would be a lot more fun, and a lot easier, to bike it instead.
As I stood in the courtyard of Fort Henry, I heard screams emanating from within. Fort Henry was constructed to protect the Kingston Royal Dockyard from the invading American forces during the War of 1812. The threat was so real that the capital of Canada – which was then Kingston – was moved to Quebec to protect it. The docks are all that stood between the United States and the St. Lawrence River and both countries were all too familiar with how easily it would turn the tides of battle.
As the screams from inside Fort Henry faded, I turned to the man beside me. He had come with his family. We got talking, trying to calm our nerves as bloodied clowns and undead mimes began wandering out from inside the fort.
Just over a year ago I wrote an article about the glockenspiel that once stood in downtown Regina. I had fond memories of the glockenspiel as a child and was sad when they took it down to renovate the park. I was even more sad when they didn't put it back up, and I was angry when I discovered it was sitting in a junkyard (sorry, outdoor "storage facility") for the past ten years. That article got a lot of attention, from both the public, the city and the press. Today, efforts are being made to restore the bell back to its original location.
I'm telling you this because preserving heritage – may it be a 25-year-old bell, or a fourth century building – is important. Without heritage, we lose who we are. Often, the desire to move society forward steps over the heritage and causes it to get lost. As impressive as tall glass buildings might be, nothing is better than a smoky red brick structure.
Saskatchewan is beginning to realize how important this is – and thankfully it's happening now and not in a few decades after everything is gone. But, our neighbours have been on the heritage preservation band train for several years now, especially in Alberta.