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.
The Island of the Dolls is in Xochimilco, a borough south of Mexico City. While it would be faster to take a car from Mexico City to Xochimilco, the traffic is dense and the roads are very congested. Instead, if you're going there, I'd recommend taking metro, which is easy and the cheapest in the world. What you gain in comfort, however, you lose in speed, as the train ride takes about 2 hours.
Mexico City and Xochimilco both sit in the Valley of Mexico. Until about a millennium ago, the whole region around Mexico City was surrounded by a massive body of water. Over the centuries due to both climate change and interference by humans, most of this water has dried up, for the exception of Xochimilco. With networks of canals crisscrossing the borough, car transportation is difficult and water transportation is essential. I'm sure there were motorized boats somewhere in the waters of Xochimilco, but I never saw any. Instead, canoes and rafts are common on the water. However, the most popular vessel is a trajinera – a colourful gonadal-like boat that is pushed along the water with a wooden pole.
Xochimilco is known worldwide for their Floating Gardens market, which are essentially canoes floating down the canals, selling wares to tourists on trajineras. These include things like food, drinks, silver rings, trinkets, ponchos and sombreros. Occasionally other trajineras full of Mariachi bands will approach tourists and offer to play beside them on the water.
Nestled between the impressive Mount Royal and the majestic St. Lawrence River is Montreal, a city known for its festivals, abstract art, history and mosaic of countless cultures. Montreal is the second largest city in Canada, with a population floating around four million people. While the city is a dynamic mix of Canada's two primary cultures – French and English – there are areas of the city that are culturally specific, such as Little Italy, Greektown and Chinatown. Known for its artistic and liberal mindedness, Montreal also boasts the largest community of homosexuals in North America in their very own "Gay Village".
Being nearly 375 years old, Montreal was pivotal to the creation of New France and Canada and at a time held control over every waterway from the St. Lawrence down to the Gulf of Mexico. Having such incredible influence over the western part of the New World, Montreal hosted the "Great Peace of Montreal" in 1701, which started sixteen years of peace between the French and over 40 different First Nation tribes in North America.
Since its early days, Montreal has been one of the most influential cities in Canada. Montreal housed "internment camps" during World War I, became an ideal location for Americans looking for alcohol during Prohibition, and was the official residence of the Luxembourg royal family during World War II. Montreal held host to the incredible Expo 67, showcasing some of the most incredible architecture of that decade. The seventies saw serious political reformation in Montreal, with many Americans arriving, fleeing the Vietnam Draft. The late seventies paralyzed the city as a terrorist organization, the Front de libération du Québec, detonated explosives throughout the city and kidnapped and killed political figures. These actions forced the Prime Minster to enact the "War Measures Act" and deploy the military into the city to apprehend the terrorists. The eighties and nineties saw two referendums in the province of Quebec to separate from Canada, with Montreal playing a major role in both decisions. The last referendum in 1995 ended with 51% percent of Quebecers wanting to remain part of Canada and 49% wanting to separate.
The past few weeks have been really busy for me, with a lot more time at the office and a lot less time travelling. Thankfully, the weekend is just around the corner and with it comes the possibility of a two day vacation. Having traveled to Lac La Ronge earlier this month, I've been thinking more and more about these short trips and how rejuvenating they can be.
Unfortunately, I haven't done as much travelling around Saskatchewan as I'd like, so I wasn't sure what the best places to visit were. There were of course the obvious choices such as Regina, Saskatoon and Moose Jaw, but I wanted someplace remote, yet somewhat close. For this project I approached some of my fellow travel bloggers and I got some ideas of what to go do and see for a weekend. I went through their ideas and came up with this short list of 5 weekend destinations in Saskatchewan.
Thanks to TELUS' incredible network, sections of Saskatchewan that once never had coverage can now be fully explored while still being connected to your mobile device. No matter where you travel in Saskatchewan -- or even in Canada -- this summer, you can rely on TELUS' mobile network to keep you connected.