Belize, Part 2 – Ah, mawwiage. Belize has never been on my travel bucket list. Not for any reason other than… well, no reason really. It just never struck me as a place that I needed to visit. My motivation for the trip was entirely because it was the destination of choice for my good friend, Arielle’s, wedding. And since I was already making the trip down there, I, of course, needed to extend the trip to do some exploring. Accordingly, part one was all about me going off on my own Belizean adventures (day 1 through day 6), and part two was all about mawwiage and delighting in the company of good friends, as well as making some new ones.
As I sit down to write this post, a good three months have passed. While some of the details of the wedding, and the events surrounding it, have faded from memory, reflecting on the experience has proved to be an exercise filled with smiles and warm-fuzzies. Do I have rose-colored glasses on? Perhaps a teeny, tiny bit. But the moment itself was rosy enough to stand on its own. It brings to mind that cheesy quote that has such truth to it (despite being covered in heaps of melty mozzarella cheese): travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer. (Ok skeptics, I can already hear all your “but”’s “and” “well”’s and can you just go with it???) Add a wedding and friends to the travel mix, and you feel like the wealthiest person alive.
Summarizing six or so days in one post is proving to be a bit of a challenge, so I’m bucketing it into three chunks: 1. The wedding, 2. Tidbits from part two excursions, and 3. Random highlights.
1. THE WEDDING
Everything about this wedding was soft, and quiet, and delicate, and imbued with passion and love and all the good things that a wedding should be. There was little pomp and circumstance, in the very best way. Arielle and Zack, the bride and groom, wanted as little fanfare as possible. At its core, the wedding was intended to be a celebration with loved ones. Everything was kept simple, straightforward, and sincere. There was no bridezilla moment, no anxiety or fear that something would go wrong. There was really nothing that would stop the intended from happening: these two people showing up to publically proclaim their devotion to one another in front of their nearest and dearest. Everything else, anything else that might have happened, would just turn into an amusing anecdote to tell in later years. With such a refreshingly relaxed attitude towards the day, we were all put at ease, and were free to sit back and soak in the good vibes that fairly buzzed off everyone in attendance.
Arielle and Zack chose to host the ceremony on a pier off the hotel’s beach. The wedding guests assembled there, maybe twenty or so in total. We smiled at each other with butterflies in our bellies and kept scanning the opposite end of the pier for the bride and groom. The weather was idyllic, sunshine beaming down to bless the happy day, with a steady wind to cool us off. The wind was perhaps a bit too strong, but again, it didn’t faze anyone. Because no matter what happened, what gaffes or stumbles or mistakes took place, everything was exactly as it should be.
After a little bit, we spotted Arielle’s long white gown and Zack by her side. Their smiles were the goofy big kind, the kind you know probably hurt their cheeks. They calmly and confidently walked the pier to the little hut, decorated for the event, with friends and family anxiously awaiting their arrival. Rachael, a good friend of mine, and one of Arielle’s most bosom buddies, played officiant (and did a terrific job, might I add). The ceremony was short and sweet, with a giant emphasis on the sweet. But perhaps sweet doesn’t fully capture its essence. Meaningful. Sincere. Filled with undiluted emotion and mirth. Watching the ceremony was witnessing an electric, almost visible connection be forged between two people who love each other outside the bounds of others’ opinions, and are free from the fetters of expectations that the world forces upon the weaker among us.
Zach’s vows were delivered as a poem. Arielle played the ukulele, and sang hers through a melodic, thoughtful, funny, and surprisingly catchy song. I hummed that little ditty for months after the wedding. The song deserves to be in the common lexicon. Or song-icon. Or whatever. It was perfect. As with most weddings, there was not a dry eye to be found. I usually manage to escape the pricked-eye syndrome, but even I was swept away with emotion when they exchanged vows. Accompanying us throughout the whole ceremony was Monkey, a dog that had tagged along with us the night before. He crashed the wedding, and in his silly dog way, added that extra dollop of magic that simply cannot be planned.
A short 15 or so minutes, and the ceremony was over! The newly married couple walked the pier back to the beach, and we all collected ourselves, cleared the blur from our eyes, and joined them for a champagne reception (and clamored for a reprisal of Arielle’s song). Afterward, off we went to the reception area, a small outdoor restaurant with deep brown wooden floors and twinkling lights to illuminate the scene. Feasting followed (delicious Belizean fare), then dancing and some drinking. A little after midnight, we all returned to the hotel where the bride and groom joined a few of us for a dip in the pool. We reminisced, rehashed our favorite moments from the day, and watched together as bats dipped to drink from the pool while we all drank deeply from each others’ company. The deed was done. The wedding was won. And it was heaps and heaps of fun.
2. OTHER PART TWO EXCURSIONS
- Back to the mainland: A couple of days before the ceremony, a huge chunk of the wedding party embarked on an all-day journey to some ruins. We boarded a ferry back to the mainland, then hopped on a bus, and headed to a ruin so far in that we almost reached Guatemala! We drove right past the Amber Sunset Jungle Resort on our way (I waved). The day consisted of more ruins (Xunantunich), a bus ferry thing to take us (the bus and the people) across a river that was maybe thirty yards wide, lots of Belikin beers, and, surprisingly, for this group, no singing! Hmm…
- Snorkeling and shark ray alley: the snorkeling in Belize was legit. Many colorful fishies, but honestly it was the coral that was really breathtaking. Our guide for this outing was a seasoned pro. He was incredible. As amazing as the sights were, he made everything ten times better. He took his time telling us about how to properly put on our masks, gently let ourselves into the water, how to avoid touching the coral, etc. When all of us were ready to go, he led the way and pointed out any and everything of interest, and not in an annoying way. Our first stop was filled with coral and fish and eels and lobsters. Our second stop was shark ray alley, a place where nurse sharks sidle up to your boat, expecting to be fed. There was an absolutely FRENZY of them. I have to guess there were somewhere between twenty and thirty, all within two feet of us snorkelers. After they left satiated, a few huge rays swam by us as we were treading water and coming down from the surge of adrenaline caused by being within a hands-breadth of a… pack of sharks? A school of sharks? A giant, churning, awe-inspiring, and terrifying gathering of sharks.
- Manatee-less manatees: the guide was so incredible that we wanted more. He told us about a manatee excursion he runs. Naturally, we wanted in. Sadly for us, it turned out that he was booked for the day we had free. We were still determined to see manatees because OMG adorable who wouldn’t, so cute, SQUEEE… and that irrational, blinded-by-cute thinking, is exactly what got a handful of us booked on a terrible, no good, very bad tour. The next guide was clearly in it solely for the money, cared little to nothing for our safety, communicated the bare minimum information, and worst of all? No manatees for us.
3. SOME RANDOM HIGHLIGHTS
(because I firmly believe that the devil, or rather the fun/depth/hilarity/memorable moments, is/are in the details)
- Alberto, the best bartender of all time: this guy… he just got us. He made the best piña coladas, and he was always smiling and ready to fill our cups. When I was fretting over a stinging sunburn, he offered to source some all-natural aloe vera from his cousin’s aloe vera farm. I’m telling you… Alberto improved the hotel experience by aproximately 47%. I hope you have the pleasure of one day being served by the best bartender in Belize, our good friend, Alberto.
- Reading S (and S, in my mind, stands for Sucks): Arielle, Tim, and Rachael are my three college friends in attendance (Arielle being one of the stars of the wedding). We’ve all kept in touch by keeping our book club alive, virtually that is. During this trip, we were all in the middle of a terrrrrible book club book, S. We all gathered around the pool reading this huge tome of a book, while little bits of the supplementary material it’s stuffed with (it’s supposed to be an “experience” book) kept falling out as we tried to read it. I’m sure it looked like we belonged to some sort of crazy cult, all reading this same huge gray book, with notes and napkins and postcards falling out of it. I found and find this to be utterly amusing (unlike the book).
- Monkey and Dino, our animalian friends: Dino was my first sign that I was going to love our hotel. He is a cat resident that hangs around the pool and sits under guests’ pool chairs, and chills and is lovely. Monkey was another friendly fur friend we met, one whose name I don’t actually know (but I randomly dubbed him Monkey). He’s the wedding crasher I referred to above.
- Vacation dad’s incredible antics: We’d been warned, before we met Zack’s dad, that he was a very serious, very quiet type of person, and that we shouldn’t take offense if he seemed extra reserved. The person we met couldn’t have been further from this description, and no one was more surprised than Zack. Something about this trip turned up the dial on this person who we affectionately called, “Vacation Dad.” When we went to a karaoke bar, he cheered, he sang, he egged people on. When we snorkeled, he was the first one in the water at shark ray alley. When we wedding-ed, he was of the most raucous among us, cracking jokes and joining the dancing fray. I still don’t know who regular dad is, or what his actual name is, but Vacation Dad is a goddamn rockstar and will live on forever in my memory of this perfect, memorable, and in-all-ways-wonderful Belizean wedding.