I don’t really like weddings. I haven’t for many years. To be more specific, I don’t like the concept of weddings. Probably in part, I’m a tinsy bit bitter but mostly it’s simple practicality. Weddings are a colossal waste of money for everyone involved, but especially the bride (or her parents). And with half of marriages ending in divorce, even in the Christian community, the pomposity of a large wedding seems such a waste.
But as I get older and attend more of my friends’ weddings, I must admit, they are a whole lot of fun, at least for the guests. Once again, the bride seems to get the short end of the stick, having to plan everything, set-up, organize and then stress about whether her guests are enjoying themselves. Obviously, having never been a bride, I can’t say for sure, but it does seem an enormous hassle and expense for little reward.
I spent this past week in the Dominican Republic at my first destination wedding. And it was awesome! A vacation and celebrating a friend marry their love, what could be better?
My friend, Trina served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Dominican Republic where she met her now-husband, a Dominican. It was a destination wedding by necessity, so that his friends and family could attend. She and I worked together in the Atlanta Peace Corps office before she moved up to work at headquarters in Washington D.C.
Obviously, a destination wedding is something that must be planned far in advance so I have known for months that I would attend. I had the option for a “plus-one” and I’d invited a couple people but for various reasons neither could come. So, story of my life, I boarded the plane at Ft. Lauderdale alone bound for Santo Domingo.
But this time, Trina and her dad were waiting for me when I got off the plane. And from that point on, I was incredibly well taken care of by the bride and welcomed by her family; the lack of a “plus-one” went unnoticed.
Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, was “discovered” by Christopher Columbus in 1492. I say “discovered” because of course there were natives on the island that were subsequently massacred by guns, germs and steel. It was the first capital of the Spanish empire in the new world. We stayed in the historic district and were wowed by walking down the oldest street in the Americas and peering into the ruins of the oldest hospital. We ate dinner across the plaza from Diego Columbus’s residence when he was governor the Indies (which at the time included all of Hispaniola, Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rica and the Caribbean coastlines of much of Central America and Colombia.
The wedding ceremony was held in what was left of the oldest cathedral. It was beautiful. And hot. It was to start at 11am. However, like much of the developing world, they run on their own time, in this case, “DR time”, so it began around noon. We had parasols to keep the sun off and the programs had been made into fans, which all the guests used incessantly, creating a breeze to cool the sweat dripping from our faces. When the time came, it was a beautiful ceremony. Trina’s sister officiated while a family friend translated into Spanish.
Keeping perfectly with Trina’s personality, it was not overly formal and involved some laughter, especially when the best man stood up and his suspenders popped right off! I was also a little appalled, but by no means surprised, when one of the guests cell phone rang in the middle of the ceremony, and she answered it!
The reception was an interesting study in culture as well. When the salsa, bachata and merengue music came on, couples entered the dance floor and shook their hips. A few brave Americans gave it a go for a song or two. The minute a song in English came on, all 19 Americans ran onto the dance floor, standing in our normal circle, jumping up and down and waving our arms around, looking to the rest of the world like crazed maniacs, while the Dominicans sat primly in their chair looking on with amusement. Then came the cake cutting. Once again, all the Americans stood around in anticipation and not a single Dominican got out of their chair. My iPhone was poised to take pictures as Trina cut into…foam. The entire three-tied cake was made out of foam! And not the edible kind, if there is such a thing. Something had been lost in translation with the wedding planner. Apparently, this is the norm in the DR. You have a decorative cake, made of foam, for show, and a sheet cake in the back for eating. Surprise!
This was followed by the bouquet toss, which I won! Do you win? Only to be informed that whoever got the garter would be expected to put that on me. Hold up…what? Have I missed this at every other wedding because I didn’t care what happened after the bouquet was tossed and I didn’t get it? I waited, in mild horror, as the garter was tossed and a young boy caught it. A brief argument ensued between bride and mother-of-the-bride as to whether this child should put the garter on me. Thankfully, reason, propriety and the bride won. It was decided no.
The reception ended in the early evening and we returned to the hotel to prepare for the next adventure. Most of us were accompanying the couple on their honeymoon to an all-inclusive resort on the coast called Grand Bahia Principe.
The following morning we all piled into a bus and enjoyed the two-hour ride along the coastal route to our destination.
I always fancied myself an adventure tourist. I like adrenaline-pumping fun, like white water rafting, zip lining, snorkeling, surfing, hiking, etc. I also like eating the local food, staying in cheap hostels and trying my hand at living like the locals…or so I thought. After two nights at an all-inclusive resort my expectations of what makes a good vacation may have been permanently altered. This was pure pampering. The property was dominated by a huge swimming pool to which my room faced. You could swim up to the bar where all drinks were included. The beach was right next to the pool, dotted the straw-topped cabanas under which guests lounged in beach chairs. There was a bar at the beach. There was always a buffet available. Three times a day, the large buffet opened but the snack bar was open on the beach and the burger joint was open by the shops most of the day. On top of all this, the “animation team” had activities going throughout the day. I played bingo (and won a kilo of coffee), darts, foosball, beach and water volleyball and an interactive game called “Tuti Fruiti”. They also had pool, ping-pong and board games for guests. Each night the same animation team put on a show. Once the show ended, the discotheque opened and rocked out until 2am. There was always something going on but you could just as easily do nothing but lounge and sip on cocktails all day. THAT is a vacation.
Day one began with all of us overindulging in everything! It was a smorgasbord of excess. I couldn’t have wiped the smile off my face if I’d wanted to. How had I never done this before? The food was amazing, the staff was friendly, the games were fun, the sun was hot and the water cool.
And then came nighttime. I went to bed after a short visit to check out the discotheque, where the only music they played required Shakira’s hips. Two hours later I was up and sick. Then like clockwork, every hour and a half, for the next 7 hours, I was up. It was terrible. I managed to crawl to the buffet hall the next morning, only to be nauseated by the smells of food emanating from the buffet. I took one small piece of bread and sipped on water. I didn’t feel right the remainder of the day but I still managed to have fun, despite not being able to indulge in the abundant food selection. I tried my hand at the dart competition and could barely lift the dart, let alone throw with any accuracy. Most of the day I just laid in the sun, until it got too hot, then I moved to the shade.
I was the first to get sick, but by the end of the day people in our group were dropping like flies. We’re not sure what it could have been, but four days after I initially got sick, I’m still feeling the effects. This morning was the first time I have actually felt hunger pangs rather than a bloated, full feeling. Thank goodness; it was very unpleasant.
When I’d planned this vacation, I booked two nights because I needed to get back home for work. With the government shutdown, I didn’t have a job to return to but I also don’t have a paycheck to sustain that lifestyle. So while I wish I could have stayed longer and enjoyed all that was offered, it is good to be home and get back into “Africa-preparedness mode”.
In conclusion, I do not retract my former position of practicality-that weddings are, in general, a huge waste of money. Sometimes, though, it turns out to be worth it (from a guest’s perspective, of course).