Today is my 18th wedding anniversary. This is something I wrote many years ago about that very happy day. Dedicated to Gicela, of course.
The sun, the sea, and the moon play such a central role in our lives; so why not, we thought… let’s get married on the beach? Our beach. At least the weather could be trusted. The last rains had fallen almost five months before, and as it turned out there were to be no unseasonal surprises from Tlaloc, the Aztec God of Downpours – just a cooling breeze blowing in off the giant Pacific breakers.
The climate on the Pacific coast of Michoacán is at its most exhilarating in March. Cool mornings without the December chill, turning hot by mid-morning but still comfortable enough. Driving along coastal Highway 200 through the green, sub-tropical lowlands of the Pacific coastal plain, the vegetation is luxuriant and fertile: tall proud palms swaying in the afternoon breeze dwarf big-leaved banana trees. There are also mango groves – rows upon rows of trees that in March are weighed down with ripening fruit each dangling invitingly by a thread of vine. The promise of juicy yellow kidney-shaped mangoes in the coming weeks only slightly tempered by the knowledge of the fruits’ depressingly short season.
The almost magical lure of the ocean drew us to Las Peñas (“the rocks”), our favourite spot along this stretch of almost virgin coastline and so-named after the breakneck of imposing jet-black volcanic rock jutting out into the ocean, cutting the beach in two. The rancho is little more than a hotchpotch collection of one and two-roomed timber and brick houses strung out alongside the coastal highway. The road (including the precise location of every tope – traffic bump) and shoreline were already familiar to us. During my time on the Pacific coast, I had learned a little about how important the ocean is in shaping lives and on how many depend on it to provide for their family livelihood. For some, the rich ocean is all they have left and here there are no high walls or frontier fences to keep them out.
We pondered the logistical problems of ferrying family, friends and provisions up the coast. Our deeply loved (and frequently mocked) 1967 plum-red Valiant had seen better days – a shadow of the vehicle that had more than once soldiered bravely across two mountain ranges to Veracruz on the Gulf coast. It now shuddered and coughed as we tempt it up even the gentlest slope and is virtually windowless, giving free reign to snapping dogs. Frankly, it was not up to the job and could not be trusted on the wedding day. We resolved to hire a white, air-conditioned Ford Topaz, taking advantage of my sister’s arrival from England with ready plastic in her purse.
Mid-morning on the Big Day: we drove into town to collect a big shallow box of white carnations from the market flower-seller; he pitched his stall right in front of Jugos Alaska, a jugería where they whip up fabulous tropical fruit licuados with suitably exotic sounding names; the best we’ve tasted on the Mexican Pacific. It was near to this spot a couple of weeks before that we had bumped into two grey-haried members of a local Mariachi band. After a brief exchange of pleasantries and businesslike negotiation we agreed on a price and hired them for our wedding; The Goldfinches would come to serenade us.
The portly owner of the enramada (the local name for a palapa), appropriately named Don Valentín, is quite literally a larger-than-life character with a cheeky grin, gold caps and a taste for colourful Hawaiian shirts that struggle to hide his paunch. We had requested that he lease a few additional wooden tables and chairs from the obliging Corona beer company, from whom we also negotiated fifteen cases of beer to wash down the excesses of the delicious seafood meal of lobster and huachinango (red snapper) caught at dawn by village fishermen. We laid white oilcloth sheeting over the beach furniture to hide the weathered, peeling blue paintwork.
Throughout the ceremony, two campesinos decked out in straw hats and string vests sat sipping cold beer and playing cards at the back of our enramada, seemingly oblivious to the nuptials unfolding around them. Others peered in to see what all the fuss was about.
We were blessed with a fortuitous full moon and as the curtain of darkness fell, so the moon rose to throw eerie shadows onto the sand and rugged rocks. As the sun dipped behind the rocks and dusk fell, we took a breather from the partying to take an impossibly romantic stroll along the shore. We were quite alone, except for a family of skittering sandpipers and the occasional company of a dog that leapt up and down and squealed like a pig in its futile attempts to tempt out crabs from their sandy dens. Gicela and I walked and talked in the moonlight, our eyes adjusting to the gloom; we replayed the events that had brought us together. It was almost reluctantly that we turned our backs to the ocean and walked back in the direction of the whooping and the music.
We retreated to our cliff top posada (sin estrellas) and a short while later we stepped out onto the white stone balcony of the sinfully-named Hotel Pirata, perched precariously above the sand below. The raw beauty of the ocean took our breath away. We looked above our heads and stargazed at the Milky Way. We looked back out at the ocean and squinted at the dark horizonline where the two met in a barely discernable curve. We turned, stepped inside the hotel room and closed the flimsy door behind us to begin a whole lifetime together.
© Copyright Steve Bridger