Complete Pandemonium: A Panamanian Wedding in Boquete, Panama

Complete Pandemonium: A Panamanian Wedding in Boquete, Panama

Meet the new star of wedding crashers: international edition! Well, thanks to Dustin, my couchsurfing host who generously scored me an invitation, I didn’t technically crash the wedding. But, for all essential purposes, I arrived without knowing the husband and wife-to-be or anyone else at the wedding, and had such an incredible time that I may make international wedding crashing a habit!

Beautiful Boquete, Panama

Beautiful Boquete, Panama

Introducing the picturesque mountain setting of Boquete

Dustin and I headed to Boquete early for many of the same reasons people from David chose to have their weddings there (if they can afford it): to escape the city’s heat and monotonous surroundings, to breathe in mountainous air and to seek adventure (even though the name of the town makes my Brazilian friend giggle because apparently it means “blow job” in Portuguese). After less than an hour’s drive, we arrived at the outskirts and stopped for coffee where we could enjoy the view of the river demarking the fold of fertile fields and the volcano with its head lost in a halo of clouds. We descended into town and the overcast weather made everything seem a bit more mysterious, exaggerated the vibrantly colored wildflowers lining the roads.

 

Abandoned Coffee Plantation, Boquete, Panama

Abandoned Coffee Plantation, Boquete, Panama

Central Boquete is an adventure tourist town, exuding a relaxed vibe as the crash pad of people who have been hiking, rock climbing, ATVing or zip-lining all day. In addition to all these tour operators, the town hosted an impressive variety of international restaurants: French, Peruvian, Italian, Chinese, Caribbean… I haven’t really picked up on much of a foodie scene in Panama overall but there’s quite a few options, even if all the exteriors look similar. Apparently, Panama hosts the largest number (or percentage) of retirees worldwide, because of the extensive tax breaks and other benefits, and Boquete is a popular choice for people who opt for mountains over beaches. Because of the volcanic ash left incredibly fertile soil, Boquete is blanketed with coffee plantations and barely contains explosions of flowers and fruit.

Since the weather was a little drizzly and even hikes appeared to cost money, Dustin and I explored the area by car. We found waterfalls, “haunted houses”, “mi jardin es su jardin” (which unfortunately was closed), several carved totem poles, insane rock formations and “strawberry land”, (at least according to me) where we stopped for a fresh fruit and cream pre-wedding snack. Later, I learned that the popular hike to the peak of the volcano doesn’t require a guide and follows a straight-forward path so that’s an option if you’re looking to spend a day getting more intimately acquainted with nature.

The Ceremony… and “Carnival” After-Party

The beautiful couple: Renata and Mauro

The beautiful couple: Renata and Mauro

The couple chose a simple chapel on a hill for a traditional, Catholic ceremony. The only differences I noticed were the priest leashed the couple together with a giant rosary for a good portion of the mass and the newlyweds symbolically exchanged coins after their rings to represent sharing their wealth. And the attendees wore ball gowns! I tried my best to un-wrinkle one of my least informal sun dresses but I felt incredibly under-dressed near sequins and feathers and formal up-dos.

In the car ride over to Valle Escondido, the local country club, Dustin wonders out loud, “I wonder what the reception will be like. The ceremony was pretty tame but usually weddings in Panama are more like carnival than a formal reception”. And right he was.

The country club was breathtaking- gravel paths and water falls and we waited for the newly weds in a room draped in gauzy pink, looking at the letters “L O V E”. All of a sudden, I heard a crack, which I first identified as thunder from the ominous stormy skies. As the pops became regular and the crowd started move outdoors, I realized fireworks marked the entrance of the newlyweds. Not your typical backyard firecracker either- a fifteen minute long, orchestrated show!

We settled down for a buffet dinner and I took advantage of the open bar to try Panama’s famous Abuelo rum (“the best thing about Panama” in the words of Dustin). Everyone was itching to dance, and the live band didn’t waste any time to start playing salsa tunes and Spanish pop tunes. Dustin and I fortified ourselves with sampling some treats at the dessert table- bridigerio (a chocolate condensed milk creation and common festival/comfort food in Brazil, where the bridge grew up), lemon tart and “drunk cake” (a rum-soaked raisin pudding) then hit the dance floor.

 

And chaos begins!  Panamanian wedding

And chaos begins! Panamanian wedding

Part way through the party, the door open and in marched a live drum line. Before, I knew it, glowing wigs, silly glasses, neon ties and feather head bands dispersed themselves amongst the crowd. The carefree joy in the room was tangible, and just like in the United States, young danced with old, people laughed, played and joked. It’s just another reminder of how traditions may be different around the world but we’re all the same inside, something that Dustin and his friends realized.

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This whole time, everyone welcomed me warmly, no questions asked, despite being a random American with an atrocious accent and object-oriented espanol who barely knew Dustin. They took care of me all night long, making sure I knew dance moves to the songs I had never heard, made sure I had enough space to move in their circle and joined them for photos. Incredible things happen when you look pass the obvious differences and share your family and friends with “strangers”.  While reading Aleph this week, this passage struck a chord because it is so true.  Even though I stick out with my blonde hair and blue eyes, I haven’t felt like an outsider all trip because I’ve been treated with overwhelming generosity and most people I talk to are in a situation similar to myself.

“I am not a foreigner because I haven’t been praying to return home.  I haven’t wasted my time imagining my house, desk, my side of the bed.  I am not a foreigner because we are all traveling  we are all full of the same tiredness, the same fears, the same selfishness, the same generosity.  When I asked, I received, when I knocked, the door was open, when I looked, I found: -Paulo Coelho, Aleph

Song of the Moment: Vivir mi Vida– Marc Anthony

If YOU want to attend a Panamanian wedding: Make a new friend!

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