The Peruvian Wedding

“Would you like to go to a wedding with me tomorrow?!” asked my neighbor, I will call her L, in Spanish. We only speak in Spanish. When we first arrived, I had absolutely no idea what she was chattering about. Now, after several months of lessons, I can get the gist pretty well.

It was the weekend and I had no plans.

“Okay,” I agreed.

She excitedly brought over some clothes for me to try on. “We’re the same size” she said, and, I was surprised to discover, it was true. We decided on a yellow shirt since I had some yellow heels already (my feet are rather out of proportion to the rest of my body, at a size 9, and not really shareable with petite Peruvians.)

She told me over and over again that I should look my best, we would take professional pictures, be sure to curl my hair, so Ryder can be proud when he looks at the pictures and say, “That’s my mama!” when he grows up.

Jacob, hearing it was to be a traditional Catholic wedding, was not particularly interested in attending.

We agreed to leave at nine; it was a taxi ride out of Cusco to a town called Calca, one hour, wedding starts at 10.

At 8:15 she is pounding on my door.

“Let’s go!” She says. “I don’t want to be late.”

“But, L,” I protest. “You said we were leaving at 9. I just put curlers in my hair, like you told me.”

“It’s okay, you can do your makeup on the street,” she said. “I think it will take one and one half hours, not one, so let’s go! I’ll help with Ryder.”

I put on my makeup at home, take my curlers out before they’ve had any chance to do their work, get Ryder dressed, skip breakfast, and we’re out the door by 8:45.

L is leaving for Mexico for vacation in two days. She tells me she has put on weight. I tell her, “Good luck because the food in Mexico is sooo good!” She says, “But the truth is that I don’t have much of an appetite.” Then five minutes later she changes her story. “The truth is, when you are my age, over 60, it’s important to eat a lot to be strong. When you are old and skinny, it’s not healthy.”

We catch a shared taxi. Ryder sits on my lap. L tells the driver, “We’re in a hurry, please get us there by 10.” She also orders him to stop at a store and pick up water for us. One thing my neighbor is not is shy about making requests. The driver does as promised: we’re there by 9:50, but we go so fast on Peru’s windy mountainous roads that despite the novel I’ve brought to read, it’s all I can do but concentrate on not throwing up all the way there.

We are there before the bride and groom.

In Peru, everything is late.

The wedding actually starts at 10:30. At first, I feel sorry because I think no one’s come to celebrate. By the time the wedding is nearly finished, I look back at the vast church hall again and the rows have filled up.

The wedding, despite being in a massive church, feels quite casual. Perhaps it’s because I’m with a toddler who is dancing in the pew and stealing chocolate cereal out of L’s purse; or it’s the music blasting over the speakers that sounds exactly like Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence and “If I Only Could I Surely Would”; or it’s the live band that’s extremely out of tune; or it’s L answering her ringing phone and talking during the vows.    

To me, the bride looks 34 years old and the groom looks 14. Supposedly they are both around 28. They already have a little girl together who comes and sits with them at the end where there is a traditional Mass.

The wedding finishes and I’m still in fairly good spirits. But then it’s time to go to the reception and my sinuses really begin giving me trouble.

You see, in Cusco, like in just about every place in the world, there are good sides and down sides to living there.

The best thing about Cusco is also its worst.

Its high altitude means that my appetite and consequently weight has diminished with no extra effort on my part. I feel and look young and fit!

Its high altitude and dry climate means that the thin air and pollution make me more prone to coughing and respiratory infections, hence a permanent stuffiness in my nose.

On this particular day, I hadn’t slept well the night before thanks to this, and the day’s events are increasing my need to sleep. I am drinking liquids like crazy to compensate and had to use the nonflushing, unsanitary, nonlocking toilets at the dance hall of the reception frequently. Keeping on eye on hyper, dancing Ryder at the same time makes me feel like a drugged zombie.

Nearly 100% of the reception is just like an American one. The table with the bride and groom and their parents at the front; the speeches; the dancing (though Latin themed) and the table decorations and chair covers all could have been directly imported from a US wedding. The biggest difference is that people make a line and give their gifts directly to the couple rather than leave them on a table at the front.

We are there three hours waiting for the food. When it arrives, there is no way I could eat even the half of it. There were tamales, large portions of vegetarian protein, stuffed peppers, bread, and loads of vegetables.  Everyone else cleans their plates. Perhaps if you’re born in Cusco, you don’t have the same appetite limiting effects.

Ryder ate all of both L and I’s broccoli. It’s his favorite vegetable. But he didn’t eat much else, preferring to go out on the dance floor and flash his belly. And of course as soon as we left he said he was hungry. A recurring and frustrating theme.

L asks me if I’m ready to go and I try not to make it too obvious that I’m more than ready. We never do take pictures, which is fine with me first because my upper lip is chafed raw from nose blowing, and second because I realize L has dressed me in all white- a white jacket and white pants with a yellow shirt-and you’re not supposed to wear white to a wedding if you’re not the bride, a faux pas. Also, you’re not supposed to wear all white if you have a three year old who enjoys playing in dirt and then insists on sitting in your lap. And-you’re not supposed to wear all white if you’re a permanent nomad and frequently don’t have access to high quality laundry services. Let’s just make this a rule from here on out: No one should wear all white except a bride or an LDS temple worker.

L tells me either I am her daughter or I’m like her (she has one my age who lives in New York: thanks to my faulty Spanish, I’m not sure which one she means) and that we will be in touch over the following years and visit each other. She has seen Ryder and I in some of our craziest travel moments on our trip to the Amazon and still wants to travel with us; that’s a good sign, so I’m up for it too.

L wants to stop and have a coffee. She orders a sandwich with it. I’m frankly amazed. We just had a multi-course meal. I get a mate. It’s meant to soothe me for the upcoming ride; but this driver isn’t nearly in the hurry that the first was and the ride is uneventful. I’m able to read my book written by a man who’s been to every country in the world. I pay for our 15 sole shared van ride with a 100 sole bill, wincing. It’s the permanent dilemma of Cusco; many things require cash; ATMs only print out 100s, and almost no one can change a 100, which is worth about $30. This driver can do it, fortunately. When we get home as the sun is setting, L makes me a hot lemon drink and fetches me socks; I veg out, motionless, in front of the space heater; and then Jacob tucks me into bed and I fall into a delicious, dreamless sleep.

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Kalli Hiller

Article by Kalli Hiller

Kalli Hiller is a voluntary vagabond who, with her husband Jacob, has traveled full time for the last eight years.

Kalli has written 361 awesome articles for us.

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