The first thing we saw when we exited the plane in Cancun was an ad for a nightclub called Coco Bongos. It was an image of Spider-Man and Beetlejuice doing shots, so you could already tell the rules in Mexico were a little more relaxed, in this case, trademark infringement of popular characters to sell tequila. Christina and I were on our first official vacation as boyfriend and girlfriend. What would we learn about each other, living in the same room for seven days in a different country?
A private SUV picked us up at the airport. Our resort was in Playa del Carmen, a more sophisticated destination than the spring break excess of Cancun. Our driver raced down the road weaving in and out of oncoming traffic at a breakneck speed. I guess dying in Mexico was always a possibility, but I didn’t think it would be in transit; I was thinking more of a parasailing accident or falling off the side of a Mayan ruin.
We eventually made it to the all-inclusive resort in one piece. I could get used to life south of the border. I ate smoked salmon at every meal. We sipped drinks in lounge chairs, delivered to us right on the beach. There was a very attractive European couple on the beach. The man wore a tiny bathing suit bottom, leaving little to the imagination. The woman wore no top at all, stoking the imagination. They inspired us. The next day, I bought a tiny bathing suit bottom, and Christina went topless. We were daring together.
We took an excursion to the Mayan temple, Chichen Itza. (I didn’t fall off.) We went parasailing. (No in-air crashes.) One night, we went to the resort’s in-house entertainment where two dancers put on a show, culminating with the final routine from Dirty Dancing. “I Had the Time of My Life” was playing as fake Baby was lifted in the air by pretend Patrick Swayze. Christina started to cry. She was so beautiful, pure, and vulnerable. That was the moment I knew I would marry her.
At the end of our trip, we packed our bags, said goodbye to Spider-Man and Beetlejuice, and flew home. After spending the week together, it didn’t feel right to sleep in different beds anymore. We moved in together and thanked Mexico for taking our relationship to the next level.
Fuck Mexico. Our flight had a layover in Miami, and we had to drag all our checked luggage from the domestic terminal to the international terminal. When we landed in Mexico, the customs line was a mile long. The entire day felt like travel purgatory.
We were planning a destination wedding and came back to Mexico to scout potential resorts. Our travel coordinator pushed really hard for us to stay at the Azul Sensatori, where she could get us a great deal. The resort was known for their “sky” weddings which took place on the rooftop of the hotel. We had already identified another resort we really liked but decided to give the travel coordinator’s recommendation a shot.
When we arrived, the best way to describe the resort’s vibe was “faded Euro excess.” The architecture and design included a lot of concrete that was harshing our beach vibe. Plus, the actual beach at the resort was tiny and full of seaweed. We visited the rooftop wedding terrace, and it felt like hurricane-force winds were blowing from the ocean. The last thing we needed was a family member to blow away into the Caribbean in the middle of our nuptials. We were not impressed.
Disappointed by the resort, we decided to take an excursion. Christina loves to plan, and I love to see what happens in the moment. I booked us a ferry ride to the island of Cozumel. I imagined we would figure out the details once we got there. Maybe tour the town square. Maybe do some snorkeling. Maybe rent scooters and go to the beautiful beaches on the far side of the island. Anything was possible.
The sea was angry that day. The ferry ride was nearly vomit-inducing before reaching Cozumel. Once we arrived, the tour guide said there would be no snorkeling or other water-related activities that day because it would be too dangerous. Renting scooters to the other side of the island would have made us miss our ferry ride back. It took us five minutes to tour the historic town square. I was fresh out of ideas, and we had only been there for 15 minutes. One of the tourist stands recommended a beachside restaurant and bar, so we hopped in a cab and headed over.
I’ve been to a lot of shitty places by a beach. Hell, Christina grew up in central Florida, which might have the highest per capita shitty places by a beach in the world. This place was by far the shittiest. It turned out to be a tourist trap with a high cover charge, watered down drinks, and disgusting quesadillas. We’re in Mexico, folks; you shouldn’t be able to fuck up a quesadilla and stay in business.
We tried to make the best of it. We put our towels on some lounge chairs. I put on my little Euro bathing suit. Christina was NOT in the comfort zone to go topless. But we went into the water for a swim.
When we got out of the water, we found a family of white trash cruise shippers had taken our seats. It’s pretty universal beach etiquette that if towels are on chairs, they are taken. Not here in hell, I guess. These shameless intruders had done more than disregard our claim to the chairs; when we walked up, we saw they had taken OUR towels and wrapped them around THEIR feet. The blatant disrespect! What a violation of international beach code. This will go down in the history books.
We gathered our things and took a cab back to the town square, hoping to get an earlier ferry back to the mainland. Unfortunately, the tour guide had our tickets and wouldn’t be back for a couple of hours. Christina was frustrated that I hadn’t planned anything for the day; I was frustrated that she was frustrated with me. We were on a trip to pick a wedding venue and ended up bickering like an old married couple. We walked the side streets of Cozumel, searching for anything to ease the stress.
And then behold, we came upon it. A glimmering beacon of hope in the desolate wasteland: Wet Wendy’s. The tiny shack was run by two expats from northern Virginia. It was the right kind of beachy, the kind of place you would want to have drinks at before a Jack Johnson concert. We ordered two margaritas the size of our heads. We started talking. I apologized for not planning a better day trip. She said she loves that I can be spontaneous. She apologized for getting frustrated with me. I said I loved how passionate she was about creating memorable experiences in our lives. By the second round of margaritas, the love was overflowing. Wet Wendy’s had saved our marriage before we even said “I do.”
The next day, we toured the other resort that we had originally liked, and it was the perfect place to get married. We left, already excited to return to Mexico for our wedding. We tipped our hats to Spider-Man and Beetlejuice and flew back to the U.S. to start wedding planning
The morning of our wedding I woke up alone; Christina and I had decided to honor the olden days and sleep in separate rooms the night before we got married.
My window overlooked the lush tropical walkway connecting the main building to the beach and pools. I spent a lot of the morning in silence, surveying the grounds. Having a wedding at the Dreams Riviera Maya resort was like being in heaven. It was surreal to see loved ones from all different eras of my life, hanging out and having fun. My best friend from Boy Scouts played water volleyball with my college roommate. The captain of my high school wrestling team ate at the buffet with my improv team. A college rugby teammate I had seen drink beer out of a shoe chatted at the swim-up bar with a mortgage lender Christina and I had become friends with through work. My family mixed with Christina‘s family like perfectly muddled mojitos. We were in a love bubble; all was good.
As I sat in bed alone, I contemplated what being in a committed relationship really meant. I journaled and even listened to Tony Robbins’ CD about relationships. I was ready to officially go from just a man to man and wife. I dressed in my Ralph Lauren white and tan seersucker suit, tied a Double Windsor in my navy knit tie, and slipped into my two-tone leather Oxfords. It was game time.
Our big reveal to each other occurred in a little jungle pocket outside of the resort spa. With a huge grin on my face, I kept peeking at the corner of the building, waiting for Christina to come around. When she arrived, I was floored. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, glowing from the inside out. One night apart, and we were giggling like teenagers not able to keep our hands off each other.
Our ceremony took place under a thatched gazebo, overlooking the water. Our guests wandered down from their rooms in their stylish beach chic outfits to take their seats. A group of random hotel guests sat on lounge chairs, wearing bikinis or wrapped towels, intent on watching the show. Children in the pool rested their arms on the side wall, trying to get a good view. Our wedding had become a resort-wide event.
As Christina walked towards me, I felt like I was seeing a brand new person, a brand new life, a brand new future. When she reached me at the gazebo, we hugged, and I instinctively went in for a kiss, realizing at the last moment that I wasn’t supposed to kiss the bride at the beginning of the ceremony. I diverted my face and lips to land my cheek against her neck. Trouble averted.
In our relationship, I’m the more pragmatic and even-keeled partner. My vows had come easily, and my words were deep and true. Christina is the more emotional and passionate partner. She had struggled with her vows, feeling them but not being able to write them. However, the morning apart had crystallized her feelings and thoughts. She read her vows, fighting back tears. Then I fought back tears. Then our guests fought back tears. Then the randos on lounge chairs and pool perches, who now outnumbered the actual invited guests, fought back tears.
Finally, I was posed with the big question, “Do you, Greg, take Christina to be your wife?” In that moment I realized I had never thought about how I would say “I Do”. Should it be a deep emotional “I Do”? Should it be a look into her eyes and a passionate “I Do”? We hadn’t even talked about the possibility of saying “I will” or “I promise” or some other variation. What if I go serious and she goes funny? Already our marriage could be off on the wrong foot. From my gut, I let out an excited and certain “IIIIII Do,” holding on the “I” for a beat. Christina responded with a fast and chirpy “I Do!” giving the “Do” just half a beat. Our I Do’s were the perfect Yin and Yang. I had a good feeling this marriage was going to work out.
We kissed passionately but tastefully. As we looked into each other’s eyes, the gravity of what we had just done hit us: we were married. Then “Crazy in Love” by Beyoncé and Jay Z kicked in and, all of a sudden, it was a dance party. We shimmied hand in hand back down the aisle as man and wife.
We did it. We were married. Well… kind of. A lawyer friend had told us marriage licenses from Mexico are recognized in the U.S. with the same validity as trademarks of Spider-Man and Beetlejuice are recognized at Coco Bongos. Weeks later, we went to the courthouse in D.C. to make it official, but we still keep our Mexican wedding as our anniversary date.
Being in Mexico without Christina was weird. There was, however, a good reason for her absence; she was five months pregnant with our daughter, Grace. I was in Mexico for the destination wedding of one of my groomsmen. The party the night before the wedding was at, you guessed it, Coco Bongos. I can tell you in all honesty, I had never been to a bar that crazy before. It was set up like Mad Max in the Thunderdome with crowds of people seated stadium-style up the walls.
There was a giant stage where performers acted out scenes from popular movies, while the actual film scenes were playing on the wall behind them. Spider-Man was there. Batman and Bane were there. The rousing speech from the movie Gladiator played while performers fought with swords. Maybe the most bizarre part was scenes from The Passion of the Christ movie while Jesus-like figures dangled from the ceiling on red fabric. The whole production was one part Broadway and one part bootleg Hollywood.
True to the ad, someone dressed as Beetlejuice ran through the crowd and forced people to take tequila shots. This is crazy when you remember that the Beetlejuice movie came out twenty-five years earlier. Of all the characters from American pop culture, why would Beetlejuice be the most enduring? Mexico still has its secrets. One day, Mexico. One day.