I met Nadia just after my 17th birthday, on the first day of Quebec’s grade 12 equivalent, a mandatory pre-university education called CEGEP (Collège d’enseignement général et professionnel), which lasts two years. I grew up in the West Island, deeply ensconced in a section of the Montreal’s suburbs that was remarkably homogenous. When people would ask where I lived, I would joke that my parents had picked a place with almost no easily-accessible public transportation options to the city. My high school lacked the city’s strong diversity, and for the most part my group of friends were pasty white people like me, playing volleyball in the spring months between classes and wearing our 1990s era oversized flannel. In contrast, however, the students who streamed into my CEGEP came from a variety of ethnic backgrounds with family stories to match, and my first day of school offered up a significantly more exciting group of boys to gaze at with my adolescent eyes. And Nadia, bless her, was sitting with one of them.
I figured I would get to know the competition, so I sat down next to her to introduce myself. We quickly realized that we would be fast friends, to the dismay and vague confusion of the poor gentleman who we both thought was worthy of our scrutiny. “Was” being the optimal word here — to his credit, he strategically maneuvered himself to flatter us both with attention, but we had already bonded. We told him he was better off focusing his romantic attention elsewhere; instead the three of us hung out quite a bit as friends, introducing each other to our existing groups and making those two years of CEGEP more interesting with great food and family dinners.
The gentleman is still a friend, and since he tends to travel to London quite often, I introduced him to my brother who also lives in the UK. They too became fast friends. As to Nadia and I, despite over 17 years years of living all over the world — Nadia in Russia, Australia, South Africa and elsewhere, and me in France, Uruguay, Argentina and now just about anywhere — we stayed in touch. When I would return to Montreal and Nadia was abroad, I’d head to her parents’ place for dinner, getting treated to a delicious Italian feast and a lot of fierce hugs. With email, Skype and now What’s App, we have managed to bridge the gaps in time and space, picking up where we left off immediately upon spending time together again.
Last week, I had the pleasure of spending a full week with her and her family when I was given the honour of officiating Nadia’s wedding to her wonderful husband Mathieu. Coming off of several weeks in Northern India, the difference in body language, mannerisms and dress in a Latin country was a bit of a shock, despite having spent time in the region prior. And to go from this during my brief time back in Montreal:
…was similarly jarring in my haze of long flights and general jetlag.
Jarring in all the right ways, to be sure — who says no to a week on the beach and for such a happy occasion to boot? It was an incredible joy to contribute so fundamentally to their ceremony. And in contrast to my time in Vietnam, always learning and trying to pronounce words while fearful that one mis-tone will result in my insulting someone’s mother, it was a relief to speak Spanish again. I missed being able to ask everyone for their life stories — it’s the one big thing missing in Vietnam. I’m trying to learn the language there but it’s much more difficult than Spanish.
In keeping with Nadia and Mathieu’s personalities, the week was packed with activities and laughter. The two of them say that if they don’t need two days of solid sleep after a vacation, then it wasn’t a real vacation. They’ve travelled the world together in search of adventure during their work holidays, both capitalizing on time posted abroad (they’re engineers for the same company) and on shorter breaks from Montreal. With an intense and refreshing ability to find the good in whatever life throws their way, I’ve had the pleasure of watching their relationship over their years together. When things went wrong, they used the resulting chaos to learn more about each other, to fit their lives more organically together and to do so in a way that isn’t co-dependent. They’re both self-sufficient, but they jive so beautifully together.
The wedding reflected them wonderfully, from an all-white rehearsal dinner, to a giant bonfire on the beach after the ceremony, to Nadia’s choice to wear a stunning red dress instead of a more traditional white. And instead of clinking glasses, the couple decided that they wanted their guests to answer questions or perform challenges to get them to kiss. What began as fun trivia turned serious as each table vied for the most points; we had human pyramids, leapfrogs in our wedding attire and — in an impressive show of competitive spirit — an entire table that switched clothes with each other.
Just after the ceremony:
And, a favourite from me, their party favours were sporks:
We were a multilingual group of guests, 26 of us creating a soup of languages throughout the week. Nadia is Italian, Mathieu is French-Canadian and guests spoke Russian, German, Spanish and English too. In the days following the ceremony, we splintered off and regrouped in varying herds for snorkel trips, hiking adventures in Cabo Blanco and long dinners together. I left India sick with bronchitis and worried about flying all the way to Costa Rica, but the week was exactly what I needed, relaxing with friends old and new and with plenty of outdoor activities to choose from.
What follows are my Instagram photos from my time in Montezuma and subsequent few days in San Jose. While I used to carry a small point-and-shoot, my iPhone has now replaced it summarily, the perfect camera on-the-go. I’ve never embedded directly from Instagram before (it shows both comments/likes and the Instagram logo) but figured I’d give it a shot since someone just showed me I could embed this way.
Ferry ride from Puntarenas to Paquera:
Iguana and the beach:
Monetzuma’s main drag:
Eye candy, Costa Rica style:
And, off course: food.
A typical Costa Rican breakfast of rice, beans, corn tortillas, fresh cheese, eggs and plantains:
and Huevos Rancheros, beautifully presented with sour cream and tomato sauce, the eggs buried in a tower of tortillas:
Chilis from the central market in San Jose:
From the non-wedding explorations, Herbert the Crab:
Mushrooms from our Cabo Blanco hike:
Hiking the trail:
Me and urban chickens in San Jose:
La Paz waterfalls near Poas volcano outside of San Jose:
Butterflies in the sanctuary at La Paz waterfall garden:
Herbert the Toucan (yes, I’m now naming all animals Herbert):
And broccoli trees abound outside of San Jose:
For those who are heading to Montezuma:
1. We stayed at El Sano Banano, the sister hotel to the Ylang Ylang resort where the wedding was held. Rooms are reasonable (though keep in mind Costa Rica is CRAZY expensive) and include a great breakfast and coffee.
2. We ate at Cocolores as well, with huge, delicious portions and a friendly fat cat named Tiger.
3. Open mic night at Organico was a fun evening activity as well (we went on a Monday night), with people spilling out into the street with their beers to listen to the music.
4. If you want to rent an ATV, go to the travel and tour place just above El Sano Banano (across from the park) and ask for Peter. He had the best rates in town and was an incredibly nice guy to boot.
5. Definitely rent a car or ATV and head to Cabo Blanco for hikes in the forest. Quiet, beautiful and really worthwhile. If you drive along to Malpais and Santa Teresa, a good lunch option is Ginger Cafe. They had delicious sandwiches, salads and omelettes and substituted corn tortillas for bread since I’m celiac without issue. Their coffee was also strong and fresh — recommended.
* * *
I rarely delve into friends and family here, but I love these two people and I love how they’ve managed to make their relationship work within a framework of travel, adventure and work — and all the challenges that those competing interests create. In true Mathieu and Nadia fashion, instead of staying a week in Costa Rica they changed their tickets and are still there now, prolonging their return to work.
Also, a big thanks to Eduardo, who attended this year’s WDS conference in Portland, for hosting me with his family in San Jose and showing me around the city and its markets.
From Costa Rica I embarked on a ridiculous yet self-inflicted trajectory of SJO – MCO – JFK – TPE – SGN, close to 60 hours of flying time, to land me back in my home away from home. Thrilled to see my favourite crooked tree is still here:
I was going to go to Mexico but my plan is to launch my food walks in early January, and I wanted to run the routes before I officially got them off the ground, testing and changing and doing more research. The site for the tours is almost ready — yay! And plenty more to come from India as well.
On the flight back here I was thinking of everywhere life took me since I was last in town, from London to New York and San Francisco and India and Bangkok and Costa Rica. While I will be returning to Canada for the holidays, I am looking forward to a winter of staying put in Vietnam, of many soups and food walks and productive working days.