The Bride Wore Red in Costa Rica

Ferry Puntarenas Costa Rica

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:

to this…

…was similarly jarring in my haze of long flights and general jetlag.

Nadia’s Unconventional Costa Rica Wedding

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:

Me officiating:

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:

A Short Montezuma Travel Guide

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.

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.

More soon,


33 thoughts on “The Bride Wore Red in Costa Rica”

  1. Wonderful photos – especially the first one of the beach.

    Oh, and good luck in Saigon! I’ll be back living there in 2014.Bo Tung Xeo, an authentic Vietnamese BBQ, is definitely worth a visit while you’re there.

    1. When you go to the web version (so for me,, the 3 dots next to the bottom of the comments are where you can get the embed info. Click, it says “embed”, click on that and a popup with the exact code appears.

  2. Montezuma. Oh my goodness. 1992, camped on the beach for a week (maybe the same one they were married on?) Gallo pinto for breakfast. Skies that say shazam! Loved your writeup of your friend’s wedding, and the pics to be sure. Are you not using a micro 4/3 also, where did I get that from?

    Also, whatsapp! I’m amazed by how many people in the US have no idea what I’m talking about. Silly that. Glad the bronchitis has left you alone and you are back to the soups, vendors who’ve missed you, and of course, the crooked tree.

    1. Not using a Micro 4/3ds for this — it stayed deeply buried in my bag for the week. It’s with me now in Vietnam though — definitely plan to bust it out for food photos :)

      What’s app is the cat’s pyjamas, for sure. Just yesterday we went for karaoke and when my mum, 12 hours behind in time zones, said “what are you up to” instead of answering I just sent her a quick video of us belting Hey Jude. Game changer.

      Thrilled to be back here and excited to explore further outlying districts. Hope to meet up again soon — words words words aren’t the same without you!

  3. Stunning photos Jodi! They really make me miss Costa Rica. In all my time of living there I didn’t stumble on huevos rancheros but mostly the traditional breakfast of Gallo Pinto…which is one of my favorite breakfasts in the world. I can’t seem to recreate it perfectly at home, so I guess I’ll have to start planning a trip to go back.

    Congratulations to your friend! Her dress is stunning, by the way :)

    1. Can`t make Gallo pinto the same as Costa Rica? did you put salsa lizano in it you can`t get it outside C/R.
      C/R is as expencive as anywhere if you go to the best hotels, BUT you can stay at a hostel or backpacker hotel for as little as $8 a night and up!

    1. Hey Suzanne! Photos are taken on the iPhone and uploaded to Instagram. Some of them have filters, but the ones of Costa Rica beaches were tagged as #nofilter — just the beauty of the landscape and the skies. The couple got married civilly in Montreal prior to the trip, but as I understand it as a lawyer you can officiate a wedding in CR “by the books” but in this case we didn’t need to do that since the civil papers were in hand.

  4. Love your writing, Jodi. And I especially enjoyed this story as I felt like you brought us there, not just to the magic of Costa Rica, but to join Nadia’s and Mathieu’s celebration. They sure know how to throw a wedding!

  5. Felt as if I was there as part of the wedding with the way you tell the story. Again, an amazing piece Jodi! Look forward to more Vietnam adventures! Plan to be there to work on my food photography safari project.

  6. I think it’s wonderful that you officiated at their wedding. I haven’t been to Costa Rica yet, but thanks for all of the practical info. Considered it bookmarked. Good luck firming up your food walks!

  7. That’s seriously so special that you could officiate your friend’s wedding. For my brother’s wedding last summer, they had our old babysitter (old in that she no longer babysits, not in that she is old!) officiate! That was pretty cool.
    I love the sounds of this wedding with such a mixed group and all those languages. That’s my idea of a good time. Gorgeous photos as well. Love the Costa Rica eye candy.

  8. Great story. Beautiful pics. One of the few places you’ve posted about to which I’ve been but north in Guanacaste province not far from Nicaragua. Loved the people, the food. Didn’t find it crazy expensive but our measuring standards may be different. Oh yeah…was not intorduced to Herbert but saw a Leatherback turtle about the size of a VW lay eggs and return to the sea. She probably knew Herbet though.

  9. Looks like you had a beautiful time in Montezuma, Jodi! I’m glad the lodging worked out. And yay for Organico, I went to one of their open-mics too back in April and had a blast!

  10. Montezuma is awesome. Stayed in a very clean beautiful hostel for $15/night there and woke up to a sloth outside the window one morning. :)

  11. Some nice shots from your trip, and a good story too! It’s interesting that you now only carry the iphone for photos. It seems more and more people are taking this route. I’m too old school myself to go this route solely, but there’s no doubting the ease and convenience which a smartphone and instagram provide for capturing and sharing great shots.

    1. Hi Francis! I carry my regular camera as well, but for this week of friends and relaxing I decided to leave it in my bag. Back in Vietnam now, though, and using both. Ease of use / bulk makes the iPhone ideal as an “always on” camera, but the photos definitely shine on the EP-3 — especially for food where my 20mm lens provides great depth of field.

  12. Oh, the languages! How do you manage–and how do you learn new ones when you decide to settle in a place for a while? I always go all out with phrasebooks and language tapes (part of what I call ‘anti-ugly-American syndrome’) and then end up causing more confusion than if I’d just stuck with English.
    Delightful to hear about your friends’ wedding…sounds like it was a perfect event for them!

  13. Hi there! It’s my first time here, and you have an awesome blog! It’s heartening to see so many people so invested in travel! :)

    Looks like a lovely wedding you officiated!
    Have fun in Vietnam!

  14. why the fat cat named tiger was not named (herbert) like the rest of the animal…lol i totaly enjoyed all the photos thank you

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  16. Wow, this post made me nostalgic for Costa Rica — especially loved the photo of breakfast with gallo pinto. Montezuma is a personal favorite hideout.

  17. It’s interesting what you say about the difference between Northern India and Costa Rica and how it was shocking to you. I used to hate Bangkok because it only seemed like a crowded dirty place to me. Then I went to India, now Bangkok seems so clean and not so crowded. I experienced this shock going and coming back from India. It’s an incredible place and I miss it sometimes.

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