Saying I Do
Love is in Belize

by P. Arana

How do I bring into focus the joy, nervousness and expectancy of a memorable moment and capture it in a frame destined for a wall, mantle or an album? As the world moves through my lens, this is one of the questions that flits by, seconds before my fingers hold down the shutter to forever hold the occasion. Maybe itís the romantic in me but a special giddiness courses through my veins at weddings. Weddings will forever be remembered in the minds of the participants, though if memories do fade, I will provide framed reminders.

On a picturesque Sunday afternoon (another one!), my assistant and I drove sixteen miles sandwiched between the mangrove-wrapped lagoon and palm studded beaches of the Placencia Peninsula. Hypnotized by the patches of turquoise and aqua, Dreddiís eyes were locked on the sea. I, on the other hand, stared ahead, lost in thought.

Getting hitched in Belize is quickly gaining popularity. Perhaps the thousands of visitors that travel to belize each year are drawn to this paradise magnetism. While Belize cannot guarantee storybook sunsets, and good weather on your wedding day, we have seen a huge increase in the number of visitors choosing to say I do on our shores. In fact more hotels and resorts have become dedicated to organizing days of bliss for couples, families and loved ones. The scenery may change from the inland jungle to majestic Mayan cities, from coastal shores to island beaches. The common factor, though, is the presence of a photographer, there to convert a moment of elation into a lifetime of memories.

By comparison, local weddings have become a tad more script-like. Friends and family gather inside the church while curious onlookers peep through doors and windows for a peek at the bridal party. Inside the groom, flanked by his best man, waits by the altar while the bride sits outside awaiting her grand entrance. After the flower girls and bridesmaids march into the church, the bride accompanied by the family patriarch waltzes, struts or parleys to join her fiancé at the altar. A mass, a few "I dos" and a kiss later, the husband and wife are introduced and itís off to the party.

Pulling into the seaside village of Placencia on the southern tip of its namesake peninsula, I was again amazed by the flurry of activity in a paradoxically sleepy town. Coursing through the village and parallel to the Caribbean sea is a sidewalk about 42 inches wide, made famous by the Guinness World Book of Records as the smallest street in the world. Branching from this artery on both sides, walkways lead to hotels varying in size, amenities and cost. Adding to the feel of the village are the colorfully painted homes of generations of Placencia natives. A couple of massage centers, restaurants, convenience stores, a bank and other small business are sprinkled in to give the finished product.

Shoes and equipment in hand, we made our way to the designated area to meet Ed and his fiancée Heidi. The Caribbean vibes had already made their mark. Heidi lounged happily with some children while Ed hopped knee-deep in the surf to help unload a cooler full of drinks from a small skiff. No wedding day jitters here. After we introduced ourselves we sat with the couple and the brideís mother. The romantic ambience spawned a conversation about wedding preparations.

Like many couples, Ed and Heidi had decided to marry in Belize because they wanted a simple, non expensive wedding. Affordable guest accommodations for family members who had come to share with them was another incentive. The legal process too had been fairly straightforward: be in the country three days before the Big day; fill out applications in the presence of a Justice of the Peace - the hotel had recommended one; present proof of citizenship, copy of passport and payment for marriage licenses to the Registry; wait one week for approval. During that one week approval time, Heidi and Ed had snorkeled, hiked, lounged around in hammocks, visited an ancient Maya city and even taken a caving tour.

For Heidi this was not her first trip to Belize. Through repeat and in some cases extended visits, she had made many friends in and around the Placencia community. Comrades started to pour in, delivering flowers in a wheelbarrow and trays of food. While a girl helped to curl her hair, Heidi selected her flower girls from the contenders who had gathered around. A breathtaking candid moment. Then it was time to get dressed.

No formal wedding stores exist in Belize; so visiting couples usually bring their garbs along with them. In this case it was a white shirt and khaki pants for him and a simple, though elegant blouse and skirt for her. Being of south Pacific descent, Ed opted to wear a traditional lei; Heidi helped him into the delicate flowers. Another picture perfect moment. And shoes? What shoes!

Decorations came next. An arch wrapped in coconut leaves was adorned with flowers and placed on the beach. Decorations were completed. At about that time the wedding singer arrived with her guitar, followed closely by the officiating priest. Bride and groom received a short orientation on what to expect and what to do. A friend teased Ed, telling him now was the time to make a break for it. Ed returned a nervous smile. He was ready. A few feet away, Heidi played with a curl in her hair and then she too was ready.

The sun had lowered and was now being reflected from an aluminum roof. I zigzagged around the small crown in my attempts to avoid its harsh rays. When I finally found a spot, Edís eyes were locked on his bride. Heidiís hands trembled lightly while held in the embrace of his admiration. The priest swayed the conversation to the sacred commitment of matrimony. People were smiling all around them. My shutter clicked away, locking euphoria into memory.

As the sun slowly made its descent reflecting platinum ribbons in the emerald sea and the palm fronds arched and bent to the windís whim, the groom embraced his new wife for their first newlywed kiss. Snap! These are the moments I live for as a photographer. Images and scenes described by poets sometimes weave their way into reality but just for a few precious moments. These are the seconds I live to capture on film.

Images courtesy of:

  • Tony Rath Photography
  • JC Cuellar
  • Dreddi
  • Kay Photography
  • Banana Bank
  • Cahal Pech

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