October 31, 2005

A Wedding, A Honeymoon, And A Hurricane


Well, the wedding went off without a hitch, aside from the one that was planned on, and Liz and I can now legitimately check the “married” box on various forms. No matter how much we hoped, it rained on our wedding day driving the proceedings inside. We were married at a beautiful, and quite large, estate mansion and arboretum called Welkinweir located in Pottstown, PA near where I grew up. Everyone crowded into the largest room in the house. There we some seats, but it was mostly standing room only. Luckily, it was a brief ceremony. Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was just the circumstances, or maybe it was just the fact of a room full of people so close together, but the ceremony was very emotional and intimate.

The bagpiper played wonderfully (though he was the third bagpiper we were given… apparently there must be a some sort of big bagpiper underground) and set the mood perfectly. I didn’t fall on my face coming down the stairs and aisle. Then. Liz. The most beautiful girl I know, more beautiful now than I could ever imagine. I hope there aren’t too many pictures of me while she was walking down the aisle because I probably look really bad with my mouth hanging wide. I was so swept up into the moment, and so intent on her, I felt like we were the only ones in the room.

Sure, things don’t always go as planned, which has really become this whole wedding’s mantra, but so much went right. I knew we were doing just fine when I looked out into the sea of friends and family, huddled shoulder to shoulder to shoulder, and there was nary a dry eye in the place. Later everyone would remark to us how ours was one of the most different and personal weddings they had ever been to. I’m no longer a religious person, and neither is Liz, so it only made sense that this day should be about us and what makes us being together such a special thing. Rob, one of my oldest and dearest friends, officiated the ceremony. Despite his reluctance for all this love and marriage stuff, he surprised even himself with how succinct and poignant he could be. Making sure I didn’t chicken out were my four groomsmen: My brother Pete as the best man, Kevin, Peter, and Matt. Liz was backed up by her Matron of Honor, Shelly, Maid of Honor, Niff, and two bridesmen, Marc and her brother George. Don’t mind the basic name accounting, I am writing this to be as much a record for something I can look back on as it is something for me to share with you.

We both gave each other custom rings from the aptly-named Halloween, a wonderful jewelry store in Philly. Mine is absurdly large due to my large hands and sausage-like fingers. Liz and her gals surprised me by filling all of Welkinweir with pumpkins. Planning got away from us and we nixed the pumpkins a little while back. But Liz, great girl that she is, knows how I love October and Halloween dearly and wanted pumpkins there. They carved up 30 some pumpkins into many exquisite facades. That alone would have made me smile all night.

Despite the rain, we were able to steal a few candid shots outside. The reception was also at Welkinweir, so we didn’t have far to go. Once the ceremony was over we could just direct the guests to the bar and let them tend to themselves. The reception was, though unintentionally, very open form. Numerous people went up to the mic to say a few kind words and share advice or memories of good times. We opted to do the music ourselves with iTunes, lest a DJ play that ubiquitous wedding crap. People drank, people danced, and all had a good time. Even though Liz’s mom fell and broke her foot, she was in great spirits… but that may have been all the Advil. After even a day, so much of it turns into a blur. You plan for months and months for one single day, then *poof*, you are on the other side of it. Simply amazing.

Lastly, I know it something pretty much goes without saying but, weddings are damn expensive. We did so much ourselves (more on that in a later post), and it still ended up being an incredible sum of money for just one day. Special thanks to the parents for… well, everything.


After our honeymoon planning got derailed by two previous hurricanes we canceled our original plans for a cruise and booked a week-long stay at a resort called Sunscape in Tulum, Mexico (less than two hours south of Cancun). The hotel itself was beautiful; cozy rooms, lush beaches, and clear water. One of the best things about the hotel was actually the food selection. Liz and I don’t eat meat, so we figured we would be having salad every night. Instead, there was plenty for us to eat, and large variety to boot. Though the weather called for rain just about every day, it usually only rained for an hour before clearing up. Ah, tropical weather. After all the wedding hoopla it was great to get in a few solid days of fun and relaxation.

Some of the highlights include three “firsts” for both Liz and I. We took a zip line tour over the jungle canopy. Now, I’m not huge on heights, and roller coasters are not my friend (stupid motion sickness), but hot damn are zip lines fun. One of my favorite parts is the use of a “Mayan brake” which is essentially a small tree branch shaped like an upside-down check mark that you use to pull down on the wire in order to adjust your speed. I wish I could zip line from my third floor apartment down to the street.

Next up was snorkeling in an underground river in a sinkhole. The Yucatan Peninsula has many sinkholes, most of which are connected through a large system of caves and waterways (which is why it’s a great place for scuba diving). The underground rivers contain some of the most pure and clean water you will ever find. When we asked our guide if it was cold he just kept saying “No, it’s fresh… like snow”.

Last up was the ATV tour. If we were in America on ATVs, I bet they would have been tuned down to only go like 10 mph, but in Mexico you get a 1 minute crash course in how to handle the brakes and gear shifting before you are speeding down dirt trails and through the jungle at breakneck speeds. Better yet, it had just rained a little beforehand so there were loads of puddles and mud to go through. We were having so much fun, then the hurricane cometh…


I know. We were floored. Like the plot of a bad horror movie, the hurricanes had already foiled our earlier plans and now another one had found us in Mexico. Wilma was already starting to get a bit finicky by Wednesday, so the hotel people moved us from our room overlooking the beach (“Ocean view”) to one of the rooms in the back of the grounds (“Garden view”). It wasn’t really a big deal other than a longer walk to where stuff was happening. That morning we were woken up by a knock on the door at 1am from our hotel concierge telling us we were being evacuated at 10am. We were told to grab a pillow from the bed, pack a small bag, and put all of our remaining luggage in the bathtub.

Later that morning we found ourselves in the lobby waiting to be shipped off on buses to a shelter (a sort of vocational school about an hour’s drive inland). Once we got on the bus the hotel owner popped her head in and said something to the effect of: “You will be given a towel when you get to the school. You will lay this down on the floor and it will be your bed and living space while you stay there. It won’t be comfortable. You will hate me and your significant others tomorrow, but this is a necessary precaution to keep you all safe and alive”. Scary stuff to hear, let alone on your honeymoon. After seeing the widespread panic and devastation from something like hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, it was all most of us could do to just keep it together. We tried not to freak out and lose ourselves to speculation (due to the shortage of information), which was only further emphasized by being in a different country.

We arrived at the school later that day and were led to our new rooms. We ended up in a 23’ x 23’ room with 40 other people. Once we laid down our towels there basically wasn’t a spare scrap of floor left. We quickly realized we were going to get to know some new people really well.

The first day went well enough, there was plenty of food and bottled water — a necessary part of visiting Mexico unless you throw caution for your bowels to the wind. Most of us were somewhat reassured by the hope that we would be there for one night. Night came and went. We received some news in the morning that told us Wilma had moved very little and was still on a course for Cozumel (an island off the coast of the peninsula). Everyone was hurting pretty badly from sleeping on a linoleum floor, if you can call tossing back and forth every 5 minutes or so “sleeping”. The next day it sunk in that we would be there for awhile. Wilma turned out to be the largest storm ever recorded, with an eye 40 miles wide and a span just shy of 500 miles at times, Wilma was absolutely massive.

At some point during the second day the Mexican Army showed up to help us brace for impact and make sure no one got in or out of the school. By this time is was raining pretty hard and the wind was really starting to pick up. Just after dinner the army turned off the power, as a precautionary measure, and the water because we had essentially filled the tanks from toilet usage. Not so much with just waste, but with lots of toilet paper too. I guess panic makes people really go. This made things problematic when one had to go, not just pee, which in times like those doesn’t necessitate a flush, but “number 2”. Someone had the foresight to set up some barrels to catch the ample supply of rain water so that we could use it to flush the toilets. But, because it was so jammed packed with discarded toilet paper, we weren’t allowed to flush that down. We had a separate trash can next to the toilet for, um, used paper. Needless to say it didn’t take long before you tried to hold your breath for the entire duration of your bathroom visit. I had the misfortune of the dreaded “number 3”, a whole different beast from “number 1” or “number 2”, which was only made more enjoyable by the absence of toilet seats.

The third day was possibly the worst. No electricity, no water, and little to do. Liz and I had exhausted all the cards games we knew, and there was usually too little light to read. The wind howled all day and it was raining too much to be outside. I think we ended up falling asleep around 6pm. By this point everyone seemed to be a hurricane expert and saw fit to toss their opinions into the ring. Speculation is tough in these situations, containing lots of rumored information about when you are leaving (ranging from tomorrow to 1 week). Most of the news we had was regarding how different Wilma was from every hurricane. As unpredictable as any woman, Wilma, would change directions almost hourly, slowing down to as little as 1 mph or speeding up to 25 mph, only to stop and sit on Cancun for the better part of two days.

When people are in the same clothes for going on four days they begin to get bitter. Cramped living conditions, smells you pray will only occur once in a lifetime, and the ache of being somewhere strange away from friends and family will make people much quicker to snap at others and disagree. Situations like this truly bring out the best and the worst in people. When you share a small room with 40 other people your moods are subject to change very quickly. One moment you are joking and laughing with someone while the next you are glaring at them for snoring all damn night and keeping you awake on your comfy towel-bed. What amazed me most were people who bailed after one day. They signed the waiver to leave the compound to go and find their own shelter. As though they deserved so much more in a time of crisis. They would risk their own health and safety for the sake of a comfortable bed. That just blows my mind… especially with all the precautions the hotel workers took to keep us safe and fed. And after hearing about all the reporting of looting and theft (particularly on unsuspecting tourists in a strange country).

The fourth day (Sunday) brought with it the promise of going back to the hotel. The weather had all but died away, the new issue was the state of the roads. Even if our hotel was ready for us, getting back there was another matter entirely. By midday, the busses had come back and we said goodbye to our shelter. We travelled about three times as far to get back to the hotel since we were forced to find a different, non-flooded course. When we got back to the hotel later that night we were further filled in by the hotel’s manager. Our hotel was spared by a mere 10 miles. The bulk of the damage, while pretty bad looking, was largely cosmetic. Many of the hotels just a few miles up the road had been utterly devastated. We were running off of generator power so certain amenities would be limited. At that point we just wanted a hot shower and a bed that didn’t double as a walking area.

I can’t say enough about the quality of our hotel and its workers. They went far above and beyond the normal call of duty. Consider this, they all have families in the effected area, but they came with all of the guests to the shelter to help us and keep us safe instead. There was always water and food (even something for us vegetarians to cobble together), and never a moment of hesitation before helping. We could not have asked to be trapped with more dedicated and caring people.

We relaxed and wandered around scoping out the damage for a day back at the hotel, still unsure of when we would leave. Best report had us catching a plane sometime by week’s end. At 1 am Wednesday morning we received a call telling us to be in the lobby at 4:30 am to catch our bus to the airport. The best news yet! Somehow Apple Vacations and USA 3000 managed to arrange flights for us, despite the Cancun airport not being officially open and on USA 3000’s off-day. Word was Apple and USA 3000 had over 13 flights planned that day to ship out as many refugees as they could. Within a few hours we were zooming home on a packed plane. When we got back, Philadelphia treated us to some rainy Fall weather, and it didn’t even matter.

I wouldn’t have signed up for a vacation like this, but now that we are back safe, I am happy to have been through it. Everyone can do with a little more adventure in their lives sometimes. On the plus side, this bodes well for our new marriage; if we could get through something like that, most other things should be a breeze. I kept telling myself that this will just be something we will laugh about, you know, once we are on the other end of it. I now have a beautiful wife and couldn’t be happier. It was most certainly a honeymoon to remember.

Commentary (22):

1. wayne says… oct 31, 2005 | 2:08 pm

wow. i’m glad to hear you’re both back safe. i will never again complain about the photo lab losing my honeymoon pictures.

and hey, i’ll help you build a zip line from your apartment to the street if you help me build one from my condo across the schuylkill river to my office on penn’s campus. deal?

2. David Appleyard says… oct 31, 2005 | 2:41 pm

I’m glad you enjoyed it, and are back safe. Sounds like a real experience, and one you shared with someone you really love.

I wish you the best of times together.

3. Mauricio Sandoval says… oct 31, 2005 | 2:56 pm

Hi Jason,

I am sorry to hear that you got hit by the hurricane. My wife and I got married on October 8th, and we flew to Playa del Carmen for our honeymoon on the 17th. Long story short, my wife started to freak out by the 18th, we had CNN in our resort (El Dorado Seaside), and I didn’t want her to freak even more, so I made the arrangements to re-schedule my flight back to the States for Wednesday 19th… we were returning originally on Saturday 22nd.

While leaving the hotel, guests and staff altogether were giving us a hard time saying ‘hey! chill out, nothing’s going to happen’ and stuff like that.

I am thankful to my wife that she wasn’t at ease with all the warnings from CNN.

It was a close call, and both of us were very lucky that we could leave right before the storm hit the area.

I have heard a few horror stories from people that were in Playa del Carmen, and in Cancun… fortunately, all those stories ended up like bad experiences, and nothing more.

I am glad you are back, and that neither one of you were harmed.


4. Ryan Boone says… oct 31, 2005 | 3:02 pm

Yeah, hurricanes suck. I live in Southeast Texas and we got hit with one of the largest hurricanes ever to hit this area: Rita. In some cases, it was even more destructive than Katrina. No power for over a month and a half in some areas.

Anyway, I’m sorry you got caught up in the MOST POWERFUL HURRICANE EVER RECORDED IN THE ATLANTIC! I do graphic work at a newspaper here, and I’ve already heard of a couple who vacationed down in Cancun who have yet to be heard from.

I say hurricanes should be boycotted.

5. Ryan Boone says… oct 31, 2005 | 3:03 pm

p.s.—Congrats on the marriage!

6. Ian says… oct 31, 2005 | 3:10 pm

Good show. You didn’t think you could get Rob to officiate your wedding without things going terribly awry, did you?
I think you should do a make-up honeymoon in 6 months. Glad you are not in Oz!

7. Jim Renaud says… oct 31, 2005 | 3:47 pm

Welcome back… Zip line technology is a new Google investment. Use Google Maps and zip line to yr destination. It’s gonna be huge.

8. sutter says… oct 31, 2005 | 4:06 pm

i would be happy to chaperone you on your rain-date honeymoon. all i require is 4 meals a day and $6500 spending money… and a sombrero.

9. Nick S says… oct 31, 2005 | 4:27 pm

Thanks for the great blow-by-blow (no weather related pun intended) of the events. My wife’s cousin was stuck down there on her honeymoon as well. From what I hear, they didn’t fair NEARLY as well as you guys did. (try an apple and a sandwich a day with your only water coming from the spa…)

It will indeed be a great story to tell in coming years.

Welcome back and congrats!

10. Chris says… oct 31, 2005 | 9:44 pm


11. Chris says… oct 31, 2005 | 9:45 pm

No, seriously though, I’m so glad you guys are back and through that madness. Where do we sign up to get you a new honemoon?

12. Richard Rutter says… nov 1, 2005 | 4:32 am

Wow. Thanks for relating the your tale of happiness and woe. I must confess to suppressing a laugh at this point: “we found ourselves waiting to be shipped off on buses to a shelter”. A sympatehtic laugh of course, in a farsical, British, stiff-upper-lip kind of way. Shipped off to a shelter your honeymoon. Blimey. Anyhow - good to have you back safe and sound with some unforgettable memories to boot.

And of course, huge congrats to you and Liz - I get the impression you have a fine future together.

13. Naomi says… nov 1, 2005 | 9:48 am

Geez, guys - I already thought you were tough, but now I kind of fear you. You know what town is just lovely this time of year (read: second Honeymoon)? Cleveland!!!

Glad you’re safe - can’t wait to see you, hopefully, soon.

14. Tom says… nov 1, 2005 | 3:33 pm

I just had a wedding & thankfully we were blessed with great weather between hurricanes. Glad to see you’re OK - looking forward to hearing you speak on Dec 5.

15. minxlj says… nov 1, 2005 | 6:49 pm

Just happened upon your site from the link at kottke.org - just want to say you and your wife looked amazing, and congratulations on your special day :-)

16. Matt Turner says… nov 2, 2005 | 7:26 am

Looks like you guys had a great wedding and Jason, that suit is sharp! Are those red cala lilies Liz was holding? My fiance is really set on those but I don’t like the idea of just white ones… had them at my cousins wedding and they looked a bit, well, underwhelming - and that’s before you get to the usual associations.

17. Andrea says… nov 2, 2005 | 9:30 am

Congrats Jason! Hope all is well and glad you got through the weather OK. I agree, if you guys could make it through something like that, everything else should be a piece of cake :)

18. hermajesty says… nov 2, 2005 | 4:29 pm

Number 3?

19. Jason Santa Maria says… nov 2, 2005 | 4:38 pm

Matt Turner: They are actually black calla lilies (though in reality, the color is deep burgundy) and they were beautiful. Liz and her girls were insane and decided to buy the flowers online and do them ALL, boutonnieres, corsages, everything. And they did an amazing job.

hermajesty: Yes, “number 3”. An insidious combination, equal parts “number 1”, “number 2”, and pure evil.

20. Razlan says… nov 6, 2005 | 12:40 am

Hi Jason,

I am from Singapore and have been following your blog for a while. Congratulations on your wedding, and glad that you returned from your trip little harmed by Wilma. Being in an island state like Singapore shown the residents little of what it’s like to be at the mercy of mother nature. All we know are from TV and newspapers.

Take care.

21. Gulf Coast Resident says… nov 9, 2005 | 11:42 am

Why would you go on a vacation in the Gulf of Mexico during the hurricane season, let alone during what was already busiest and most damaging hurricane season on record?

Just curious.

22. C Montoya says… nov 14, 2005 | 5:15 pm

That’s a story to tell the kids :)