The Karen & Donners Wedding {Part I}

“Will you do me the honour of spending the rest of your life with me?”

We’re a week and a half into life on the outside and we have no complaints so far. It’s amazing how quickly it all fell into place and started to feel so right—even in ten short days we’ve settled into routines and schedules, and Nyana has had a chance to finally get to know her Big People while we get to know What We Made. We’re full steam ahead on the hurry-up-and-grow train.

So tonight’s post shall be completely indulgent and more for me than for you or for Nyana. Tonight, sixteen year-old Nyana is going to learn about her parents’ wedding. About the best Canada Day ever—on the beaches of Belize—spent barefoot in the sun and drunk on love. About our two week family vacation with a wedding thrown in on a Tuesday night. About tubing through caves and climbing ancient ruins and eating amazing food—and a bit about home break-ins, too. About falling in love with an entire culture while celebrating our love for each other.

We decided very early in our relationship that we didn’t want to go into debt throwing a party just to show everyone else how in love we were. The traditional concept of a wedding just wasn’t our cup of tea; there’s a part of me who at the time really wanted to just run away, he and me, and let everyone figure it out when they received a wedding photo in the mail. Eventually we decided on a compromise between the two, and invited immediate family only—both our moms, my brother and sister, and Don’s brother; both my siblings brought their better halves. Nine of us on a family vacation—two family halves who had never met; we arranged the connector flights so both the East and West contingent were on the same flight into Belize. Eight out of nine of us needed a passport for the very first time for the adventure. We chose Belize because it wasn’t cliché like Mexico or Vegas; because it’s part of the British Commonwealth and therefore our marriage would be valid here in Canada; because the Mayan culture was fascinating to both of us and we wanted to know more. We chose Canada Day so that we’d always have a day off and fireworks on our anniversary.

Don and I had six days alone in Belize before our family joined us. We flew from Vancouver to Houston in the middle of the night and thought we’d try our luck at a Texan breakfast once we landed. What we found as breakfast was frightful, with soupy looking grits and a tangle of greasy bacon. We managed what we could of it and then set off to stock up on booze and cigarettes at the duty-free. While we waited for our connector into Belize City, I caught a glimpse of the news that George Carlin had died, and hated to have to break the news to Don when he returned from the boy’s room.

We landed to overcast skies, and were met with a near suffocating wall of humid heat as we walked across the tarmac into the airport. A quick 20-minute welcome to Belize and a stamp in our passport, and we were on our way to get our luggage and fetch a taxi into town. If you’re ever travelling in Belize, only ever hire a cab with a green licence plate, the officially licensed ones. The others are posers.

Welcome to Belize

Welcome to Belize. It's about 93 degrees.

View from our hotel.

The view from our hotel room.

Downtown Belize City.

A random street on the border between 'safe for gringos' and 'not safe for gringos', downtown Belize City.


We stayed three nights in Belize City, and soon learned it was two days too many. It’s not a pretty city—there are no swimmable beaches, and the smell of raw sewage is notably present in the air—but the people are proud and the food is astounding. Don and I spent our first two days exploring the tourist district of the city; it’s not advised that a gringo venture too far into the heart of the city unescorted. But we visited the museum—an eerie building that used to be the city jail—and explored a few of the restaurants and shops near the hotel. On our last full day in Belize City before heading to the island, we visited Lamanai.

Welcome to Lamanai.

Welcome to Lamanai. Wonders await.

Lamanai is one of the ancient Mayan ruins scattered around Belize and other countries in Central America. From Belize City we drove a good two hours inland to the small town of Orange Walk, where we met our guide and boarded a boat up-river. About an hour later, we disembarked at a tattered wooden dock with a worn, green painted “Welcome to Lamanai” sign. Our guide, Wilfredo, had so much information about the culture and the way of life of the people who built these amazing structures. As he walked us through the jungle and he walked us through the history of his country, he pointed out everything from native flora to the cries of jaguars off in the distance, to mounds under our feet that were actually the rooftops of buried cities. There were many times when walking that we could actually feel the hollow thump of empty chambers underneath our feet.

Our jungle hike eventually led us to N10-43, The High Temple. Standing 33 metres tall, Don and I looked out over Guatemala and Mexico from the top of the temple, and shared a disbelieving moment of giddiness that this was us, we were here, and we were doing this. It was an unreal moment, standing on the top of that temple—standing on the edge of a new beginning—and if I’m ever asked to write a Top 10 Moments Of My Life list, standing atop the Sun Temple in Belize, high atop the jungle canopy, Yucatan Peninsula behind me would be right up near the top of the list, up with spending 222 days in the NICU. Our guide had warned us that while climbing up the temple was physical, climbing down was mental. The climb to the highest altar was near vertical like a ladder propped against a wall; it is said that the stairs were made so narrow and so steep, it ensured no one could ever turn their backs on the gods.

Sun temple.

Sun temple, 13 stories tall.

Top of the world!

One of the best childhood memories we've built yet.

Moving on from N10-43 we moved on through the jungle and found ourselves at the mask temple. A low-standing temple, maybe three stories, with massive limestone masks carved symmetrically into either side. Here, Wilfredo showed us one excavated half—its other side preserved under years of growth—and explained to us how in the Mayan culture, new rulers would simply build a larger temple over the existing temple, as opposed to tearing the old rulers’ down. As we hiked away from the mask temple, over and down the lumpy rolls in the ground, we again heard the hollow thump under our feet and were reminded that as impressive as the site is, less than 20% of the original city has been excavated.

Stinky sugarcane factory.

The sugarcane factory by the river. So stinky.

We caught our boat back up the river—past the mangroves and past the sugar factory—and caught a bus that got us back at the Radisson well past sundown (which, that close to the equator and in the middle of the summer, happens around 5pm). We grabbed a quick bite at The Smoky Mermaid—highly recommended, by the way—and a quick dip in the pool before lightening kicked us out, then retreated to our room to pack our bags and prepare for our next adventure: a five-bedroom house on the beaches of Ambergris Caye.

———-

Stay tuned for the second instalment of the Karen & Donners wedding, and for more of Nyana’s adventures with her Sunshine Brigade. Today was a rare day with nothing on the calendar, so we went for a walk to Don’s office to lunch with Daddy and meet a few special co-workers. Tomorrow we have a social worker and a case manager visiting us, and we’re back to life as usual. Ha. “Life as usual” still makes me smile.

See more photos of Belize city here, and photos from our Lamanai excursion here.

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About Mrs. B

Wife, mother, marketer--not always in that order. Lover of fine food, good company, and exceptional grammar. Mother of one former micro-preemie and one full-term monster baby. Building childhood memories in Vancouver's suburbs.
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8 Responses to The Karen & Donners Wedding {Part I}

  1. Lynn Duncan says:

    What a fun entry! I remember so well, hearing all the details, leading up to your wedding trip and then all about it and seeing the pictures.. so this is a fun look back.

  2. Linda says:

    Oh, what a wonderful, magical time this was for us all!! Though I don’t have the same memories as you during your 1st week in Belize I vividly remember the flurry of activity that was happening back in Canada. Phone calls back and forth to your siblings, manicures and haircuts, sending introductory letters and pictures to Don’s mum so she would know who we were when we met in Houston, making last minute alterations to the skirts and blouses I had sewn for the occasion, arranging respite for the ladies…every day leading up to our departure was full of pre-wedding, pre-vacation-in-paradise-meeting-new-family plans!!! And then I had to get on that plane…..if I hadn’t loved you and Don so much I highly doubt whether I would have gone. I survived that big plane ride and was proud of myself for getting past this hurdle until I saw that teeny, tiny little plane that was going to shuttle the 7 of us across the Caribbean Sea to our villa. I then became a puddle of nerves but I knew there was no backing out now. Then, to my absolute amazement I found that I thoroughly enjoyed this plane ride (go figure!!). Seeing the shadows of the puffy clouds floating on the surface of the water, the shrimp farms and the canopy of jungle trees made me realize that this was just the beginning of an adventure of my lifetime and I felt so blessed and thankful to be going to this fairy-tale wedding. I could handle anything now, even hiking through the jungle, dressed only in a bathing suit and sandles, ready to go tubing through the bat caves (well, maybe!!)
    Thank you for bringing to the surface these wonderful memories, Karen. This trip was an unforgettable adventure, though we didn’t know at the time that in just over two years we would be embarking on yet another one, that being the Adventures of the Sunshine Brigade. These memories will be just as memorable but in a somewhat different way.
    Can’t wait to read the next installment!!
    Love you,
    Mum

  3. Lee says:

    Just before the end of your blog, I said to myself – “this is going to be a cliff-hanger” and sure enough, it was. I hate cliff-hangers.

    I’m really enjoying reading about your memories and can’t wait for the next installment. You both have a great talent for telling a story.

    Hi Nyana – and does she really have to wait until her 16th birthday to hear this great story?

    • Mrs. B says:

      I thought the {Part I} in the title would have given away that it would be a cliffhanger. 🙂 And we want to ensure that Nyana is old enough to truly appreciate the story, not just read the words. I want this to be a special gift to her, given on a special day. Maybe we’ll make her wait until her high school graduation…

  4. Duncan & Dorothy Gillies says:

    Hi Karen, Don & Nyana
    Glad to hear all is going well, and that Nyana got to go for a visit to the office.
    Loved hearing again about the wedding – this time from your perspective. We have already heard about it from Anne (Don’s mom) and everytime we are at her house, I browse through the photos album she keeps on the table.
    Look forward to the next installment. Love Duncan & Dorothy

  5. Twiggy says:

    I remember seeing pictures of your gown and the happy smiling faces of you all in your pictures after, too. ((Good to see our Doodlebug Nyana is doing well, too))

    On a side note, Karen I can see where you get your wonderful writing talent…your Mom!!

  6. Anne Brackett says:

    Reading through your blog brought alot of memories back. I never in my wildest dreams would have ever thought I could walk through the jungle in a bathing suit and then get in a tube to float back down through the caves. It was an enjoyable trip and wonderful meeting everyone for the first time.

    I am waiting for the next installment. Karen you have a talent in writing.

    Love to all. Mom

  7. Pingback: The Karen & Donners Wedding {Part II} | Adventures Of The Sunshine Brigade

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