Friday, February 5, 2016

Getting Married in Ecuador: Part Two - the Religious Wedding service

Part two: The religious wedding

The civil service is done and dusted and we have all the certificates to confirm we are legally married... now we can go and get married all over again (only this time it's going to be really fun).

Lucy and I got married for the second time at Ecuador's oldest hacienda in a 16th Century chapel built on top of an Incan sacred site. We were married by a Lutheran minister, with an indigenous Indian initiation ceremony and a Wiccan cleansing. It was ecumenical and a touch unconventional to put it mildly. After all, we had guests flying in from the US, England and Peru - so we had to put on a bit of a show.

Planning for the wedding began only a few months in advance. It would be disingenuous of me to take any of the glory for the final success of the day - this was Lucy's triumph. We had a tiny budget but we had a lot of help from a lot of very generous people. Here's what we did...

The Venue

The real coup was to secure Hacienda Guachala as our wedding venue. It is Ecuador's oldest hacienda and was once the richest estate in the country, there is a saying still used in Ecuador about Guachala which is the equivalent of 'as rich as Croesus'. Guachala's hacienda once sat at the centre of an estate spanning some 21,000 hectares - that's more than twice the size of Jersey.

Hacienda Guachala, Cayambe, Ecuador
The courtyard inside Guachala
Guachala's glory days were over soon after the outlawing of the colonial feudal system which partitioned the country into vast estates incorporating the native Indian populations as part of the hacienda owners property. This medieval-style slavery persisted until agrarian reforms in the 1960s and 70s before it was finally stamped out altogether in the 1980s. The agrarian reforms were perhaps more a reaction to the perceived threat of the Indian population becoming Communist rather than through a pang of social conscience.

These days the hacienda is still impressive albeit slightly dog-eared. It's a vast estate to maintain but Ecuador's climate is very forgiving, without frosts or long months of rain. People built to last back in the 1600s and the walls are nearly a metre thick, not to mention the forest of fat timbers propping up those walls. That said, Guachala could do with more than a lick of paint and some modern fixtures... of course, this faded charm was precisely what Lucy and I both loved about the place.

The present hacienda owner's daughter married a man called Cristobal Cobo, who has combined archaeology with his knowledge of the astral bodies to discover long lost pre-Incan sacred sites, a sort of Indiana Jones figure, without killing any Nazis. To chat to Cristobal is fascinating and he has some very interesting ideas about turning the map on its side. He believes the best point to orient ourselves is the sun rising in the east above the Equator (in fact, he will have you know, the word orientation itself comes from the Latin word oriens, meaning east). I'm digressing slightly... every Wednesday Lucy used to dance for the tourists in the centre of Quito with her folk group. While the dancers were limbering up and grooming their raposas Cristobal would give a little lecture on his studies and so this is how Lucy got to know him.

Fast forward 15 years and he receives a Facebook message out of the blue from Lucy mentioning she wants to get married at his house! He was very gracious about it all and even invited us around for dinner. His family were charming, his dog was enormous and we had an amazing meal which was all the tastier thanks to the homemade relish he served made from the cacti he grows on the hacienda (a little sideline). We got approval for the wedding and were given a free rein of the estate.

The Chapels

There are two chapels on the Guachala estate, we had the choice to marry in either building.
Hacienda Guachala, Cayambe, Ecuador
The original chapel from the 1580s
The first is the old chapel, built in 1580 when the hacienda was founded. It was built plum on the spot of a sacred Incan site, another instance of the Spanish stamping their dominance on the local population. It's a powerful message - my God is harder than your God. I suppose the Incas were rather inclined to agree, their sun god Inti was notable only for his absence as the conquistadors raped, pillaged and infected half his people with smallpox. Jehovah on the other hand - as the Incas would have been taught by those first missionary priests - rained locusts and death on the Pharaoh when he tried a similar trick. The old chapel is dilapidated and long since deconsacrated, it's most contemporary function was a home for the babyfoot table... which is also dilapidated and long since deconsacrated.
Table football in a 16th Century Chapel
A game of babyfoot while you pray... come on you Greens

The other chapel is much larger and from the 1920s. It was the first building in Ecuador to be made from concrete, then considered a wonder material. The concrete was formed in Europe to the required specs and imported across the Atlantic and along the Panama canal. It must have cost a fortune. Concrete is so prolific these days it's hard to imagine going to such trouble, but to be fair the hacienda owner was right ahead of the curve, a true early-adopter.

Hacienda Guachala, Cayambe, Ecuador
The newer chapel from the 1920s has twin towers and a
much larger space for the congregation. Old light fittings
still dangle above your head like Damocles' sword.
The exposed beams look fantastic. All of the
concrete to construct this chapel was imported from Europe
at great expense. It's hard to believe concrete was ever
considered such a rare commodity
Hacienda Guachala, Cayambe, Ecuador

a_DSC3158Perhaps unsurprisingly we chose the chapel from the 1580s. Lucy's mum wasn't sure about our plans and I'm sure she wasn't the only one. To get the 16th Century chapel looking presentable for 70 guests would take some imagination and a lot of hard work. Our plan wasn't complicated - candles and flowers.

We found a candle factory in Quito where we were able to buy in bulk for a reasonable price. We bought about 100 white church candles of various sizes and filled the chapel with them. It was almost certainly a fire hazard - but luckily nobody worries too much about these sort of things too much in Ecuador (except me, I was terrified Lucy would catch her trailing dress on the flame and go up like a firework).

Before the wedding ceremony could take place in the chapel, Lucy's aunt Liliana cleansed it with her white witchcraft because apparently 'it had some spirits living there' (probably the Holy Spirit since it is a chapel after all). I can't say I go in for all this malarkey but it's better safe than sorry. Honestly, the last thing I wanted to do was upset some unquiet soul, disturbed in their eternal limbo by our wedding shenanigans.


Enrique Males

BodaIf our first coup was getting Hacienda Guachala for our venue, the second coup was getting Enrique Males to sing at our wedding. Enrique Males is an Ecuadorian folk singer from Otavalo (just up the road from Cayambe). He has a deep and powerful voice and sings in a mix of Quechua and Spanish languages, sometimes using pre-Colombian instruments loaned and recreated by Quito's archaeological museum. I fell in love with his ballad Ariningacaman and, after a couple of drinks one evening, said to Lucy: 'Why don't we ask Enrique Males to sing at our wedding?' Lucy's always game for a challenge no matter how pie in the sky.

If the idea had been mine, Lucy made it happen. Enrique Males was performing at the main concert venue in Quito as part of a charity fundraiser against the encroachment of the Yasuni Amazon region by oil speculators. Part of his stage act had been a diatribe against the evils of 'el hombre blanco', so it was with a hint of white guilt that I first met Enrique and his wife Patricia after the show. He stressed how he didn't just sing at your typical Ecuadorian upper class wedding, and he didn't have much love for the Catholic church. He was interested to hear about the strange concoction of a wedding we were brewing at Guachala and agreed.

Enrique arrived with two musicians, one with a violin and the other with a small, twangy guitar. It was amazing to hear them practicing before the ceremony in the chapel. Enrique was keen to start the ceremony with a traditional conch call and did not want to sing as Lucy walked down the aisle. This is how it went on the day - my Dad fortunately took a video or else it would have been lost forever.
Enrique is such a gentleman that he accepted our invitation to stay for the wedding breakfast and insisted on another performance after we had eaten. He was singing in the courtyard of the old hacienda and the sound reverberated beautifully. Again, my dad was on hand to record this exclusive performance.  Enrique is a true gentleman.

La Banda

The band in full swing
You can't have a party in Ecuador without a band, so we hired a group of local lads from Cayambe. There was a big festival in Cayambe that week so bands (or at least sober ones) were thin on the ground. Lucy found an entrepreneurial troupe of teenagers who had all served their apprenticeships with the adults and were looking to branch out on their own. There were a few percussionists who were even younger still and whose apprenticeships must have been very short.

We met their leader in Cayambe the month before the wedding and he promised they would all arrive wearing an outfit - thankfully he lied and when they arrived on the day of the wedding it was in mufti. In Ecuador things can at times seem chaotic but when somebody makes a promise (especially one sealed with a cash transaction) they always deliver. We handed half the cash to our teenage band leader weeks ahead of the wedding and didn't hear from him again until he arrived promptly on the day. Latin America sometimes has an unfair reputation for being slap-dash, the only balls up on our wedding day came from the Dutch bakery Jurgen in Quito who forgot our cake order. The Netherlands had unexpectedly thumped Spain  in the World Cup and I think perhaps the Dutch owner had gotten a bit carried away on the Grolsch. Ignominious and hungover, he emptied half the cakes in his shops into the back of Lucy's cousin Veronica's car and knocked off 50 per cent, he even promised us a free slap-up breakfast (which we never cashed in).

The band had arrived early and were over the moon when we invited them to help themselves to a plate of food - I think they ate more than the rest of the wedding party combined. There was plenty of food to go around - but more about that next.

Stuffed raposasBand music in Ecuador is raucous, brassy and stompy. It's easy to dance to, even if you can't dance (like me) and the tunes are simple and infectious. The highlight of the dancing was when the raposas arrived. The raposa is a sort of Andean skunk that makes the highlands smell like weed. These raposas were stuffed and are used in traditional folk dances as a fertility symbol. I can never remember if I just invented this or if it's real but the raposa is thrust from the groin during the dance as a potent phallic symbol... I hope I didn't invent it. The raposas were stuffed by Lucy's dad Carlos himself in his homemade taxidermy horror lab - which has also seen snakes, owls and iguanas lain upon the cold slab for disembowelment and a final formaldehyde bath. We must take Carlos at his word that the raposas were already dead when he found them, although judging by their hellish, contorted faces death came neither welcome nor peaceful.

My own Dad captured this video of Lucy and I dancing with raposas to the banda. The band played late into the night, fueled only by rum - which not one member was legally old enough to drink.

We were dancing in the central courtyard of the hacienda on the cobblestones, needless to say it's not the ideal dance floor. To counter this Carlos carted the enormous dance mat from his Ambato folklore group all the way to Cayambe. It worked so well that Lucy spent the entire night dancing bare foot without any injuries the next day.
Lucy in full swing to the band 
Later in the evening we put on a pre-prepared Spotify playlist with a mixture of salsa, rock and the Pogues (maybe we even included the Macarena - for the old folk, like). At one point in the night Peruvian Oscar unveiled his cajon (a giant box drum) and played it - the cajon was our wedding present and poor old Oscar and Flor de Maria had to cart it all the way from Lima - it must have taken up half of their baggage allowance. Fueled by Pisco my last memories are dancing like a loon and shouting at the top of my lungs: "Mas loca, Candy (Lucy's best friend), mas loca."

Food and Drink

Esteben and the tuna steaks

When I was living on the coast I got a taste for tuna, bought with disastrous consequences at Puerto Lopez fish market. It's meaty, delicious and cheap as chips - although never actually served with chips, just plantain. For the wedding I wanted to serve barbecued tuna steaks - it's not very traditional but I thought there might be a bit of theatre to it.
Perhaps in the embryonic stages of planning I'd half imagined myself behind the barbecue, chef's hat on, 'Kiss the Cook' apron and grilling up a storm for the guests. Luckily, rationality (in the form of Lucy) swiftly intervened. We put out a Facebook aidez-moi, calling for a competent chef who knew how to handle a hot stove. We were so fortunate that Lucy's American cousin Nidia knew of just the man, an old friend of her's, Esteban Tapia. Of all the people who helped make the wedding run smoothly Esteban is one of the main players. Here's why.
Before the wedding Estaben invited Lucy and I to his house in the valleys outside Quito. He has a beautiful home with an even more amazing kitchen garden where he grows fresh fruit and veg. He was just branching out into hosting exclusive al fresco dining evenings at his own home. We had forewarned Esteban of our tuna plan and he had already marinaded this half-baked scheme. When we arrived he presented us with a tuna steak he had prepared earlier, it was amazing. We talked about what vegetables we could serve with the fish and also a few cocktail ideas... like everybody else in Ecuador (apart from Lucy) he had never heard of Pimms.

Not only was Esteban familiar with hacienda Guachala but he'd actually cooked on the volcanic stone barbecue in the courtyard. We'd harboured ambitious plans of buying a tuna fresh from the boat on the beach markets of Manabi then getting it driven to Cayambe in time for the wedding. Esteban had a much better idea - just leave it to him.

On the day Esteban arrived early and got the barbecue fired up with wood and - with his eyes watering from the smoke - slaved over a hot stove like an absolute trooper. In fact not only Esteban was working hard but also his wife and daughters. Once the cooking was done he manned the small bar area and served cocktails until late into the evening.

I'm slightly ashamed I did not thank him more appropriately for the efforts he and his family made on my wedding day. Dios te page.


We served Pimms cocktails immediately after the service. The Pimms was lugged from England by my parents, it's impossible to buy Pimms anywhere in Ecuador. The recipe was my dad's and he gave Esteban a quick lesson in mixing a passable Pimms. It was a huge success and everybody enjoyed, a few people hadn't realised it was alcoholic and perhaps knocked their's back with a bit too much gusto.

With the meal we served Chilean wine. Ecuador really isn't a wine country and it's hard to find good wine that doesn't cost the earth. Luckily the Chileans know what's good in life and have developed a well respected wine industry with a particular talent for pinot noir - which is what we were serving. The white and sparkling wine was also Chilean.

After the meal we had a bar serving gin Martinis, which even the Ecuadorians associated with James Bond. The gin was another import from the UK and Lucy's cousin Veronica (of cake carting fame) bought some Bombay Sapphire back from the US. We also served Mojitos - or Cuba Libres for those with a sweeter tooth. Carlos generously volunteered to buy the rum and arrived armed with 24 litre bottles. It was safe to say there was enough booze to get the party started and all the guests well and truly car parked.

Later in the evening Candy and Daniella, our Peruvian special guests, cracked open the special Pisco they had brought and it was liberally distributed across the dance floor. The Pisco is served directly to the lips and fresh from the bottle's cap. Resistance is futile. It was probably the straw that broke the camel's back - only it wasn't a camel, it was me, and it wasn't my back, it was my head.

The Dress

Lucy's dress is 100 years old. It was discovered in a house clearance in Chicago still stored in its original box. It was bought online and shipped from the US. It was a bit of a gamble and there was every possibility of it arriving in tatters. When the parcel finally came we were both a little nervous when we saw how small the box was - it seemed impossible a wedding dress could fit inside such a tiny box. What we hadn't bargained on was just how fine the material would be. Neither Lucy nor I are fabric experts but it seemed to be somewhere between silk and lace.

We opened the box at Lucy's cousin Nidia's house and within five minutes we were all sneezing and my eyes were streaming with allergies. We were going to need to gently beat the dress to release the dust and then hang it to air in the Ecuadorian sunshine for a day. The dress fitted like a glove. The gamble paid off.

When Lucy came to dress on morning of the wedding she realised half of the dress was missing. The petticoat was bag in Quito and we were at least an hour to the north in Cayambe. With only three hours until the wedding it was squeaky bum time! Luckily her friend Andrea came to the rescue and volunteered to pick up the dress on her way to Guachala. She had to pretend to the security guard at our house that she was Lucy's sister and had forgotten her key. The plan worked like a charm and Andrea - expertly driven by then boyfriend/now husband Fernando - arrived just in time to save the day. Reminiscing as I wrote the blog, Lucy breezily dismissed the incident with the words: "Well I knew I'd forgotten something, I just didn't think it was something so important."

Well, the dress looked amazing and, more importantly, Lucy looked stunning in it. Despite entering its centenary year it stood up to the rigours of a wild Andean fiesta than anybody. Lucy kept her dress on all day and danced in it all night. We surveyed the damage a week later and the only evidence of its trials and tribulations was a small red wine stain which Lucy was able to scrub clean by hand. Will this dress ever be worn again, or was this its last hurrah? We'll keep it in a box, safe for Julia.
Lucy makes her way to the chapel

I was wearing a white suit, partly inspired by my man Carlos Vives' creepy, pretend wedding in his video for Volvi a Nacer.


One of the big advantages of getting married in Cayambe is it sits bang slap at the centre of Ecuador's rose industry. Surrounding Guachala, where sheep once grazed, are enormous poly tunnels filled with roses in a climate controlled environment (although I wouldn't want to breathe the fumigated air inside). Roses of every variety and colour are grown - even blue roses (although they are in fact white roses fed strong colouring). The best roses are picked, packed and shipped to the United States. The rest are sold cheap to the local population - and it's little surprise Cayambe is awash with florists. We visited and placed an order for 100 bunches of a dozen white roses and maybe 10 dozen blue delphiniums.
Tom and Emilia labouring hard
I had never tried flower arranging before but I talked the talk and succeeded in convincing people I knew what I was doing. Lucy and I had a plan to create trailing garlands of roses. We found a florist in a dodgy suburb way in the north of Quito. The owner of the floral accessories wholesaler was really kind but her's was an unlikely business - we had to wake up her Romanian neighbours to get access.

The day before the wedding we had a production line going to build all of the bouquets - ranked most highly among my assistants were Lucy's sisters Emilia and Arlen. It took a long time to make the decorations and when the roses started dropping out of the garlands my dad leapt into action with the garden wire to hold them in place. On the altar I made decorations of roses and delfiniums, flanked by twiggy leaves and sprays. It transformed the chapel.

In the pond next to the hacienda were growing thousands of lilies - known locally as cartuchos. The hacienda owners kindly picked them for us and we found hundreds floating in the central fountain when we arrived - the heat of the Ecuatorial sun was fast wilting them and we rescued as many as we could. We used the lilies to decorate the font at the back of the chapel and also tied them around the wooden beams surrounding the courtyard.

On the day of the wedding Carlos, in one of his many unpredictable flourishes, went to town and arrived with another 50 or so bunches of a dozen roses - this time bright oranges, pinks and deep reds. We didn't really have anything to do with this sudden surfeit so Carlos (or possibly Jenny) hatched the plan to decapitate the flowers and float them in the fountain. It looked stunning and was an incredible last minute addition to the floral decorations.

a_DSC2899 a_DSC3019
Flowers in a fountain

Chamiza and El Castillo

BodaA chamiza is a ceremonial bonfire of eucalyptus lit in the Andes during fiestas. Guachala is surrounded by the tallest eucalyptus trees I've ever seen in Ecuador. The tress sway and creak in the winds and probably cause Cristobal a few restless nights, especially since several have already rotted and fallen. It was perhaps a good therapy for him to go medieval with the chainsaw, but he arrived on the day of our wedding with a trailer full of eucalyptus which he piled into a large mound in the centre of the courtyard. As darkness fell and to the music of the band, a single branch was lit and held high into the night sky before being dropped onto the prepared chamiza. Eucalyptus was imported from Australia to Ecuador as a way of controlling malaria, the thirsty trees suck all of the moisture from the ground and make it harder for the bugs to breed. It is full of oil, which smells amazing and burns like it had been soaked in petrol.
The flames licked and cast a beautiful warm light around the courtyard.

A week before the wedding Lucy found a man who could build and detonate un castillo - a sort of timber framed castle packed to its turrets with fireworks. He arrived as the fire was still flaming to the stars and found a quiet corner - presumably away from the sparks - to assemble his Heath Robinson light show.

Without announcement or any pomp he lit the castle and up she went. On Lucy's orders (not mine), the castillo was covered in sparkling fireworks rather than bangers. The operator pushed the flaring structure around in circles as more and more wheels fizzed into flame sending showers of sparks in every direction. It was an impressive finale that I think very few guests had expected.
El Castillo erupts

Thanks to the people who made our wedding happen

When you have a tiny budget but have big ambitions then you really need to rely on the kindness and generosity of friends... and in our case, strangers too.
Felipe Adolf is a Lutheran minister and an old friend of Lucy's mum - he's also the President of the Council of Latin American Churches. He gave up a lot of time to talk us through the service and listen to our own requests. He performed a heart-felt service and was so warm and welcoming to all our guests.
Pictured above (left-right) is Lucy's mum Nidia, sister Emilia and cousin another Nidia (AKA Ferni). Nidia did many things, but top of the list was vacating her own house so that my parents could stay. She also gave us the use of her car for a mini-tour around Ecuador after the wedding. Emilia also kindly gave up her room ahead of the wedding, so my auntie had a bed. Emilia - our fire guardian - bravely swung the censer of incense at the start of the ceremony. Nidia (AKA Ferni) tore herself away from the bosom of liberty to catch a flight, with the rest of her family, to be at our wedding - but she came bearing gifts, pearly gifts. Lucy wore the pearl necklace and earrings she brought on the wedding day. 
The chap with the hair longer than mine is our hippie pal Beto, the founder of Kiart - Ecuador's premier folk art studio. Remember my story about getting Enrique Males to sing at our wedding? Well Beto made that happen. Enrique is Beto's friend and he acted as middle-man. He also bought incense and a stove to light the ceremonial smoking before the ceremony.
Another thank you and another Nidia AKA Shaopix. Aside from being a general support for Lucy ahead of the wedding, she was also the only person we could trust to ensure the smooth running of our event. The photo above represents just 1/50th of a second of the managing (read: bossing) required for a wedding like ours, to seem this chaotic and improvised takes precision planning and this was all down to Shao. For example, when extra guests arrived for the meal, it was Shao who was able to rearrange a carefully prepared seating plans at a moment's notice and ensure nobody went hungry. She also let Lucy hang her bio-hazard wedding dress in her cupboard - and Nidia hates dust.
Many of the best photographs on this page were taken by Santiago Arcos. He might not like using a flash as much as I do but his photos are incredible. He stayed a lot longer than we asked and all of Lucy's sisters fancied him like mad. Here's his website if you want to see some great photos.

I'm sorry that I don't have a photo of Cristobal or his wife Gabriella so here is their amazing half Akita/half St Bernard dog. Cristobal and Gabriella were both were so generous and welcoming and let us host our guests in their home without feeling like we were intruding. Cristobal was also very kind to my dad and gave him a little tour of the night sky as seen from the Southern hemisphere. His two young daughters even lent a hand on the flower arranging production line. 

Young Darya was unfazed by the important task of delivering our rings safe and sound to the altar - everything was resting on her shoulders and she smashed it right into the roof of the net, plus looking cute to boot. Her mum Pamela, Lucy's cousin and professional dance teacher, took the time to teach Lucy and I how to dance a Charleston which - to our eternal shame - we did not perform. I was so shy. Public speaking, fine, dancing like a mentalist with raposas, no problem... performing a choreographed routine in front of nearly 100 guests - scary wary. 
The dads were both a huge help. Mine had the considerable responsibility of ensuring the safe passage of my mum and my aunt from England to Ecuador. Nobody in the party had ever left Europe before, let alone visited South America. My dad is busy filming in this photo, which is lucky because we had very little video of our wedding except those which he had taken and uploaded. He also wrote his own blog about the wedding (and with a much shorter lead time than me). Carlos - that's Lucy's dad - performed a plethora of duties aside from handing over his first born at the altar. The eclectic assortment of objects he sourced, procured and ferried to Guachala include crates of rum, dance mats, flowers and even a Catholic censer, borrowed from a priestly chum. He was also remarkably good to not object to me marrying Lucy - perhaps a giant, long-haired Englishman is not what he had foreseen for his daughter, but he took the shock very well. 


  1. Congratulations to both of you dear!! Lucy is so beautiful. I am sure that was an amazing day for both of you!! Well I am going to book nice wedding venues for my special day after proper searching. I just loved your way of celebrating the day.

  2. Here's what you need to know about this Bouquets delivery service. Just excellent customer service all around and the receiver found the flowers absolutely stunning.

  3. What a sweet bridal shower! I absolutely love those centerpieces...I would be happy if those were my reception centerpieces! Fabulous job my dear :)
    I keep flowers from Jaipur Florist team who makes similar fresh flower crafts for me.

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