Wedding in Chile: last minute shopping

Part One | Part Two

John started the morning by walking Erika to the subway stop so she could go pick up Israel from the airport.  I think we were all holding our breath that he (the last member of the wedding party) would get there without a problem.  When John got back, David, Ann, Sandra, Marcia, John and I gathered to check out La Vega, a huge open-air market that looked on the map to be fairly close to our hotel.

The morning was gorgeous, crisp, 60’s and sunny. We arrived at the market after an easy 15 minute walk.  Small stalls on blocks ringed the perimeter of the main market, which was a huge covered stadium-like area.  David, Sandra and I all had big cameras and we were using them.  A man immediately came speaking warningly in Spanish.  He gestured for us to keep our cameras close and in front of us.  Dangerous, he said.  Minutes later yet another man issued us the same warning, and I started wondering just how unsafe this destination was.  I pulled my camera bag around onto my chest so that no one would come up behind me to steal something, and tried to stay within a dozen feet of John.

Wandering through the meat section of the market, guys behind a counter mugged for the cameras, and others looked disappointed that we didn’t buy from them.  A picture with pig heads was essential in my book.

Just beyond that I walked past a flat of strawberries whose heavenly aroma reached my nose from 5 feet away.  The woman behind the counter offered me a taste, and I smiled a refusal.   But the man working the stall with her wouldn’t take no for an answer.   He scooped up a handful of berries and handed them out to all of us. I haven’t tasted a better strawberry ever.  Sweet perfection.   The man saw the smile on my face, went over to the flat, and scooped 3 pounds or so into a plastic bag.  He pressed the bag into my hands.   I tried to ask him what they cost, and he said, “No, no, no!   A gift of Chile!”

John asked about the cost and offered money and the man again refused, so we thanked him and walked on.  John said he got the feeling that the man would have been insulted if we’d further insisted on paying.   We walked on, exclaiming over how kind he was. Someone else offered us olives to try, and just a little further a man peeled and offered me ‘tuna’ (Chilean prickly pear).  He waited til I took a bite and looked pleased when I exclaimed over it. The fruit at Erika’s host-mom’s house the day before had been exceedingly good as well, including the best cantaloupe I’d ever eaten.

Sandra and Marcia and I had fun looking at dishes.  Sandra bought some pretty plates and I found a rolling pin for Erika and some kitchen towels for Erika and Amanda. John bought a cheap calculator, thinking it would help bridge the language barrier.  We did fine asking how much things cost, but if the answer was anything other than uno, dos, tres, or quatro ‘mil’ (thousand), we were lost.  An interesting note:  the exchange rate was about 480 pesos to the dollar.  To get a rough estimate of the value in USD, you take 3 zeros off the cost and doubled the remaining number.   For example, something that was labeled as $10,000 (pesos) actually cost roughly $20 (USD).

Around 10:30 we decided to head back to the hotel and see if Erika had returned.  Sure enough, there she was, glowing happily with Israel beside her.  I think we all gave a sigh of relief.  Erika had been planning on going to get flowers with us this morning, but Israel was tired from his flight, and she didn’t want to leave him.

So she sent us out to shop on our own with instructions to buy wedding flowers and a cake.  It was already after 11 AM.  We needed to get back in time to make a bouquet and flowers for everyone, and get dressed and help Erika dress all before meeting the pastor at Santa Lucia at 2:30. The biggest snag?  We didn’t know exactly where to look for either flowers or cake.

Erika suggested we go to another market, Mercado Central, not far from the one we’d visited that morning.  There were no flowers.  An English-speaking tour agency employee was handing out brochures outside the market, so we asked her where flowers could be found.  She gestured vaguely across the road, but didn’t look very sure of herself.

By my calculations, flower arranging was going to take an hour even with help from the grandmas, and getting myself ready and Erika’s hair curled would probably take another hour.  The very latest that I wanted to be back at the hotel was 12:30.  It was now almost noon.  I was ready to go into overdrive and get these flowers found.   But our group was moving slowly, and every time I looked back, people were strung out a little further apart.

Just before I turned on my rocket boosters 😉  I tersely warned everyone to stick with someone who had either a phone (David or me), or who knew their way back to the hotel (David, Ron, and me) because I wasn’t waiting.  Everyone huddled up nicely after that, and at the time I was too concerned about deadlines at that point to worry about sounding rude.  (Sorry, folks!)  We got across the divided quad-lane road in good time, and sure enough, straight ahead were about 10 little flower shops all in a row. Hooray!

We walked from one to the next, trying to find daylilies the shade of orange-red that Erika had requested and that were already open enough to use that very day –(actually, in a mere 2.5 hours, not that I was counting).  Victory!  Next we found babies breath and roses in a complimentary color for everyone else.  David, Mom and I had a discussion about whether Erika’s bouquet needed filler flowers.  No, we decided.  We bought half a dozen stems of daylilies, ten roses, and a little clump of babies breath for about $15.  I hoped that would be enough.

We decided to head back the direction of the hotel down some different streets, in hopes of coming across a bakery that sold cakes.  David, Sandra, John, Marcia and I were in the lead, walking fast.  Most of the rest of the group was clumped with Ron, who was walking at a more leisurely pace.  David and Sandra scanned their Spanish-English dictionary for the right word as they walked, and John, Marcia and I scanned the sides of buildings.  Then the sky opened up and the favor of heaven shone down upon us.  Across the street in foot-high letters across the top of a big building were the words Panaderia Pasteleria.  And there was cake in the window.

After a quick glance for traffic, I darted across the street right in the middle of the block (probably not the smartest move in crazy-driving Santiago) and went into the building smiling.  Cake, blessed cake.  Lots of it.  John soon caught up, and we looked at options together.  Something white and round, I decided, which narrowed the options down to cake embellished with pineapple.

John then had a brainstorm.   He suggested we buy two round cakes, one large and one small, so we could stack the small cake on top of the large one.  Perfect!  In very broken Spanish we tried to explain about the wedding to the lady behind the counter.  When Marcia started to hum the Wedding March, understanding broke across the lady’s face, and she smiled and congratulated us.  Within minutes she had two white cakes boxed and ready to go.  $12,000 pesos.  Sweet.

We were now three blocks from the hotel, and it was just 12:30.  There was hope for us.  I’d packed florist tape and wire, so we had most of what we needed for our flower arranging, but walking down the next block, I remembered one item I didn’t have: corsage pins.  Yikes.  What were the chances of finding those in the short time we had?  I scanned the block and saw a little shop that looked possible, something like a cross between a dollar store and a drug store.

I ran in and got the attention of a worker, but then realized I had no idea how to say ‘pin’ in Spanish.  I made a motion like I was poking my finger with something sharp and then said ‘ouch!’  She laughed, shook her head no, but then– glory be– gestured toward the store next door.  Next door, believe it or not, was a yarn and knitting shop, and they had pins in the perfect size.  Was God watching out for us or what? It seemed to take a ridiculously long time to get someone to get pins from the locked cupboard  (who locks up pins?!)  and then take our money.  But finally, finally we were on our way back to the hotel with everything we needed.

Now, time to finish the preparations.  As we walked, me suddenly all relaxed, we laughed over the craziness of finishing wedding shopping less than two hours before the wedding.  Marcia agreed to come help Erika and me do flowers.   Then she would go get dressed.  My mom said she’d get dressed first, and then come help me curl Erika’s hair.   It was coming together.

Back at our room Erika exclaimed happily over her flowers, and we got to work. On the list:  1 bride’s bouquet, 4 boutonnieres, and 5 corsages.  It was 1 PM.  We decided that the rosebuds were a little large for the men’s boutonnieres, so we peeled some of the outer petals off to bring them down to size.  Then we backed each rose with a few rose leaves, trimmed it to the right length and wrapped the stems with florist tape.

We did corsages the same way, except we left those roses full size and put in babies breath instead of rose leaves.  With the three of us working together, it went amazingly fast. By 1:30 we had all the flowers in the fridge, and were scooping scraps into the garbage.

When John saw the heap of rose petals on the counter, he told us not to toss them.  He suggested we use them to decorate the cake.  I thought that was a brilliant idea, and promptly gave him the job of building and decorating the cake.  This wedding truly was a group effort.

Now that the flowers were together I started to really feel how neat this thing was.  Sure, some moments would have been more relaxed if it had been possible to do more ahead of time.  And yet there was a real beauty in involving everyone, and just pulling it together at the end like this.

John had changed while we did flowers, so I then went to change quickly so that Erika could have the bathroom and start getting ready herself.  At this point with multiple people coming in and out of our apartment, it was really wonderful to have a true apartment with a separate living room, not just a dinky hotel room.  In fact, many times over the week we were glad for the space in that apartment.  It was a comfortable gathering place for the whole group.

After I changed, I helped Erika with a few dabs of makeup.  She didn’t need much — she positively glowed!  Then we started in on hair. My mom, already dressed, came in to help, and we curled away.  It was 1:45.  David (official photographer for this shindig) came in to get some pictures of our preparations.

He also helped John stack the wedding cake in the kitchen, a momentarily precarious operation that I wish I’d gotten a photo of.  But I was too busy curling.  When asked if Israel looked nervous, David said he didn’t think so– he was too busy rassling his tie.

After John and David got the cake stacked (on our hotel-room breakfast tray!) John arranged rose petals around the edges of both layers of the cake, and laid the last rosebud across the top of the cake.  It ended up looking like a truly professional effort.  I always knew I married a great guy, but I didn’t know til then that cake decorating was a skill he possessed.

Soon after that, Marcia came back, dressed and ready to help some more. (Bless her!)  I assigned her the job of pinning on corsages and boutonnieres.  I also remembered that no one had eaten lunch.  We grabbed some food out of the fridge to set out on the counter:  those wonderful strawberries, bread, juice, and cheese.  That would have to be enough.


2:15 – Erika’s hair was finally done.  I had a moment of concern when she looked in the mirror and said it wasn’t quite right.  But she wet it a bit and sprayed it a bit, and got it more to her liking and all was well.  Time to put on the dress.  When it came time to zip it up, I think she and I both held our breath.  The last time she’d tried it on was 9 month earlier when she bought it, and it was very form-fitting. But it zipped easily and she looked just stunning.  Hooray!  It was 2:30.  Time to go get married!

Go to Part Four



  1. I’m taking mental notes of your journey. 🙂 This is such a beautiful testimony to the fact there is no one “right way” to prepare for a wedding. What a blessing for the bride and groom to have everyone working as a team to help make their day special. I sat smiling imagining you rushing to and fro finding things on your list. Glad you’re documenting all of this, my friend. It will come in handy for another book project one day. 😉

  2. Wow!!! This one made me tired!!! How exciting!!!

  3. It’s truly amazing how much we got done that morning. It all went so smoothly, and was such a beautiful day, we couldn’t have asked for anything more.

  4. Whew! These are going to be some beautiful memories for all of you, and I’ll bet they only get sweeter and more fun with age.

  5. I read the whole thing with a lump in my throat. Just tonight our oldest told her daddy, “I will only marry a man that you like, Daddy!” And now I’m fighting tears in the stillness of the night.


  1. […] Part One | Part Two | Part Three […]