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Contrasting traditions abound

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Andrea Marquez Caceres and Carter Gill exchange vows in a ceremony at a residence near Medellin, Colombia.As the mother of four children in their 20s, I've been hoping for a wedding for some time, but which child decided to marry first, and the location of the wedding took me by surprise.

My middle son, Carter, a professional poker player who has been living in Colombia for a little more than a year, announced around Christmas time that he and his fiancée, Andrea, would be marrying this year. In January, they set the date for Feb. 1, hoping we'd all be able to attend.

My husband, Bob, daughter, Kelsey, oldest son, Chase, and his girlfriend, Leslie, and I all managed to get time off work to represent Carter's side of the family, and were the only North Americans among about 100 wedding-goers.

by: HOLLY M. GILL - The view from the 'finca'- or country residence - show the tropical foliage of the area near Medellin, Colombia.The setting for the wedding was an unbelievably beautiful "finca" or country residence, in a gated area with a guard posted at the entrance, about 22 miles southeast of Medellin, Colombia.

We arrived there the day before the wedding, to find Andrea's relatives and others decorating, setting up chairs and tents, arranging flowers, and starting the food preparation with a couple trunks full of groceries.

When I offered to help, they declined, telling me that I was the "reina," or queen.

Everyone pitched in to clear antiques, couches and rugs from the main room, so that chairs and tables could be set up. Afterward, we explored the property, set on a hillside, which had a pond filled with koi, and a two-story patio up above the house, with a view of the tropical forest to the east from the observation deck. The rain forest was in sharp contrast to the neatly manicured lawns and plantings around the house and ponds.

In the main house, each room had some type of skin rug — including a zebra, leopard and cow hide — and was decorated with an eclectic mix of antiques and modern pieces. Taking advantage of the spectacular views, the entire west side of the finca was glass — either sliding doors (with no locks) or windows — including bedrooms and bathrooms. Guineafowl and chickens roamed outside the windows, and would step inside if you left the doors open.

The finca came with a housekeeper, who lived nearby with her family, and sometimes stayed in a small room off the kitchen.

The kitchen was the hub of much of the activity the day before and the day of the wedding, as Andrea's stepdad, who had owned and operated a restaurant, began preparations for the wedding meal, in addition to dinner for a couple dozen people that night.

He stayed up most of the night preparing the food, which featured traditional rice and bean dishes, as well as fruit and cheese trays, assorted meats, a fruit cake, and several small desserts with a berry sauce.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Members of the groom's North American family mingle with the bride's Colombian family after the wedding.The wedding cake was topped with a figurine of a woman with a camera and a man with a computer to represent the bride's career as a photographer, and the groom's as a poker player. Later, after hours of anticipating the cutting of the cake, I was surprised to learn that the layered cake was purely decorative, and wasn't made to be eaten.

For the outdoor wedding, guests navigated the steep hill and steps down to the lower deck, and a high school girl played the saxophone as first my son and I entered, and then the bride entered on the arm of her father.

The simple ceremony, all in Spanish, was followed by photos, lunch, and the traditional passing of the bridal bouquet, which was done very differently from the North American bride's tradition of tossing it over her shoulder.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Carter pulls the winning shoe out from under his new bride's gown, and the winner of the bridal bouquet reacts.Single women were invited to hand over one of their shoes, to be hidden under the bride's gown. The crowd screamed and laughed as the groom reached under the bride's dress to pull out one shoe at a time, until the final shoe was pulled out, signifying the recipient of the bridal bouquet, and the next female to be married.

Music was an important part of the event. A band hired by Carter from the Hard Rock Cafe, a sang and played mostly North American and British music, while attendees took full advantage of the open bar. When they finished their sets, many people danced to recorded music well into the late night/early morning hours, and then slept on couches, beds and floors around the house.

Carter, who had retired from the festivities earlier than most, awoke in the morning to find about 15 people asleep on the floor in the bridal suite. We kept our door locked, and with earplugs, were able to sleep through most of the night.

The best part about having so many people sleep over was the massive cleaning effort the next day, with everyone helping to return the residence to its original state. By the end of the day, the place was back to normal and we'd made a couple dozen new friends.

Contract Publishing

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