I’ve never been much of a wedding person.
I think there are a lot of opportunities to get carried away, financially and emotionally, into Crazytown. The colors, the napkins, the decorations… none of it really matters. What’s important is the relationship and the journey that two people are starting together.
But, the honeymoon is a different situation entirely, especially if the bride and groom are travelers.
Even though we kept it simple, my husband and I executed a three-part wedding (legal, ceremony, party) that took place over a seven-month period. Exhausted from the extended wedding buzz and long overdue for a trip abroad, we ventured to Panama for a 15 day honeymoon that was to be filled with a lot of relaxation and a little bit of adventure.
One thing that wasn’t on the pack list was a sprained ankle.
I never ski anything but green slopes. I don’t hike anything but easy trails. I don’t even like to ride a bicycle on streets without bike lanes. So to acquire a severely sprained ankle at a dance class—due to a careless student—was a situation that seemed improbable if not completely silly.
But, two weeks before the start of our Panamanian adventure, I was in urgent care with a “very badly sprained” ankle. This was only a bump in the road. No big deal. I grabbed a travel cane and an extra compression bandage and thought all was (relatively) well.
Except it wasn’t.
The trip started with several wheel chair rides through airports. As it was difficult to hobble to airport restrooms, I stopped drinking water and got dehydrated. More than 12 hours later, in Panama City’s airport hotel, the walk from the entrance to the room was so long and painful that I was practically on my knees by the end of it.
And this was only day one.
On day two, after another struggle through another series of airports, we arrived at the Bocas Town apartment we’d reserved. It was on the second floor and had no handrail. Once the climb was done, so was I. Exhausted, hot and sweaty with a throbbing foot, I sat and watched the view, until the next day.
Day three proved to be no less challenging as the small town was made for walking and for bicycling. I could do neither. So we drove around and around and around some more in an overpriced golf cart rental.
With the first leg down, it was time to go to the “main event.” Al Natural, a tiny eco-resort on Bastimentos Island. As this was designed for relaxing in nature, it should have been no problem.
Except it was.
Getting in and out of the boat required two sets of hands to ensure I didn’t lose my balance and injure my ankle further. The soft sand was like a pit that sucked my foot in deeper and deeper with each step. I required a cane and all of my husband’s strength to get me from the hut to the sea and back again. The walk to meals was similar to an obstacle course in that I was constantly going over and around tree limbs, with a very bad limp while holding onto my husband and that cane.
As an added bonus, the bugs on the island were immensely friendly. Once the sun went down, they had dinner with me and by having dinner with me I mean they took great pride in biting me; especially my bum ankle. By the end of the week, I was doing minor surgery on myself to drain the fluid collecting in the bites.
On leg three we were back in civilization in Panama City. Cabs were plentiful. There should be no issues getting around.
Except there were.
Much of what we wanted to see was within a few blocks of the apartment. As it was such a ridiculously short distance, cab drivers either turned us down, or, drove us in circles to make it worth their time. So we tried walking. Sometimes there were hills. Always there were very tall curbs. And one time there was even a rainstorm.
And then I got sick, very sick. Let’s just say I had “traveler’s sickness.” Add my inability to eat solid foods to the list of other basic things I was having trouble doing such as walking, showering, getting dressed and it was a wonder I got out of bed at all.
While this may appear to be a travel horror story—and in many senses it is—it’s also an opportunity for reflection. As the situation unfolded, I went through an unexpected discovery process that included an assortment of feelings such as:
While a little bit of vulnerability can be good on the road as it opens the door to new friendships, too much of it can be unnerving. Sitting in a wheelchair at various airports, I was no longer at eye level with anyone. The concept of someone “looking down on me” was at its most real. This made me awkward, feeling like less of a traveler than those around me.
Sometimes we seek out opportunities to lose ourselves. I’m no different. However, those kinds of welcome experiences are positive and cleansing. One evening, I lay in a hammock while my husband was out getting dinner. What started as an attempt to free my mind suddenly changed when I needed to use the rest room.
I realized I couldn’t get out of the hammock without assistance, so I ended up on my hands and knees crawling out of it in order to make it to the bathroom in time. This loss of control tipped the scale too far in an uncomfortable direction.
Of course I was physically exhausted from trying to navigate with an injury in the oppressive heat and humidity. What I didn’t realize is that I was mentally exhausted too as there weren’t many opportunities to be spontaneous. I had to gather information, plan accordingly and leave very little to chance. A simple thing such as “running to the bathroom” or “stepping out for a minute” to fill the water thermos was not doable as there was no running and nothing took only a minute, especially if stairs were involved.
As I was barely able to walk, exercise was off the table. I was sluggish which led to me feeling, well, just plain fat and gross. This isn’t the vibe I was after on my honeymoon. But, my vision never became reality and I was limited to exercising my brain via Scrabble games.
Yes, I’m serious, this isn’t a typo. I had an injury that limited my mobility. I was covered in bug bites. I was hot, tired, cranky and prone to melting down or zoning out. I got sick which sidelined me even more. Throughout it all, my husband was right there calm and accommodating, dealing with my need du jour.
When I needed assistance moving around, he was there pushing or pulling me, offering a steady arm or narrating the terrain while shining his flashlight on the tree roots. He retrieved water, picked up dinner and ventured into sketchy territory on the search for Pepto Bismol. He drove the golf cart, navigated the very delicate process of getting me in and out of boats and hailed cab after cab. He asked questions, requested assistance and gathered information.
He returned to the same grocery store again and again and again when I was too incapacitated to deal with stairs one more time. He was a caretaker, a nurse and a travel guide. He didn’t complain, didn’t freak out and didn’t lament about a honeymoon gone wrong. In fact, he enjoyed our down time, soaked in the views and let me win at Scrabble. He altered activities to suit my needs. He bought me local crafts including my birthday present, a beautiful one of a kind handmade purse.
And, he even took the time to speak with the Al Natural staff about a special birthday dinner for me. And special it was, seven courses, including lobster, with handpicked flowers and champagne!
In the end, did any of those other ‘negative’ feelings really matter?
After all of this, I knew I had the right life partner. While the injury, the bugs and the illness were major inconveniences and not things that make for a hassle free trip, the secret of a happy honeymoon lies in the relationship. And perhaps, I should be grateful for all of these obstacles as they showed me that my husband is committed to our journey together no matter what challenges develop.
Just as the wedding isn’t about the colors, the napkins or the decorations, the honeymoon isn’t about the destination, the activities or the landscape. Without the connection to the other person, neither of these events would even happen.
So I’m ok with the 40-mile per hour winds and drizzle that showed up at our beach ceremony. I’m also ok with the sprained ankle—and other surprises—that accompanied us on our honeymoon.
I’m ok because I have my husband who will be there no matter what unwelcome “guests” accompany us on our future adventures.
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Assistant Editor: Gabriela Magana/Editor: Bryonie Wise