February 9, 2022
Hello! I’m Kaitlin, a live painter based in Raleigh, North Carolina. I travel to your wedding or event to paint a scene from the event in real-time in front of your guests!
I’ve been doing this for a little over a year now and I have been able to travel to a couple of different places around the U.S., the farthest being in New York, UNTIL I booked one for a wedding in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
As someone who loves to travel internationally, I knew I had to take this job. I wanted to test if I could 1) plan it in time and 2) enjoy it enough to do it again. The kicker for this one was that the client booked it one month before the date, and it was a Hindu wedding. I have never been to a Hindu wedding nor knew anything about them.
A lot of questions ran through my head: Will I be able to research and book everything I needed in that amount of time? What are the logistics for travel with covid still going around? Do I need to speak Spanish? Do I need to do anything different for a Hindu wedding? Dress? Money? Etc.
I’m a naturally anxious person. I always have been. I’ve come a long way though. I can talk on the phone now, or have a needed conversation with a doctor. But certain things still get my brain spiraling. Like traveling itself doesn’t scare me, it’s the logistics of where I go at the airport, am I in the way of this person standing behind me, or what if I’m 3 minutes late? I’m not sure why my brain is okay will some things and not others, but I digress. I knew I was going to be an anxious mess with this trip, but I knew I had to do it anyway.
Within about 2 weeks I had everything planned, all my accommodations and transportation booked, and I was feeling overall great about everything.
I left for the RDU airport and got on my first plane to Atlanta where I had a short layover, then onto Cancun International Airport. Both flights were fine, although my first leg I had to tell a man he was in my seat (awkward) and he kept trying to talk to me on the flight even though I had my headphones in and was obviously trying to keep to myself. I don’t like talking on airplanes. It’s always meaningless small talk that ends in awkward silence when there is no more talk of the weather or where you’re flying to. I’m obviously not rude to people who do try and engage in conversation, but as an introvert, it feels wasteful to spend mental energy on someone you’re never going to see again. Too harsh?
Anyway, I arrived in Cancun and everything went swimmingly. Customs was busy but it moved fairly quickly. Got my baggage, stopped at an ATM to get some pesos, and headed out of the airport. Outside of the terminal, you are immediately hit with 80-degree weather and humidity that immediately made me sweat, oh and hundreds of people trying to get you to take a taxi. I booked airport transportation with a company called Happy Shuttle. Luckily in their email, they tell you exactly where they’ll be standing (and my anxiety thanks you). They were exactly where they said they’d be and they got me settled into the shuttle van for the 25-minute ride to my hotel.
My shuttle arrived at my hotel in Puerto Morelos. I booked this very quaint room with Casa El Moro Hotel. The room looked very authentic to Mexican culture, and it was super spacious. The hotel was nestled near the beach and on a street with dozens of yummy-looking restaurants. By the time I got there, it was about 6:30pm and I was starving. I struggled to convince myself to go eat somewhere by myself. I always felt that this would be awkward or people would judge me for eating alone. After some convincing from my stomach and my husband, I gathered the courage to venture out for food. And to add to my anxiety I couldn’t figure out how to lock my door. It was a sliding door and the key looked like something I’d never seen before. Spoiler: I figure it out after messing with it for a few minutes.
I went out of the hotel and walked down the bustling street. I was confused at first about how to get a table. The places were roped off, and I couldn’t see anyone else going in to see what I was supposed to do. I ended up going back to the hotel and asking the front desk where I should eat. She mentioned the place directly next door was part of the hotel and they had good food. I felt silly for asking, and went back out and walked into the mentioned restaurant.
The restaurant was called Casa El Moro (the same as the hotel). The waitress I had spoke fluent English and was very accommodating. I got some chicken tacos and mojito to calm my nerves. The food was delicious, the mojito was strong, and it was definitely not as awkward eating by myself as I thought it would.
I finished my meal, paid (which was pretty cheap btw. Probably about $13 total for a meal and my drink), and headed back to my room to call it a night.
I woke up pretty early. I was feeling confident about the day. I went for a walk down to the beach to explore a bit. The beach was pretty itself, but I was a bit disappointed with how much seaweed, debris, and boats were nearby. Not great for swimming. Despite the beach, I was near the town center where they had clean sitting areas, cute boutiques, and no one really out and about. There was an atm nearby so I could easily get more pesos, and I looked up a grocery store so I could get some more bottled water and snacks. Fun Fact: Apparently you shouldn’t drink tap water in Mexico. Several people warned me of this. It will make you poop your pants. Not speaking from experience, but I was not about to let that happen.
I dropped my things back off at my room and was feeling confident to go get some brunch. I ate at a place called Peninsula. I had a latte, some chorizo scrabbled eggs with beans and veggies, and topped off with some fresh orange juice. It was all delicious.
I headed back to my room and started to get ready for the wedding in the afternoon. Showered, dressed in my cute Kurti set, and got my makeup done. I double-check I have all my supplies and I head downstairs to get the hotel staff to call me a taxi. This was about 2:30pm.
I get in the taxi and take the 20min ride to the venue. The venue was located at the Andaz Mayakoba Resort. To get inside the resort you had to be cleared through a security gate. There was a bit of a miscommunication about who I was and why I was there, so my taxi driver had to pull to the side until they could confirm who I was. I felt bad at this point because I could tell my taxi driver was struggling to understand my English and I was wasting the time he could be using to get another customer. I called the wedding planner, and after a few minutes, she called the gate to let us through. Phew. I generously tipped the driver for having to go through that ordeal and made my way to the part of the resort called the Balam Garden.
The wedding planner greeted me and show me around. This place is gorgeous. The venue itself was very sleek and modern, but the decorations were simply amazing. Hindu weddings are known for their bright colors and use of flowers and they definitely delivered for this one. The mandap (the covering where the ceremony is held under) was covered in brightly colored flowers and it was surrounded by low sitting tables with comfy looking pillows for guests to sit on.
I set up my easel and supplies at the back of the sitting area and I started my process of sketching the background. IT WAS SO HOT AND HUMID. The sun was at its peak and there was no place for me to get in the shade. I diligently worked through it. I did a center composition of the mandap and started painting in the background as well. I was sweating so bad and the mosquitoes were swarming me (if you’re family or a friend, you know I am notoriously a mosquito magnet), but after about 2 hours you could hear the party arriving to start the ceremony. Guests started to flood in, and it was wonderful seeing everyone in their brightly colored saris and lehengas (Indian clothing). There were surprisingly a lot more guests than I thought there would be for a destination wedding. I would guess somewhere between 150-200 people were there.
Some background on the couple: Their names are Deepak and Pamela. Deepak’s sister was the one who hired me for this wedding and it was a surprise gift to the couple. Deepak lives in New York, the sister lives in Ontario, but the whole family used to live in Playa del Carmen Mexico, so that’s why they held the wedding there.
The ceremony started. Pamela looked gorgeous in her red outfit and she was walked out under a gondola of flowers held by some of the couple’s guy friends. The bride settled in under the mandap, where Deepak, the priest and their family members were also. The ceremony itself was about 2 hours, which I’ve read is pretty common for Hindu weddings. The part of the ceremony that was requested to be painted was when the couple walks around the altar 7 times. This was towards the end of the ceremony, and I had most of the background painted in at this time.
The ceremony ends, and the reception quickly begins in the same area. The sun is down now, so I’m feeling cooler and start to sketch the couple in. Guests eat and drink, and I continue to work.
I got to talk with several guests, and one even told me they followed me on tiktok, which was surprising and made me so happy. A lot of guests didn’t speak English, so I had to keep saying “No habla Espanol” which usually ended with a thumbs up or a fist bump. Everyone was super friendly and I got a lot of compliments, which always makes my heart so happy.
By 9:30pm I was struggling to keep focus, but I had most of the painting done. I called over Deepak’s sister so I could thank her for having me, and let her know I was going to bring the painting home to finish the last details. She calls over the couple, and they love it! I’m feeling good.
I pack up my things, head to reception and they call a taxi for me to get back to my hotel. Once at the hotel, I take off what little makeup hadn’t sweated off my face, change into my PJs, and immediately pass out.
I wake up around 9am. I slept good. It was raining now outside, but I looked up a good breakfast place two blocks away and headed over. This place was called Lola y Moya. I ordered a latte which was HUGE. It was honestly probably the best coffee I’ve ever had. I also ordered something I couldn’t pronounce, but the picture looked good so I pointed it out to the waitress. To this day, I’m not entirely sure what all was in this dish, but it was freaking amazing. All I know was that it was poached eggs, red onion, some sort of cheese, on a bed of tortilla chips soaked in some sort of red sauce. I stopped by the grocery store to get some more water and went back to the hotel.
To get back into the United States from international travel, you were required to get a negative covid test no more than 24 hours before your departure flight. I brought along an approved home test that they coach you through the process via an online service. I tested negative (thank the lord) and made sure I had all the documentation Delta required for the flight back home.
The next three hours were spent by the hotel pool reading and talking with some of the other guests. I changed and ventured out for some dinner. I went with a place down the road called Tacos.com. The staff were super friendly and I of course got some tacos. They were super spicy, and I loved it. After dinner, I decided I would just stay in the hotel room and go to bed early to catch my early flight back to the States in the morning.
I woke up at 4 am. My stomach was hurting (maybe from the spicy tacos?), I gathered all my things and headed down the stairs to find the hotel lobby locked, and of course, it was pouring rain. At first, I thought I wasn’t going to be able to exit, but I just knocked on the door and someone came to let me out (crisis adverted). My shuttle was waiting for me outside and they took me to the airport.
You had to check in with the Delta staff to confirm your negative covid test, which was surprisingly easy. The lady at the counter thanked me for uploading everything online because apparently, most people don’t. I wanted to tell her you can thank my anxiety lol.
Security was quick and easy, and navigating the terminal was also a breeze. However, during boarding at the gate, I was “randomly selected” for a search. I obviously wasn’t worried, but It was like 2 minutes before the flight time and I was literally the last person to board. There was also some drama on the flight, where this couple were told they had to get off the plane because their tickets weren’t valid. There were some words said from the white lady to the Mexican staff (very cringy Karen stuff), but after they left it was smooth sailing.
I was super impressed with how fast customs, baggage, and transfers were for the ATL airport. I had a 1.5-hour layover and I went through customs, got my bag, transferred it to staff to send to my connecting flight, got my boarding pass, went through security, got on the plane train to get to one of the domestic terminals, grabbed some food and had time to spare. Major shoutout to ATL airport.
I got on my flight to RDU, my husband picked me up from the airport and I made it home safe and sound!
I think this trip was a great experience for me overall. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone, and I can now say I’ve been to Mexico.
Everyone I encountered in Mexico was super friendly and accomodating to my poor Spanish skills, and I never felt unsafe. The town I stayed in, Puerto Morelos, was super cute and homey. If you want to be in a touristy area without the huge parties and drunk people, I would stay in this town.
Although I had an overall good experience, I think I did learn some things to do in the future when It comes to international travel. I’ll list my ultimate pros and cons for this trip.
1. The food was all amazing. I would come back to Mexico just for the food.
2. The wedding couple loved their painting, and this ultimately was the goal of this trip.
3. I got to experience a county I’ve never been to before.
4. I pushed through some of my anxieties, and this helps me grow as a person.
1. The weather. I did not handle the hot humidity well. And this might have an impact on choosing weddings that might be outdoors in the summer.
2. It was mentally and physically exhausting. Planning travel is tough already, but to another country during covid added an extra layer of stress. Not to mention the hours spent on planes and waiting in lines.
That’s about it. I loved this trip, and I would still do another international wedding, but maybe I’ll just have to refuse anything less than 2 months out. I thought all the sweat (so much sweat) and stress was worth it.
Thank you Mexico, and the Chhugani family for being so kind and letting me experience this trip!
Let me know your thoughts, or if you have any questions 🙂