Blog about living in Mexico by Photographer Erin Parker

Ever dream of selling everything & moving to Mexico? I did it and these are the stories of living in San Pancho, Mexico.

Words, Words, Words

If you don't know what search engine optimization is, I'm envious. Using special magical web developer tricks, search engine optimization could help my website pop up on the first page in Google when someone searches for Sayulita wedding photographer. That's what I am - among other things. 

 That's me, in the reflection - trying to be clever. 

That's me, in the reflection - trying to be clever. 

I work really hard to tell the story of a couple's wedding day. Every wedding has similar elements, the white dress, the walk down the aisle, the kiss, the dance ... but I enjoy in finding the differences and showing couples how their day is totally unique.  It's hard but the challenge keeps me motivated. 

This search engine optimization business makes it virtually impossible for my photos to do the talking for me. I have to use words. I like to write, I like words. But what in the hell are the right words? 

Irreverent. Talented. Funny. Quirky. Enthusiastic. Vertically challenged. Freckled. Relaxed. Confident. Emotional. Professional. Photojournalist. Adventurous. Loving. Thorough. Wordy? Maybe.

Wait ... are my words supposed to describe me or my work? Documentary. Reportage. Authentic. Candid. Happy. Beautiful. Different. 

I miss the simplicity of word of mouth. Whatever happened to a photo being worth a thousand words? Now I have to actually hide those thousand words in code. What? How? Why?

I'll figure this SEO nonsense out but right this second, my word is frustrated.

Roots

Despite dreams and perfect planning, shit can hit the fan at weddings. I've seen it. It's not specific to destination weddings or bridezilla expectations ... it's just shit and it's as unpredictable as it is shitty. 

But nothing ruins weddings because at their root is love. Stop gagging, it's true. Panic, frustration, meltdowns are met with grace and humility, patience and creativity. Being calm and having a sense of humor helps every time. 

Look at these two: 

This is Jeff and Alison. They got married in March. I took some of my all time favorite photos at their wedding where more shit happened than at any other I've seen. Literally. Over five days, more than 60 of their 75 guests got sick. En route to see Jeff for their first look, Alison saw the reception area for the first time and everything was wrong: the colors, table placement, the location of the ceremony. It was someone else's wedding vision. And she's not picky. Then Jeff's dad passed out and someone said he may have had a stroke (he hadn't). Son sleeping off sickness in the next room, arm aching from the IV he'd needed early that day, Jeff took a breath before going see his new wife. 

They laughed all night. Guests peeled early. No sparklers. Minimal dancing. But they were married. They were in one of their favorite places. They stayed focused on the root of it all: Love. 

It's true. It's all you need. 

But it helps if both people to show up. 

The girl with the greatest smile is Lindsay. She tried her best, but was too sick to go to her wedding. She got ready, we went into town with her fiancé, Sean, and took pictures, and then I told her I'd see her in 10 minutes. Thirty minutes later Sean got the call she would be late It was a brutal choice, but she couldn't muster her best self. 

The ceremony was postponed. Cocktail hour started. She didn't improve. The ceremony was pushed back again. Dinner was served. The moon was full. Hundreds of candles. The bride went to urgent care. Everyone held onto hope. She'd mentioned dreaming of a moonlit ceremony. 

The ceremony was canceled. 

Sean drove her up in a golf cart so she could see her wedding come to life. Everyone stood and cheered when they walked in. She cried and laughed. I got the photo of them standing where they were supposed to marry, illuminated by candles held up by their brothers. The reception was lit up behind them. Full moon overhead. 

After hugs and more tears, they left and their friends partied on. A college buddy split his pants dancing. Sombreros came out. A barefooted drunk girl broke a glass. Everyone had a great time. 

They got married the next morning. She was back to her normal self. Her hair wasn't in an updo. Her make-up was subdued. His boutonniere didn't survive the night. It was intimate. It was on the beach. They laughed. Guests cried. It was sweet.

I took photos of them on the beach after the ceremony, full of energy and joy. The wedding didn't go as planned, but it did go. Of course it did, love was at its root. 

The Good Part

We live by the ocean. Our daughter is healthy, vibrant and bilingual. I surf regularly. The beer is cheap and the tacos are delicious. 

The summer is hotter and more humid than you can wrap your head around. The mosquitos carry horrible sickness and we've experienced it. The house doesn't have AC and the screens are efficient, penetrable and necessary. 

Like anywhere, this Mexican Life has it's ups and downs, but right now, we're in an up. 

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Our friends were just here. The people we long for when it feels like we're the only people crazy enough to live here year round. The ones that make us laugh the hardest, keep us humble and lift us up. Our kids get along great. This is the time of year when life feels like a vacation. 

When I was a little kid, we used to go on vacation with my parent's best friends. We had a picture from one of those trips hanging prominently in our house for years. It was like the one above and when I look at myself and my little family with this awesome group of people, I can't believe that I'm one of the grownups now. My little family is part of this really fun and dynamic group of people. 

Don't be mad, I'm gonna write about it getting better. 

Work is great right now too. The timing between weddings is well spaced. I'm not overextending myself or underwhelmed. The rhythm of the work is good. The personalities are varied and enertaining. My technique is clicking.

Sure, it sucks down here sometimes too. The transmission in our car is shot and can't get fixed for two weeks because everything shuts down to celebrate Semana Santa.  Dogs shit right in front of the house daily. I still speak terrible Spanish and do next to nothing about it. Am I embarrassed about my Spanish? Yes. Am I ashamed? Yes. Will I stop writing and improve it? Probably not. I'm gonna go outside and enjoy one of those cold cheap beers in our beer garden while kids zoom by on bikes. We might go watch sunset at the beach. Chances are good we'll have tacos for dinner.

We've got to have lows to enjoy the highs. And right now, holy moly, this is a high. 

friends2018_37.jpg

Biographical Bullshit

I've been trying to write a little bio blurb for This Is Reportage, a new (and wonderful) wedding photographer collective I joined, and it's not going well. 

I don't know what to say and I say too much. It's endearing, isn't it? 

So I put off writing it and look at my work. Then I look at Instagram and spiral down into photographers' feeds and lose my breath. There is such incredible work out there. And so much of it. Self doubt creeps in. Of course it does, isn't that the problem with social media? 

I see these pictures of mountaintops and castles and think I'll never shoot in a place like them but I'd love to. There are moments and faces and light that make me think I could never shoot it better but I'll try to. There are scowls and moodiness and trends that make me wince and wonder what the hell happened to romance but I know tastes vary and I will not appeal to everyone and that's okay. I reach a point where I'll drift back into my own work and I like what I see. 

I see happiness. 

Maybe that's all my biography needs to be. 

 Lauren + Luke

Lauren + Luke

 Clare + Chris

Clare + Chris

 Jamie + Danny

Jamie + Danny

 

 

Cindy + Brandon | Sayulita, Mexico

During the introductory phone call with these two, they had me laughing and chatting like we'd known each other forever. It was apparent from that call that photographing their intimate wedding at Villa Amor in Sayulita would be like photographing family. These are a few of my favorite photos from that day. 

This is Cindy dancing with her dad as Brandon watches. It looks like he and I were the only ones paying attention. I use my camera as a shield during father daughter dances - to catch the moment and hide any rogue tears. My wedding regret is not dancing with my dad. We danced down the aisle but that's not the same. I didn't give him the chance to dance with me while we both cried in front of all the guests and I'm really sad about it. Maybe I'm reading too much into the significance of the dance ... but looking at Brandon in this picture, I think he gets it.  There aren't many time in our lives that we get to honor our parents publicly and this dance is one of those opportunities. If the focus in the photo was on Cindy and her dad, she wouldn't see how her husband honored her relationship with her father.  Brandon's stillness feels respectful. 

The photos feels like it's out of a dream. Villa Amor is situated on a hill on the south side of Sayulita. The fireworks started as I loaded up my cameras in the car to go home. We'd said our good-byes. When I saw them, I grabbed my camera and ran. One never knows how long fireworks are going to last but they were too incredible to miss. The following was Cindy's take on the show ... 

This picture was taken at the end of the night as a result of a completely random and unexpected fireworks show. (Keep in mind, we tried to arrange a fireworks show for after the wedding, but the town had voted to not allow them anymore) We had just said goodbye to Erin for the night and were enjoying the last few minutes of the open bar in the courtyard when, out of nowhere, we hear explosions and the sky lights up. We, and all of our guests, realized someone was setting off fireworks so we all ran through our villa and out to the terrace.

My husband and I are snuggled up to one another talking about how Erin is probably screaming to herself that she left too early. I hear, “Hey guys, turn around.” There she is, capturing yet another wonderful moment of the night. She turned around and came running back to capture this and other shots. Thank you, Erin, for your dedication to capturing every last moment!
— the bride, Cindy

This photo was taken the day after their wedding. We didn't do a photo shoot in town the day of because they didn't want to leave their party (I get it). They put their outfits back on, wiped some chocolate cake off of Brandon's vest, loaded the golf cart with beer and off we went. Hotel de Hafa is an oft photographed location in Sayulita, clearly it's bright and lovely. The symmetry of this picture, their body language, the color - it works. It's just a couple of sexy people being sexy in a sexy place.  

Melissa + Ryan | Sayulita, Mexico

My last wedding of the 2016-17 season was meticulously planned by the bride. She didn't hire a planner and researched all her vendors, locations and details with astonishing perseverance and clarity.  Melissa was incredible about communicating the moments and details that mattered most to her. Everything she'd hoped and planned for came to fruition without a hitch and I was along for the smooth ride. These are a few of my favorite photos from the day and the stories behind them. 

This picture feels like a painting. I took it early in the reception, when everyone still had their clothes on and tequila had yet to cross their eyes.  

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I’ll stop the world and melt with you
— Modern English

I've always liked the song and wanted to recreate it as a photo. It was a bit tricky. I needed to use a slow shutter speed, but I didn't have a tripod so I had to handhold the camera. The sunlight was filtering through tall palms swaying in the sea breeze - so the sun on their faces was compromised with every strong gust. We were also blocking one of the main beach access points in Sayulita, so we had to be fast. It worked. 

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I think creating an unusual bridal party portrait that shows the personality of the people and the uniqueness of the place without any gimmicks is a lot more satisfying than lining them all up and asking for a happy face. Melissa & Ryan's wedding was at Brisa Mar Palapa - a Sayulita wedding venue just above a cemetery. They'd asked for bridal party portraits on the beach and I knew we'd pass through this spot on our way there, so I asked if they wouldn't mind just trying to make a picture here. Everyone was into it. I didn't want anyone looking somber or sexy. In Catholic culture, the dead are celebrated (think Dia de los Muertos) and in our culture - what is a wedding but a celebration of life? It seemed fitting and it worked. 

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I'm feeling a little guilty because Melissa is not the drinker these pictures make her out to be. I just happened to catch her drinking the best two drinks of the night. This last picture is of the bride sipping a beer just after her ceremony on a sultry hot afternoon - moments before she and her brand new husband signed their marriage certificate. After all the planning and the beautiful ceremony... you can almost taste that beer. It had to be great. And the layering: on the left, you see the officiant holding the envelope with the wedding certificate; her sister is sweeping past to make the table for the signing look nice; a groomsman is passing beers to someone else on the right; and the groom is holding his margarita. I like seeing the variety of drinks, and the view from the venue. There's a lot going on, but there is stillness in her sip.

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Wedding Planning - The bride | Venue - Brisa Mar Palapa | Catering - Don Pedro's Restaurant | Dress - hand-sewn by the bride's mother 

Giving Thanks

I am thankful for the brides that let me be the photographer I want to be ... a story teller. Yes, with every wedding I shoot, I tell the wedding story - this is where it was, what it looked like, who was there, what they did. I don't always get to see the essence of a couple, but I try. I want to get pictures of what they look like when they think no one is looking. Oh man, do I try to get to know those things about every couple that invite me to be a part of their wedding. It's a level of intimacy that's difficult to tap into. Not every couple wants to reveal it. Sometimes, the circumstance of the wedding - the guests and the travel and the stress and relief and expectations and having someone not too far removed from a total stranger pointing a camera at them, make it pretty fucking hard to be photographed ... so I try not to push it. 

Sometimes it happens. When it does, it affirms me and all the choices that make this Mexican life work. So thanks to those couples who show me their intimacy.  

Brief and Wonderful Advice from Oscar Wilde

I'm doing this Instagram challenge to get more followers. I'm growing my own business. I'm exploring different marketing techniques. I like Instagram. 

Assignment number two was post a photo of my workspace. The example was a stylized desktop with an inspirationally ironic coffee mug, computer, camera and cutesy notebook and pen set (presumably used when overcome by an idea for a blog post). I glanced at my present workspace and rolled my eyes. I fucking hate this table. My coffee mug was long ago emptied and washed - it's an ant magnet. I like our couch, it could pass as a stylized workspace but I don't work there. I lounge there. Posting it would be a lie. 

I felt like my post was good enough. My enthusiasm for the challenge is waning. 

Later, I met with a couple who's wedding I'll photograph in May. It was a lot of fun. We drank craft beer (rare here). Getting to know a bride and groom before their wedding is like a gift. It makes photographing them on their big day so much better. They're comfortable with me, with being photographed. And this couple was funny! Their family was a pleasure! These exclamation points are authentic!!

As we talked about the game plan for their wedding day, I made an aside about photographing their invitations and I felt the bride prickle. The groom mentioned sending e-vites. I realized immediately they thought I was serious. I don't do that. I take pictures of people. I'm there for the moments, not the paper products.

I told this bride I was joking. She laughed and seemed relieved. 

I was looking through Instagram later that night, scrolling through the feed of other challenge participants. I came across a photo with this scrolled across it,

"Be yourself, everyone else is already taken" ~ Oscar Wilde

I was a refreshing reminder. I'm constantly looking at the work of other photographers. Seeking inspiration and guidance. I see so much great work. I also see such stylized work that I feel like I'm in a totally different world from so many other photographers. I don't have a team. I don't have the latest and greatest equipment. Wedding days go by as fast for me as they do for the couple. I don't have time to waste a second trying to recreate a photo that looks staged or lacks intimacy. 

Yes, I will continue the challenge and I will continue to pour through Instagram, gawking. Yes, I want more followers because I think it will translate into more business. More business becomes more financial security. Security ensures the continuation of this Mexican life. This life, as a result, remains happy and content. 

 That's the RSVP for our wedding. We keep it on our fridge. 

That's the RSVP for our wedding. We keep it on our fridge. 

Shame and Bless

Syd started school yesterday. I've been with her solid for more than two months. I was ready. She wasn't. 

Traveling and interruptions in routine have her off. That, and I didn't do enough preparing for the newness. She did fine in day care, I know she'll do fine in Montessori. It's freaking Montessori. She's bigger than she was on that rough first day of day care. We talk about being bigger all the time. Her birthday was coming for weeks. It was always soon. She tells me she's a big girl. 

School scared the shit out of her. I was too excited for it starting to even consider what was happening to her. She adjusted well to living in the Airstream, she was darling at her grandparents house, she was even a shining example of toddler-hood to her cousin. (She taught her to count toes! They jumped on the bed! Watching her be the big kid was so cool!)

 en route

en route

She did not make a positive first impression. That made me immediately fearful of being labeled as a - fill in the blank with your preferred negative adjective - mom. I picked her up less than an hour after we dropped her off. Her teacher explained the hour and I knew it hadn't gone well and she was speaking in Spanish and I could kind of follow but got frustrated by my inability to understand ... had to admit I couldn't. Shamed. By myself, really, but am convinced the teacher is adding another negative association to my face.

It was only a fucking hour. 

The days are still hot and drag and I have work to do. Hustle, hustle, hustle. I talked to Syd about school being exciting and fun. Her teacher likes her! There are fun boys and girls in the class! There is "no lloras" at school. No crying. I had a hiccup as a parent and felt crappy about it. 

She was perfectly pleasant all evening. There was no fussing or fighting. She ate. She played independently. She seemed cautiously optimistic about going to school again. She was being a big girl. 

I was staring at the computer trying to fit in some of the things on the never ending to-do list when she called to me from her bedroom. She still goes down in her pack'n'play. Her touches touch the edge and she's just about too big. Figuring out a bedrail system for the twin bed is somewhere in the middle of that to-do list. I went into her room and leaned into her bed. She reached up and started rubbing my eyebrows. She asked me to sing a song so I sang the one I made up about Daddy. 

"Will you pick me up and hold me and sing sunshine?" she asked. 

I picked up my three-year-old and held her and softly sang you are my sunshine. She melted me. My big girl isn't so little any more and bless her heart, my little girl is getting so big. 

 

Home Away From Home

So Sydney and I are in America again for a little while. It’s weird. Phil is in Mexico and it sucks being apart. We miss him, he misses us. Every day is a discovery for her and that makes it okay. 

I didn’t want to leave Mexico. I like being in San Pancho this time of year. It’s quiet and personal. It’s a victory to endure the summer. I like being a winner. And this trip, much like Giligan’s was supposed to be short. Opportunity knocked, round-trip ticket’s ain’t cheap so here we are. For seven weeks.

The island is harder than I imagined. It’s bigger than it was five years ago, more people, more stuff, more (don’t be mad local friends) gentrification. I can’t just head into the woods for a three hour hike - I’ve got a two year old who can’t walk 20 feet without major distraction and my dog is still in Mexico. Plus, the trails are mulched. Fresh squeezed juice costs $11. The sunshine isn’t reliable. We have to wear seatbelts. Pools and libraries have hours. You can not just pee willy nilly wherever. 

But there’s the trailer. Sydney and I are living in a brand new Airstream. It’s not as romantic as the one I renovated with my dad, but it’s an Airstream and if you can’t appreciate that, you probably shouldn’t read my blog. I am in the camping environment that dreams are made of. It’s in an orchard. Everything works. It’s perfect. Have I mentioned the only thing missing is my husband? Syd calls it the camper van and has her own bed and we cuddle against the cold and she seems to like it. I love it. I'm organized. It's not hard to keep clean. There's no internet. I read by lantern (I'm not a fan of the LED). It's an Airstream, just imagine how cool it is and then know it's better than that. 

I’m trying to find my footing on uneven ground. I miss the routine of home but am surrounded by familiarity of a different sense of home. I love this place. There was a significant time in my life that I thought I would never leave Bainbridge. Oh my god, if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have Phil, or Sydney or our happy full life in Mexico. 

Home is Mexico, with Phil and Syd and Wiley and our incredible community there. With my very talkative, demanding, darling, incessantly eating daughter, I’m rediscovering this charming little island. It has it’s hooks in me. I used to believe that I couldn’t return to a place I’d previously lived. Here I am, making this trailer homey, looking forward to sharing the new discoveries with Phil, eating blackberries and rolling in the grass with Syd. Mexico is home but there is no rule that says home has to be in just one place.