We didn’t meet on the apps; we met in a plaza in Colombia. I was about to turn 30 and none of my friends could take the time off to join me on a birthday trip, so I decided to go alone. I arrived at my hostel in Bogotá jet-lagged, but excited. The receptionist urged me to check out a free walking tour that was just about to get underway. I approached the waiting group of Europeans, most coupled up or traveling with friends.
A tall guy with piercing blue eyes joined us as well. He was the only other solo traveler in the group.
While taste-testing tropical fruit at the farmers market, we learned that we both hailed from L.A. and grew up less than five miles away from each other. No, neither of us drank coffee nor knew Spanish very well, yet here we were backpacking in Colombia. We even had a similar travel schedule.
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After the tour, we exchanged Whatsapp numbers and agreed to meet up later to go watch the sunset atop Monserrate. During our walk to the cable car that would take us to our destination, we talked about the usual — traveling on a budget, how most of our friends were getting engaged or procreating, and how expensive rent is in L.A. We were our own version of Jesse and Céline a la “Before Sunrise” except we were wandering the art-filled streets of La Candelaria.
They say if you can travel together, you’ll have success as a couple.
We coordinated our schedules to meet up one other time during that trip, in Medellín, the city of eternal spring. We ditched the sweaters and jackets we wore in Bogotá for short-sleeved shirts and bug spray. Over dinner he admitted he went on a Tinder date with a Colombian girl the night before, but he told me he felt more of a connection with me. Navigating the nightlife in Parque Lleras, he suggested we try a local liquor called aguardiente.
“This kind of feels like a date… Here’s to us!” he toasted confidently. He was charming.
I wondered whether he’d call when we were both back in California. I didn’t wait long. I arrived home on a Friday night, and by Sunday he’d hit me up to grab tacos. Of course I said yes. Tacos are my love language. We complained about the culture shock we felt being back home and how we missed Colombian hospitality and the cheap (and illegal) ride sharing. I had gone to South America and brought back a North American souvenir — a guy who just happened to be good-looking, employed, travel savvy, available and local.
He’s a unicorn, I thought. He seemed too good to be true.
We spent the next few months trying to re-create the spontaneity and romance of our time abroad.
He took me to the 73rd floor of the Wilshire Grand Center at sunset and we reminisced about that other sunset view we shared in Bogotá. We tried to maintain our Cartagena tans by sunbathing at Speedo-laden Will Rogers State Beach. We laughed remembering about the aggressive vendors at Playa Blanca, and lamented that we couldn’t enjoy an ice cold Aguila on the beaches of California.
Our dates took us on leisurely walks exploring L.A. neighborhoods, ducking into random bookshops and checking out farmers markets as if we were tourists in our own city. The only difference was we were sampling Asian pear and seasonal peaches instead of lulo and papaya.
I can’t pinpoint exactly why our vacation affair did not translate into a relationship back in Los Angeles.
Did our vacation personalities mesh better when dinner cost less than $10, including drinks and neither of us had work the next day? Maybe it’s easier to navigate being hangry in a foreign country together than negotiating L.A. traffic from Echo Park to Sherman Oaks trying to make a midweek hike.
Under the California sun, our differences, though minor when traveling abroad, came to light. The foodie in me is always down to try new cuisine, but at home he was less willing to try lengua tacos and eel rolls. While he is always punctual no matter where in the world he is, I admit I’m sometimes running on Filipino time. His frugality on vacation seemed practical, but here in California it came across as cheap. He said I was more introverted on U.S. soil.
And was it just me or did he look cuter when I was wearing vacation goggles?
At some point, we stopped listening to Maluma and Carlos Vives during our car rides and our text exchanges bore fewer “mi amors” and “cheveres.” The seasons changed, our tans faded. It was like we met at summer camp and then ran out of things to talk about. We weren’t destined to make it to cuffing season.
Our short-lived L.A. courtship was perhaps a way to prolong the vacation.
Amid the bombardment of engagement and pregnancy announcements I’ve seen on social media since turning 30, maybe I was hopeful to find “the one” anywhere other than a dating app. In actuality, we were just two American travelers who had a chance encounter and just so happened to grow up in the same neck of the woods.
When is it serendipity, and when are we reading into a coincidence?
Still, whenever I see the lights of the Wilshire Grand Center downtown, I remember the guy I met on the streets of Bogotá who could have been my soulmate.
The author works in the healthcare industry and is a freelance writer.
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