I suppose it makes sense to begin the story of our travels with how I met El Dada (Edgar). We’ve told the story dozens of times because it’s not obvious how an American doctor and Peruvian surfer would make a connection. The short answer is that we met on the beach in Peru. If you want the long answer, read on…
When I turned 29 I decided it was time to return to Venezuela to see where I was born. However, at the height of Chavez-related political problems it didn’t feel like the best time for a single woman who couldn’t speak Spanish to travel to a remote part of the country. So I looked for other places in South America to take a vacation. Buenos Aires stood out so I signed up for 7 days of intensive language school and tango lessons. I also had a friend from graduate school living in Lima, Peru so I tacked on a trek up the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and a few days for surfing in the capital.
My friend knew Edgar by acquaintance so when I asked for advice on where to rent a board she knew right where to take me. We took a taxi down to Makaha Beach and started looking for his face. It was November so there were very few locals on the beach. Back then, Edgar had one of the only surf schools that worked year round – now Makaha is teeming with tents and touts to make surf lessons.
I had no idea who we were looking for but my friend found Edgar right away. The first thing I saw was his bright smile and long hair. (He says the first thing he remembers about me was my long neck and bob haircut. Six years later we have switched hair styles!) My friend spoke perfect Spanish but I was barely capable of asking where to find the bathroom. Fortunately Edgar spoke great English due to his work with tourists. I actually had traveler’s sickness so I didn’t want to surf that day. We set up a time to come back the next day and agreed that my friend and her boyfriend would take lessons while I rented a board.
The next morning we returned to the beach ready to go. Edgar had pulled a tendon in his knee so he couldn’t surf with us, but my friends took a lesson with a guy he worked with. As we were picking out equipment Edgar offered me his own wetsuit. This is a pretty big deal for a surfer. It’s like giving away your underwear. I said, “Are you sure? I have a tendency to pee in my wetsuit.” (Joking, but I had done it during a 4 hour surf session in Maui!) He laughed and gave me the suit anyway. Thankfully we had the same sense of humor.
After surfing we were all getting dried off and talking. I don’t recall the conversation being overtly flirtatious but it wasn’t just business either. Being that we were a bit more mature than the typical tourist that comes through Lima, Edgar asked if we’d like to meet up for dinner later on. We weren’t sure of our plans so I took his phone number and said I’d call if we ended up being free.
Edgar told me later he thought I would never call. Typical of a surfer, he thought of relationships like the tides. They come and go; you always have another chance to catch something if you miss an opportunity. He also thought of finding the right partner in terms of the waves. Most surfers don’t take the first wave in a set; it’s the second or third that’s much better so they prefer to wait. Edgar was waiting for the perfect wave and it wasn’t evident yet that I was the one.
As we were walking back up the hill (the beaches in Lima are at the bottom of cliffs with the city built up top) my friend was asking whether I wanted to have dinner with Edgar… alone. I said, “No way. I’ve had enough of Latin guys coming on to me.” (In Buenos Aires I had 3 guys ask if they could come back to the US with me. It was a bit much.) “Besides, he wanted to go out with all of us.” My friend thought different. “I think he wants to go out with you but we were standing there when he made the invitation.” Hmmm, I wasn’t sure.
Perhaps I was generalizing about Latin men. Edgar wasn’t overly aggressive on the beach so maybe he would make a nice dinner companion. It was my last night in Lima and maybe his local knowledge would make my time worthwhile. So I thought about it. Then when my friends agreed they could come along I had no more excuses. I called Edgar to see if he was still available to go out.
The story diverges at this point because my perspective is very different from Edgar’s. From my point of view, I called his cell phone and we agreed to meet up at the McDonald’s in Miraflores to go to dinner from there. It was the only landmark I was familiar with. From Edgar’s point of view, he thought I was a friend from Huaraz (8 hours away from Lima) who had come to town for the weekend so he was confused why the meetup should happen somewhere like McDonald’s.
At 5 minutes before 8 I stood outside of the McDonald’s leaning against a post. Edgar came next and said, “Where are your friends?!” You see, he didn’t want to go out alone either. In the previous year he had a tumultuous relationship with an American woman and he wasn’t keen on having another one. Just then, my friend and her boyfriend showed up. Thank goodness!
We all jumped in a taxi towards Barranco. Edgar took us to an Italian restaurant on the cliffs. Our table was set up for two couples, with chairs set very close on each side. My friends were a couple, but Edgar and I were not. The waiter saw it otherwise and handed us one menu to share. So we started reading together and Edgar said, “I wouldn’t mind a pizza. You want to share?” Sure. “I like Hawaiian, is that okay?” Sure. “Want to share a bottle of red wine?” Sure. Turns out we have the same taste in food.
My friends, on the other hand, were still figuring out what to order. We started harassing them for being the real couple but unable to communicate. I run a blank on how our conversation evolved, but somehow the fact that my friend’s boyfriend is a certified minister came up. (Like Joey Tribbiani from Friends, when he married Monica and Chandler.) Edgar thought it was an intriguing idea that a “normal” person could marry a couple. He proceeded to roll up a napkin, tie it in a knot, and test to see if it was the right size for my finger. His ring was ready for a wedding ceremony. I’m not one to lead guys on, so the fact that I didn’t stop him right there was telling. For whatever reason, I must have felt quite comfortable with Edgar so I let my friend go on with the marriage vows. None of this was official, as Edgar was actually still married to the aforementioned American girl, so it was all in good fun.
After saying the “I do’s” my friends urged Edgar to kiss the bride. Edgar closed his eyes and pursed his lips, waiting for me to respond. My friend asked for me to wait until she got her camera out. That gave me enough time to think “Well I better make this a good picture”, so when she was ready I planted a good one on him. Edgar was shocked – he expected a pretend kiss – so his lips were shaking like a little schoolboy. When we stopped I think we both looked at each other a bit differently. What the heck was that?!
Following dinner my friends had to leave for other obligations. Being a Saturday night I was not planning on going home to the hostel until a bit later. Edgar sensed my reluctance to leave and let me know he had some free time before a birthday party if I’d like to get a drink with him. I distinctly remember the smile on my friends’ faces as we said goodbye. I think they knew what was about to happen.
Things went from casual to mutually interesting over the next several hours. While talking over a beer it became apparent we had a lot in common. We both had been raised in large, Catholic families; had parents still together; were middle children; had lived as successful members of society (i.e., went to grad school and worked at the executive level) but felt a desire to find deeper happiness out of the 9-5 system; had a penchant for travel; and a desire to give back to the world. Our conversation was far from superficial – “why are you single?” – “what do you want in your life?” – “where do you see yourself in 10 years?” While I had become accustomed to seeing red flags within 15 minutes of talking with most men, I saw nothing but green lights flashing when I got to know Edgar more. So when it was time for Edgar to go to the birthday party he wasn’t ready to say goodbye… and neither was I. He invited me to go along and I accepted.
The party was loads of fun because it was in a funky nightclub with loud music (meaning there was no expectation for me to have a conversation in Spanish with Edgar’s friends.) Edgar told me later that he introduced me to everyone as his wife, which explained why they all gave me such big hugs and more than two kisses (the custom in Peru). At one point Edgar pulled me aside to a quieter corner and said, “I’m having such a good time with you. It’s too bad you have to leave tomorrow. What do you think about changing your ticket? We could go down south to surf in a little fishing village and get to know each other more.” Tempting as it was, my logical brain answered first: “I can’t. I’ve already been gone from work for 2 weeks and I have to get back.” But the next morning my heart had something different to say: “You haven’t felt this content with a man in a long time. If it costs less than $200 to change your ticket take it as a sign.”
I called the airline and it cost $150 to move my ticket back one week. The decision was easy. I told my boss that I had traveler’s sickness – which I really did – although it wasn’t that bad. (Karma got me back on that white lie – I got the worst case of antibiotic resistant campylobacter infection about a week later.) That extra week with Edgar is better saved for a romance novel. Suffice it to say, we fell in love – mind you, we were both older and had been through several relationships so this wasn’t puppy love. Nonetheless, I knew I had to return home and think clearly about what I could do to bring my life together with Edgar.
I also had to see if Edgar was really serious. In the back of my mind I kept thinking “This guy is a surfer. What if he does this with a different girl every other week?” Well he turned out to be extremely serious. When we said goodbye at the airport he asked what time I would be home. I said 6 pm. He called me at 6 pm on the dot… and he did the same every day for the following months. We continued to court each other through text messages, online chat, and phone calls. A few months later I returned to Lima for one week, mostly to see if my feelings were still “real.” They were. So I continued to work on finishing up my fellowship and looking for work abroad. Edgar considered how he could get a visa to come to the US. But he had his own business in Lima and I was done with living in the US, so once I got a job through an online university it meant I could live anywhere. My friends and family were understandably nervous about me moving so far away, but I think they knew I was a big girl and could handle it if something went wrong. Six+ years later I’m still glad I made that leap to Peru. It launched me to more places than I ever expected.