I attempted to pop a contact lens in my eye for the third time. I finally got it right, but tears were running down my face from the several minutes of eyeball prodding. This probably won’t be the last time I cry tonight, I thought as I peered into the small mirror in our Cartagena, Colombia hostel. I was almost certain I would be on the receiving end of a marriage proposal later that night.
The private room had air conditioning in the bedroom, but the ensuite bathroom was hot and sticky, just like everywhere else in Colombia’s romantic coastal city. That made getting ready take even longer since I left the bathroom mirror every couple of minutes to take refuge under the cool air blasting from the room’s wall unit. Eyeliner applied, stand in the A/C. Hair pinned back, time for a little cool down. This back-and-forth went on until my (probably) soon-to-be fiancé returned to the room. I wasn’t sure where he went, but I assumed he was planning something and I was giddy to find out what it was.
After we were both done getting ready, we left the hostel and walked down the cobblestone streets of Getsemani, an area in Cartagena’s historic district to the south of the old walled city. We passed colorful buildings that still seemed vibrant even after nightfall. Houses boasting dark blues, burnt oranges, lively yellows and flamingo pinks lined our path as we made our way to the restaurant inside the walled city. The air was heavy, like the thick air I grew up with in humid Florida, but two years of living in Bogotá, Colombia’s chilly weather made this tropical climate feel more foreign than familiar.
“You look beautiful,” Eduardo said as I tore my attention away from the fuchsia bougainvillea creeping down a quaint hotel balcony.
He doesn’t look too shabby himself. That might be the world’s biggest understatement because Eduardo is breathtakingly handsome. In fact, breathing is what I momentarily forgot to do the night his picture popped up on my Tinder. As soon as his face flashed upon my screen, my swiping thumb paused and I held my breath. There’s no way this dude is real, I thought. This must be a model and I’m about to be catfished.
But I didn’t care. The photos before me displayed a man in his twenties with dark, almond-shaped eyes, a strong jawbone, a slight cleft chin, pouty lips and my absolute favorite – two dimples that cratered into his tan cheeks when he smiled. This guy was the mayor of Swoon City. Of course, I swiped yes and OH MY SWEET OPRAH, we matched! In an embarrassingly similar rendition of any high school girl with a crush in any cheesy rom-com, I did a happy dance and then brushed the invisible dirt off my shoulders. He was just that fine.
A swipe of our thumbs eventually brought us, an American and a Venezuelan, here to Cartagena, Colombia. To a romantic restaurant that didn’t ooze stuffiness like those fancy restaurants with lighting so dim you can barely see the menu and food portions so tiny you just know you’re ordering a pizza as soon as you get home. No, this place was nice, but not pretentious. It was formal, yet inviting. It suited us well.
We ordered a bottle of red wine, which we never do. We ordered appetizers, which we also never do. Tonight is special, he reminded me. The table was adorned with red rose petals and the flame of a candle flickered in the center. We were situated near a window and it was no question he had done some pre-planning to arrange this dinner. That must have been where he was when I was slipping into my tropical sundress that reached to my ankles and hid my now fidgeting legs. A singer covered a variety of popular love songs, his voice sweet and unobtrusive, as his buddy lightly strummed a guitar.
Eduardo and I talked about our future. We imagined future jobs, future travels, future houses and future babies. We reminisced on our relationship thus far. We promised each other to do better, to be better, to love harder. As you can imagine, it was an all-out gush session and it brought me close to tears. To avoid the water works, I shoved prawns in my mouth and listened to the soft voice of the singer. The Venezuelan singer, Eduardo informed me – always quick to point out his fellow countrymen.
We finished our savory seafood and waited for dessert. He ordered for me, which I thought was strange, but since he picked a brownie and ice cream, I didn’t protest because that’s what I would have ordered anyway.
Just as the singer began to cover Carlos Vives’ Volvi a Nacer, the waitress brought out an enormous brownie topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream with a sparkling, rose-gold engagement ring stuck on top. She smiled at me in such a genuine way, it somehow added to the significance of the moment. Like she was a friend who had been in on this proposal for months.
He gently dislodged and cleaned the delicate ring that I had pick out months earlier, man did I have great taste! He began to slip the ring on my finger.
“Wait! You have to ask me!” I said in Spanish while laughing. In all of his nervousness, he didn’t actually remember to pop the question.
He apologized and officially asked me if I would marry him. I said yes and he finished slipping the ring on my manicured finger, which was by no means manicured because I was expecting this to happen. No way.
He paid, thanked the waitress, thanked the musicians and we floated out of that restaurant. I let myself revel in what had just happened. It was so expected, but still so special. We walked a couple of blocks, it was past 9 p.m. and the streets were teeming with people. Music flowed from every corner, sometimes crashing into each other – reggaeton and salsa, merengue and vallenato.
Eduardo helped me into a horse-drawn carriage and we slowly made our way down the narrow streets. Spanish-colonial buildings covered with twinkling Christmas lights towered over us and beautiful churches lit up the dark sky. We passed other couples in carriages and I wondered if any of them got engaged that night. Probably, it was almost Christmas in Cartagena, that’s the perfect combination for proposals and weddings.
The clomping of the horse’s hooves stopped and Eduardo helped me out of the carriage. We walked around a little more, trying to savor every morsel of the evening. When my feet began to hurt, we headed back to the little hostel. Hand-in-hand, grinning at each other, this was both the continuation of something great and the start of something better.