Seated together, a chance encounter on an Air Canada flight helped B.C. woman find love

Kimberley and Manuel first met on an Air Canada flight in 2018. Submitted

It was love at first flight.

B.C. resident Kimberley Bowie sat down in her seat on an Air Canada flight in August, 2018, and little did she know it would change the course of her life.

She was on her way back from a last-minute solo trip to Mexico.

“I was leaving a bad relationship behind and had just wanted to disappear for a bit,” she told Global News via email. “When I booked the trip, all I wanted was to get away from my current life and be anonymous, with zero chance of meeting anyone. A relationship of any sort with anyone was about the last thing on my mind.”

Bowie said she noticed a man walking down the aisle and thinking he was handsome but he walked past her row, briefly catching his eye as he did.

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“He was just surprisingly tall and he had the kindest, most inquisitive eyes,” she said. “When the flight attendants asked anyone flying alone to move, I was stunned as lo and behold, we ended up seated next to each other, after all.”

Bowie said she knows it sounds cheesy but the energy between them was immediately electric.

The man, Manuel Varela, was flying to Vancouver for the first time and Bowie said she was delighted to tell him all about her city.

“I kept feeling bad for monopolizing him, but there was no break in conversation and he seemed as eager as I was to keep chatting,” she said.

“Coincidences kept stacking up: that he was going to Iceland, that we’d both gone to McGill. It was the most natural conversation I’d ever had with a stranger, which in hindsight is great as we were stuck together for five hours.

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But when the pilot announced the descent into Vancouver, Bowie said they realized their time together was coming to an end.

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“Despite promises of staying in touch, I was returning to a very unpleasant reality, and he was off to Iceland, a handsome, single man on a trip he’d gifted himself for his 50th birthday,” she said.

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But then, Varela swept the hair off her forehead and kissed her.

“For the record, it was a completely welcome and consensual advance. He is incredibly respectful towards me and towards all people. I imagine the moment lasted twice as long for the poor woman seated next to us in the aisle.”

They made frantic plans to stay in touch and they did.

It was hard to manage a long-distance relationship, Bowie admitted, but she visited him that fall and he came to Vancouver that Christmas and they tried to make it work.

Kimberley and Manuel in Puerto Vallarta with their dog, Rígo. Submitted

However, they decided to break up, as it was the best thing for both of them.

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“I could not imagine a scenario where it worked for us to be physically together, and I didn’t see that changing. We kept in touch, and the spark never went away, and it hurt a lot to talk to him, but neither of us could cut each other out, either,” she said.

But then, just before the COVID pandemic started, Bowie flew to Puerto Vallarta to see if they could repair the damage.

“I hadn’t stopped thinking about him and decided that if I could get there and he was willing to see me, I had to go,” she said. “So I did, and we were brutally honest, admitted to being completely still in love with each other, and committing to finding a way to be together.

“We had no clue that the mysterious flu going around was going to be what it was.”

When the pandemic started to close the borders, the couple panicked about what this would all mean for their relationship.

So Bowie said they decided she would move to Mexico as soon as she could and she finally made it.

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She moved in June, 2020, Varela proposed to her on Aug. 26, 2020 and they were married in Las Vegas on Nov. 21, 2020.

They now live together in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco.

“Life is pretty peaceful. I wake up early every morning and work till it’s light enough to go for a walk with our dog. The two-hour time zone is a boon for clients in various time zones. We are building a house together, which is so exciting and not something quite as attainable in Vancouver.”

A beautiful sunset in Puerto Vallarta. Submitted

Varela is an architect so that helps. Bowie is able to work remotely as a public relations consultant at Switchboard PR.

They go on weekend trips and Bowie said she loves exploring Mexico.

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“We bring our dog, Rígo, everywhere we go, and he’s also an intrinsic part of our family. We’re both actively grateful that we are together, as it’s obvious that some extremely unusual circumstances brought us together in the first place, let alone to have us where we are now,” Bowie added.

She knows connecting with people can be hard, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. But she hopes their story inspires others to be open to meeting people as a chance encounter may change their life.

“After two years of being more or less told to stay away from people, even the most social people may be finding it harder to open up and converse, even with close friends,” she said.

“It is a lot of work, and people often hear our story and think it was just serendipity and everything has been easy and glorious. It has been incredibly hard and so much had to happen, and we had to go through so much to get to where we are, physically and emotionally.

“We have to commit to our partnership every day, with intention.”

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