How we met: ‘I was too shy to speak to her at first’

When Peter Humphreys, a writer, took a trip to Colombia in January 2018, he’d been hoping to catch up with an old friend. “Just before I left I found out he wasn’t going to be there, but I thought it would be fun to go anyway and attend the Hay literary festival in Cartagena,” he says. Not long after he arrived, he spotted Ana Rebolledo, who was staying at the same hotel. “I was too shy to speak to her at first,” he admits.

Eventually, he asked if she spoke English, and the pair struck up a conversation while they were sitting on the hotel’s rooftop terrace. “I was travelling alone around South America at the time,” says Ana, a video editor and media teacher who was based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “I thought he was very friendly and cool. He asked if I’d liked to go to one of the festival events with him.”

Peter, who’d been expecting to take Ana to a romantic poetry reading, was surprised when they arrived at a heated political debate. “I must have made a mistake with the programme. She translated the debate for me from Spanish into English. It was really interesting but not what we were expecting.” After the event they went out for a traditional Colombian evening with food, drinks and live entertainment. “There was lots of music and dancing in the street,” says Peter. “We had our first kiss at the end of the night.”

The next day, Ana left early to fly to Panama. “I tried to get up early to say goodbye but I missed her,” says Peter. He travelled on to Bogotá for 10 days before heading back to the UK. But they kept in touch via emails. “We had lots in common. We loved the same films, the same literature and the same music. We were in contact every day, it was an old-fashioned letter-writing relationship,” says Ana.

In April that year, Peter visited Buenos Aires, where Ana had returned after her travels. “There was no pressure, we just wanted to see how things went,” he says. They spent three weeks together, and managed to squeeze in a trip to Uruguay. “The only question after that was how we could make our relationship work long-distance,” says Peter.

Since then he has visited Argentina four more times, and Ana has spent five months in the UK on two separate trips. “At the start of 2019, I came to study English in Manchester,” she says. A few months later the couple travelled to Hong Kong. “I was a finalist in a novel competition and we went there for the ceremony with the other finalists,” says Peter. Although he didn’t win, he was offered a publishing deal.

In June that year, the couple married in Ana’s hometown of Neuquén in Patagonia. They immediately started the visa process so that Ana could come to the UK, but were unsuccessful in their attempt. “We still don’t really understand why,” says Peter. “The pandemic has made things even harder, but we are determined to try again.”

The pair are currently apart, with Ana living in Buenos Aires and Peter living in Lancaster. “I was visiting at the start of this year but came home shortly before lockdown for my book launch,” he says. “At the moment nobody who isn’t an Argentinian national can get into the country, but as soon as that changes I will be flying out. With all of this going on, you just want to be in the same place at the same time.”

Despite the distance, Ana says they have “incredible chats”. She loves her husband’s sensitivity and imagination, and says they never run out of things to talk about. “We like theatre, dining out, politics and just sharing new experiences together.” Peter says Ana is “curious and intelligent” and always supportive of his writing. “She’s in my corner all the time, which I’ve never really had before. We learn so much from each other.”