Thinking about sharks doesn’t often conjure up images of romance, but it was this apex predator that brought me and my now-husband, Joerg, together.
Have you ever met someone special while travelling? Tell us about it and your story could be featured in BBC Travel’s How We Met series!
To be clear it wasn’t just one shark – it was hundreds of them. Cocos Islands, located 550km west of mainland Costa Rica, is one of the few places on Earth where divers can observe the large schools of hammerhead sharks that come to feed in the nutrient-rich waters. It was this natural phenomenon that drew both Joerg and I to the same 10-day live-aboard dive trip.
It certainly wasn’t love at first sight. He was cute, but he looked so serious that I assumed he was a killjoy and avoided him the first day. Joerg admitted to finding me attractive, but “there were so many people, and you were so shy, it took me a few days before I really noticed you,” he recalled.
The real connection started forming 30m below the surface, in the shark-infested waters. On the first dive, my assigned dive buddy swam off as soon as she entered the water. I was one of the least experienced divers and panicked at the thought of it being me versus 80 hammerhead sharks.
Joerg was an experienced dive master, and seeing my discomfort, took me under his wing. His being there allowed me to relax and enjoy being outnumbered by sharks.
Back on the boat, we began to goof around, and over the next few days that evolved into flirting. But Joerg, a German, flirts differently than Canadians do, and I was often left a bit confused. For example, when we were putting on our diving gear, I tried to tease him, only to be met with a stony glare. I later found out that Germans believe there’s a time and place for flirting – and it’s apparently not when you’re getting ready for a dive!
Underwater once again, our gestures didn’t need any translation. I knew our connection had turned romantic. We were waiting at a cleaner station, where sharks come to have their teeth scrubbed by other, smaller fish, and I was so excited, I found it hard to stay on the seabed. Joerg took my hand to calm me down. It was an innocent gesture, something that dive masters will often do to calm divers, but then he intertwined his fingers with mine – a move he’s still proud of almost eight years later. He often tells friends: “It calmed her down, and if she pulled away then I would know she wasn’t interested without having to have an awkward conversation about it.” German pragmatism at its finest!
Without admitting it to one another, we both knew that we had something special. Of course, we didn’t know how it would work with 8,000km separating us. I was based in Calgary, Canada, and he was from Stuttgart, Germany. We both had good jobs and neither one of us was looking to move. No promises were made, but we were cautiously optimistic. Joerg later admitted to falling in love on that holiday. I took a little longer to realise it.
Emails and phone calls were exchanged for the next few weeks until Joerg invited me to visit him in Stuttgart. I immediately accepted. I wanted to see him again, but I also wanted to see what he was like at home, when he wasn’t on vacation, before I became too invested in the relationship.
Without sharks to distract us, the initial reunion was awkward. But we soon found a rhythm and other common interests – such as hiking and a love of travel. Over the next 18 months, we met up for shark diving trips in the Red Sea and the Galapagos, as well as spending time in each other’s home countries. It was on a snowshoeing trip to the Canadian Rocky Mountains that Joerg proposed in an igloo. I said yes, and three months later moved to Germany to be with him.
Although it might sound like a fairy tale, life wasn’t all roses. I didn’t speak the language and wasn’t able to find a job at the same level as the one I had in Canada. Needing a way to stay in Germany until we were married, I opted for a German-language study visa, embarking on a 12-month intensive course. At the same time, I realized it was time for a career change and started an adventure travel blog, Monkeys and Mountains.
In August 2011, a little more than a year after I moved to Germany, we were married in Canada in front of a 180-degree view of the Canadian Rockies. I’ve now been in Germany for almost six years, speak good German (albeit still not fluently) and my blog has turned into full-time business.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d have sharks in Costa Rica to thank for all of this.