In October 2006, Sonia arrived in the UK from Costa Rica after an exhausting journey. “I was coming to Bangor University for three months to work on my PhD in agroforestry,” she says. At the time, Wojtek was doing a PhD in the same field and had recently returned from studying in Ghana and Cameroon. “I had a house where I rented rooms to other students,” he says. “My friend asked if I could give Sonia a place to stay. I met them in a Morrisons car park to pick her up.”
When she arrived at Wojtek’s place, Sonia immediately felt at home. “She ran up and hugged one of my other new tenants, Carla, and they started speaking rapidly in Spanish,” remembers Wojtek. “It turns out they knew each other from studying in Central America.” Sonia says she was “so happy” she could talk to someone in Spanish, as her English was not good.
The next day, Wojtek took her to the university to get registered. They went salsa dancing with the rest of the housemates and spent time getting to know each other. “She was really pretty and intelligent,” he says. “I told a friend I liked her 10 days after we met, but I thought it might be weird, as I was her landlord.”
Luckily, Sonia liked him, too. That night, she came up to his room to tell him about the day out she had had. “She told me about the dead seals on the beach,” he laughs. “I’d been getting to know the area and wanted to tell someone,” she says. “I thought he was a beautiful person.” When she got cold, Wojtek offered her a blanket and they shared their first kiss.
The next day, they went to Aber Falls, outside Bangor, but after the date Wojtek got some bad news. “I found out my dad had had a big stroke,” he says. “Sonia came to the hospital in Birmingham with me and ended up meeting my family.” Wojtek’s father spent the next two months in hospital and Wojtek paused his PhD studies to care for him.
Before Christmas, Sonia returned to Costa Rica; they said their goodbyes not knowing what would happen next. Over the next nine months, they talked online until they had the chance to meet again in September 2007. “I jumped at the chance to present a conference in Costa Rica,” says Wojtek. “After the symposium, we spent a week travelling.”
In April 2008, they met in Colombia, Sonia’s home country, so that Wojtek could meet her family. In September, Wojtek’s father died and he went back to Wales to complete his PhD. “We decided we needed to spend more time together,” says Sonia. “A couple of months later, I came to Wales for eight months.” At the end of 2009, Wojtek travelled to Costa Rica and proposed to Sonia on top of a volcano.
On 15 October 2010, the fourth anniversary of when they got together, they married in Sonia’s home town of Marquetalia, before settling in Colombia. “The first three months of married life were hard while we looked for jobs. Our only luxury was a bottle of cola, if we could afford it,” says Wojtek. He found work as a chemistry teacher in Cali, while Sonia found a research job on the coast, several hours away. He lived with her parents until she got a job in Cali two years later. In 2016, they adopted two five-year-old girls.
As a family, they love to spend time outdoors, camping, cycling, walking and travelling. They have bought a coffee farm in the Andes outside Cali, where they one day hope to retire.
Wojtek says he loves how much his wife cares for him. “I have depression and she’s so understanding. I also love her independence and intellect. We communicate so well and complement each other.” Sonia appreciates his ability to make others feel happy. “When I came to Wales, he was so much fun and knew so many people. He’s a very good person who is kind to everyone.”