How we met: ‘I said: Oh my God – it’s the boy on the bike’

In May last year, Isla Rae-Smith was cycling to the English school where she works in Mérida, in Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula. She stopped at a red light and Valente Saavedra pulled up next to her. “He had speakers on his bike,” says Isla. “I’d always wanted to listen to music on my bike, but I was too scared of wearing headphones when I was cycling on the roads. I said: ‘Good idea,’ in Spanish.”

The lights changed and she cycled off, but Valente caught up with her. They stopped at a roundabout, about to go off in separate directions. Valente asked her name, saying he would add her on Facebook.

What did she like about him? “He was definitely an interesting character. He was listening to quite heavy music; he had earrings and sunglasses. I was attracted to the strangeness of him, maybe.” She laughs. “I guess he looked different.” Valente says he was “really nervous, because I had to go to my school and I was late, but I saw Isla and I thought: ‘Oh wow, she’s beautiful. School can wait, no problem.’” He was delighted she spoke Spanish, although he assumed she was a tourist and would be leaving in a week or so. Did he plan to see her again? “I thought: ‘I need to say something. I need to ask her name and her number.’”

Isla got to her school and told her friend about the man she had met. “I felt it was something out of the ordinary. I wasn’t looking for anything. I had just come out of a long relationship, but it just sort of happened.”

The next night, Isla and her friends, including the one she had told about Valente, were at a bar. The friend spotted him. “I said: ‘Oh my God – it’s the boy on the bike,’” says Isla. “It was a strange coincidence. I was really excited. And I was a bit drunk as well.”

She approached him; Valente says he was “really surprised”. He was with a friend he had already told about meeting Isla. “I was on the dancefloor and Isla is in front of me, really excited.” He had added her on Facebook the day they met. “I sent her a sticker – of two cats on a motorbike. Isla said: ‘Why didn’t you write to me?’ I said: ‘I did – I sent a sticker.’ She said: ‘No, that’s not writing.’”

They talked for a couple of hours – about music, film, their interests – then Valente invited her back to his friend’s house. She went, but soon left. “I didn’t want it all to happen that night. I went home and the next day he messaged me inviting me to his house.” A few months later, she says: “Valente said: ‘I never asked you, by the way – do you want to be my girlfriend?’ We were together, but I guess we became official.”

Isla’s contract with the school finished in August, but she stayed on in Mexico because of Valente. They moved in together about a year ago. “We’re not really sure what’s going to happen,” she says. “We’re going to go back to stay with my family in Sussex in November for a few months, then Valente has to come back to Mexico because he’s part of a dance company and they’re doing a tour. We don’t know what’s going to happen; we don’t really talk about it because every time we do it’s a bit stressful.”

One of the things she likes about Valente, she says, is that “he just gets up and goes. If Valente says he’s going to do something, he does it, usually straight away. He’s really creative and funny. I just feel really comfortable around him, that I can say and do anything. I really feel that I’m myself with him.”

“She’s very energetic,” says Valente. “Her energy is like a bomb. She is always suggesting things to do. I can discover different things about myself.”

It was such a chance meeting, says Isla. “The window of opportunity in which we met was really a few seconds. If the light had been green, we probably wouldn’t be here.” Valente must be pleased to have decided to catch up with her once she sped off, I say. He smiles and says: “On her birthday, I gave her a new bicycle.”