I remember a romantic encounter over a year ago when I was in La Paz, Bolivia. He was an Argentinian artist who co-owned a bar and painted murals on commission. He had spent the past week juggling broken old mobile phones and walkie-talkies on the streets of Sopocachi and Calacoto, hoping for people to be amused enough to spare a few coins and notes so he wouldn't have to rely on his bank account for food while travelling. Prominent among the plethora of bracelets on his left wrist was a band with blue and white stripes, and a stoic-looking golden sun. The dialect of Castilian he spoke was like gentle rain on a dry wheat field.
We met at Plaza Murillo one cold Friday afternoon in the Southern Hemisphere summer of 2015-2016. It could easily have been 8°C, so I wore the new alpaca wool hoodie I'd bought the previous day. He spotted me petting a bystander's puppy and stopped to ask if I had any dogs myself. I was a little weirded out but I responded, anyway. I told him I had four back in the Philippines. He said he had one back in Buenos Aires before quipping about how I might not need such a warm sweater in my country. "Sho me shamo Miguel," he went on. "Y vos?"
My response would become one of my biggest regrets that year. It was the destruction of possibilities. It was the beginning of something that could never last more than a night. After honouring his accent with a friendly mock -- "Jefe, BOSS, por qué hablas como la shuvia?" -- and telling him he wasn't getting my sweater, I said my name was David because I liked the sound of it and I also didn't think I wanted to see him again after that day. He was handsome, sure, but I stereotyped him as an Argentinian. After all, they do have a global reputation for being cocky. And it didn't help that he was clearly fully European-blooded. I don't think one could get any blonder than him. Think of Draco Malfoy's hair, but up to the waist.
The puppy's owner had to leave, so we took over his bench and chatted a bit more before going for an aimless stroll all over the district. The chemistry was undeniable and the sexual tension was intense. We covered topics ranging from fire-juggling to Eastern Spirituality to progressive Christianity to Ayahuasca, while exchanging innuendos and stealing glances at each other. Before we knew it, the clock had passed 19:00 and the sun was about to set. He stopped walking just in front of a place called Casa del Sol and asked, "Cena?" I was hungry and all there was to do was walk in, so I said yes.
I was so pleasantly surprised that it was a vegetarian restaurant that I grinned from ear to ear, browsing through the menu like a little boy at Disneyland deciding which ride to go on first. I was 100% sure I didn't tell him about my eating habits so I asked him how he knew. He responded with something along the lines of "I wouldn't like you that much if you had struck me as the meat-eating type. And I like you that much." My heart melted. I regretted so much giving him a fake name.
I sat there, ate and chatted all while trying to figure out how I could possibly take my lie back. I went to a bar with him and had around four beers, pretending to have a conversation but really thinking "Will he still like me that much if he finds out I lied about something as basic as my goddamn name?" I went home with him to his Couchsurfing host's flat, stayed the night with my head spinning over how stupid I was to have lied to this incredibly beautiful human being beside me. When the sun returned for another day and we needed to part ways before his host woke up, he wrote his email and number on the back of a faded receipt. I dropped it in my day pack's main compartment and gave him one final kiss before disappearing, never to be seen by him again.
I'd like to romanticise this tale by saying I let the paper float away on a river somewhere, but that would be like saying my name was David -- another lie. I actually just lost it. I tried to dig for it in my day pack and my huge rucksack as I was leaving Bolivia, during my stay in Lima, in Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur, and after I had landed in the Philippines. Nada. It's been over a year and I've given up already, but I will always remember that day. A day of could-haves. A day of what-ifs. A day that gave me a glimpse -- a taste, if you will -- of something beautiful but impossible.
So what does this story have to do with my bean stew in the photo? I ordered one off Casa del Sol's specials menu when Miguel and I were there, and I was absolutely bowled over by how delicious it tasted. It was just sensational! No bean stew has since surpassed its quality.
After I complimented the chef, I was blessed with a piece of culinary treasure when he told me the secret to great chilli is to grill the tomatoes whole until the skin burns and ruptures. Cut them in half, sprinkle a pinch of salt on the inside of each piece and let them sit for at least 15 minutes before throwing them in your pan to sauté in olive oil with onion and garlic. Absolutely lovely, but I can't help but think the chef spoke of more than a recipe that night. For during the days that followed, it was as if my heart had been ripped off my chest, grilled whole, cut in half, salted and thrown in the fire.