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'I will forget you,' she told a man she met while travelling. She never did and they found unexpected love

Isabel Barroeta and Doug Schneider fell in love while spending Christmas in the Dominican Republic in 2000. (Isabel Barroeta) Isabel Barroeta and Doug Schneider fell in love while spending Christmas in the Dominican Republic in 2000. (Isabel Barroeta)
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He decided to spend Christmas somewhere that wouldn't involve snowstorm disasters. She was spending the holidays with family, travelling for the first time outside of her native country of Venezuela.

Both weren't expecting to meet someone special the night they crossed paths at a bar in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.

Describing himself as an independent person who had lived in and travelled to many places, Doug Schneider, then aged 36, decided to travel alone to the Caribbean country in 2000. He swore he wouldn't endure another nasty snowstorm, which he experienced during the previous Christmas with his family on Vancouver Island. Isabel Barroeta, a 26-year-old university student from Venezuela at the time, was on vacation at a resort for two weeks. She said her grandparents invited her to join them on the trip with her uncle and his family.

"I was telling my mom how I'm going to go away for Christmas without you," Barroeta said in a video interview with CTVNews.ca. "And she's like, just go, I will be here when you come back in January."

Schneider and Barroeta stayed at different hotels but ended up one night at Crazy Moon, a bar in a mall in the middle of a complex with nine resorts.

After some hesitation, Barroeta decided to join some Canadian girls who invited her there that night.

"I was like 'but I don't really know these people' and my family is like, 'Just go ahead. We are on vacation. We are so close. If something goes wrong or you see something funny, just come back.'"

At first, the women – including Barroeta – were attracted to Schneider's companion, another Canadian solo traveller whom he was hanging out with at the bar.

"The interesting thing is he was a really good looking guy. All the women kind of swoon over him and everybody was very interested to talk to him before me," Schneider said in a video interview with CTVNews.ca. "I don't know, whatever he would say, within 30 seconds, any woman who was talking to him would just leave and then they would talk to me."

Travel brought together Isabel Barroeta and Doug Schneider. (Isabel Barroeta)

Isabel Barroeta and Doug Schneider hit it off despite language barriers. (Isabel Barroeta)

First time they met

Barroeta admitted blonde men weren't exactly her type, but Schneider's blue eyes stood out.

"Actually, the blue in his eyes is very beautiful, but the blonde I was like, I don't like, but he was attractive," she said.

Barroeta recalled the moment she first met Schneider. He offered her a chair to sit on and she eventually admitted that she didn't speak much English. He also didn't understand any Spanish.

The Canadian girls soon introduced him to her. That's when the "magic" started, Barroeta said.

"Canadian girls on vacation aren't really interested in meeting a Canadian guy so they were pretty quick to brush me off," Schneider said.

Schneider and Barroeta recalled the Latin dance music was loud and the place was crowded, so they ended up going outside the bar.

"The cultural barriers weren't as big as the communication barriers at the beginning," he said.

It was difficult to understand what they were trying to say, Schneider and Barroeta admitted, but they soon hit it off, talking for hours until three in the morning.

They arranged to meet again at the beach the next day.

Barroeta was more than an hour late. "But let's face it. I just met this guy in a bar. I don't know who he is. What if I go to the beach and he wasn't there?" she said. "At least I wouldn't look that foolish."

She found him waiting for her.

They said they spent the next three days hanging out, taking long tranquil walks on the beach, eating dinner with her family and celebrating Christmas.

"When I saw how she interacted with her family ... I said, 'Oh, this is a very nice girl,'" Schneider said.

Since language was a barrier, they communicated at times by drawing pictures on the sand as they walked along the beach.

"When I couldn't express myself properly, then I will draw pictures on the sand and then he will," she said.

It was more of a communication challenge than love at first sight, the couple said.

"It was a little confusing to be perfectly honest because … she couldn't clearly articulate herself in terms of if she was interested in talking to me or not," Schneider said.

When they first exchanged emails and phone numbers before he left, Barroeta said she wrote in a note to him, "I will forget you," mistakenly forgetting a crucial word.

He thought what she wrote might literally be true and asked if that was what she meant. Luckily, she caught the mistake on time and they both laughed about it.

Isabel Barroeta and Doug Schneider kept in touch after meeting in the Dominican Republic in 2000. (Isabel Barroeta)

Isabel Barroeta and Doug Schneider spent Christmas 2000 in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. (Isabel Barroeta)

Keeping in touch

Barroeta returned to her hometown of Barquisimeto, 400 kilometres west of Caracas, on Jan. 3, 2001. That night, she said the phone rang. "It was him," she said. "He was just checking to see if I arrived safely."

As soon as she was back home, she grabbed her books and dictionary to improve her English. "And every time we talk on the phone, I had little notes and my dictionary with me."

Schneider said he travelled to Venezuela four times that year, staying about a week each time. He even got stranded there for four extra days because of the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S.

The following year, she visited Canada for six weeks. They both celebrated their birthdays, which are only two days apart. Just before she left, about a year and a half after they met, he proposed and she said yes.

"It was a long distance relationship but it worked and then we got married in Venezuela," Schneider said, noting they regularly kept in touch through email, phone, text messages and video calls.

When they got married in a Catholic church on Dec. 6, 2002, the country was living through a tumultuous political time. In a bid to oust the Hugo Chávez government, the opposition began a national strike that disrupted commercial activity in the country. Many middle-class residents opposed Chávez's leftist style of governing while he had strong support among the poor, CNN reported on Dec. 24, 2002.

The ceremony didn't go smoothly either. Barroeta said the Catholic priest who knew English didn't show up so they had to scramble to find another one in a few hours. The replacement priest, however, didn't speak English so she had her cousin translate what he said during the ceremony.

For the honeymoon, they went to Margarita Island, a popular resort destination off Venezuela, with her Canadian in-laws.

Isabel Barroeta and Doug Schneider married during a tumultuous political time in Venezuela in 2002. (Isabel Barroeta)

 

Isabel Barroeta and Doug Schneider were married in Venezuela on Dec. 6, 2002. (Isabel Barroeta)

New life in Canada

As Schneider and his family flew back to Canada, she said she waited eight months for her permanent residency application to be approved. She moved to Canada in August 2003.

Knowing how rough Canadian winters can be, Schneider said he made sure she had winter boots and a jacket suitable for -35 C weather. "If you don't dress appropriately for Canada, you're going to hate it," he said. "So I bought her the best winter gear to go into winter because that's a big deal."

Barroeta soon attended a free English school for newcomers, learning the language every day.

Since moving to Ottawa, they have had two sons, aged 18 and 13. They've also travelled together to more than a dozen countries, including returning to the Dominican Republic virtually every year since they first met.

"It perhaps is even destiny, you know. We were at the right place at the right time. It was just meant to be," Barroeta said.

"Twenty-three years later here we are, we were able to establish a beautiful marriage and we have a beautiful family with two fantastic kids and we are happy," she said. "So it is possible ... to meet the right person for you."

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