Mariane and Stephane

How We Met

Stephane and I met in grade 9. I had just moved to Toronto from Montreal and didn’t speak a word of English. We were friends for a few years. Like most teenagers back then, we spoke on MSN quite regularly. We had similar tastes in music, loved skiing and hiking and we both dreamed to travel after university. One night in grade 11, we both ended up at the same party. Stephane was in charge of the playlist and had brought his iPod.

Mariane and Stephane's Engagement in Patagonia, Argentina

When his parents came to pick him up that night, he left his iPod playing. I was sleeping over at my friend’s house, therefore I was the one who found the iPod in the living room the next morning. I suggested to bring it back home, as we both lived pretty close to each other. I messaged Stephane through MSN, like usual, and we met halfway between our houses, at a nearby plaza, to hand him his iPod. Stephane was a pretty shy guy. But on that day, July 13, 2010, he gathered all the courage a 16-year-old could have and asked me to be his girlfriend.

We spent the rest of high school together, went to prom together and moved on to go to university together, too. After university, as we had always dreamed of, we left on a year-long trip to Asia, Australia, New-Zealand and then moved to Banff, Alberta, to become ski bums for a season. We lived quite an adventure!

Where to Propose in Patagonia, Argentina

How They Asked

We had always talked about going to Patagonia. When you love being outside, secluded, one with nature like we do, Patagonia is the kind of place that screams your name.

We left March 12, a day after the coronavirus was declared a pandemic. In Argentina, there were very very few cases of the virus. We thought we were actually doing ourselves a favor, escaping the scary 50 ish cases in Ontario. We were going on a hiking trip, at the very tip of South America, outside, alone, for 17 days. Sounds great, right? Well, it was. At least for a few days…

We traveled quite a few hours to get to the very start of our trip, El Chaltén—a small town that doubles as a base for hiking numerous trails within the Los Glaciares National Park. We were eager to get going on our first hike to the Laguna Cerro Torres. After a long day hiking 25km to see the glacier, we were looking forward to a cold beer on a patio. To our great regret, the world had another plan. While we were coming down from the mountain, a sign had been posted indicating that the National Park had closed, indefinitely, as ordered by the Argentinian Government.

What did this mean? We went to the National Park Office and came back with not so great news… All Argentinian National Parks had been closed down to try and reduce traffic to stop the spread of the coronavirus. We thought… but… there are so little cases in Argentina—we’re hundreds of kilometers away from the general population… we crossed paths with about 10 people over the span of 9 hours today… what the heck is going on? Our whole trip was around hiking in National Parks. We had tours (a sweet glacier trekking tour!) also in a National Park. We were going to cross into Chile and go to more National Parks to do more hiking and camping, and now we were hearing that they were talking about closing the borders between countries in South America. Everything was falling apart too fast—especially for people who had dreamed about this trip for years.

The tone of the day changed really fast. Our spirits went from very high to very low. We were starting to realize, on day 1 of our actual adventure, that it could be the last of it.

We had planned a rest day the next day. After all, our bodies deserved it. We were sore, but mostly, we were sad and confused. We stayed alert to all updates the Argentinian government would send on that day, including the announcement that they would close the borders between Argentina and Chile. The Chilean leg of our trip was instantly gone. We soaked up the sun by the river that afternoon, mostly silently. We had just arrived, had a killer day the day before, and we all were dying for more. But it just didn’t seem like it was going to be possible. We started canceling Airbnbs. I moved up our internal flight back to Buenos Aires and return flight to Canada almost 2 weeks earlier than planned. We decided we’d make the best of what was left of this adventure.

While hanging out by the river, we noticed quite a few people going up a mountain that seemed to be potentially outside the National Park. HA! Loophole! Or so we believed. We ran back to the Airbnb, changed into hiking gear and headed back to the trailhead. We were stopped pretty much instantly by the owner of that land… She let us know this was private land, and that everyone who had been hiking up that trail that day was getting sent down by a park ranger. Sigh… Change of plan. We turned around to walk back to the river to enjoy the last little bit of the golden hour. We noticed horses had been freed onto the riverbed. It was beautiful scenery. We decided to get closer to them and took advantage of it for a quick snap. That’s when Stephane put his secret plan in action and decided to propose. He didn’t know if he’d still get the chance to do it on a mountain top like he wanted to. His original plan of proposing at sunrise, on a trail with a view of Mount Fitz Roy had been taken right under his nose. Regardless of everything else that was happening to us on this trip, at that moment, the world froze for a minute, and everything was perfect.

The rest of our trip was nothing like your usual post engagement honeymoon. After getting engaged, we had spent the night in a glamping resort that had no signal whatsoever. It was an amazing 24 hours in paradise. Sadly, the next morning as we were eating breakfast, our server came to our table to let us know El Calafate, the next big city, had declared a mandatory quarantine, due to a French tourist testing positive for COVID-19. We were supposed to sleep in El Calafate that night before catching our flight the next day. She advised that we go straight to the airport to avoid getting stuck in quarantine anywhere. We promptly packed up and started driving. When we finally regained signal on our phones, we were swarmed by headlines. “Argentina goes into lockdown”, “Argentina Suspends Most Domestic Travel to Curb Pandemic”, “Argentina Announces Mandatory Quarantine to Curb Coronavirus”. Needless to say, no 24 hours in paradise could prepare us for the anxiety that swarmed our bodies in that instant.

We managed to get out of Patagonia in time. However, we ended up getting stranded in Buenos Aires, needing the help of the Canadian Embassy who provided official papers to help us get home. It was a wild ride, to say the least.

We are now back home, safe and quarantined! Nothing like testing out how to be together literally 24/7. ;)

Special Thanks

Kiro Attia
 | Photographer