They met on an airport layover and fell in love


(CNN) — August 1991. Irja Uotila, a Finnish publishing worker residing in New York, determined to lastly fulfill a long-held dream of visiting Latin America.

She’d fantasized about touring by way of the area’s archaeological websites and picturesque cities ever since she was a teen rising up in Finland, poring over journey brochures and daydreaming about future adventures.

Now in her early thirties, Irja was exhausted from an extended summer season navigating layoffs at her office, and coping with some challenges in her private life.

This was the time to go for it, Irja determined, she was going to take these trip days and luxuriate in that dream journey.

She needed a trip the place she may calm down, but in addition get to know the tradition and historical past of the vacation spot. After intensive analysis, Irja pinpointed Oaxaca, Mexico as the right spot.

There was just one challenge. There have been no direct flights from New York Metropolis to Oaxaca Metropolis, so she’d have to vary flights in Mexico Metropolis and keep in a single day.

“I used to be pretty skilled and pretty seasoned as a traveler and every part else. However the prospect of me touchdown in Mexico Metropolis round 10 p.m., in a metropolis of 20-plus million inhabitants, not talking Spanish, was not very enticing,” Irja tells CNN Journey at this time.

She mentioned her trip plans with associates, together with Marcus, a former coworker of Irja’s who’d grown up in Mexico.

“I do have this pal,” she recollects Marcus saying. “, he was right here in New York lately. Possibly he will help you out.”

Marcus was considering of his outdated highschool pal, Jesús Estrella Jurado. Marcus gave Jesús a name and requested if he’d be capable of meet Irja on the airport.

Calling overseas was pricey, so Marcus simply relayed the important thing particulars: her identify’s Irja, she’s from Finland, she lives in New York Metropolis, these are her flight particulars — and he or she’ll be touchdown in just a few days.

Jesús stated sure immediately. Positive, he did not know a lot about Irja — and Marcus hadn’t given him a lot discover — however he needed to assist out his pal.

“I do not know who’s coming, however I am going to do my greatest,” he recollects considering, spelling out Irja’s identify on a selfmade signal and shopping for a bouquet of flowers to current her with upon her arrival.

When Irja stepped by way of the crowds at Mexico Metropolis Airport arrivals, Jesús was struck by her immediately. “Simply her smile, her eyes,” he recollects now.

Irja, in the meantime, was exhausted. She’d gone straight from work to the airport, however as quickly she was launched to Jesús, she felt comfy in his presence. “He appears variety,” she remembers considering. There was a form of decency about him, she says, that she warmed to immediately.

Jesús requested Irja if she was hungry. He working two jobs on the time, as a dentist and half time for his household’s enterprise, and he’d simply completed for the day was eager to seize a chew to eat.

Irja was prepared for some meals too, in order that they headed to a close-by restaurant.

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Irja met Jesús touring to Oaxaca, Mexico. Right here she is exploring the archaeological web site of Monte Albán that August 1991.

Courtesy Irja Uotila-Estrella

They began chatting within the automobile, and the dialog continued to movement within the restaurant. They talked about Mexico, about New York and Finland, their mutual pal Marcus and their travels.

“I used to be having fun with her dialog,” says Jesús. “But additionally, I used to be having fun with the way in which she was exhibiting me her eyes. They have been stunning, shiny eyes.

“I used to be not totally conscious that I used to be in love,” he provides. “However positively that was the driving power.”

It was late once they bought to the restaurant, and it was later nonetheless once they completed up.

They’d solely recognized one another just a few hours, however the tiredness they’d each felt earlier had dissipated, and so they needed to proceed their dialog.

Jesús advised that, reasonably than checking right into a lodge, Irja may keep at his brother’s condo, which was presently unoccupied.

Wanting again, Irja says she’s acutely aware she took a threat, trusting somebody who was basically a stranger.

“Right here I’m, in an odd metropolis, in part of the world that I’ve by no means visited earlier than, it is the nighttime right here, am I doing one thing that is secure? Or is that this actually silly?” she says at this time.

“However on the identical time, I believed that we had a mutual pal, that each of us have been very shut with. After which I simply form of stated to myself: ‘Nicely, I assume you must belief folks, you must watch out, however on the identical time, you can not lose all of the belief.'”

The following day, Jesús gave Irja a carry again to the airport. On the way in which, he stopped off at his household’s enterprise the place Irja met his mom and brother.

Again on the airport, Irja and Jesús stated goodbye, hoping to cross paths every week later, when Irja could be connecting again by way of Mexico Metropolis to return residence.

“I did go to Oaxaca Metropolis, which I feel remains to be one in every of my greatest journey experiences,” says Irja.

Regardless of her pleasure at having met Jesús, somebody she’d clicked with instantly, she was actually glad to be vacationing on her personal after a troublesome summer season.

“I feel it was very therapeutic,” she says.


Irja took of Jesús earlier than they stated goodbye at Mexico Metropolis Airport in August 1991.

Courtesy Irja Uotila-Estrella

On her manner again to New York, Jesús and Irja tried to satisfy once more, however they virtually missed each other.

When Jesús bought to the airport and he could not discover Irja wherever, he had no manner of contacting her. More and more fearful he’d missed her, he approached the airport employees and requested in the event that they’d make an announcement over the overhead speaker.

Lastly, he discovered her with minutes to spare. Irja and Jesús stated goodbye and promised to keep up a correspondence, however neither of them had any expectations.

“The very last thing that at that time in my life that I needed to have was a person in my life, not to mention a long-distance relationship,” says Irja.

However earlier than she left, she snapped a photograph of Jesús. She needed to recollect him.

And when she bought residence, she despatched him a thanks card.

“I saved it,” says Jesús, who wrote her again, sending a postcard adorned with photos of different components of Mexico.

On the again, he wrote that if she ever made it again, he’d love to indicate her across the nation.

Irja and Jesús continued to ship letters backwards and forwards, and likewise communicate on the telephone occasionally, however the communication remained sporadic.

“There was no e-mail, clearly no FaceTime, no texting,” says Irja. “The mail between New York and Mexico Metropolis was a bit erratic too. And the perfect you could possibly do was simply name lengthy distance — and I nonetheless keep in mind very distinctly that it used to price about 90 US cents per minute.”

A shock gone incorrect

In November 1991, three months after Irja’s journey to Mexico, a possibility arose for Jesús to go to New York for work.

He was so excited on the thought of seeing Irja once more. He determined to border the journey as a “full shock” and solely inform her he was in New York after he’d arrived.

He stopped speaking with Irja within the lead-up to his go to so as to add to the shock.

However from Irja’s perspective, Jesús had simply stopped calling her. She was confused — and when she discovered he was in New York, it was the very last thing she anticipated.

“I feel I actually bought a name from our mutual pal saying like, ‘Oh, you recognize, Jesús is on the town, would you want for the three of us to get collectively?'”

Irja agreed however wasn’t positive what to assume.

When Jesús and Marcus got here spherical to Irja’s condo, it shortly grew to become clear to Jesús his plan was a foul one.

“Oh my God, I keep in mind going again to my pal’s home, as a result of I stayed in a single day with him, and I used to be so depressing,” he says.

Again in Mexico, fearful he’d blown it, Jesús was relieved when he bought a telephone name from Irja that Thanksgiving.

“I did not assume that encounter was fairly so unfavorable,” says Irja. “I used to be simply stunned.”

Since returning to New York, Irja had began taking Spanish classes and studying piles of books on Mexico’s historical past and tradition.

“I had actually fallen in love with Mexico after being in Oaxaca — positively Mexico, wasn’t so positive about [him],” says Irja.

She determined to plan one other journey for January 1992, this time staying for 10 days.

“That point round, I truly did construct Mexico Metropolis into it deliberately,” she provides.

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In 1992 Irja returned to Mexico and traveled with Jesús to Taxco, a picturesque metropolis southwest of Mexico Metropolis. This journey was a turning level for the couple.

Courtesy Irja Uotila-Estrella

Over the course of Irja’s January 1992 journey, Irja and Jesús lastly had the chance to construct on the connection that had first sparked at Mexico Metropolis Airport.

Whereas Irja spent a few of trip touring alone, the 2 additionally loved exploring collectively. Jesús ready genuine Mexican tamales for Irja, and confirmed her his favourite spots within the metropolis.

They usually traveled collectively to Taxco, a metropolis recognized for its structure and rugged mountainous surrounds.

“It is very talked-about with vacationers, an outdated silver mining city,” says Irja. “And it’s extremely romantic. Like, you recognize, if you’re alleged to fall in love, that is most likely the place.”

“The journey was, I feel, an enormous success,” says Jesús, recalling driving by way of the mountains with Irja and admiring Taxco’s magnificence.

“I assume that is what you’d name like a turning level,” says Irja.

“After that, issues have been a bit extra stable,” agrees Jesús.

The couple returned to their respective houses decided to make a long-distance relationship work.

Lengthy distance romance

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Embarking on a long-distance relationship, Jesús and Irja traveled backwards and forwards from Mexico to the US to see each other. Right here they’re in Philadelphia in summer season 1992.

Courtesy Irja Uotila-Estrella

In March, Irja traveled to Mexico, assembly up with Jesús for an extended weekend that coincided along with her birthday.

“That was the primary time I went to the home of Frida Kahlo, and it occurred to be beneath renovation,” she recollects.

Once they arrived on the Blue Home, the couple have been informed the museum was closed.

Jesús stepped in. “She’s come a great distance,” he stated. “And he or she’s a fan, are you able to please let her in?”

“They did, so I bought my little personal tour,” says Irja.

A couple of months later, in Might 1992, Jesús got here to New York. “After all, she was ready for me on the airport,” he recollects with a smile.

In between the journeys, the couple saved up for long-distance telephone calls and flights. This back-and-forth outlined their relationship for the subsequent few years, however Jesús spent more and more lengthy stints in New York.

After all Irja had met a few of Jesús’s household in Mexico throughout their very first encounter, however the couple did not journey to Finland to satisfy Irja’s household till 1994.

The yr earlier than, Irja endured some well being points, and her dad and mom, who already appreciated the sound of Jesús, have been irrevocably received spherical once they discovered how he’d been there for her throughout this robust time.

“He was the one who was at my facet and supported me by way of that have,” says Irja.

Their associates have been additionally completely happy for them, significantly Marcus, the pal who’d introduced them collectively.

In December 1995, Irja and Jesús have been married in a civil ceremony, adopted by a small spiritual ceremony the yr after.

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In December 1995, Irja and Jesus bought married in a civil ceremony after which loved a modest church marriage ceremony in September 1996 in New York Metropolis, pictured right here.

Courtesy Irja Uotila-Estrella

They’d purchased rings collectively on a return journey to Taxco earlier that yr. On the time, they hadn’t had a marriage date mounted, but it surely appeared like the right alternative.

“Taxco is a well-known silver mining city the place they promote all types of silver gadgets together with jewelery with native stones,” says Irja. “The thought was one thing like ‘we’re right here on this excellent place, so we would as properly purchase rings in case we should always want them any time sooner or later.'”

Irja, who’d lived in New York for a number of years, had a US Inexperienced Card. Following their marriage, Jesús went by way of an extended US immigration course of.

Then the couple may lastly be collectively in the identical nation, completely. However this wasn’t with out its difficulties.

“We went by way of that entire technique of any individual coming from one other nation as knowledgeable, after which working into all these hurdles — how you must return to highschool, form of requalify your self,” recollects Irja.

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Irja and Jesús have a daughter, Erica. Right here they’re at a household renion in Irja’s hometown of Hämeenlinna, Finland, in August 2001.

Courtesy Irja Uotila-Estrella

Jesús deserted dentistry after discovering he’d must retrain for a number of years earlier than working towards in america. As an alternative, he began a photograph and video enterprise.

“As a result of I met Irja I got here to New York and I began a brand new life right here beneath situations that I did not think about,” says Jesús. “However actually, I can let you know that feeling, that you just really feel inside — it makes life stunning wherever.”

The couple fortunately settled into their New York life collectively and some years later welcomed a daughter, Erica.

“We selected a reputation that works in Finland, Mexico and in america,” says Irja.

30 years later

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In December 2020, Irja and Jesús celebrated their silver marriage ceremony anniversary amid Covid-19 restrictions. 2021 additionally marks 30 years since they met at Mexico Metropolis Airport.

Courtesy Irja Uotila-Estrella

Immediately, Irja and Jesús nonetheless dwell in New York, they each work in hospitals within the metropolis and run the picture and video enterprise half time on the facet.

Jesús works in hospital affected person relations. Irja — now fluent in Spanish in addition to Finnish, English and Swedish — works in translation providers for her hospital.

“Each of us have gone by way of the nightmare of Covid-19 in New York Metropolis,” says Irja.

However the two are grateful for the help they’ve proven one another all through the previous yr.

“I feel that has been one of many strongest experiences that we have had collectively,” says Irja.

In 2021, Irja and Jesús will have fun 30 years since they met at Mexico Metropolis Airport, and 25 years since they celebrated their marriage in New York.

Within the intervening many years they’ve visited Taxco many occasions, together with with daughter Erica. Additionally they loved returning to the Frida Kahlo Museum with Erica in tow.

The household have additionally frolicked in Finland and traveled collectively in Europe.

“Journey provides you a distinct perspective, a perspective by yourself tradition, but in addition, I feel it form of opens up your thoughts,” says Irja, including it was essential to the couple to cross on their wanderlust to Erica.

“The story of how they met and their relationship on the whole positively makes me imagine in real love, form of like a fairytale romance sort,” says Erica, who’s in her early 20s and studied tourism and hospitality in school.

“I additionally assume it’s extremely distinctive and interesting how two folks from reverse sides of the world got here to satisfy and have a daughter who’s half Mexican and half Finnish,” she provides. “I take into account myself cool and distinctive for that purpose!”

“The story of how they met and their relationship on the whole positively makes me imagine in real love, form of like a fairytale romance sort”

Erica, Jesús and Irja’s daughter

Thirty years since they first met, each Irja and Jesús nonetheless get pleasure from studying new issues about one another — each the nice and the not so good, they are saying, laughing.

And whereas the couple typically look again on the magic coincidence of their first encounter, they’re additionally trying ahead to the longer term.

“Regardless that we’ve variations, it is so good to be collectively, and simply hold having fun with the sensation that make us determine to be collectively, hopefully for a few years sooner or later,” says Jesús.

“Life retains simply being so beneficiant, so great. In order that’s my feeling — is being grateful for that.”

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