There’s a photograph of Laura and Adrian on the day they met. It’s a group shot, taken on the outset of an Inca Trail trek in the autumn of 2010.

Laura’s on one side of the group of hikers, Adrian’s on the other side. They’re both smiling, wearing large backpacks, a dozen fellow travellers in between them. Behind the group is a sign indicating they’re at the beginning of the 26-mile-long, mountainous Inca Trail, rocky green terrain in the distance.

When this photo was taken, Laura and Adrian were more or less strangers. They’d only exchanged a few brief-but-friendly-words of introduction over a pre-trek group lunch. They were embarking on an adventure together, with no idea of the significance of the moment.

“That’s the first picture we ever took together,” Laura tells CNN Travel today. “It’s so funny now to look back and think about what was to come.”

‘Resetting life’

When she decided to hike the Inca Trail, Laura was a recent college graduate from the American Midwest who thought the experience might help her “reset life.”

Laura had graduated into the recession, and while she’d managed to find a job, adulthood so far wasn’t what she’d thought it would be. She felt unfulfilled, unsure and “behind in life” compared to her peers – even though she was only in her early 20s.

It was Laura’s close friend, Liz, who persuaded Laura to hike Machu Picchu – exploring the spectacular Inca citadel was Liz’s dream, but Laura was readily talked into it.

“I thought, ‘Well, that’s going to be so beautiful, really poetic,’” says Laura. “That time of my life was really just a time of discovery, a time of getting to know myself and walking that new path of independence as a young adult.”

What better way, Laura thought, to metaphorically walk this “new path” than literally hike a path trodden by many before her? The Inca Trail experience, Laura figured, would help her get out of own head. She loved travelling and learning about other cultures, other places. So, sold on the prospect, Laura packed a backpack and travelled with Liz to Peru.

In Cusco, the onetime capital of the Inca Empire, Laura and Liz joined a tour group ready to embark on the four-day trek – all travellers embarking on the Inca Trail must do so via a group tour, accompanied by porters and guides, and with permits presecured.

Before beginning the hike, the travellers had lunch together, making their introductions. In Liz and Laura’s group, there were a handful of other travellers from the U.S., a few from Brazil, a few from Argentina and one guy from Costa Rica: Adrian.

Twentysomething Adrian told the other travellers he’d dreamed of hiking the Inca Trail since he was a kid.

“Machu Picchu was a place that I’d really wanted to go to for a very long time,” Adrian reiterates to CNN Travel today.

Over lunch on that first day, Laura thought Adrian seemed friendly, enthusiastic, outdoorsy – a nice guy. But really, everyone on the hike seemed nice. And Laura and Adrian, who’ve requested their last names not be included in this article for privacy reasons, had only really exchanged pleasantries at that point.

As they began the trek, walking through the farmland of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, Laura started talking to one of the South American travellers about her job. She soon found herself struggling to explain risk management and insurance in her then-subpar Spanish.

Suddenly, Adrian was by her side, jumping in.

“He walked up to us, and in English was like, ‘Okay, this is what he is trying to tell you.’ And then summarized in Spanish and was like, ‘Okay, this is what she is trying to tell you.’ He served as a translator for both of us.”

Laura was impressed – not least because Adrian seemed to understand a lot about her job, even though she hadn’t shared many details.

“I’m in insurance too,” Adrian explained. He told Laura he worked with his father, who owned an insurance agency in their coastal town in Costa Rica. Laura was curious to learn more, and she and Adrian talked about their shared career for a little while.

“That was a fun commonality,” says Laura today. “But we were still busy meeting everyone else. So it’s not that, at that moment, Adrian and I hit it off and we stayed together for the rest of the hike. But it was the first moment that we connected, and realized we had something in common.”

Later that evening, as the group set up camp at their first campsite, the porters pitching tents and heating up food on portable stoves, Adrian and Laura “talked a little more,” as Adrian recalls it.

And gradually, over the next few days, Adrian and Laura often ended up walking side by side, with Liz in tow, enjoying the views together.

“The Inca Trail was beautiful,” recalls Laura. “Not only is a lot of the trail still original dry stone construction, but there is lots of gorgeous scenery and sites along the way. We camped each night and drank plenty of coca tea to stave off altitude sickness.”

As they crossed mountain passes together, surveying expansive views, the three hikers chatted about their lives.

“We started spending more and more time together,” says Adrian of this period.

“That’s how we got to know each other,” says Laura.

Exploring Machu Picchu together

While Laura liked Adrian’s company and enjoyed learning more about him, and Adrian found himself increasingly drawn to Laura, their dynamic on the Inca Trail was friendly rather than romantic.

“Adrian was just a friend,” Laura says. “Throughout the time that we were in Peru, it was just a friendship.”

Plus, Liz was always in the mix too – Adrian was as much Liz’s friend as he was Laura’s friend. They got on well as a trio.

On day four, the group reached Machu Picchu in the late morning. The sprawling Inca citadel, enveloped in mist, was everything Adrian had dreamed it would be.

“Seeing it live was, to me, way more impressive than all the pictures and documentaries I had seen,” he says.

Laura also marvelled at the archaeological site, feeling very grateful that Liz had persuaded her to embark on the trek.

“Throughout the trail the masonry and stonework was incredible, but arriving to Machu Picchu via the Sun Gate in the morning was the highlight,” she says. “We had hours to explore the city, take it in and think about the people who used to live there.”

Most of the tour group were travelling back to Aguas Calientes, the closest town to Machu Picchu early afternoon, via bus – but by coincidence, Adrian, Laura and Liz all had bus tickets booked for later in the day.

“So we were able to spend more time in Machu Picchu, just walking around the three of us,” says Adrian. “That helped us connect a bit more.”

“It really was fun,” says Laura.

Eventually late afternoon rolled around, and Laura and Liz had to head for their bus, but Adrian still had a few hours to spare. It was time to say goodbye.

“I remember thinking, should we exchange information or not?” recalls Laura. She remembers turning this thought over in her mind as she and Liz hugged Adrian farewell.

Eventually, Laura decided “you meet a lot of people while travelling. It’s okay to compartmentalize this.”

“This was a beautiful time, and it was great we got to know Adrian, but it can be something that lives within itself on that trip,” she thought.

Adrian also felt a slight twinge of regret as Laura headed off to the bus stop, but brushed it off too. It was great to meet Laura and Liz, he thought. It was amazing to share the Machu Picchu experience with like minded strangers. But they lived in different countries. They’d likely never see each other again.

The group said their farewells, “just leaving it as it was,” as Laura puts it.

An unexpected reunion

Getting off the bus in Aguas Calientes, Laura and Liz headed straight to a bar, ordering post-trek refreshment in the shape of cold beers.

The two friends sat on a table outside, chatting about the Machu Picchu experience and watching the world go by as evening descended.

They’d been there for a few hours when, to Laura’s surprise, she spotted Adrian, on the other side of the road. She almost gasped in shock. Then she shouted his name, waving to get his attention.

On the other side of the street, Adrian turned around, then he saw Laura. He grinned and returned the wave, before crossing the road to say hello.

“To see Adrian randomly, walking down the street, it just felt like, ‘Oh my gosh, okay, we’re meant to spend more time together,” says Laura. “It was just serendipitous.”

Adrian had intended to head straight to the train station to travel from Aguas Calientes back to Cusco. Instead, he spent the next few hours drinking and chatting with Laura and Liz.

“I remember talking about Shakira a lot,” says Laura. “Because who doesn’t love Shakira?”

They also talked about their respective home countries, and Adrian – only half joking – told the Americans all the things he didn’t like about the U.S. But when Liz talked about Chicago, and Laura about her home in Milwaukee, Adrian admitted he’d always wanted to visit the Midwest and experience a freezing winter’s day.

“You know what, maybe we can do an exchange,” Adrian said. “You guys can host me in the U.S. during winter, and then I’ll host you in Costa Rica in the summer.”

Laura laughed.

“The U.S. in midwinter is not the same as going to a beach town in Costa Rica,” she said. “But if you think it is, that sounds excellent.”

As they downed their beers, the group realized they were all booked on the same flight the next day from Cusco to Lima. So when they said their goodbyes, Adrian arranged to reunite with Laura and Liz at the airport the next day.

Then, on the flight to Lima, Adrian and Laura sat together, picking up where they’d left off the night before.

“We got to talk more,” says Adrian.

At the airport in Lima, with Adrian about to head back to Costa Rica and Laura and Liz returning to the U.S., they exchanged contact details.

For Laura, randomly seeing Adrian again “felt a little prearranged, or a little celestial,” she says. She didn’t want to miss the moment again.

The beginning of a ‘deep connection’

When Adrian got back to Costa Rica, he immediately sent Laura an email, saying how great it was to meet her. The two started sending messages back and forth, then they switched to phone calls.

Adrian stayed in touch with Liz as well, but they didn’t speak as regularly. And while Adrian and Liz’s messages were friendly, Adrian and Laura started developing what Laura calls a “deep connection.”

“It was really interesting to get to know each other that way, over the phone,” she says. “Adrian and I became closer.”

While they spoke regularly, updating one another about their day-to-day lives, thinking about each other often, it wasn’t obvious what this “deep connection” really entailed. An air of romance seemed to be hanging over them, but Laura kept talking herself out of this hypothesis.

“Perhaps we’re just close friends,” she thought.

Laura and Adrian regularly talked about fulfilling that promise they’d made in the bar in Agua Calientes – about Adrian coming to the U.S., and Laura travelling to Costa Rica. They both wanted to make it happen, but Laura says “at that time, it still felt very conceptual.”

Laura had spent most of her money on the trip to Peru. She didn’t have any vacation time left. She wasn’t sure she and Adrian could see each other again any time soon.

“So it was great to build this friendship,” Laura says. “But we had no idea where it would go.”

But then, one day in December 2010, Adrian booked a spontaneous trip to the U.S. He planned to fly into Chicago and visit Liz and Laura over New Year.

When Laura heard the news, she was buzzing with anticipation.

“I was very excited to see Adrian,” she recalls.

“I was super excited to see Laura too,” says Adrian.

The two spent the first few days of Adrian’s trip with Liz in Chicago – and while Laura and Adrian felt drawn to each other, they remained firmly “just friends.”

“In Chicago, it was still really the three of us,” says Laura. “It was only later, when it was just the two of us, that things changed.”

Over New Year’s, Liz stayed in Chicago, while Adrian travelled with Laura to her home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

In Milwaukee, Adrian was the first to voice his romantic feelings, but it still took him a few days. He wanted to be sure he hadn’t misread the situation, and jokes he was worried Laura would “kick him out on the streets in winter.”

When Adrian told her how he felt, Laura was still a “little surprised,” as she recalls it.

She’d felt maybe their friendship was “destined for more,” but “wasn’t really sure how to read it.”

“I was a little confused,” she recalls. “But it was still really fun to be together.”

And by the end of Adrian’s trip, both Adrian and Laura were certain they wanted to see each other again. Laura still wanted to come to Costa Rica, but her lack of vacation days made that tricky, so instead, Adrian returned to the U.S. a few times for long weekends.

“It was fun,” says Adrian. “I love travelling, so it was just fun to go and do some travelling - and then to be with someone so great.”

Each trip, Laura and Adrian grew closer, but they hadn’t really labelled what was happening between them. Their attitude, Adrian says, was “let's see how things go, we’ll take it trip by trip.”

A visit to Costa Rica

By spring 2011, Laura was working out how she could make a trip to Costa Rica a reality. Liz was keen to go too, but was less enthusiastic about third-wheeling Laura and Adrian. In the end, Liz and Laura persuaded two other friends to come along as well. The party arrived in May 2011, greeted by Adrian and ready to explore.

“It was really, really fun,” says Laura of this trip. “Adrian was our guide. One of the things about Adrian is, although he works in finance, at his heart he is an outdoorsman, so I think in a parallel life, he would be a guide or a park ranger. That’s where his soul is. So he had so much fun showing us around Costa Rica.”

All of Laura’s friends had a great time, but for Laura, the experience was particularly special. She loved seeing Adrian in his home country, and seeing everything through his eyes.

“He loves Costa Rica, he’s so proud of the country,” she says. “And it was really beautiful to see, from his perspective, what a jewel the country is.”

Over the trip, Adrian also introduced the group to his friends and family. They immediately welcomed Laura into the fold.

“Adrian’s friends are really amazing. He has his very, very close group of friends. It was so cool to hear their perspective on Adrian and hear all of these stories – they’ve all known him since childhood,” says Laura.

Adrian says his loved ones were enthusiastic about his potential romance with Laura, even if they weren’t sure how it would pan out.

“They were excited for me,” says Adrian. “They know that I love travelling and adventures. So, they were just thinking that that was just another adventure.”

As for Laura’s friends, while they had a fantastic time in Costa Rica and really liked Adrian, they were convinced the romantic connection between Laura and Adrian had an end date. The long distance seemed insurmountable, and they were worried Laura would end up heartbroken.

“They were like, ‘You are crazy. What is your endgame?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know,’” recalls Laura. “It’s not that they weren’t supportive. They didn’t want me to get hurt. They didn’t want me to be invested in something that just seemed so unlikely to have a long-term outcome.”

But Laura wasn’t swayed by their doubts. Her time in Costa Rica made her more sure of her relationship with Adrian than ever.

“It felt like Adrian really could see me for who I was,” she says. “And I felt so appreciated by that.”

Laura’s parents, who’d briefly met Adrian during his trip to Milwaukee, joked that if it all worked out, they’d have a great place to go for future vacations. But they were also a little apprehensive about the impact of long distance.

Laura remembers telling her loved ones: “Yes, I get on paper, this looks crazy. But we really have a strong connection. And he is a really good person. And someone who makes me a good version of myself.”

Long-distance relationship

Over the next year or so, Adrian and Laura met up whenever they could. In between visits, they sent long emails and spoke on the phone for hours.

Over the course of these visits, Adrian and Laura became increasingly certain of their future. The decision to get engaged was the obvious next step. Adrian proposed in 2012 at the Observation Tower at the Audubon Nature Center in Milwaukee, looking over Lake Michigan.

In December 2013, the couple threw a weekend-long wedding party in Costa Rica, featuring a bilingual wedding ceremony and a party that concluded in a traditional carnival – a Costa Rican wedding tradition that turns the last hour or so of the reception into a riotous, colourful celebration.

“You have masks and drums, and everyone has fun accessories that they wear,” explains Laura. “It was so fun.”

The wedding was also a chance for Laura and Adrian’s loved ones, who lived in different countries and didn’t often get the chance to see one another, to spend time together. Liz, who’d remained close to Laura and Adrian, was in Laura’s wedding party. Adrian took many of the wedding guests on tours around the nearby Manuel Antonio National Park.

After the wedding, Laura moved to Costa Rica. It was both a big decision, and an easy one – after the long period of long distance, Laura and Adrian were thrilled to be together.

“It felt so good to be able to, finally, just live in that moment, and feel so much more at peace,” says Laura.

“It was nice to not have to worry about taking a flight just to see each other,” agrees Adrian.

Laura started working with Adrian at his father’s insurance company.

“We worked a lot, but it was really great getting to spend all of that time together,” says Laura.

It was an exciting period, but for Laura, it was also an adjustment, and there were changes to navigate – she was used to living in a U.S. Midwest city, now she lived in a small town in Costa Rica.

“When I thought about what my life would look like, it was never living in a super small town on the edge of a jungle,” says Laura.

But while there were cultural differences to navigate, and a language to perfect, Laura credits Adrian’s loved ones, particularly his friends, for making her feel at home.

“Adrian’s friends used to get together every Friday night, at a restaurant – one of them owned a restaurant – and that it was just such a community,” she says. “I could see how much they loved Adrian, and they just immediately made me feel included. And so that was my comfort – I felt confident that I would be able to find a place there, even if it wasn’t exactly what I had imagined for myself.”

Laura and Adrian lived together for several years in Costa Rica, before they made the decision to move to the U.S. There were a number of reasons why they made this decision – not least the desire of Adrian, who still fantasized about snowy Midwestern winters, to experience living in a cold climate. They relocated close to Laura’s family, in Milwaukee.

There were complications along the way – Adrian had to get a U.S. visa, which took a little while. More long distance followed.

The couple also joke that they did the opposite of what most people do in “moving from a beach town in Costa Rica to the Rust Belt of the U.S.”

But it was the right decision for them. In Milwaukee, Adrian found plenty of scope for engaging in the outdoorsy activities he loves, often with Laura’s dad as a companion, as he “was always up for adventures and camping and hunting and skiing.”

Adventures together

Today, Laura and Adrian still live in Milwaukee, and they now have a three-year-old daughter.

“Even though we’re raising her in the U.S., we want her to know and love Costa Rica, not only because that’s where Adrian’s family is, but also just because it’s an amazing country,” says Laura. “I want her to feel empowered to be able to go there and be able to feel like she fits in.”

They’re teaching their daughter Spanish as well as English, and they chose a name, explains Adrian, that’s written and pronounced the same way in both languages.

Laura and Adrian say bringing up a child together has brought them even closer. Their daughter was born in the middle of the pandemic, so the couple had to navigate the early months just the two of them. It wasn’t an easy period – Laura was suffering from postpartum depression and COVID regulations meant Adrian’s family couldn’t visit from Costa Rica.

“But eventually, Adrian’s family was able to meet our daughter,” says Laura. “And I think that was a really, really special time, because it had just been so long coming.”

During those first few years, Laura’s parents were also an invaluable support and became very close with their granddaughter. Then, in 2023, Laura’s father was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. He passed away earlier in 2024.

“We were both very close to my dad,” says Laura. “Adrian and my dad bonded immediately over a love of the outdoors, and, I think, a strong work ethic. They had a lot of similar personality traits. And my dad and I had always been very close. And so this last year has been a challenge.”

Laura and Adrian navigated the challenges and emotions associated with Laura’s father’s illness together. It was important for them to spend lots of time with Laura’s parents, to cherish moments with Laura’s father, and for Laura and Adrian’s daughter to have “as many memories with him as possible.”

Since Laura’s father passed away, Laura and Adrian have leaned on and supported one another.

“We’re able to rely on each other and talk openly about the grief,” says Laura. “We’ve been a good team in supporting each other.”

“That’s one of the main things that I love about Laura,” adds Adrian. “I think together we are a good team.”

Adrian thinks this sense of teamwork stems from the strong foundations they established at each stage of their relationship – from their early days as friends, phoning one another from afar; to their period navigating growing a relationship long distance; to Laura’s years in Costa Rica; to Adrian’s move to the U.S. to today, raising their daughter together and navigating life’s ups and downs as a couple.

“I personally feel lucky that we have had the chance to go through all those phases together,” says Adrian.

Throughout their years together, Adrian and Laura have remained “open to adventures” – both literal – in 2019, they hiked Kilimanjaro together – and metaphorical.

“Our life and our marriage have been an adventure,” is how Adrian puts it.

The couple are looking forward to sharing the stories of these adventures with their daughter once she’s a little older.

“And we would like to go back to Cusco, and show her the place where we met, and just tell her a little more about our story,” says Adrian. “I think that it would be super cool if we get the chance to hike with her on the Inca Trail and show her where everything started.”

The couple remain good friends with Liz – in fact they’re spending this Easter Saturday 2024 with Liz and her family.

Today, Laura marvels that she almost let Adrian walk out of her life after they left Machu Picchu.

“It just feels like something that could have been so inconsequential, and instead, really changed the course of our histories,” she says of their meeting on the Inca Trail.

“Something so small that occurred, and then had such a ripple effect over the rest of our lives. It just feels like the luckiest coincidence in the world.”