Forget Online Dating — This Couple Met in a Sacred River Canyon in South America

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Clark and Jacqui on their wedding day. (Photo: Clark Kotula)

Who: Clark and Jacqueline Kotula

Where we met: Cusco, Peru

When: 2001

Relationship status: Married

(As told by Clark)

In 2001, I was living in Peru working as the head guide for an expedition outfitter. It was an adventurous job, and I led whitewater rafting, trekking, mountain biking, and cultural tours throughout Peru and South America. Jacqui came to Peru on vacation from Glasgow, Scotland with one of her girlfriends as a sort of bucket list trip to check-in on where she was in life and where she was going. At the time, she was a dentist in an established dental practice in Scotland and had a serious boyfriend.

Jacqui had signed up for a four-day whitewater rafting trip on the Apurimac River, a five-day trek on the Inca trail to Machu Picchu, and a final private extension to Lake Titicaca. I was the trip leader and picked her up from the Cusco airport along with the other group passengers.

Jacqui stopped me dead in my tracks when she arrived. We were both certainly physically smitten at first glance.


Clark and Jacqui when they first met in 2001. (Photo: Clark Kotula)

It was on the rafting trip, camping at the bottom of a 9,000 foot deep sacred river canyon when Jacqui and I got to know each other and share our respective life stories and circumstances. I was living an adventurous dream, but in a way, I was lonely and looking for someone to share this magical journey with me. Jacqui was ingrained in a dead-end relationship, set on a financially rewarding career path, but feeling life was lacking on a deeper, more meaningful, and more adventurous level.

Related: #RealTravel: A Layover Worth the Wait—This Couple Met at an Airport in Uruguay

You could say we both offered one another something that the other was lacking. The seed was sown, but when the trip was over, she headed back to Scotland. I just hoped that one day I would see her again.

Jacqui had to return to Scotland and split up a six year relationship and figure out what she was going to do. I ended up flying to visit her between expeditions and met her friends and family. After my visit to Scotland, she quit her dental practice, sold or gave everything away, and bought a one-way ticket to Peru.


The couple during those first days in Peru. (Photo: Clark Kotula)

Jacqui founded a non-profit healthcare organization called Dental Project Peru that provided free emergency dental care and education to 50,000 rural indigenous villagers in the Andes (right near the river we met on). I continued my career as a trip leader and tourism expert on South America.

I proposed to Jacqui at the top of a lighthouse in Colonia, Uruguay. Knowing we were committed to the same life principles made us both excited to spend our lives together.


Clark and Jacqui on their wedding day in 2006. (Photo: Clark Kotula)

In May 2006, we got married in Peru, and shortly after, Jacqui was accepted into the University of California International Dentistry Program in San Francisco so she could receive her U.S. dental license. We wanted to raise a family and build our careers so that we could be in a position to travel and share the world with our kids. Today, Jacqui is a dental practice owner in Marin County just north of San Francisco. I worked for Geographic Expeditions before founding my own company offering marketing and consulting services for Luxury boutique lodges across South America.

Related: #RealTravel: I Fell in Love in an Ecuadorian Jungle


The family that travels together…(Photo: Clark Kotula)

The dream we each individually envisioned through each other eight years ago in the bottom of that Peruvian river canyon is still blossoming and we are forever grateful. Today we have two amazing sons (ages two and four), and I trust that life’s river will continue to bring adventures and that we will enjoy and overcome them together.

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