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Toni Hacker and Benjamin Harnett. (Courtesy: Benjamin Harnett)
Where We Fell in Love: Peru’s Sacred Valley.
Relationship Status: Married
(Courtesy: Benjamin Harnett)
(As told by Ben)
Toni and I were working together at a fashion company that had the licenses for RocaWear and Shady. I worked in IT and apparel production, and she was their head accessories designer. We met when I came to fix her computer. It kept breaking, fancy that! But she wanted to set me up with her friend.
In March she left to go work for Liz Claiborne as a handbag designer, and I drifted out of my job to work on my master’s degree in classics. After the third or fourth time of her trying to set me up with her friend, we went out ourselves.
She had a trip to Peru’s Sacred Valley planned with her friend that May. We had basically had one real date, and she said, “Wanna go?” I said, “Sure.”
The Sacred Valley of Peru. (Photo: Thinkstock)
I got the tickets, but after she said she’d meet me in Peru, I didn’t hear from her again. I had no idea where I was going, hadn’t done any research, and couldn’t contact her. So I went to JFK, flew to Lima, then got on the oldest plane I’ve ever been on. It chugged over a moonscape of sandy, forlorn mountains, then had a crazy, skidding, bumping landing on a dirt stretch in Arequipa. A guy was holding up a sign with my name misspelled.
It was an adventure. Two planes, two taxis, and 14,000 feet of mountains, and I finally met her in a little cabin outside of Yanqui.
I knew she was the right one for me when the next day she demanded we hike down the cliff face from the other side, across the racing river, and then back up the cliff to our cabins. It was treacherous down, then these small terraces that looked like steps turned out to be as high as a person; at the bottom, the river was so deep we had to jump from boulder to boulder.
Rocks in the Colca Canyon. (Photo: Benjamin Harnett)
Then, we went into town, and while her friend wanted to stay in the hot spring, we wandered all over and ate in the market. I knew she was for me when she was willing to try all the local food, straight out of the pots — sopa blanca, spaghetti with cilantro.
We’ve been all over the world since then: Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Italy a number of times, Germany, France, across the Southwest, down the East Coast, lived in Key West. We started a fashion brand together a year after we started dating, and after 10 years, it was time to say it was forever — though I think we suspected before that. We finally got married in April at City Hall in New York.
Toni and Benjamin on their wedding day. (Courtesy: Benjamin Harnett)