Anna Faustino was careering down the sand dunes of Mui Ne, Vietnam, on a sand sled when she first saw Tom Rogers. Out of nowhere, she spotted him in the corner of her eye, rolling down the sand dune next to her, head first.
Anna turned to look at Tom, wide-eyed. She had a GoPro strapped to her – she’d been filming herself sand sledding – and now her camera captured Tom as he tumbled down, inelegantly, before crashing into the sand at the bottom.
“When I get to the bottom, I kind of stand up, dizzy, brush off the sand. And then I walk over to her and I’m like, ‘Hey, how you doing?’” Tom, who is from Wales in the UK, tells CNN Travel.
Anna was baffled but charmed. She laughed at the sand-covered Tom’s faux-casual demeanor and right away, she thought he seemed fun and “game for anything.”
While other travelers at Mui Ne were sitting back and watching, Tom wanted a turn on Anna’s sand sled. The two walked back up the dunes together and then Anna cheered on Tom as he headed back down, this time sledding rather than hurtling head first.
It was 2014. Anna was 26 and at the tail end of a year-long travel sabbatical. She’d spent years working as a teacher in her home country of the Philippines to fund her adventures.
“All I wanted to do was travel,” Anna tells CNN Travel. “I had given up my job and packed everything, and everything I owned was in a backpack. So when I met Tom, I was just in a place in my life where I was just having fun. I wasn’t looking for anything serious.”
As for Tom, he was a bit younger – “I was 22 back then, so I was a little silly,” is how he puts it. He’d just finished university in the UK. When he reached Vietnam, he was midway through his own year of traveling.
Tom had spotted Anna earlier that day at Mui Ne. Her enthusiasm for the sand sledding was infectious and she stood out amid a group of mostly hungover backpackers.
“She was the only one that was going down on the sand sled, and she kept going up and down, up and down,” recalls Tom.
Tom wanted to join the fun, but he didn’t have a sled to hand.
“So I ran, and front flipped, and then as I hit the dune, I started rolling down this hill.”
That’s how he ended up immortalized – “looking stupid” as he puts it – on Anna’s GoPro video.