Sam & Nick's stunning elopement in Maasai Mara, Kenya

I looked at my watch and according to my calculations, the sun would set in about 11-12 minutes. I was getting slightly nervous as the sun was hidden behind some clouds and of all days, I really needed it to make an appearance today. These were the short minutes – you know the minutes that feel shorter than a minute? The 60 seconds which are actually 60 seconds but feel like 40. I wanted to press pause to give some time for the sun to come out from hiding. About 4 minutes later, as if by magic, a herd of elephants was traversing in the background from East to West, kicking up the dust as they walked in search of water. It wasn’t an ordinary herd. This herd was particularly large and had a few calves. Elephants always keep the calves in the centre of the herd as they walk, keeping them out of danger. Even from about 300 metres away, the wind carried their distinctive smell towards us. I was distracted by their gargantuan shapes on the horizon and almost missed that deep red crimson sun peek out from beneath the clouds, backlighting the dust in a golden glow. Yaaaaaasss! We were finally getting our Mara sunset. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you read that right. Mara. Maasai Mara! The next 10 minutes flew past as we created some art together with Sam & Nick, our amazing couple who had travelled thousands of kilometres to spend their most beautiful day in the most beautiful place in the world!

Sam & Nick contacted us about 6 months ago asking us to shoot their special day in the Maasai Mara and without hesitation, we jumped at this chance. There was a slight difference with this particular wedding. It was an elopement. Like a real elopement! They swore me to secrecy that I wasn’t allowed to mention it to anyone. None of their parents, family or friends knew anything about it. As far as anyone knew, they were just coming on safari to Kenya. I remember the first time I actually met them face to face was over lunch (2 hours before their wedding ceremony) at Little Governors Camp in Maasai Mara – an exclusive camp situated on the edge of the Maasai Mara Reserve and accessed by a short boat ride. They were so infectiously engaging and we had an absolute blast over lunch only to be reminded by the Camp Manager that we should start getting ready for the wedding!

A couple of hours later, we had crossed a river in a very small boat, we had travelled a bumpy few kilometres in a Safari LandCruiser, and we were witnessing an effortlessly chic wedding ceremony for Sam & Nick under a lone tree in the Maasai Mara. It was so involving, so intimate and most of all, very meaningful for them. The only guests were a few zebras and jackals. This was followed by a photoshoot in the stunning fading light where very little direction was needed as they were so ecstatic and my job became very easy! Fuelled by a few glasses of champagne, Sam & Nick had the most private bush dinner in the middle of the Reserve at the riverbank. The frequent sounds of hippos and hyenas were a constant reminder of just how wild this place was.  As my head hit the pillow that evening, my mind was full of wonderful thoughts about the day. I don’t think I had ever photographed a union of 2 people in a ceremony so personal and special.

When we met for coffee just before our game drive the next morning at 5.45am, Sam mentioned that they had seen all of the Big 5 except the leopard. We made that our aim for the morning – to find the elusive cat! I knew that finding a leopard in just one game drive is not the easiest task. But I also had a faint idea on where we can go to try and find it. The sun came up and the animals started getting a bit more active; water off the buffalo’s back glistening golden as the sun rose. The zebras crossing the river appeared black and gold, rather than the traditional black and white. We weaved in and out of the thicket trying to listen out for the faintest sounds and the telltale warning calls from the baboons and the birds. And then all of a sudden, a movement up a tree. Then the next tree started moving. And there right infront of us, a beautiful young female leopard came out into the open savannah. We spent the next 20 minutes or so observing her and the look on Sam & Nick’s face was just priceless. As we were heading back to camp an hour later, we also bumped into a huge male lion with 2 lionesses under a tree. The same tree that Sam & Nick had exchanged their vows under 16 hours ago! No kidding! Magical Mara – never fails to surprise.

Sam & Nick, thank you for choosing Cheka to document this most wonderful elopement. You guys were simply incredible. Hope you and your future generations enjoy the memories we have documented for you! One Love!

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