Wild at Heart: An Elopement on Safari in the Masai Mara

Ann-Kathrin Koch Photography

October 10, 2019

I can’t breathe. This may just be one of my favourite weddings we’ve EVER FEATURED. Yes, in all my 13 years of writing about weddings I’m not sure a wedding has stolen my heart quite like this one.

Aaliyah and Gabriel had exactly the wedding they wanted – on safari in the Masai Mara over the course of a four day trip. Aaliyah is from Burundi, Gabriel is Tunisian and they both grew up in France but met, fell in love and now live in London together. They wanted to have a wedding that focused on them and the incredible world around them, no fuss, guests or details. So, they decided to elope.

The wedding theme was ‘wild at heart’.”The idea behind it was something very organic yet elegant and formal”, explained the bride. “We wanted something quite classic with our attire and the décor but with a sort of wildness behind it with the location. We can come across as a very formal couple from the outside but we are a bit more adventurous than you would expect and the start of our marriage reflects that.”

Unlike a usual wedding, they hired their photographer Ann-Kathrin Koch, to document their three day adventure, where they happened to get married in the middle! “A lot of things were used as inspiration for the day”, Aaliyah continued. “It started with images sourced everywhere: the colour scheme came from the picture of a Masai necklace, the setting inspiration came from a wedding shot by Mutua Matheke back when he did weddings. The reception attire idea came from an anniversary shoot by KT Merry and the Masai blessing came from that wedding from Jonas Peterson.”

“I also drew inspiration from a classic British registry wedding and more formal and elaborate weddings in Italy. The idea behind the trip came from the many travel vloggers I follow and the time of the day was actively implemented once I saw the sunrise wedding of a photographer now based in Costa Rica. I knew I wanted it to do it that way, but the fact that she did it, gave me a lot of strength when a lot of prospective suppliers doubted me.”

With such unique and unusual plans for their day, they did come up against some resistance wedding suppliers who wouldn’t work with them, but in the end they were so happy they stuck to their guns and planned their wedding for them. “The one thing I wish we’d known before we began planning was that not everyone will be on board with what you want to do and not everyone will understand your vision”, she said. “Do not force it if it feels like you have to beg a supplier to work with you. A) It will not work and B) You will find the right team for you and your day. Trust the process and keep going. All those excel and notebook files, all that research and rejections are worth it. You will get the exact day you dreamed about. Weirdly enough, it truly was not family or friends who gave us the most grief about our decision. The hardest part was finding suppliers who understood what we wanted to do and why we wanted it that way.”

The most magical part of the day for them both was the ceremony. Held under a tree in the middle of the desert with wild animals in the distance, it was truly as they always hoped and imaged it might be. “I was on cloud nine. It was so much fun. I wish I could do it again all over again. Our officiant was incredible. He truly understood us as a couple, we were in stitches the whole time, his words were very profound yet so light. I am so happy that I remember fondly at that moment. I wanted a fun ceremony and he got that without me having to ask him. I remember having that beautiful calligraphy of our wedding readings and being unable to read because of the reflection of the sun on that dark paper. I remember reading the wrong word at the wrong time and the loud ‘Noooo!’ of our officiant. I remember the looks my husband and I shared when we were completely lost as to what we were supposed to say/do next. We had a blast together and I am so grateful that is how we started our married life.”

They didn’t do any DIY (“I am forever grateful for the gift that is Etsy!” Aaliyah laughed) and obviously managed to save a lot of money by not having any quests. However, using air miles, they were able to upgrade their flights to first class! Their magical wedding adventure ended with a hot air balloon ride, the perfect end to the most amazing trip. “The hot air balloon has a special place in my heart because it marked the last day of that three days and it was pure magic.”

“The only thing I’d change is that I wouldn’t have anyone we were eloping beforehand!”, she concluded. “It would have saved some difficulties on my husband’s side of the family. I also would not have spent so much time comparing my wedding to others because gosh, did I love my wedding day and all the choices we made. Our advice for other couples is to JUST DO YOU. do not let the world around you second guess yourself. You know what you want and why you want it. You and your partner are a team and I think the wedding is the very first time you might have to present that fact to the world. Stay strong in pursuing your vision. We both came from cultures where the wedding is truly considered as an achievement on the family side and a sort of way to show how successful their children are. We didn’t want that so we didn’t do it!”