Returning to the heart of one of our favourite places on Earth, the Masai Mara, and to a camp that we consider a home was truly special for us. Having spent several weeks at Ishara in March 2022, we not only fell in love with its aura and everything that makes it so unique, but we also made lifelong friends with people whom we now call family along the way.
In January this year we set off once again to follow our love for the wild and our passion for wildlife photography and filming. We were not quite prepared for the next chapter of our intertwined story with Ishara, but life is unpredictable and you can never truly know all that it will bring. When there is magic all around, it is perhaps inevitable that you will be inspired to add to it.
The Mara feels like home to us. It is not just the incredible people at Ishara that keep us coming back, but also the abundance of the Mara’s wildlife and the stories of these animals that are at the heart of our love for this remarkable place.
Our excitement upon returning was palpable. Dani and I could not wait for the time we would be spending out in the bush, living our dream, and observing wildlife together. It is a special feeling being surrounded by awe-inspiring wildlife, and for us these are some of the happiest moments of our lives. We could not wait to be back home with our Ishara family and to enjoy the tranquility and warmth of this camp made from the heart.
We spent our first morning catching up with our dear friends and exploring some of the new additions, the most important to this story being the Ishara boutique. One item stood out to Dani — a stunningly crafted Tanzanite ring from Joo & Co’s “Luxury Meets the Wild” collaboration with Ishara. Dani instantly fell in love with it, especially how the sunlight bounced off the Tanzanite creating ever-changing reflections that seemed to capture the essence of the Mara and nature from within. I should mention at this point that Dani and I have been together for almost 7 years, but we have not spent much of that time discussing getting engaged; we have been too busy planning trips back to Africa to figure that out!
Dani’s love for the ring was affirmed as she tried it on. “OH NO! I am in trouble now,” I joked. We both laughed, as did the staff. Azhar, the man behind Ishara and our dear friend, was startled as he walked by, thinking I had just proposed. When I saw the ring on her finger something changed inside of me. I began to think about the future and how I wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of my life with her. Not that I had not thought about it before, but it felt like the stars were aligning. I could not believe how amazing it was that this moment had manifested itself so organically. Like much of our relationship, this was going to be another spontaneous adventure.
A couple of glorious weeks in the Mara went by, and as our time to leave approached, I decided that I had to make this moment happen. I needed that time in the wild, with a few words of wisdom from my dad, to realise this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and a chance to create a fairy tale moment that would live with us forever.
We have been blessed to have spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours together pursuing our dreams in the wild, and there could not be a more perfect place for this magical part of our story. It also had to be a surprise, and thankfully Dani had no idea what I was planning. I had not told anyone apart from my dad, but that was about to change. I needed Ishara’s help to bring my vision of a bush engagement to life.
When I revealed the news to Eric, who is not only the very talented resident photographer at Ishara but also our good friend, he was as excited as I was. We began planning and I had to keep making excuses to Dani for why I kept disappearing to the photo studio. There was just one location I had in my mind for the engagement — our favourite spot by the Mara River. There is a particular bend, close to the Musiara Marsh, where Dani and I have spent countless hours listening to the hippos honking below. It is so special and peaceful; you truly feel like the only people in the world when you are there. With the Mara River flowing, an abundance of bird life all around and elephants feeding in the marsh a couple of hundred metres away, it can only be described as an Eden. I knew it had to be there.
The day of the engagement finally arrived, and I had managed to keep the planning a secret. I woke up early with a feeling of anticipation, excited to show Dani just how much our relationship meant by asking her to marry me. Despite it being one of the most important questions I could ever ask, I was not nervous — I knew that Dani was my life partner.
We were relaxing at camp that day as we had been spending many hours in the field and needed a respite. That morning our dear friend Altaf, the master of storytelling and creative at Ishara, had also arrived to be a part of the big moment. I was elated that he had made it. Dani and I both share a special bond with Altaf and to have him there to sprinkle his magic made it extra special.
After a wonderful lunch and an afternoon nap with the sounds of nature as our soundtrack, it was time for all the planning to be put into motion. The location was an hour’s drive away, and as I wanted the moment to be at sunset, the Ishara team set off to get everything set up. At this point Dani was blissfully unaware of what I was planning and at around 4:30pm I told her that Eric had just called and needed us for a sunset photoshoot. Dani was a little confused as it was so curiously unexpected. I was worried I would give the game away. Thankfully, I kept my cool and managed to convince her that there was nothing amiss.
We set off in one of Ishara’s Land Cruisers and after about 40 minutes Dani asked, “Where are we going?” I could see that she was unsure about why we were going so far, but I assured her that wherever it was, I was sure it would be amazing. As we approached the Musiara area, Dani began to get excited, realising we were heading to our favourite spot. I acted like I knew nothing, furtively checking my phone for updates. “We’re ready,” came the response.
We arrived at the spot, greeted not just by our Ishara family but also by a few of the Mara’s wild residents; an elephant matriarch with her young calf strolled by as she headed off into the forest to feed for the evening, the hippos honked in the river below, and the symphony of bird song played all around us. Against the backdrop of the Mara River and the slowly setting sun, it was impossible not to feel the magic. We were blown away by the beautiful set up; the Ishara team had truly put their heart and soul into it, as they do with everything. You might be wondering how Dani did not realise what was going on? Well, it was three days before Valentine’s Day, and Altaf and Eric explained that we were there to shoot some last-minute content for it. It was the perfect cover.
We sat down to take in our surroundings. We could not believe how blessed we were to be at that place and in that moment. I told Dani that I was going to the vehicle to get the camera to shoot a sunset timelapse, something that we often did. Of course, that was only half true — I was going to get the ring. I put it in my pocket and joined Dani again as she gazed in wonder at the river below. We shared a conversation about how lucky we were to not only be there, but to be there together. As the orange glow of golden hour lit up the sky and the clouds added to the drama, I knew that this was the moment for everything to come together — the moment that I would ask the love of my life to marry me.
Everyone silently disappeared and hid behind the trees as Dani and I remained entranced by the Mara magic. I got down on one knee, while life continued all around us, and at that moment Dani realised why we were there. Her emotion was evident as she burst into tears of joy. I pulled out the ring that she had fallen in love with and asked, “Would you do me the honour of spending the rest of your life with me?”
We were both overwhelmed with emotion, so much so that I had to double check that she had in fact said “Yes!” Thankfully it was a resounding yes and we were both blown away by the beauty of it all. The Ishara team came out from their hiding places and joined the celebration. It was a moment of pure elation and love, one that will live with us forever. Needless to say, the celebrations at camp continued long into the night.
The following day we were privileged to have our engagement blessed by the Maasai in camp. Judy, who is one of the kindest and most special people we have met, gave a beautiful speech wishing us love and happiness for our future together. We danced, we laughed, we celebrated. It was a profound experience and yet another moment that will live with us forever.
Having the opportunity to make this moment happen in a place that we love so deeply, surrounded by wildlife and a group of people whom we consider our family, was extraordinary. We are forever grateful, not only to Ishara for making this particular moment so special, but also for the countless moments we have shared and the relationship that we will share forever.
Life is about love, following your dreams, and creating magical moments. Life is about following the signs. We followed the signs to Ishara and they led us to a group of people whom we love, to a place we can call home, and to Dani and my relationship becoming one for life. We followed the signs and they led us to our wild engagement.
Photo credits: Eric Averdung, Moses Letura, Pareet Shah, Mary Beth Koeth, Anthony Mbogori