A South African Destination WeddingWords by Courtney Kellar
Photos courtesy of Sarah Marie Photos
Janna never planned on eloping to a far-flung destination. In fact, she had been planning a Southern-themed hometown wedding since she was a little girl. So what in the World made her and her new husband Nolen settle on Africa? “A destination wedding was not in the cards for us in the beginning,” recalls Janna. “I had a very clear idea of what I wanted our wedding to look like, down to the smallest details.”
“We booked a venue a year in advance and began to plan, but things were not coming together as we had hoped. As we complied price lists from various vendors, we began to question if we were making the right choice. Our minds began to wander as we dreamed of what we could do with the budget elsewhere. We came to the conclusion that we could take the trip of a lifetime and marry abroad with what we would spend for one day at home. We considered Italy, Greece, Monaco and Paris before settling on the wildest of all destinations: Africa!"
“Nolen and I chose Africa because it was the most majestic destination we could imagine. We wanted to experience a place that would change us – and it did just that. The land, the animals, the culture; it all soaked into us and left an impact. I was able to walk down the aisle barefoot, just as I had always hoped, and this experience soaked up through the soles of my feet and will never leave me.”
Despite traveling over 8,000 miles to their destination wedding location, Janna and Nolen say the process was generally smooth. “I am such a perfectionist that planning my own wedding at home would have driven me wild,” says Janna. “I loved being consumed with the idea of visiting such an exotic country – it completely took my mind off of the wedding day. With the backdrop of the African Bush, what else did I need? I loved how effortless it was.
“We had a travel agent who took care of everything, and other than a few missed flights and our luggage taking a vacation in Amsterdam, things went smoothly! I had my dress and my husband; I had everything I needed.”
While the couple rejoices in their decision to marry away – they did struggle with the idea of eloping. “The most difficult aspect of the entire process was allowing ourselves to take off to a foreign land and marry without our loved ones there,” recalls the bride. “It is still bittersweet. We went on the most magical, emotional and life changing adventure together and married in a heavenly setting, yet my heart still aches to this day when I think about not being able to hold my father close as he would proudly walk me down the aisle, the sound of my mother and sister’s voices as they would calm my nerves and wipe my tears, and the sweet kisses my grandmother would give me…our families are such an important part of our lives and it was difficult to take this big step without them there, but it allowed Nolen and I to experience something surreal together and bonded us in an indescribable way.”
In order to make the separation easier on both parties, Janna took preemptive steps for both herself and her loved ones. “Before leaving for Africa, I had books bound for my mother, father, sister and grandmother. Each page was made of hand-torn paper and held a special quote and pictures of us [together] through the years. Through tears I wrote heartfelt letters to each of them and had them mounted in the front of the book. It was such a sweet time to reflect on all that I am blessed with!”
Thankfully, Janna had the foresight to keep the most important things close during their travels. “Packing valuable items that I would have to lug around on 11 different flights was easier said than done. I could not chance being separated from these items if my luggage was lost, so I had my carry-on packed with my wedding dress, Louboutins, my old, new, borrowed and blue, and a Bible from the early 1900s filled with pictures of my family and friends.”
After arriving at Camp Jabulani in South Africa’s Limpopo Province, the couple enjoyed days of elephant-back safaris and exploring the land they had traveled so far to see. “The staff at Jabulani went above and beyond to create the most magical wedding,” says Janna. “I had absolutely no idea what to expect of Africa, so I couldn’t even begin to worry about wedding details from home. We were treated like royalty by the staff at the camp and luxury surrounded us. We wanted for nothing and had no worries whatsoever!”
Once the big day arrived, Janna put those treasured items to use. “On our wedding day I tied a piece of twine across the front of our lodge and used tiny clothespins to hang all of our family and friends' photos, so that they could be there with us in spirit. I placed our parents’ and grandparents’ photos in the Bible and prayed that they would feel my love.”
As Janna rode to the ceremony spot, she took the time to take-in her surroundings and began forming memories from the day. She saw Nolen at the end of a rose-petal strewn aisle with illuminated lanterns lining the way. Most importantly, the camp’s staff had arranged to have several elephants present who saluted Janna with their trunks aimed toward the sky.
Once the couple said “I do,” they were escorted to a dry riverbed surrounded by hundreds of glowing paper lanterns. They indulged in a four-course meal consisting of game they had spotted over the past few days on their safaris. “Not only was the food exquisite, but it allowed us to experience tastes native to the land,” says Janna. “Executive Chef Andre Gerber also created our whimsical Protea, carrot and cream cheese wedding cake. Andre holds a special place in our hearts for the warmth and talent he displayed on our wedding day.”
Janna and Nolen were lucky enough to get the best of both worlds when it came to their destination wedding: an exotic wedding away with a dreamy hometown reception. “We were able to get a great idea of what the wedding would have been like at home, as we were fortunate enough to keep the original venue [for our hometown celebration]. I had been collecting wedding ideas since I was young and had a very clear idea of what I wanted my wedding to look like, down to the smallest details.
“I am a lover of all things vintage, so I envisioned a soft, romantic and whimsical wedding painted with shades of blush and ivory. Barefoot in Africa was never even dreamed of, but it surpassed all our expectations. I was able to have a reception at home in a beautiful, two-story barn and was able to use some of the ideas I had gathered over the years. The cake was a white velvet cake with almond buttercream in the shape of Africa and at the end of the night we played the video that our videographer created from the footage of our wedding day in Africa. It was such a blessing to be able to share that special time with our family and friends!”Vendors: Photographer: Sarah Marie Photos, Wedding Planner/Florist: Elsie Olën, Ceremony Site: Sundowner Lookout at Camp Jabulani, At-Home Reception Site: The Stables at Russell Crossroads in Lake Martin, Alabama, Chef: Camp Jabulani’s Executive Chef Andre Gerber and Sous Chef Esmaralda Dedre Leonard, Bride’s Gown: the Aiguille Gown by BHLDN, Bride’s Hair & Makeup: Stone Cold Fox, Bride’s Reception Dress: Stone Cold Fox, Bride’s Shoes: Christian Louboutin, Groom’s Clothing Designer: Col. Littleton and J.L. Powell, Videography: BMG Wedding Cinema
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