Governors’ Camp Collection was started over 40 years ago by Aris and Romi Grammaticas. Governors’ Camp was Africa’s first Luxury permanent tented camp and has been a pioneer in classic safaris enabling guests to live the full safari experience – sleeping under canvas while being fully immersed in the wild. From kayaking amongst the hippos along the Mara river in the early days to opening six lodes in Kenya and Rwanda it’s been an incredible journey…
Aris’ father arrived in East Africa in the pioneering days of 1912 as an engineer to build the railway inland from the coast of Tanganika. Sepia photographs of these adventuring days show him in an immaculate pale linen suit, with high collar, pith helmet and a Labrador at his feet. These were heady exciting times and Aris, the youngest in a large family was born into the spirit of Africa.
Throughout his childhood, Aris explored the wild untamed areas of East Africa with young friends, on foot and in the old family ‘jalopy’. This brought him face to face with the extraordinary spectacle of wildlife in a vista of huge horizons, and the day to day dramas of the African bush. Aris met Romi in the mid-1960s when they were both in their 20s. They would borrow a VW beetle, pack up a tent, bedding and a frying pan and go off to explore. They loved to go to the untamed Masai Mara.
The idea grew of offering to others the magical experience of staying in the bush, under canvas, which had until then only been available to the very rich and the likes of Ernest Hemingway, with tailor made mobile camps transported from site to site by innumerable porters and staff.
In the 1970’s Aris saw the opportunity to open this prolific game region to a wider audience. A small lodge had been opened in the distant eastern part of the Mara but the remainder was untouched. They explored the northern part of the Masai Mara and found that there was a camping area that had been reserved as the “getaway” for the colonial Governors of Kenya, being in the prime spot on the edge of the Musiara Swamp. With the help of Bill Ntimama, a Narok Masai farmer, and with Nick Stobbs as a partner, a lease was obtained over this part of the Mara, with exclusive rights over a large surrounding area. With no prior experience in the hotel business or preconceived ideas, the concept was created of a camp with all the atmosphere of a traditional tented camp, bringing the sensations of the bush into close focus. This was an entirely new concept and Governors’ Camp was the first permanent tented camp in Africa.
Trips to the area to start the building were exciting, being made each weekend in a saloon car over long stretches of dusty corrugated roads, setting up a primitive camp and directing a team to clear a small area for the first tent. Each weekend they would go and a new tent clearing was made in the dense forest.
There were many challenges. On one occasion Aris arrived late at night to be greeted by frightened workers creeping out of the bushes. He was told that there had been a “battle” right there between Masai herdsmen and Kipsiigis cattle rustlers, and sure enough in the river there was a body in a greatcoat face down with a spear in his back. It was a wild area.
Wild in other ways too. Adjoining the Reserve was a hunting area and it appeared that some hunting had also taken place within, since the animals were all very wary and would not come within 200 yards. It took time for trust to be established which seems hard to understand now that all game is so relaxed.
Governors’ Camp opened in January 1972, but not until Aris had attracted a lot of attention in his typically innovative way. Everyone knew that we were opening a permanent tented camp and this had caused some excitement. Anyone who called for a booking was told that the new camp was “full”. The buzz went around that this must be something very special. Eventually the floodgates were opened and the camp was instantly fully booked. He believed that all should experience the thrill of a camp integrated in the untamed wilds of the Mara.