I’ve seen a lot of amazing weddings grace the pages of SMP, but this desert beauty at Sossusvlei Lodge captured by Dror Eyal Photography and planned by Christelle Du Toit is in a a league all of its own. Incredibly intimate and ridiculously stylish (hello gorgeous Jenny Packham gown from Little White Dress Bridal Shop, I’m talking to you…), every moment sitting in this gallery is one for the books.
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From Little White Dress Bridal Shop…Carl and Megan met while serving as Peace Corps education volunteers. Their paths crossed at a Peace Corps conference just outside of Namibia’s capitol city, Windhoek. However, the schools they taught at were 200km from each other. This meant for the first 8 months of their relationship, seeing each other meant hitchhiking on the desolate Namibian roads from one town to the next. In 2008 Megan’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and although she was only fifteen months into her Peace Corps service, Megan decided that returning to Salt Lake City was the right thing to do. Carl finished his twenty-four months of service and opted to join Megan in Salt Lake instead of returning to his hometown of Great Falls, Montana. Carl and Megan both started graduate school as they supported Megan’s mom through cancer treatment. Fortunately, the cancer treatment was successful.
During their time in Salt Lake City, Megan and Carl took every opportunity to travel. In 2011 they traveled to Gold Coast, Australia for the wedding of a dear friend. After the wedding, Megan took Carl around her old stomping ground in Sydney, where she studied in 2003. On the final day of the trip, Megan and Carl visited Taronga Zoo, which Megan bragged to Carl had the best views of Sydney Harbor. While at the zoo, the two came upon a deserted amphitheater used for bird shows that just happened to have a spectacular view of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Then Megan realized Carl was kneeling down next to her. Carl proposed and pulled off nearly the impossible: he managed to surprise Megan. She had been so busy preparing to be in her friend’s wedding and planning for the trip that an engagement of her own was the last thing on her mind. The next day, they flew home elated and to a very excited family who, of course, had been in on the whole scheme.
Megan and Carl had decided that they would return to country they first met, Namibia, to get married. They knew that marrying in Namibia would pose interesting logistical challenges, but the two agreed it had to be done. Not only were Megan and Carl dying to return to the county they loved, where they fell in love, but Megan’s family had planned to visit during her Peace Corps service, but couldn’t due to her mother’s illness. In the summer of 2011, Megan contacted the Sossusvlei Lodge in the southwestern part of Namibia, located on the border of the Namib-Naukluft National Park, in the Namib Desert. The Namib-Naukluft National Park boasts some of the world’s largest sand dunes that are colored an intense burnt-orange, contrasting markedly to the deep blue African sky. The largest dunes are located around an area of the park called Sossusvlei, which is where the Sossusvlei Lodge takes its name. Such a tourist destination would perhaps help entice friends and relatives to join in on the journey. Christelle du Toit, hotel manager and event coordinator of the Sossusvlei Lodge, responded to Megan’s initial requests, and they exchanged a few emails coordinating logistics, and in one email, Christelle wrote: “It will be our pleasure to make your request come true.” It felt like a fairy godmother granting a wish, but the requestors had not given much detail. Megan and Carl wanted the wedding to be simple, personal and elegant, but neither had given much thought to wedding details. They two just wanted to travel! Christelle mentioned the menu was pre-set due to the logistics of being literally in the middle of nowhere, flowers would be difficult due to the location and heat, there was no electricity at the ceremony site, they could not accommodate more than seventy people because they only had seventy chairs and they had never put together a rehearsal dinner before. “Fine, fine, fine,” Megan and Carl said. The location and being together were all that mattered. In August of 2011, the bride and groom’s parents hosted an engagement party and announced that in two years time, on August 26th, 2013, Megan and Carl would wed at the Sossusvlei Lodge in Namibia and anyone interested in an African adventure should consider joining.
Since there were two years to go until the wedding, things did not feel rushed. Megan looked here and there for a wedding dress, but couldn’t find a dress that felt right, and would fit the occasion. She’d just about settled on a simple, white sundress when she came across Little White Dress Bridal Shop online. The reviews were outstanding and Denver wasn’t too far from Salt Lake City. Megan and her mom flew to Denver for a ladies weekend and were blown away by the experience they had at Little White Dress Bridal. The moment Megan tried on Jenny Packham’s “Eden” she and her mom were both in love. It was just right: unique, non-traditional, easy to travel with and simply stunning for a Namibian desert setting. Megan always says it wasn’t until that moment she realized why women get so excited about a dress. When you find the right one, you just know it.
At the beginning of 2013 family and friends got serious about booking their trip. Megan got a little nervous as the guest numbers grew and she considered how little she knew about what the actual wedding would be like. It was a bit of a leap of faith, except that forty closest friends and family were leaping too and there was no turning back. The anticipations and unknowns were thrilling.
Arriving back in Namibia put all of Megan and Carl’s worries at bay. The country is simply incredible: from the people to the scenery, it felt like returning home. Megan and Carl caravanned with twenty guests, driving four vehicles for five hours, along the lengthy gravel roads from Windhoek to Sossusvlei. At the Sossusvlei Lodge, Christelle was calm and collected as could be, and so happy to meet everyone. She went over the wedding schedule with Megan and Carl, but the details including the actual site would all be kept secret. In the two days before the wedding, guests enjoyed hiking the windswept dunes and photographing wildlife, indulging in delectable food and being consumed by a twinkling, vast, endless night sky.
Christelle’s team planned a rehearsal dinner at Desert Camp, which is the sister campsite to the Sossusvlei Lodge. While music was not allowed because it could have disturbed the other guests staying on the property, it was not necessary. Namibia is known for its incredible night sky, which is what everyone enjoyed while alongside a bonfire, enjoying ceremonial toasts with delicious South African wine. It was intimate and perfect.
Sossusvlei is one of the most famous places in the world to take a hot air balloon ride, and many guests planned to do so the day before the wedding. Unfortunately, a violent windstorm prevented that from happening on August 25th, so the only possible day was the actual wedding day. Megan and Carl along with 20 other guests arose at 4:30am to catch sunrise from a balloon. The rainbow-colored balloons were magnificent as they were slowly heated and filled by huge bursts of fire in the pre-dawn light. Megan and Carl spent their wedding morning silently floating over the Namib Desert, the landscape scarred only by the mysterious fairy-circles below.
Carl and his groomsmen, including his best man and the officiant, Ghidewon Arefe, made due by ironing shirts on footstools. Megan’s flower girls came to get ready with the bridal party. Christelle told everyone except the bridal party to be ready to leave at 4:15 PM sharp to be shuttled via sand buggy to the wedding site (wherever that was). The bridal party was shuttled out at 4:30 in a sand buggy Christelle and her team tied with a simple ribbon and wreathe. Christelle also personally made a bouquet for Megan of grasses from around the lodge so she would have something to hold as she walked down the aisle. The driver set off straight into the desert, and nothing but grass, sand, mountains and a few sparse trees were in view. Finally the group arrived at a nook at the base of a rocky outcrop with a giant camelthorn tree set between two huge boulders. Christelle hung wooden hearts on the tree that swirled in the desert breeze and lined the aisle with native grasses. Carl and Megan chose a rendition of “Fools Rush In” performed by Megan’s aunts for the processional. A lot of time and effort went into the ceremony program, which Megan and Carl were so excited to share with their guests. The first reading was Goodridge vs. the Department of Public Health, the 2003 ruling from the Massachusetts Supreme Court that legalized gay marriage, which is an issue close to the hearts of the couple. The bride and groom’s parent’s helped honor relatives that couldn’t be there, those that had passed and also offered advice for the couple entering into their marriage. Next, Megan’s brother, Zach, debuted a song he wrote called “Your Someone” on his Key-tar, which he’d lugged from Salt Lake along with a battery powered amplifier, since there was no electricity at the site. The “Dude of Honor” read a passage from one of the couple’s favorite books, Travels with Charlie. Carl’s dad performed the Hungarian tradition of placing a gold and silver coin in the shoe of the bride to symbolize never having to go without, which honored Carl’s Hungarian grandmother and the couple concluded the ceremony with the breaking of a wineglass to honor Megan’s Jewish heritage.
Following a celebratory champagne toast, guests were whisked off to the hidden reception site, which was another five minutes into the middle of nowhere. By this time it was pitch black in the Namibian desert. Megan and Carl were driven separately to the reception behind the rest of the guests. Suddenly the driver stopped in front of a large boulder and told Megan and Carl to walk around the corner. Around the corner was a walkway made of dozens and dozens of flickering candles that seemed to lead into darkness. Arm in arm the new couple moved into the night with faint music as the only promise of life at the end of this path. The music grew louder and louder (luckily the reception site, although incredibly remote, did have electricity, thanks to a well-concealed generator). The couple came upon bonfires, a line of waiters standing before many tables of food and grills. The candles continued up the mountainside and seemed to climb into the starlit sky. DJ Stefan Piem who had traveled five hours on dirt roads from the coastal town of Swakopmund played a mix of old and new songs along with Namibian tunes. Friends had traveled from the USA, Europe and Australia to be there. The late-winter Namibian weather was cold, so guests piled pants, jackets and blankets on top of their formalwear and danced in the firelight darkness of the Namibian desert until 2:00 AM. Many of these guests remarked that they never would have considered traveling to Namibia, but it ended up being the best journey they’d ever had. Megan and Carl could not have dreamed up a better way to start their lives as husband and wife.
Photography: Dror Eyal Photography | Event Planning: Christelle Du Toit | Wedding Dress: Jenny Packham | Invitations: Chicks N' Hens | Reception Venue: Sossusvlei Lodge | Bride's Shoes: J.Crew | Bridesmaid's Dresses: David's Bridal | Bridesmaids' Dresses: BHLDN | Groom's Attire: Hugo Boss | Groomsmen's Attire: J.Crew | Bridal Shop: Little White Dress Bridal Shop | Bride's Hairpiece: Love Veils | Flower Girls' Dresses: Zara | Travel Coordinator: Expert Africa