Kenya Rwanda

Fifty Years: The History of Governors’ Camps

Aris Grammaticas grew up in East Africa with a great deal of independence and as a teenager used to go off on camping trips with a young Greek friend. They would take a bed roll and a bag of rice and spend days in the bush – it was during these adventures that he developed a deep love of the wild.

Romi first met Aris in the mid-1960s when they were both in their 20s. They had little money, a borrowed VW beetle and would pack up a tent, bedding and a frying pan and go off to explore. They loved to go to the wild and remote Masai Mara, and sometimes stayed at Keekorok Lodge in the south of the Reserve which was the only accommodation in the Mara at that time.

Aris and Romi Grammaticas, Masai Mara, Kenya.

The idea grew of offering to others, the magical experience of staying in the bush, under canvas and completely immersed in the wild. This kind of safari experience had until then, only been available to the very rich and the likes of Ernest Hemingway, with tailor made camps transported from site to site by innumerable porters and staff.

The Taylors (camp managers) with the first guest Mohammed Chourbagui.

Around 1970 they explored the northern part of the Masai Mara and found that there was a camping area in a prime spot on the edge of the Musiara marsh. With the help of Bill Ntimama 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.

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.

Governors’ Camp in 1974 – photo credit Depy Spyratos

The Reserve was wild in many ways; the all 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.

Mara wildlife in November 1974 – photo credit Depy Spyratos

Governors’ Camp opened in January 1972, and the camp was instantly fully booked. Aris and Romi believed that all should experience the thrill of a camp integrated in the untamed Mara, with animals rubbing up against the canvas at night and many eerie night-time sounds around.

Governors’ Balloon Safaris and the Mara River 1989 – photo credit Penny and Rolf Hong.

It was an huge success and perhaps a leap of faith, as neither Romi nor Aris had any knowledge of the hospitality industry but both had a dream of sharing this wonderful African experience.

Robin and Nancy Camm were early managers and became the bedrock of Governors’. Robin was fun with his dry humour and his wealth of stories, and Nancy was the workhorse behind him. Robin initiated crazy river trips floating down the river with just a paddle to scare off marauding hippos, and Robin had daily battles with the dreaded Borealis who would charge open-mouthed and usually dived under the boat at the last moment.

Clients loved the magic of silently floating down the river with surprised animals observing from the banks, and the adrenaline rush of the hippo charges. Legal advisors eventually put an end to this madness but it was fun while it lasted.

Floating down the Mara River in a small dhingy.

The business grew and more camps were added, first Little Governors’ across the river, then Paradise Camp which morphed into Il Moran. Later, Governors’ took over management of Loldia House, a settler style home on the shores of Lake Naivasha.

Crossing the Mara River at Little Governors’ Camp in 1989 – photo credit Penny and Rolf Hong.

In 2008 they developed the first community owned lodge in Rwanda, and Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge was opened. This provided an opportunity for guests to stay in comfort while visiting the mountain gorillas and other iconic wildlife and provided great benefits to the local community.  Early in 2020, Governors’ Mugie House situated on a private ranch in Laikipia was also added to the Collection.

Romi and Aris’s children Dominic, Justin, Damian and Ariana grew up with frequent visits to the Masai Mara and a total involvement in the  development of the family venture. All the boys worked at Governors’ during their long holidays and Gap Years and understood the workings of the business and grew to love it.

Aris and his son Justin Grammaticas during a rhino rescue mission.

Justin joined the company in 1998, with expertise in Sales and Marketing and Governors’ started to become a truly family-run business.

Justin Grammaticas

Justin Grammaticas.

In 1999 Dominic, by then an experienced accountant, married and with one small son, also wanted to return to Kenya and become part of the company, bringing his much-needed business acumen with him.

Dominic Grammaticas at Governors’ Camp, Masai Mara.

Aris was an ideas man, who loved a challenge and the thrill of something new; he always developed vital close relationships and an understanding with the local people along the way.

For both Aris and Romi, a deep involvement with both employees and the Masai neighbours became extremely important and together with Richard Long, an interested visitor, they initiated the development of the mud and wattle local school into a local school of excellence. A dispensary was constructed nearby and later a maternity unit complete with a borehole, was built.

In 2007 Ariana came to join the company to add the expertise she had gained working in England for a top tour company and set up the online marketing for Governors’. Now a father and three siblings were working together to create something special. In 2010 Aris decided to take a back seat, which was for him a major decision and Dominic took over the reins as MD. In October 2011, Aris died of leukaemia after a year of ill-health and treatment.

Many of the staff of Governors’ Camp have been there for thirty years and more and there are also many second generation staff. A feeling of loyalty and a sense of ‘family’ has been integral to the company’s success. Romi and the entire Grammaticas family share a deep love of Africa and have the same desire to share its magic with the wider public whilst at the same time ensuring great benefit for both employees, the local community and the surrounding wildlife.

Romi Grammaticas

Romi Grammaticas remains very much part of the company as a health advisor to Governors’ Camp Collection.

The entire family look forward to being able to continue to give the great experience that Aris so much loved to very many visitors for a long time to come.

To read further on the History of the Governors’ Camp Collection, please click HERE.

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