INTO THE WILD
Partner Turns Charitable Donation into Trip of a Lifetime
By Jeremy Elwood
When Doug Bennett went to Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ozarks’ Taste of the Ozarks event in July 2012, he surely didn’t expect to buy an adventure clear on the other side of the world.
BKD’s National Accounting & Auditing Director ended up placing the winning bid on a South African safari for two. “It’s not something that was necessarily on my bucket list,” says Bennett, who’s visited Europe before but never traveled to the world’s second-largest continent. “My wife said I should try bidding and take [our youngest son] Ryan. He was graduating from college, and he would love it.”
Ryan was on board: “Traveling to Africa is something I always hoped to do, but I really thought it would get put off until after I retired. When (Doug) called the day after he’d purchased the trip, I was so excited I almost couldn’t find a polite way to say ‘yes.’”
They left the day Ryan received his bachelor’s degree from University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg. “He missed the ceremony, but he said he’d rather go to Africa than walk across the stage,” Doug says.
After a 16-hour flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg, South Africa, the two caught a flight the next morning to the eastern town of Richards Bay, on the Indian Ocean, followed by a two-hour drive to their lodge near the small town of Mkuze.
Even on the drive into the 60,000-acre Zululand Black Rhino Reserve, it was clear that this wasn’t going to be like any other hunting trip. Doug and Ryan—along with professional hunter Henk Brink and Zulu tracker Elias—spotted many native species: lions, rhinos, elephants, wildebeest, zebras and several types of antelope. Most, of course, were not on the list for hunting.
Each of the seven days at the lodge followed a pattern. After awakening every morning before sunrise for breakfast, the group would go out for their morning hunt. After returning for lunch, they would go back out in the afternoon for another session. The routine, though, was worlds apart from the grind back home.
“To be in a place like that and be able to stop and watch was amazing,” Ryan said. “Usually I’m going to work, coming home, running around. I had the chance to relax and not be concerned with daily tasks. It was a very reflective experience.”
While hunting was the trip’s main purpose, the adventure was about much more. The trip was in May—late fall in the Southern Hemisphere—so nights were spent with the windows open, sleeping to the sounds of the wilderness. Henk owned the lodge and lived there with his wife and their three children, so the Bennetts got to know the Brink family well.
“We all lived at the lodge together; we had three meals a day together, and they’d build a campfire every night beside the lodge,” Doug says. “We were treated like family.”
Halfway through the week, a group of six Norwegians joined them—one was among 16 property owners in the game reserve—and the Scandinavian guests joined them for dinner each evening. Ryan says he connected with some of the other visitors about Mkuze’s natural beauty.
“At one point, I was with Olaf, and I told him that looking at the landscape was the best TV show in the world,” Ryan says. “He liked that; he said he was going to use that when he got home.”
Doug is an experienced world traveler—he and his wife have been around the country and journeyed to Europe several times. But he and Ryan both say this was a trip unlike any other. Ryan was taken by Africa’s exquisiteness: watching the sun rise every morning, reflecting on life and nature, not being consumed with the daily grind.
“It’s like a time capsule,” Ryan says. “You get to see this immense amount of land still dedicated to nature—as opposed to billboards and McDonald’s.”
The trip made so much of an impact on Doug that he’s taking the entire family back in the summer of 2015.
Doug plans to spend a week in late July in the Limpopo province of northern South Africa hunting Cape buffalo—reportedly the most dangerous of the “big five” species, which also include the African elephant, black rhinoceros, African lion and African leopard. Then the rest of the family—his wife, Marlena, sons Evan and Ryan and Ryan’s fiancée, Jessica—will join him for a photo safari and sightseeing in Cape Town.
“I wanted everyone to experience it,” Doug says. “It’s a completely different world. Even if you’ve been all over the U.S. or even Europe, you still haven’t been to Africa.”