A group of Port Washington restaurateurs, physicians, business owners and educators recently returned from the ultimate African safari.
There was no roughing it for this group of 20 friends who stayed in tents with chandeliers, mahogany floors, claw-foot bathtubs and personal decks that overlooked the savannah during the four nights they stayed at Kapama Buffalo Camp in Kapama River Lodge, a private preserve adjacent to Kruger National Park in South Africa.
There, they dined on five-star cuisine with linen tablecloths and napkins in the middle of the bush as well as in their camp, although the fare was unusual — warthog, crocodile tail, impala, kudu, ostrich and wildebeest.
They followed giraffes sauntering down dirt roads, stopped for elephants crossing in front of them and saw water buffalo, hippos, rhinos, cheetahs, leopards and lions that were sometimes closer than was comfortable.
The group also visited Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, one of the seven natural wonders in the world, and Chobe National Park in Botswana, where they saw hundreds of elephants come to a river to drink.
Some sailed above the savannah in hot air balloons. Others went on zip lines or took an extreme white river rafting trip. One couple visited a former exchange student in Zambia. Another extended their trip to do a one-week mission project in Cape Town.
It was the experience of a lifetime, all agreed.
“It wasn’t on my bucket list, but now I would go back in a heartbeat,” said Jim Biever, who is the Green Bay Packers photographer and owner of Biever Travel. He and his wife Mary led the trip organized by travel agent Megan Andersen.
The other travelers were Marty and Andy Becker, Maria and Jim Kiesow and their daughter Katie Kucharski, Scott and Pat Schweizer, Jill and Rick Bunting, Vicky and Doug McManus, Marcia and Skip Endicott, Bridget and Troy Bretl, Janet Trzecinski, Nora Dygon, a retired Port Washington High School teacher who lives in Wind Lake, and her sister Terri Mason of Racine.
“For a photographer, this was like being a kid in a candy store,” Biever said. “I took 2,500 photos and whittled it down to 1,800 good ones and 140 best ones. To see the animals in their own habitat was incredible.
“What made this special was the people. We all got along so well. Everybody arrived early for everything. Nobody was late. That really helps when you’re organizing that many people and going to several countries.”
The trip was limited to 20 people because there are only 10 luxury tents at Kapama Buffalo Camp, which they had to themselves for four days.
They divided into three groups, each group riding in vehicles with guides who took them to whatever animal they wanted to see that day. They went on three-hour sunrise and sunset safaris, enjoying drinks and snacks with zebras and rhinos nearby.
The animals were accustomed to the preserve’s guides and vehicles and for the most part ignored the visitors.
“One time, a rhinoceros started charging our vehicle,” Biever said. “Our driver held his ground until the rhino put its head down, and then we sped off.”
The Kiesows went on a bush walk one afternoon that was more daring than they expected. Maria said she thought they were going to see plants and flowers in the area, but that’s what another group did.
“Our guide said, ‘We’re going to do something different than the other group,’” Jim Kiesow said. “‘We’re going to stalk one of the big five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and water buffalo). If a buffalo gets up and charges, get behind a tree.’
“We stalked rhinos. We got close enough that they became uncomfortable and ran away.”
Which is good, Biever said, because rhinos kill more people in Africa than any other animal.
“Just about everything there wants to eat you,” Biever said. “We were told we would be OK if we stayed in the vehicles. “I do a lot of hunting in Wisconsin, but I had no desire to shoot these magnificent animals.”
Poaching is a huge problem in Africa. Elephants are shot for their valuable ivory tusks and rhinos for their horns.
“If they catch a poacher, they kill him and leave him for the lions to eat,” Biever said.
After leaving Kapama, the group stayed in the historic Victoria Falls Hotel for a night and spent two nights at Chobe Safari Lodge, where they went on several safaris before flying back to Chicago on Feb. 26.
The 10-day safari was a dream come true for Kucharski, whose father promised her since she was a little girl that he would take her to Africa. When she learned family friend Marty Becker would be going, they worked on her father.
“It started over breakfast at Harry’s (Restaurant in Port Washington),” Biever said. “Marty Becker said it was on his bucket list and Scott Schweizer said he always wanted to go to Africa, and it grew from there.”
Image information: A group of Port Washington area friends was left awestruck by the wonders of a South African game preserve. For more photos, check out this week's edition of your local Ozaukee Press.