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Joan of the Jungle
Joan Shores explores childhood dream of travel

by Heather Berry

Joan Shores turned her love of travel into a Harrisonville home-based business.

All her life Joan Shores, 61, has had what she calls the "Tarzan syndrome," a love for animals and a wanderlust, or urge to travel, especially to Africa.

"When you grow up in Payola, Kans., like I did, nobody ever went anywhere, much less to Africa. That was pretty much akin to going to the moon," says Joan, a member of Osage Valley Electric Cooperative.

As a child she never missed watching TV's "Wild Kingdom" and she read every book she could about Africa. All those years, Joan never imagined she'd actually travel abroad, something she had dreamed about all her life.

It wasn't until age 40 before she began to travel and now there's no stopping her. To date, she's visited more than 20 different countries.

In the mid '90s the registered dietitian decided to become a travel agent so she could book her own trips. It was then Joan began her home-based business, Jungle Joan's Safaris. "In 1996 I began making plans for a safari to Kenya and in 1997 I took my first group," says the Harrisonville-based agent.

Joan's first group was only four people, including herself. Now she takes groups of 10 to 15 on her excursions. She claims her trips have more game drives than any other 11-day safari trip you'll currently find.

Game drives are guided excursions to the wilds of Africa to view the animals up close. While she says all of Africa is absolutely beautiful, Joan says Kenya is her favorite destination.

"The land is beautiful. It has a number of ecological environments," says Joan. "It has rain forest, it has kind of a highlands desert, a lot like south Texas, it has the Masai Mara (meaning "spotted plain") and it reminds me of the Flint Hills of Kansas, only with tall acacia trees spotting the landscape."

Although some might choose to "rough" it in Africa, Joan's groups usually end up at the Mara Serena, a lodge set high on a hill which gives guests a commanding view of the extraordinary rolling plains, woodlands and rivers below.

"You can often sit outside your lodge room at night and listen to the lions roar," says Joan. "There's nothing quite like it."

The Masai Mara, Kenya's finest wildlife sanctuary, stretches below the resort. This is where visitors witness part of Kenya's annual animal migrations. Here great herds of elephants shuffle across vast grasslands while ill-tempered rhinos bound across your path or a yawning hippo soaks in the Mara River.

"We drove through prides of lions and giraffes would cross the road right in front of us," says Christine West, 82, who took Joan's tour. "The animals had no fear of us. They hardly knew we were there."

Joan says the drivers she hires for her safaris are extremely knowledgeable about their country and its wildlife. Although they've never had any trouble, Joan says you never know what you'll see on a game drive.

"Once we drove up to a herd of elephants. One of them came over close to us and just kept getting closer and closer," recalls Joan. "Just as he walked by, his eyes got big and he threw his head back because he realized we were there. He began flapping his ears, turned and ran away."

The driver quietly backed out of the herd and off they drove, but he said if the young elephant had gotten scared enough, he could have had the bus surrounded in seconds with a circle of angry elephants.

Most people think of Africa as a hot, desolate land, but according to Joan, they have winter and summer. "A hard frost is rare. In July, their dry season, it was in the 40s at night and the high-80s during the days. You dress in layers," says Joan. "It's very much like being in the Colorado Rocky Mountains in the summertime. You're at about 6,000 feet."

On her last trip to Africa, Joan was able to book the trip for $3,600 each for her safari folks. That price included round-trip airfare from Kansas City, lodging, game drives and all but one or two meals.

While Africa is her main destination with groups, Joan has taken tours to Costa Rica, an all-inclusive 9-day trip which runs about $1,500 per person. But Joan has other trips on the horizon for those who share her wanderlust. "I have plans to take groups to Bali, Thailand, Asia, Honduras and Egypt," says Joan.

For scuba divers, she recommends the Bay Islands of Honduras. "They're the best kept secret of the Caribbean," says the certified scuba diver. "You can even swim with the dolphins if you like."

But of all her travels, Africa is likely to always be Joan's main attraction.

"It's not only beautiful to see, but the people are just as amazing. You haven't seen anything until you see Samburu tribe members dance. They stand in one place and jump straight up into the air during their dances," says Joan. "I cried the first time I saw it."

You may contact Jungle Joan Safaris at 24604 E. 327 Street, Harrisonville, MO 64701 or by calling (816) 430-5642.

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