Pivoting in a Pandemic
Above: Hadley exploring Sossusvlei in Namibia's Namib Desert. Photo: Jomi Krobb
By Molly Kieloch
Hadley Pierce '11 first traveled to Africa on vacation when she was 12. She returned to the continent a few years later--during freshman and sophomore summers at Dana Hall--to support elementary school teacher development in Nairobi. Later, while studying abroad in Cape Town during college, her love was cemented and she returned after graduation to enroll in a six-month safari guiding course. "I called my mom the first week I was there and told her I'm not coming home," Pierce remembers.
That course led to her hiring as a safari guide in South Africa, which led to positions at lodges, both guiding and managing, and eventually managing Bisate Lodge, a high-end gorilla trekking lodge in Rwanda. Throughout this time, she shared her love of the countries and places she worked with those back home.
Pierce's partner, Jomi Krobb, loved planning trips for family and friends to visit them in Africa, as did she, and they felt there was a business opportunity there. They laid the ground work for their private safari company Trunks & Tracks in 2017, but a job offer in Rwanda put their plans on the back burner. Two years later, they agreed it was time to pursue working for themselves.
In November 2019, they left Rwanda and moved to Boston to start the business, get the website up and running, and begin planning trips. The first week of March, they went to Dublin for what was supposed to be a three-week visit. Then the pandemic happened, and three weeks turned into six months.
They used their time there to restructure their entire website once they realized how much more time people were spending online while cooped up indoors. They added photos and videos of their safaris to inspire future travel, and started making weekly wildlife quizzes on their Instagram Stories.
In Dublin, the couple--along with the rest of the city--was on a strict lockdown with only short walks permitted from their home. It was on those that the idea of a travel podcast came about. Pierce and Krobb wanted to share their love of safaris and answer questions while also drumming up business for their travel company, so it seemed like a natural fit.
"We wanted to give people an escape," Pierce said. "This has been a dark time for so many that we waned to offer a weekly 30-minute reprieve from the doom and gloom of the pandemic. Go out on a walk, start an episode of Safari Stories, and listen to Jomi tell the story of when monkeys ransacked out kitchen or when I was nearly flattened by an elephant at night."
Pierce laughs about their early days of podcasting. "We literally bought a microphone, sat in our attic, and recordedd a podcast on a bench!" While Krobb's degree in music helped immensely with all the post-production, they still had to learn what works and doesn't the hard way. "We recorded three podcast in a row outside only to realize there were lawnmowers, birds, and wind in the background. When Jomi went to edit them, he realized they were all completely unusable." The paid spent the first few weeks researching how to build a listened base and how to make sure they were providing a high-quality product. Since then, they have climbed their way to the Top 50 Nature Podcasts in the U.S., Great Britain, and Canada.
Now that they've found their groove, the pair just wrapped the second season of "Safari Stories" and have expanded to include interviews with friends and colleagues in the safari industry. They intend to continue with a third season, and are hoping to produce 5-10 minute educational videos for elementary and middle school teachers.
Above: Hadley and George in the jungle. Photo: Jomi Krobb
Along with her newfound podcasting success, Pierce used the pandemic to tackle one of her own bucket list items: write a children's book series. She and Krobb rescued an abused street dog names George while living in Rwanda. The series chronicles his transition from the streets of Kigali to their 5-stay lodge, living with a little of nine puppies Pierce and Krobb rescued, his experiences going to a livestock vet (the only vet nearby), and his journey flying to and settling into his new life in America. Pierce is finalizing the series now and hopes to send it to editors in the coming months.
As they look ahead to a post-pandemic world, Pierce feels hopeful by the excitement building around future travel and travel specifically to wilderness areas. "People have had a reality check to their mortality and are no longer putting off experiences they've always wanted to do," she said. "We keep hearing, 'As soon as the vaccine is ready, we want to book our safari.' That's really exciting."
Follow along on Pierce's adventures in the African bush on her Instagram account, @trunksandtracks. You can listen to the "Safari Stories" podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Sound Cloud or on their website at www.trunksandtracks.com/podcast.