It’s not uncommon for our leather lives to intersect with more mainstream happenings and hobbies, however, Master Travel and Tours is revolutionizing ‘kink vacationing’ with the offer of a South African adventure tour. The once-in-a-lifetime ‘bucket list’ trip will include both a history-making leather weekend and a wildlife safari.

Leather and Lions will depart on December 2 for a tour of South Africa that will run December 3–12, 2014. Hosted by Master Travel and Tours, the South African adventure promises leather folk “our own private customized first-class African experience.”

The tour will include five nights in Cape Town, one night in Johannesburg, and four nights at a private game reserve in Greater Kruger Park, including meals, and morning and nighttime game drives. Alongside this safari adventure, Leather and Lions will include the Mr and first-ever Ms South Africa Leather 2014 contest weekend, with a ‘meet and greet’ barbeque, Friday night beer bust, after party and leather brunch.

Assisting Master Travel and Tours as “Leather Host” will be Cowboi Jen, Mid-Atlantic Leatherwoman 2009, of Philadelphia. She made history in South Africa in December 2012 when she was both the first international judge and first female judge for the Mr South Africa (SA) Leather contest. And Cowboi Jen played a role in Master Travel and Tours deciding to launch the Leather and Lions tour.

“Her infectious enthusiasm for the brotherhood she experienced in South Africa, the stunning landscape she described, along with the amazing animal encounters she had experienced, helped us decide that this was a trip we needed to be involved with,” said Randy McPhee, head Travel Director for the Leather and Lions Tour.

“South Africa is an extremely diverse country. There is breathtaking beauty at every turn. Visiting during the leather weekend gives opportunities for countries to learn and grow together. It is the best of all worlds packaged together for a bucket list trip of a lifetime,” explained Cowboi Jen.

McPhee, a life-long traveler with a sales and marketing background, is co-founder of Master Travel and Tours alongside his Sir and business partner, Master Mike Zuhl, of Pittsburgh.

An avid traveler who has visited more than 22 countries, Zuhl is a former travel agency owner with more than 25 years of travel, sales and marketing experience. He’s returned to the industry in this venture with a focus on LGBT clients and adventure travel.

McPhee, also a lifelong traveler, says it’s his passion to explore new cultures, share new experiences with others and the resulting life-long connections he’s made with people are the reasons that compelled him to co-found a company that specializes personalized travel experiences. Master Travel and Tours creates custom group itineraries based on guest preferences and expectations. That’s why Leather and Lions will offer a wide range of optional tours for the stay in Cape Town.

“It’s what travel does to engage our imaginations and to inspire and rejuvenate our lives. This is what motivates me to provide those experiences for others. I know it’s a lofty ideal, but I love how travel can transform people’s lives,” said McPhee, who discovered his love of travel at a young age with his family. By 15, McPhee had traveled through most of the Eastern United States and West Europe. At 21, he was backpacking in Australia and New Zealand. He continued to travel to South America, Mexico, Japan, and Korea. Wherever he went, he was always looking for new adventures.

“Gay travelers, for the most part, are very much like straight travelers. There is a strong desire for socializing and to be with like-minded people so they can feel themselves and so they can feel safe,” continued Zuhl. “Some of the best vacations I have taken have been in small groups of gay travelers because there’s an unspoken commonality and familiarity that just doesn’t happen in a straight environment. A sort of ease of relationship and comfort.”

“We have been to many leather events that have been strictly centered around the activities of a contest. We wanted to expand and share our experience while traveling to these amazing places to include the incredibly scenery, culture and people surrounding those venues,” said Zuhl.

Leather and Lions will take travelers to Cape Town, ranked one of the most beautiful cities in the world and the number one tourist destination in Africa. In addition to exploring the surrounding centuries-old winelands, the tour will take in the surrounding Cape Peninsula, including the southernmost point on the African continent.

Available attractions include swimming with great white sharks, climbing Table Mountain to enjoy breath-taking views of the city, exploring South African history with a boat trip to Robben Island, and the lively Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in the historic heart of Cape Town’s working harbor.

Accommodation in Cape Town will be a four-star restored Victorian guesthouse with wrap-around-balconies, high ceilings and wooden floors. Double volume rooms, each tastefully restored, have en-suite bathrooms. A communal lounge and breakfast area leads to the outside entertainment area and poolside courtyard. The self-help barbeque and bar service will make this the perfect place to relax and socialize with fellow travelers.

The South Africa (SA) Leather Weekend will celebrate its 5th year in 2014. Participants will be part of South African leather history when the weekend features the very first Ms SA Leather contest; the first title for leather women in the continent of Africa.

At Mr SA and Ms SA events, visitors will have the opportunity to meet and mingle with South African leather brothers and sisters, including former Mr SA Leather titleholders Jaco Lourens, Gerrie Voster and Johann Jooste. You’ll quickly discover why all three leathermen finished in the Top 10 at International Mr Leather.

By now, some area already daunted at the thought of wearing leather in the extreme African heat and sun, wondering ‘What would I take?’ True, December in Cape Town is very hot, with average daytime temperatures ranging from 77 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Most find it too hot to wear full leather. Master Travel and Tours recommends you leave leather jackets at home; pack jeans, chaps, shirt and vest. Take shorts and clothes that will be comfortable for outside of leather events. Make sure you bring a hat or cap.

South Africa Airways allows for two checked bags when booking all flights, including domestic flights, on one itinerary. But Master Travel and Tours suggests that’s overkill for the amount of time you will be there. The more portable and duel purpose you can make your wardrobe – the better your mobility and travel experience will be. Don’t over-pack!

Likewise, perhaps even more daunting for some are concerns about being a gay and kinky foreigner in Africa, especially in light of the horror stories in the media about anti-gay attitudes and homophobic violence in places like Uganda.

“Africa is a big place! You could fit continental USA into Africa three times over. No, not all Africa is safe just like not all of North America is safe. However, South Africa is a very progressive, liberal country and, as in any country, big cities are more liberal than rural areas but Cape Town is a very diverse and gay-friendly environment,” said Jaco Lourens, Mr SA Leather 2010 and now chairman of SA Leather.

Professional tour guide Craig Barrowman concurs. In addition to being the guide for the Leather and Lions tour while in Capetown, Barrowman is also treasurer of SA Leathermen. Barrowman’s presence is another example of Master Travel and Tours’ effort to offer guests the expertise of people that straddle both the leather and travel communities.

“Remember that Africa consists of 54 countries. And the good news is that South Africa was the first country in the world to safeguard sexual orientation as a human right in its constitution, as read by Nelson Mandela in his Presidential inauguration speech in May 1990, when he read the equality clause which makes specific reference to sexual orientation,” said Barrowman.

“We were also the fifth country in the world, the first in Africa, the first in the southern hemisphere, and the second outside Europe to legalize same-sex marriage,” explained Barrowman, clearly proud of his country’s progressive attitude and equality rights advancements.

Barrowman is also quick to correct any misconception that South Africans are unaccepting or ignorant about gay people. “This is not the case. Personality and friendliness count more than being straight or gay. Everyone who I have been in contact with has had wonderful experiences while in South Africa,” continued Barrowman, but notes that realistically one can experience random incidents of homophobia anywhere.

Whether on the streets of a foreign city or among new playmates, many savvy travelers and leatherfolk share the knowledge that a little common sense can go a long way when it comes to safety precautions.

“South Africa is a very, very young nation when it comes to kink, there are groups who are dedicated to ‘Safe, Sane Consensual,’ but I always advise people to make sure they know their play partners before they indulge in activities,” said Lourens, reminding people “Don’t bring items that the airlines will deem dangerous, sharp, etc.”
A major highlight of the tour will be visiting the Greater Kruger Park for two daily game drives. The park covers more than 9000 hectares of prime African bushveld and is home to the Shiduli Private Game Lodge, as well as ‘The Big 5’ everyone wants to see on a safari: lions, leopards, buffalo, rhinos and elephants. 

With a relaxed but luxurious ambience, Shiduli Lodge offers 24 beautifully furnished rooms with en-suite bathrooms. Meals are prepared in exquisite detail by an award-winning chef, and guests will enjoy a traditional South African barbeque know as a “braai.” With views of the Lowveld from a rocky hill, the lush indigenous landscape includes an enormous sparkling pool, loungers with internet facilities, bar, and thatched dining areas decorated with original South African art.

Visitors will travel on game drives in an open safari vehicle staffed by South African Game Rangers and Shangaan trackers, who will share their vast experience of the African Bush. The open vehicles provide perfect photographic opportunities for game viewing and scenery.

Being on a private reserve, guests will enjoy restricted viewing privileges of wildlife not readily available to the general public, including the chance to view Cheetah on foot. The area is home to more than 365 different bird species. And guests will enjoy sipping a “sundowner” while taking in spectacular sunsets over the magnificent Drakensberg Mountains. The lodge is also situated close to major sightseeing attractions such as Blyde River Canyon, Pilgrims Rest and the Three Rondawels.

Tour guide Robin Mountain will provide travelers with first hand knowledge. Mountain is an expert on South Africa travel. He and his wife, Stella, founded and operate Ntaba Tours, which specializes in travel to Southern and East Africa. Both born and raised in South Africa, they relocated their family to the US about 14 years ago and now live in Frankfort, Kentucky.

Mountain is a registered national South African Guide. He’s also a South Africa Fundi Tourism Expert, certified by South African Tourism. He personally accompanies all groups on their trips to Africa.
A larger-than-life character — he’s summited Mount Kilimanjaro three times — Mountain speaks the local African languages, has a degree in Animal Science, and shares with travelers his extensive knowledge of African cultures, wild animals and bird life.

Common sense also prevails when preparing to visit a foreign continent such as Africa. Master Travel and Tours says Karongwe is a large and private reserve that is not at risk for malaria infection and that no special vaccinations or visas are necessary to travel to South Africa. This, however, may vary depending on your country of residence. You should always check with local travel authorities and your professional health advisor to assess your own personal health risks and precautionary needs before traveling to a foreign country.

If you’re one of the people leery about the term “Adventure Travel,” both Zuhl and McPhee caution the term ‘adventure’ means something different to everyone.

“For some people ‘adventure’ might mean riding in a hot air balloon, bungee-jumping, or hiking to a lookout; while to others it could mean shark-cage diving with great white sharks, which is an optional tour while we’re in in South Africa,” said McPhee. “‘Soft Travel’ is what I promote because it is more accessible to the average traveler and is more of a state of mind,”

“Taking someone far outside of their individual comfort zone in a safe manner is what excites me about traveling. I get a feeling of accomplishment from putting people in situations that they don’t normally experience whether its exotic food or an activity or immersing themselves in a cultural experience that they never have experienced,” continued McPhee.

“To see them stretch themselves and to discover what they normally wouldn’t think that they are capable of doing. I love seeing someone’s eyes widen with amazement when they tell me about an adventure they experienced,” said McPhee.

Zuhl also understands firsthand how travel and new cultural experiences can contribute to personal growth and a larger worldview.

“As a young man exploring many different cities in the United States and Europe, I found myself in many different situations. The one common thread was, if I was lost or could not speak the local language, there was always a friendly stranger there to help,” reminisced Zuhl.

“Exploring the world at times can be scary but the rewards are great. If you allow yourself to open up and overcome these fears, you will find a world full of beauty and make many memories and friendships that will last a lifetime.”
For some, it’s taking that first step towards adventure and the unknown. “To quote Auntie Mame, ‘Life is a banquet — and most poor suckers are starving to death!’” said Zuhl.

For complete details on the Leather and Lions tour, visit www.mastertravelandtours.com

About the author: A gay activist since the 1980s, Master Brandon Matheson has enjoyed a 30-year media career as a broadcaster, journalist, editor, and publisher. Since 1993, he has worked for Pink Triangle Press and is the Publisher & Editor-in-chief of the Xtra gay newspapers in Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa and DailyXtra.com. He lives in Toronto with his leather family of four boys.