Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Your next vacation should be a Wild Rainbow African Safari with out guide Jody Cole

Meet Jody Cole, pioneering out-and-proud owner of Africa’s premier LGBTQ-friendly safari company, Wild Rainbow African Safaris. The former debutant turned LGBT activist has been traveling to East and South Africa for the past 23 years, expertly guiding groups, most over the age of 40. But in this COVID world, I had a few questions for Jody. Here’s our conversation.

“Scatmaster: Jody Cole (center) examining animal poop with tour guests Laurie and Ember

How has the pandemic affected travel in a destination like Africa?

Jody: No one in the travel industry is not affected. Everyone from the pilot to the baggage handler, the reception clerk to the housekeeper, the farmer growing the food guests eat, to the chef, waiter and busboy. On safari — from the guides to the camp mechanic — are all out of a job for an unforeseeable future. I’d never thought of the economic ripple effect the tourism industry has on an economy. It’s overwhelming and sad. 

My dear friends and their families in two of my favorite countries, Tanzania and South Africa, have been devastated by the lack of income which translates to money to buy food.

Jody Cole

I believe you embarked on an initiative to try to help local people?

Jody: A group of us safari guides from all over the world (21 countries) challenged ourselves at the end of April, beginning of May to do a 150 km (93 miles) walk over three days carrying a backpack weighing up to 18kg (about 40 pounds) to raise money for our lodge colleagues in South Africa. The overnight idea turned into Tshembo Africa Foundation, created by these guides.

African wildlife is getting a break during the pandemic

That’s something positive to come out of the pandemic. Anything else?

Jody: The only real winners here are the wildlife that have had a much-needed reprieve from constant safari vehicles. The silence is wonderfully welcome. I hadn’t fully considered  the impact tourism has on wildlife. I consider myself really tuned in and I even missed this fact until the pandemic silenced everything.

When the world opens again, why would Wild Rainbow African Safaris be of particular interest or value to the traveler over 40 years of age?

Jody: I started the company when I was 42. I understand that at a certain point in life, consideration for comfort and expertly guided experiences far outweigh the affordable, high volume, roughing it options that seem only available or palatable to younger travelers. I seek far more internally impactful trips, something that will have lasting meaning long after the photo has faded. 

Going on safari during a pandemic has its perks: you get the animals all to yourself

After this pandemic, I personally would seek travel as a transformative experience. So why Africa?

Jody: Africa has an effect on almost every guest I have hosted over the years. It certainly did for me 23 years ago. While I’ve had guests younger than 40 who appreciate meaningful travel my guests of 40, 50, 60 and 70+ years are most often in a place of reflection and contemplation about Who am I and what is my legacy? Nature of all kinds speaks to the soul; Africa has an ancient voice that seems to speak long after we return home. You know you’ve been touched by Africa.

I know the areas we travel to really well and I’ve developed many deep friendships that offer more access that a typical agency could offer. Spending time on safari certainly brings the contemplative muse out in many of my guests.

Jody Cole

The maxim that life begins at 40 seems true for women, who get better with age. Would you agree?

Jody: Of course we get better with age! I think we get more comfortable in our own skin. At some point we don’t care as much. And yes, a different life begins as the decades collect. I cannot speak for men, but I do know women tend to be reflective as a new decade approaches. “What have I not done? What can I do better? What has meaning to me now?” And so on…

Some of us are wary of travel right now, but you got back from a trip to Africa. How was the experience?

Jody: I traveled to Tanzania at the beginning of October on Ethiopian Airlines. I was blown away at the consistency of mask wearing, availability of hand cleaning stations and social distancing that was closely monitored, there and back. People were orderly and polite. Airports were virtually empty. Security was a breeze. In Tanzania staff wore masks at all the lodges I visited. Guests were encouraged to wear masks while in common areas. However, the design of most safari lodges is for open air common areas. The lodges were virtually empty anyway. Our tables at mealtime were set far apart and beautifully positioned for a great view. A lot of thought has been put into making both staff and guests feel safe and comfortable in each others’ company. On game drives masks were not required because game vehicles are open air. 

Jody Cole (4th from left) with a Wild Rainbow African Safaris group

So a safari would make a great pandemic vacation?

Jody: Travel in nature is ideal right now, especially to safari destination countries in Africa that are welcoming guests. There are hardly any guests traveling now so you would get the entire experience to yourself. This will never happen again. Wild Rainbow hosts guests in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.

This time is perfect for getting really clear, I mean really clear about what you want to do after COVID ends. Who is the person you want to be? This is your chance to give it everything. And when you are ready to travel again where do you really, really want to go?

How safe is Africa for LGBTQ travelers?

  • Homosexuality is illegal in most every safari destination except South Africa. 
  • Laws regarding same-gender relationships and marriage were codified in the post Apartheid constitution signed by then President Nelson Mandela. 
  • It is important and respectful to be mindful of local customs. After all, we are visiting someone else’s home and culture. As guests we must do as the locals do. 
  • Having said this, while at lodges and hotels no one really cares. The job of the employees there is to host you and provide you with high quality service.
  • Couples are safe. In most cultures, even in many areas of the US, canoodling in public with your sweetie (straight or not straight) is frowned upon. 
  • In Africa, culturally, it is a sign of respect for men to casually touch hands or hold pinky fingers. Same with women. But you would never see a hetero couple touching.
  • If you had planned to hook up with anyone using an App, please refrain. Once you leave the tourist bubble you are on your own, you are now treated as a local and therefore susceptible to local laws.

For more information or itineraries for 2021/2022 visit www.wildrainbowsafaris.com.

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Merryn Johns

Merryn Johns is the Editor-in-Chief of Queer Forty. She is an award-winning journalist, as well as a broadcaster and public speaker. Originally from Sydney, Australia where she began her career in journalism in the 1990s, she is based in New York City where she became the editor-in-chief of Curve Magazine and wrote for a variety of publications including Vanity Fair, Vogue, Slate, and more. Follow on Twitter at @Merryn1

Merryn Johns has 141 posts and counting. See all posts by Merryn Johns

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