Jody is our newest host and the brains behind our Africa tours. Although she’s currently based in North Carolina, she owns property in South Africa and has lead over a hundred safaris on the continent. Get to know Jody and the inspiration behind her two upcoming all-women’s Africa tours below!
To start off, how did an American born and raised woman develop such a love of Africa?
Well I’ve said this many times before, but travelling to Africa is a dream that I didn’t even know I had. I used to think Australia was my dream.
Anyways, I was challenged by a friend to live out a dream. So out of the blue I decided to travel to Africa in January 1998. I immediately fell in love.
After about 4 years of going, I befriended a couple of safari guides, two men—one Zimbawean-born, the other South African-born—and this is a traditionally male-dominant field. And at the time I wasn’t even 40. Separately, both of them said, “You know Jody, you should consider taking a course to become a guide.” And of course I thought I can’t do that, I’m American, I’m 40, I’m a woman… In the back of my head I also thought I’m gay. But long-story short I took the course and I killed it. And I’m a terrible student—I graduated college with a 2.1! So when I killed the guiding exam, and my instructor said I was one of the most entertaining students he’d ever had, I thought ‘This is it. This is what I’m supposed to do.’
What was the inspiration behind our women’s South Africa: Kruger Park Safari?
First, it’s important to me all of my guests go home blown away by their experience. Of course I want their money to be well spent in memories and photographs. But I also really want my tours to make an impact on them.
For our South Africa: Kruger Park Safari specifically, I wanted to do something for the sober and recovering community. I’m also in recovery and I thought it would be great to have a wellness women’s safari.
My initial idea for this spiritual and wellness tour was to start in the bush on a walking safari. I want my guests to experience what Teddy Roosevelt experienced 100 years ago—minus all the servants, of course. I want them to walk on the same pathways that elephants carved eons ago. The same pathways lions and leopards and impala and kudu and all these other amazing animals walk on. It’s totally different from driving around looking out the window. You became an actor in the experience rather than just an observer and that can lead to these cerebral moments.
After having this immersive experience, I want my guests to enjoy some of the finer things. So we’ll drive through Kruger National Park and get to this luxury lodge at Tanda Tula. It is just a brilliant camp. Very small. Maximum 24 guests so we’ll feel very exclusive. The food is through the roof—you could go home gaining weight. Also, this is when our guests can take some time off from the go-go-go and just relax.
Finally, I wanted to design an all-women’s trip because when you’re with your gender, you have a different experience than a mixed gender group. It’s not animosity, it’s just how we relate to each other. In a woman’s group—especially an introspective group—I wanted the opportunity at night or during tea to feel like we could talk. If something comes up for a guest, I want them to feel very comfortable to share.
What makes Kruger Park so special?
Kruger Park is the largest and one of the oldest national parks in South Africa.
It was originally a hunting property until Paul Kruger, who was a hunter, one day realized back in the late 1800s, ‘guys, slow down. We’re taking out too many animals.’ He was the one who originally petitioned for the park and now it’s about 20,000 sq km/7,500 sq m.
What makes the north where we’re going so special, is it’s owned by the Makuleke. It’s an area called the Pafuri Triangle and is wedged between Limpopo and Luvuvhu Rivers and is the most bio-diverse region of the entire park. Walking here is so special—only 10% of the land has road access, while the other 90% is untouched wilderness.
Also the Makuleke people were one of the first people to legally win their land claim after the new constitution was enacted by Nelson Mandela.
You often use the word ‘immersive’ to describe this safari. Can you elaborate?
When we’re in a typical safari vehicle there’s still that one degree of separation. You are not a participant, you’re a viewer of what’s happening around you. I designed this trip so when we kick off, we are actual participants in the experience. I want women to immediately dive into the safari experience and have nothing around them but the clothes they’re wearing and the two guides walking with them. On this tour you’ll be walking and you don’t know what’s around the next bush. You’re tuned in. You’ll start smelling more, hearing more. You’ll touch or feel plants that I’ll hand you. It’s so different than driving around.
If you had to pick just one, what animal continues to spark wonder and excitement whenever you see it?
I don’t want to get anyone excited about seeing one because it’s virtually impossible. But I jump out of my clothes whenever I see a honey badger. They are little tanks with the shortest little legs. And if I see a honey badger, it takes everything for me to stay in the vehicle. They are the true kings of the jungle. You’ll see elephant and lion sipping out of a watering hole together, and a honey badger shows up and everybody’s like, ‘Alright. It’s yours. We’re out.’
Jumping countries and tours, let’s talk about our Tanzania: Women’s Kilimanjaro Climb. What has been your experience hiking Kilimanjaro?
Two things come to mind. First it was a heck of a lot harder than I expected. And I trained! So I always encourage people to train more than they think they need to. It’s just exhausting. Not painful. You won’t get hurt. It’s just exhausting.
The other thing was the ecozones. When you start in this thick jungle and as you climb the vegetation gets less and less and less until you’re practically in desert. It’s amazing to see that transition.
Can you share what it was like surmounting Kilimanjaro that very first time?
From exhaustion or amazement?
Both! It was that big exhale. That exhale said more than words can convey. It was “Thank god.” and “Oh my god, I did this!” The accomplishment and exhaustion is impossible to describe.
Kili is often called ‘Every woman’s Everest.” But as you say that doesn’t mean it’s an easy climb. Can you tell us a bit about the difficulty of hiking Kilimanjaro?
Travellers need to remember Kilimanjaro is not just physical. It’s mental. You need to be in the right head space. We’ll be there to support you and help you through it. But it’s going to be a mental challenge.
I’ve always said if you need a goal and you need to prove something to yourself, well Africa is giving you that option. Tick that box. And honestly, if that’s your dream, why not reach your dream with a group of like-minded women with the same dream?
But remember, training is paramount. And everyone forgets to train downhill. Remember, whenever you go up, you need to come down and that’s a whole different group of muscles.
If a woman was considering her first lesbian & bisexual group tour experience what would you tell her to expect?
You’re going to be safe. It’s okay to be who you are.
I think going to Africa and leaving our North American safety net can be hard. Africa is a continent where it’s notorious to be gay. But I would remind lesbian and bisexual women, you’re going to be with like-minded people and free to be who you are. You’re safe.
On the topic of LGBT travel, how accepting are South Africa and Tanzania?
I feel 100% safe in both countries. Everyone I work with is totally tuned in. I never hide my sexuality. The company we’re working with in Tanzania, I’ve been working with them for eleven years and they’ve known I was a lesbian since day one.
In regards to South Africa, it was actually the first country in the world to add protections for LGBT people into their constitution.
Final question: after covid-19 recedes and it’s safe to travel again, what country or destination are you going to jet off to?
Well it’s looking like I’ll probably be able to get to East Africa first. I have a home in South Africa but it’s looking like I’ll be heading to Tanzania and Uganda first.
Interested in joining Jody on an all-women’s tour in Africa?
This interview has been edited for clarity.
The honey badger photo is courtesy of Wikipedia Commons. All other photos courtesy of Jody Cole and Summit Expeditions.
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