Every one who meets Jody Cole is dazzled. From the Makuleke women who cook and clean for the EcoTraining camp in Kruger National Park (where we spent a glorious week) to the young twenty-something student back-up guides who accompanied us on our day long treks with their rifles. It’s impossible not to fall a little in love with Jody. Her enthusiasm and passion for Africa are intoxicating.
A former debutant, stock broker, and philanthropist, she is the only (lesbian) American woman who has achieved Level 2, Trailsguide status and is qualified to train other guides. Our camp is designed to train entry-level guides—but our trip is for 6 women, ranging from age 40-60, many of whom have never been to Africa, and none of whom are training to be guides. We were all just there for the experience of a walking safari.
Jody’s passion is contagious as she explains all about tracking animals, birds, plants and insects. A world-class storyteller, she explains about the habits and intricacies of these plants and creatures in her subtle southern accent. Her knowledge is astounding and she keeps us in rapt attention. She also talks about the people, the land, the poaching problem, and answers all our questions patiently. My favorite topics are dung, feathers, quills, bones and skulls, (I know! I’m a freak!) and to my delight, Jody indulges my curiosity with her extensive descriptions of texture, smell and shape of the animal poop, what they eat and all about their digestive systems.
It’s hard to describe a trip like this. We saw so many astonishing sights that it defies description. Close up and personal with elephants, baboons, zebras and African buffalo to name a few. Visiting Africa was my childhood dream. As a little girl I lived a wild life growing up on the open, undeveloped hillsides in Northern California in the 60s. I loved nature and creatures and could not be found indoors. The grassy hillsides, dirt and tree forts were my true home. I dreamt of having my own pet monkey or leopard (like Michael Jackson). I was fascinated by ‘Lucy’, the ancient person found in a faraway place called Africa. I longed to go live with the chimpanzees like my hero Jane Goodall.
One day last Spring I got the call from Jody about her new EcoQuest walking safari in South Africa. I stepped outside from my desk job and gave a loud ‘Whoop!’ I planned my flight, borrowed gear, worked overtime hours and began counting the days until October!
And Africa changed me. It cracked open my heart in a way that I had not expected. I experienced a beautiful, vibrant place on the other side of the world, and learned important lessons about myself, too. I felt present and at peace in a way that only being far away from civilization can bring.
I was required to be silent while walking with the group in the bush and most importantly to stay close. Both of which turned out to be quite the challenge. Our lives were at stake here! Yet, with Jody leading us, rifle in hand (she is an expert marksman), I never felt unsafe in the bush. And luckily for me, Jody couldn’t stay mad at me. It took a couple days, but I pulled myself together.
We stayed in tall wooden cabins with open mesh walls, each with a bathroom and a hot shower. We awoke to the sounds of the forest all around us. Baboons screaming and elephants fighting. There were no fences. It was heaven. When I arrived at my luxury hotel in Capetown, closed up in a room with AC, I missed that cabin with all my heart. It was my place in heaven, truly.
At 55 I know I don’t have a limitless future like I did as a kid, and no more time to think wistful thoughts about ‘some day’. I’ve been blessed with opportunities I could have never imagined a few years ago.
I was hoping for the trip of a lifetime and I found it in Africa. If you have a chance to do something on your bucket list, I say do it now. Jody’s trips at Wild Rainbow African Safaris are a good place to start. I’ve learned that accumulating experiences is always better than collecting stuff. Life is short. Do it now if you can. Do it while your legs still work. You will never regret it.
Jody Cole has been traveling to Africa since January 1998. She has traveled to most of the sub-Saharan countries of Africa. She has become a specialist at life in the bush. Jody is a certified Level 2 Field Guide and Trails Guide with FGASA, (Field Guides Association of Southern Africa), has trained in Kenya with the Kenyan Professional Guides Association. Jody partners with EcoTraining, a pioneer and leader in Field Guide and Nature Training, for the EcoQuest course. Jody summited Mount Kilimanjaro in February 1998 and in January 2010.