Travel
3 min

Out in Africa

Lesbian-owned safari company celebrates 10 years

African safari expert Jody Cole (with rifle) leads guests through Kruger National Park in South Africa.

Ten years ago, Wild Rainbow African Safaris led its first custom African trip, taking 20 people to Tanzania. A year later, Jody Cole bought out her business partner and took her first group solo to South Africa for a walking and wildlife safari. Since then, she has provided hundreds of guests with the opportunity to safely experience Africa and all its delights, from stays in five-star luxury lodges and mobile tent camps to cultural exchanges and Cape Town nightclubs.

The company is unusual in that it’s not only owned and operated by a woman, but is lesbian-owned — the only one in the world, according to its owner, the intrepid Cole, one of only a few American women certified at the highest levels by the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa. Cole still helms the Sacramento-based company’s custom African adventures, sharing her love of Africa with those who want to experience this incredible continent.

From a beach bar in Tanzania, Cole explains, ”I first went to Africa in January 1998. I combined South Africa and Tanzania, about six weeks total. It was on this trip that I climbed and summited Kilimanjaro for the first time. I loved the smell of the red soil on the bush airstrip in South Africa. The plane landed and stirred up the damp soil from the previous night’s rain. It was like heaven — if you could smell heaven, that is. I loved seeing my first leopard in the dusky sunlit afternoon. I cried. I could barely take a photo because I couldn’t see. I loved the sounds of the bush, the call of the lion at night, the sound of the whooping hyena and the birds during the day. I loved that I felt completely and utterly at home. Tanzania scared me at first — the hustle and bustle of Arusha — but the ancient Serengeti plains and expansive sky still take my breath away as I think about them.”

Jody has designed a fantastic roster of trips to celebrate Wild Rainbow’s 10th birthday. Whether your idea of a dream safari includes summiting the 5,900-metre Uhuru Peak (Africa’s highest); spotting wildebeest, lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, black rhinos, elephants, crocodiles, zebras and gazelles in the Serengeti; visiting Dian Fossey’s research centre and grave; cleaning elephants in Kruger National Park; or spending a few days living in luxury in a lodge on the rim of a crater, Wild Rainbow’s 10th anniversary safaris have it covered. Next year’s adventures include the epic Mount Kilimanjaro climb and Tanzanian safari, a Zambezi river canoeing and walking safari in Zimbabwe, an unforgettable Rwandan gorilla safari, a classic Kenyan and Tanzanian safari and a diverse South African walking safari. In all, five countries are covered in the extensive 2015 itinerary.

When asked which upcoming trip she is most excited about, Cole says, “Well, all of them. But I’ll admit the Zimbabwe trip. I am trying to copy the second trip I ever did. It’s not exact because a couple of the lodges don’t operate anymore, but the national parks do. The first trip let me know that Africa is possible and so are my dreams. The second trip to Zimbabwe, in 1999, was the one that literally changed the direction of my life. So the 2015 version is beginning with a slow but intentional paddle down the Zambezi river in Mana Pools, with some walking included, then Matusadona National Park on the man-made Lake Kariba — including game drives, walking and a boat safari — at an exclusive camp called Rhino Island, finishing with Hwange National Park. I am out-of-my-mind excited about it!”

While Jody’s preferred group size is eight people, she has gone on trips with as few as two and as many as 20. Guests on her safaris tend to be from the LGBT community, with a ratio of 60/40 lesbian to gay, but Jody has had and welcomes everyone on her trips. “My groups tend to be a mix of couples and singles,” she says. “I also help self-chosen groups plan their trip and I guide them as well, and I have partnered with travel groups: Sweet travel, Women on a Roll, HE Travel, and I am guiding my first alumni group, from the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, this month.”

Cole loves Africa, particularly sub-Saharan Africa. “As long as I’m in the bush, I’m happy,” she says. “I feel more comfortable there than downtown San Francisco. There are places I’d like to explore more: Mozambique, Angola and southern Tanzania. I’m always ready for someone to call or email me and say, ‘Jody, let’s do something you’ve never done. I want to go with you.’ I’d love that.”