Geoff Kent is game for anything. Except for maybe hang gliding, he tells me as he recounts a trip to Rio de Janeiro with his then-girlfriend, now third wife, Otavia.
Upon arriving in Rio, Kent, the founder and CEO of Abercrombie & Kent, born and raised in the bush of East Africa, casually pointed at the hang gliders and suggested they go one day on their trip. Otavia called his bluff, “Why not go right now?” Minutes later in a taxi careening up the mountain toward the jump-off point, Kent asked, “Which guide are you going to jump with?”
“I’m going to go with the handsomest guy I can find,” she said, “for the pictures.”
“I’m going to go with the oldest guy I can find,” Kent countered, “because he’s done this a million times before.”
Therein lies the key to Kent’s killer-combo. A zest for adventure combined with an experienced expertise built on years of creating and guiding trips in the most remote corners of the globe. Those years are now charmingly documented in his memoir, Safari, (available now), which Kent sat down to discuss during a recent stopover in New York City.
Finally sitting down to write out all your tales—Papua New Guinea with Lauren Hutton, Botswana with Prince Harry—what did you take away from this exercise?
When I started Abercrombie & Kent there was nothing—I developed the first camp ever. That’s been the fun of this book. Going back to how I was, the young guy at 25. I knew that I wanted to take people to the outer edge of the bush… but there were no lodges… but that did not deter me.
Among your stories you invoke the old military saying, “Time spent in reconnaissance…”
“Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted.” That’s the best one of all! I rehearse everything. You don’t just go out and do these things… Whatever I’m doing, I always rehearse everything. Before I do a big trip, I go out and run the whole thing. If not actually there, then I run the whole thing mentally. I never just plow into anything, ever.
So, where’s next?
What do you mean where’s next? I’ve been doing this for 53 years, I’ve been everywhere! But I’ll tell you, “next” is where you can’t get to. It used to be where there were no direct flights, now it’s where there are no flights. No flights at all.
For example, Peru. Instead of going Miami-Lima-Iquitos, lose your luggage, miss the flight, etc. we go boom in our private jet and then we have an incredible time in the upper Amazon. (The lower Amazon is terrible. But the upper Amazon is fantastic. Anacondas. Caiman crocodiles…) Then we go straight to, guess what, Easter Island.
You jerry-rigged your first safari Land Rover with refrigeration to enable cold cocktails in the bush. Did your A&K jet require any modifications?
I’ve put espresso machines into my plane. It cost $85,000 by the way. All my people said you’re going to put a cappuccino machine in the plane for $85,000? I said of course.
So, good coffee, check. What else is necessary to make a typical five-star hotel traveler comfortable, in say, a yurt in Mongolia?
If you’re an adventurer and a traveler, all you’re really looking for is the experience. That overwhelms everything else. And then as long as you’ve got clean bed sheets, some light, hot and cold water, a shower and a loo you’re really happy. You’re seeing something you’ve never seen before.
Best qualities in a travel a partner?
I travel with my wife all the time. And I think that’s why I married her. She’s lovely but she’s the best travel partner. You have to have a great sense of humor, you have to have a great feeling of excitement when you travel; some people don’t like it, they begrudge it. You can’t be fussy—“Oh, my God, I can only eat gluten free bread”—and they have to be quite athletic and not get tired. They have to be punctual and they mustn’t take too much—two bags that’s it.
What’s a good luck charm you always pack?
Not a good luck charm but an essential charm: I always travel with my satellite phone. Like anybody, I always travel with my BlackBerry. Actually not just one, I take two. Three separate devices and one is always working. And my assistant would never let me go anywhere new without having a paper map. I hate these horrible maps on my phone, you can’t get any vision from a screen. I have to have a big old-fashioned paper map.
Is Africa still “home” for you?
Africa will always be my spiritual home, but I’m an instinctive guy, I’m very curious. The world is my home. I’ve got to get out there every day. I’ve got so much more to see.
Aspiring explorers everywhere are thankful for that fact.