But Geoffrey Kent and his parents, who had founded the luxury travel company Abercrombie Kent the year before, decided to stay and, leaving their farmlands in the Aberdare Mountains, resettled in Nairobi.
“We just thought tourism would start,” said Mr. Kent, now 71. “And we knew Africa better than anybody.”
After a few rough-and-tumble safaris, Mr. Kent said, he developed the company’s mobile luxury tents and incorporated refrigeration so that guests could have fresh food on safari.
“My model was, you have an exciting, adventurous day with warm, comfortable nights,” he said. Because roughing it at night for the sake of it, he said, “isn’t cool; it’s annoying.”
Below are edited excerpts from a conversation with Mr. Kent about his decades of adventure, from motorbike to private jet.
On his first solo adventure: When I was 17, I drove a motorbike from Nairobi to Cape Town because, well, I heard it had never been done before. I didn’t put one day of planning into it. I left with a map, a sleeping bag, dried meat — biltong — some raisins, water and petrol, and set off across Kenya to Tanganyika (now part of Tanzania), Nyasaland (now called Malawi), Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique), Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and into South Africa. It was all savanna, bush, deep forests, huge rivers, which you cross on these funny little pontoon ferries.
While trying to disembark once, I fell off the ferry into the Zambezi River. My motorbike’s chain was completely rusted up, so I was marooned in a little village called Tete in Portuguese East Africa for a month. The people in the village thought I was mad, but welcomed me, gave me fish and bananas every day, before I was finally picked up by a Rhodesian Army Patrol.
When I reached Cape Town, I got an aerogramme from my father, saying, “Right, time to come back now.” Only then did I realize how really lucky I was to have made it safely. So I sold my story to the newspaper Cape Argus, spent the whole sum on a first-class ticket aboard The Africa cruise ship and came back in style.
On V.I.P.’s: David Rockefeller, he was my first big V.I.P., and we took Bill Gates to Africa in 1993. Richard Burton, he came several times with Elizabeth, without Elizabeth. One time he came on his own, and we’d just pulled into one my camps along the Mara River. There’s a big roaring fire, if you can imagine this on the banks, and suddenly an unbelievable commotion: this buffalo charging toward us with four lionesses clinging to its neck. They were killing him, all right, so I grabbed Richard Burton, upended the table, all the cocktails went flying, and pulled him behind it. These lions, I still can’t believe this, they kill the poor buffalo in the fire.
When it’s all over, Richard Burton says to me, “That was so incredible. I’d like to do that again with Elizabeth.” I say, “Richard, wait a minute. That wasn’t set up.” And he said, “It wasn’t? Sweet lord Jesus, I didn’t know.”
On private jet-setting: Way back, we did itineraries by private jet with the Concorde. And now that the planes are better, we’re resuscitating them. Every year, I’m going to lead one trip around the world by private jet. Next year we go to incredible places like the Amazon River, Easter Island, Bali, Madagascar, Kenya.
What I do is I sit with a globe and think of all the new places I’d like to go and my past favorites, all rolled into 21 days. People work all their lives, they want to see as much as possible in a short time, and this lets them.