Travel guru Geoffrey Kent explains why you never go running in the bush

The chairman of Abercrombie & Kent has learned many hard lessons in his decades of globetrotting adventure

By MARK ELLWOOD / Pic AFP

After a long-haul flight, Kent always have fruit for breakfast, usually papaya and a slice of lime because it’s good for your digestion (pic: AFP)

GEOFFREY Kent is founder and co-chairman of Abercrombie & Kent Group, the luxury travel firm. Born in 1942 and brought up in Kenya, he took his first solo trip at age 16, a two-month motorbike trip down to Cape Town. Kent went on to attend the prestigious Sandhurst Military Academy in the UK before travelling the world as a working soldier.

After leaving the military, he began working full-time at the travel company he founded with his parents. It quickly became a pioneer in luxury adventure trips, especially to his native Africa, as well as championing long-haul and round-the-world private jet travel. He sold the company in 2017, then bought it back last year in partnership with Silversea founder Manfredi Lefebvre D’Ovidio.

A world-ranked polo player and globetrotting adventurer, Kent chronicled experiences that wouldn’t be far from those of Indiana Jones and James Bond in his book, “Safari: A Memoir of a Worldwide Travel Pioneer”.

Kent logged 18 million miles (29 million km) over his career while visiting almost 160 countries. His favourite airline remains British Airways, a longtime partner in his business. “If not for them, I’d never be where I would be today. So, I still travel with them now.”

He now lives in Monaco with his wife Otavia and two young children, twins Valerie and Geoffrey Jr.

To settle your stomach on the road, keep it simple.

After a long-haul flight, I always have fruit for breakfast, usually papaya and a slice of lime because it’s good for your digestion. My Swahili male nanny taught me that; we call it pawpaw in Kenya.

I still have lime and pawpaw every morning. And if I have an upset tummy, I go back to the old fashioned thing: Brown toast and ginger ale. That works pretty well. I am lucky in that I’m an amazingly fit person, and I’ve hardly ever been sick. I can eat almost anything.

Medjumbe Island Resort, Mozambique. Kent says Mozambique’s islands are a raw wilderness

He’s relied on one suitcase for almost 50 years.

I’m never without my Louis Vuitton President Classeur briefcase. No matter where I go, it comes with me.

I was always told if you’ve made it, you should own a Rolex watch, a Mercedes-Benz and a Louis Vuitton briefcase. By 1972 [at age 30], I had the watch and the car; all I was missing was the briefcase, so I bought one.

It was very tough and hard — solid, and it isn’t full of pockets, which take up all the room. It’s just a big, old suitcase. I love that you can fling it in the back of a truck or helicopter luggage hold without it getting dented.

I’ve also used it to get out of many a hole, figuratively and literally. In Tanzania, when my Land Cruiser got stuck in the Serengeti after it poured with rain (the soil there becomes like grease), there’s no rocks, no stones, no wood to help you get a car out of a rut.

So, I put my case down in the mud, placed the jack on top and jacked the vehicle out. That teed her up and we were off. I just washed the case when I got to the other end. It had a bit of a dent in it, but that disappeared.

Kent chronicles experiences that wouldn’t be far from those of Indiana Jones and James Bond in his book

I still have it. I’ve had the locks repaired once because they got stuck but otherwise, never had it looked at. It’s fantastic and indestructible.

You can use your suitcase for exercise in the bush. But never go running there.

I was a big polo player and won the US Open Gold Cup and captained Prince Charles’ team. I was travelling so much, but there were no gyms to work out in when I was at the safari camps then.

You don’t go running, because otherwise, you could end up like one of my guests: He went, in the Masai Mara, and when nighttime came, we couldn’t find him. It was only at 3am that we found him up a tree with all these buffalo underneath it.

To go running, I used to go the nearest runway and have a car follow me up and down to get my exercise. Otherwise, I would use my briefcase in my room. I would shove some bottles of water in it, or some big coffee table books, and with those, it weighs a tremendous amount. You can do pushups, back exercises — almost anything — with a case weighed down like that.

There’s an alternative to Mauritius and the Maldives that might surprise you.

Mozambique’s islands are a raw wilderness — you read all about Mauritius, the Maldives, the Seychelles, but less about them. The Bazaruto channel is one of the most amazing places for big game deep sea fishing. It’s so deep, too, that the coral reefs there are not really affected [by bleaching] so far.

The experience is sort of a soft-sand comfort, rather than Four Seasons-style air-conditioned luxury. South Africans know those islands very well, but other people don’t.

Is this the rarest passport stamp in the world?

I have South Pole printed in my passport. You can get that stamp at the American station [at the pole]. When most people speak of their trips to Antarctica, they will have travelled by cruise ship from Ushuaia, Argentina, to the Antarctic Peninsula, which is a chain of mountains and volcanoes that juts north towards South America.

Kent goes everywhere with his Louis Vuitton President Classeur briefcase

But my expedition was dramatically different. We went to both the ceremonial South Pole — which is where there are the 12 flags of the signatories of the Antarctic Treaty that sets aside the continent as a scientific preserve — and the actual South Pole, which moves every year.

We spent one very primitive night in bivouacs, all in our clothes and very, very cold. But what a scene; I’m so glad I’ve done it. But you need to be 100% fit to do it, or you could have a heart attack. There were eight of us and five got sick. I was fine.

One night in jail in Sudan taught a crucial lesson: Always have a satellite phone.

I always carry an Iridium satellite phone, which is great for emergencies. You can’t use it like a normal cellphone, but I did all my Recce in Botswana when it was opening up, using one of those.

I learned that you always needed to be able to contact people in an emergency in 1975, when I spent a night in jail in Juba, Sudan. It happened after the Southern Sudanese army took some of my clients hostage — the Radziwills, the Duponts, other Americans.

I was in Las Vegas at a conference and I got a Telex which demanded my personal presence back there. Against all advice, I had flown in to rescue them; my personal pilot wouldn’t fly me in, so I got another guy.

I landed and was arrested immediately and marched off to jail after being accused of being a member of the CIA. I sat in that stale, dank cell wondering how on Earth I’d fix the situation when I didn’t even have a phone.

In the end, we worked out a payment schedule because they wanted money. The last sum was quite a lot — US$250,000 — so I said: “I’ll have my pilot fly down, you drive me to him at the end of the runway, I’ll get inside the plane and you give me my passport through the window. Then I’ll hand you the check.”

As we took off, I remember all the eucalyptus trees at the end of that runway and thinking, “They’re going to shoot us down.” — Bloomberg