As Kipling might have said, Listen to the voice of Adventure Unlimited, O my Best Beloved:

"We do raft trips. We like to get three guys and three girls together. It's fun. Things happen. The best place for the guys is in the back of the raft. Then the girls fall into their arms when they go over the rapids. We bring the rafts back to the hotel and have races in the pool. To go along with the daytime physical activity, we have nighttime physical activity.

"It's for common, everyday people -- a programmed effect. We have everything from your first-time adventure all the way to a Greenland adventure. For a dogsled across, you know, the wastes up there. We've had requests for things like that. We have specialists in African safaris. You can chase gorillas in Africa.

"One of our agents went up the Amazon, to check it out. We need English-speaking guides down there. She almost got eaten by alligators. She didn't like that. They roasted a monkey, and she wasn't crazy about that, either. The monkey screamed the whole time, took her appetite away. We don't like to send our best clients to places like that -- they might not come back."

Just So, Rudyard!

"We also take people up in balloons," says John Farah, the Adventure Unlimited excutive. "The funny thing with a balloon is that you never know where you're going to land. All landings are emergency landings. Once we saw this grassy spot, and landed, and it turned out to be a mental institution. The inmates poured out. Of course, they all wanted a ride. You just get these crazy things."

Adventure involves at least a modicum of danger; it can be romantic and profitable. Adventure travel has become big business in this county, although its horizons are somewhat murky. Americans aren't required to say why they travel or under what conditions they seek diversion. A spokesman for the Commerce Department's Travel Data Center says, "We've had calls asking for hard statistics -- how much money is spent on safaris, say -- but we've never been able to help."

The representatives of private enterprise, the American Society of Travel Agents, do not make tacky distinctions between travel and adventure, the implication being that all travel is adventurous.

"Adventure tours are growing very fast," says Norman Howard, of Lindblad Travel in Westport, Conn., which sends prosperous clients off on cushy cruises into the heart of darkness, feeding on hearts of plam. "The idea of lying on a beach is dated. It has something to do with the '60s generation coming of age. You know, get out of your rut and do something!"

One outfit that grew out of the '60s is Sobek, which published The Adventure Book, a glossy compendium of commercial adventure. Sobek -- that's Egyptian for "crocodile" -- started in a basement in Bethesda after Richard Bangs and John Yost, students at Walt Whitman High School, learned to raft at Great Falls in the 1960s. Bangs had a job as a guide on the Colorado River during the summer; Yost shot some rapids in Ethiopia, where his father was ambassador. "We got the idea of doing rafting internationally," says Bangs.

They came up with an unlikely group to sponsor an Ethiopian expedition: the Smithsonian Institution, Haile Selassie University and Saga Magazine. "We posed as members of a rugby team and got a charter flight to Africa." Their raft was bitten by a crocodile. "It was a fantastic experience," says Bangs. "We said, 'We can't turn our backs on this.'"

Back home, they put together a mailing list; later, they moved to California and produced some of the lushest brochurese in the industry: "We'll dance with the Mudmen, rollick at a sing-sing [a native costume gala], awe at the astral beauty of the birds of paradise." That's in New Guinea.

In Ethiopia, we'll see Bodi tribesman: "Shunning clothing, they are adorned with decorative scars... They are a curious and friendly people, eager to interact with their occasional visitors."

In Peru, "We'll pedal past peaks higher than McKinley... poke through pre-Incan ruins... We'll stay in camps and quaint roadside inns, taking time to mix with and get to know the affable folks en route."

We can even spend an hour -- for $4,650 -- at the North Pole, "sipping Arctic-iced champagne, savoring caviar and snapping photos."

The Jungle Sell, O my Best Beloved.

Last year, Sobek took in almost $4 million, very little of it from common, everyday people. "We used to get a lot of stewardesses and travel agents, but that's fallen back. There's been a big increase in doctors, lawyers and professional people. They need to escape."

More than 700 of them escaped from the Washington area last year. One, Chuck Ludlum, a lawyer working for Congress' Joint Economic Committee, went on a 23-day raft trip down Alaska's wild Noatak River. "We started out bare-chested, sun-bathing. By the end of the trip I was wearing three undershirts, three wool shirts, a down vest, a parka and a rain suit." The wind-chill factor dropped to 10 degrees, and it rained for six straight days. "It was a marvelous trip."

Jeannette Morris, a systems analyst here, took tours offered by Sobek and Lindblad in China. Lindblad showed her seven Chinese cities. "We were insulated... It's not a group that you get your feet dirty with." Sobek, however, provided an adventure. The tents and food sent over to a combination rafting trip and trek in northwest China were missing when the group arrived in Peking.

"We had one day to buy everything. Chinese tents don't have pegs or instructions for setting them up. It was a challenge." They used rocks instead of pegs. "Thank God there were plenty of rocks." There were no zippers on the tents, either, "just three layers of overlapping buttons. It was very difficult to go out at night to go to the bathroom."

They rafted on a river near Mount Bodga and "interacted with some of the Cossacks along the way," which meant eating goat cheese in Cossack yurts.

Society Expeditions, of Seattle, puts out lavish brochures on its cruises to the Galapagos, Tunisia, China and a Paris-to-'Stamboul trip aboard the Orient Express, "a legend in its own time -- its name synonymous with wealth, elegance and adventure."

But mostly with wealth. "Our trips are quite pricey," says Amy Kucia. "Our people have been to all the usual places in the usual ways." She adds crisply, "The people our programs appeal to aren't hurt by the recession."

The people appearing in the brochures of Abercrombie and Kent, of Chicago, look like they have been outfitted by Halston. No rip-stop nylon or gorp, just evening gowns, wine in wicker baskets and distant views of yawning hippopotami. "Our customers are generally well-heeled, in the upper echelon of society," says Abercrombie's director of public relations. "We send them up in balloons over the Masai Mara."

They also send them on safaris. The customers have included Gov. Jerry Brown and Linda Ronstadt, Richard Burton, Sidney Sheldon and Philip Pillsbury. Abercrombie "tailored" a safari for Bruce Sundlun, chairman of the board of Executive Jet Aviation, who owns a horse farm in Virginia.

"The Sundluns are extremely well known in all sorts of social circles down in Washington," says Abercrombie's spokesperson. "He's a very high-powered executive," she adds. "The best time to call him is early in the morning, or late in the evening. The rest of the time he's flying around."

Reached on the ground, Sundlun says, "I started out with the attitude that we were going to look at animals the first day, we were going to look at animals the second day, and what the hell are we going to do the third day?" He found the trip interesting, educational and pleasant, he says, but without risk. "You come down to the question: What's an adventure, and what's just another trip?"

Former television correspondent Nancy Dickerson and her husband, C. Wyatt, went on an Abercrombie safari to Kenya with their children and other family members in 1976. "We did it in a very... let's say comfortable... way," says Dickerson. "There were 12 men working for six of us, cooking and putting up tents. The tents had showers. The first morning a herd of wildebeest thundered by our camp while we were eating a cheese souffle. Have you ever heard a thundering herd?"

There was no real danger. "We had a little troube with a rhinoceros." And a group of Masai surrounded them, demanding money. "When you get 10 or 15 Masai with spears jiggling your jeep, you're not too anxious to hand around." A Masai warrior interacted with one woman in the party. "She was wearing blue jeans and an old sweater, and the Masai started to feel her, you know, to see if she was male or female."

They ended up in William Holden's Kenya Safari Club. "It's one of the grandest places I've ever been, outside of the Ritz in Paris. There were peacocks all over the lawn and bathtubs almost big enough for the children to swim in. It was definitely an adventure.

"Afterward, I said, 'Now let's take the children to India.'"