Alex Walker grew up in a National Geographic photo spread. Instead of a lawn with a picket fence or a city playground, the fourth generation East African’s childhood stomping grounds were the tea fields of Mufindi, the bush of southern Tanzania and Kenya’s Mau forest. Today he makes his home in Masai Mara, Kenya, one of the most famous wildlife ecosystems in the world, operating several safari camps there and across the border in northern Tanzania. After staying at one of Walker’s camps on our adventure in Kenya, we were curious to hear more about what makes this safari guide tick.
As part of our Summer Preview, Alex told us about learning from wildlife, jumping out of a plane, his love of green tea ice cream, and — above all — learning to relax.
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Q. What’s one thing every man should know?
A. Don’t try so hard. Things have a way of working out when you are at ease with yourself.
Q. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
A. I threw myself out of a perfectly good plane for no good reason. We made several passes and I was standing in the door waiting for a slap on the back. There’s lots of time to think and some very distinct images rushing through your mind whilst free falling and waiting for the chute to open. I did it — amazing experience and I loved it!
Q. What are you working on right now?
A. We are putting together an adventure toy box, a fly camp in the traditional mold that lets you access some of the more out-of-the-way and little-used wilderness out there. Mix it up with a few toys, camera traps, a night vision kit, quad bikes, buggies, GoPros, RC cars and quadrotor platforms for the cameras, then take a little time, throw in a chopper to get you out there — and you have the recipe for adventure.
I threw myself out of a perfectly good plane for no good reason.
Q. Name one thing you can’t live without.
A. A camera, in fact I have a few too many of them. I’m always looking for a new image, on that quest for the perfect image.
Q: Who or what influences you?
A: There are a great many influences in my life. Some are images of wildlife, people, news journo [journalism] stuff. I love art in many forms. I borrow from everywhere: design, buildings, wildlife, insects, landscapes. Probably the largest influences I live with are the people I work with day by day. They are quiet, unassuming and hard-working guys who create adventure. We work and live in natural surroundings, and their innate sense of understanding, their feeling for the simple rhythm of the wild always makes me feel that there is still so much to understand.
Q. What are you reading right now?
A. Richie McCaw’s The Real McCaw. I am a huge rugby fan and I voraciously devoured the book on a flight home the other day. A remarkable sportsman and leader, Richie McCaw’s road through life is a lesson in determination, as much as Nelson Mandela’s A Long Walk to Freedom is a lesson in humility and grace.
Q. Name one thing no one knows about you.
A. I am addicted to the food channel.
Q. It’s your last drink and meal on earth. What’ll it be?
A. Green tea ice cream and a vintage Japanese malt whisky at Kyoto Gardens in Cape Town.
Q. If you could go back and tell your 16 year old self something, what would you say?
A. Don’t try so hard, it will come to you.
Q. How do you want to be remembered?
A. My dad gave me a poem by Rudyard Kipling, If. If I can live up to that then I will be a man, my son.
by Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream — and not make dreams your master;
If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son!