Transcript Episode 1: Walking With The Maasai, Part 1

(This is the transcript of a Travel Tape podcast. To listen to the show click here.)

Sound: heavy static

Stuart
Right now I am in a tented camp. Is it better with the video on or off? Seems to be pretty good internet here, Considering where I am. Heh heh.

Robert
That’s Stuart Butler and where he was, to be exact, was Cotters 1920 Lodge, in Kenya.

It was June, 2015, and he was 8 days into a 5 week walk across Maasai country with his friend and guide Josphat Mako.

It was a walk that, for Stuart anyway, was a long time in coming.

Stuart
It was always something…Because I grew up listening to stories from my dad and my grandparents about their time in East Africa.

And old slides, and my Dad had these old boxes filled with butterflies and stuff, you know, eggshells, stuff they had collected, which I always found fascinating. 

And I was always very interested in wildlife so obviously Africa was always going to play a big part in my life.

Robert
Stuart’s now a journalist, and a photographer. He’s been a frequent visitor to Africa over the past 20 years, and has written guides to Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, and the Congos
and contributed articles and photographs to media outlets around the globe.

All of which is to say, he knows and loves his subject. And so when he started to plan this walk,
Stuart thought he knew exactly where he wanted to go:

Across the Maasai Mara National Reserve

Stuart:
The Maasai Mara National reserve is along with Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, which abuts the park, it’s basically the image that everyone has of East Africa.

Even if you’ve never been to East Africa and don’t know the first thing about the region you probably know the Maasai Mara and Serengeti from countless wildlife films.

This is the golden grasslands. This is the migrating wildebeest getting chomped on by crocodiles as they cross the Mara River. It’s the lions taking down a zebra…

Robert:
But what’s important for this story Is that Stuart and Mako didn’t in fact walk through the reserve. They did visit it, as we’ll hear about that later, but they didn’t cross it on foot.

Stuart
That wasn’t allowed and to even try and get permission was just too much of a headache

Robert
The park is for vehicle safaris only. Which means, you must take and stay in the jeep.

So Stuart had to skirt around the edges. Which turned out to be better than expected, as no Maasai live in the reserve.

And that’s not really the way things are supposed to be.

Stuart
I think one of the things that a first time visitor to east Africa doesn’t really realize when they visit these parks and reserves, what they think they are seeing is this pristine wild untouched Africa just as it is supposed to be, without any interference from people.

But the reality is that people have always lived all over this region. They’ve lived with the animals since humans first stumbled out of the trees.

And the thing is, in the parks and reserves now a lot of them anyway, where people are not allowed that’s actually a fake environment. There should be the people in there. There should be the cattle in there. That would be more how these grasslands are supposed to be.

I think that’s what many visitors don’t realize. That people have always been part of the environment.

I’ve heard it said that this relationship between people and animals in Africa is one of the reasons why Africa still has its big animals whereas most of the rest of the world has lost them.
And that’s because when people first came out of Africa the animals didn’t know what people were so they didn’t run away.

And that meant that people could kill and eat them easily. Whereas in Africa the animals had always known what people were and have always known to keep their distance.

So I think it’s a bit ironic that people come to see this wild pristine slice of Africa but don’t want the one thing, the people, that really shaped that environment and made it what it is today.

Robert
Stuart’s walk was about finding out how the Massai and others, are currently shaping their environment. Which is to say, to find out how people and wild animals are getting along these days in Kenya.

I don’t think anyone is surprised that wildlife is struggling but there are some promising new models for conservation, and some promising social trends, which we’ll hear more about in episodes 2 and 3.

The walk was also about going slow enough to meet and talk to people, and gather stories,
about the changing life of the Maasai.

Later this year, Stuart will be putting out a photo book on all this, called We Once Were Lions,
and will be holding a series of talks across Europe in the fall.

In the meantime, he’s shared the bulk of his story for this podcast.

There’s a lot of great stuff coming up, and I`m going to begin with some short clips about what it was like, for Stuart and Mako, on the ground in that gorgeous East African landscape
meeting people, hearing stories, moving at a dung beetles pace.

Mako chants in the background while Stuart speaks.

Stuart
That was the end of the first day’s walk. We got to the highest point. It was a long walk. Pretty much 9 hours without stopping.

Really nice walk. We went through patches of forest and grassy knolls on top of the hills. And then there was this valley we passed through little farmsteads on the sides of the hills. All cows grazing down in the swampy grass below. Fields of maize. It’s beautiful. Real sort of rural bliss.
A little paradise. My wife is talking about moving. So maybe I’ll suggest moving here. That’ll please her.

From the top of the mountain we had stunning views down the Rift Valley. You could see little whirlwinds down there. You could see Lake Magadi and the salt pans. And across to Tanzania to Lake Natron. Very different climate. You could see it looked different. Semi-dessert almost.
Patches of acacia and flat topped acacia. Beautiful view.

The walk up to the top of the mountain involved literally hacking through thorns. These aren’t like in Europe. These hurt.

We saw a dung beetle, which might not sound like much but it was rolling a ball of dung.
A perfect round ball about the size of a golf ball. And it was rolling uphill. And it was something I always wanted to see.

I’ve seen dung beetles but I’ve never seen them rolling dung. And didn’t realize they do such big balls. and so perfectly round. And that’s one of the nice things that I think is going to be about walking is that we’re going to see stuff like that, that if you’re just in a vehicle, a normal vehicle safari you’re going to just drive over the top of it.

I felt sorry for it. It was pushing it uphill. And it would get a meter uphill and then the dung would roll all the way back down on it and it would have to start again.

Made our day look quite easy…
   
Robert
Over the 5 weeks of the walk, Stuart and Mako covered about 250km.

It’s not a great distance, but as Stuart told me several times the walk was not meant to be an expedition or a show of endurance, but more of a slow exploration. Anyway in decent shape could do it, and in fact in late 2015 the Kenyan government started offering a general tour based on Stuart`s itinerary.

Stuart
I started the walk to the east of the whole savannah grassland ecosystem. To picture on a map
we were just down in the SW corner of Kenya and basically walked along the border of Tanzania and finished of the far end of the Mara ecosystem where the Maasai lands disappear and other tribes take over.

We went through a variety of landscapes…

Sound montage of landscapes.

…I guess we did get to see the region in a way that most people don’t.

Robert
About the only thing Stuart didn’t get to see, or do, was stay overnight in the villages he and Mako passed through. These villages simply aren’t set up for travellers and it would have been taking advantage of the hospitality of the Massai to ask to squeeze 2 grown men into someone’s already cramped 1 room hut.

But they certainly got to walk through enough villages, and even camp on the edges, on the plains, with the wildlife, and some of things I like best about Stuart’s walk were the recordings he made in these different locations, both day and night, in real time, and also, even more so, his spontaneous reactions to everything that was going on around him.

Sounds of night slowly fade in. Animals. Insects.

Stuart
This here’s the noise at dusk. Don’t know if you can hear it. Birds, Wildebeest, zebras all sorts of things running around. All the Insects.

We’re camped on a plain. Well, a bushy plain. There’s a river and water down about 400-500m below, away from me.

It’s going to be a noisy night. For sure there are going to be visitors in the night.

Fantastic.
Maybe we’ll get lions roaring outside.

Night sounds fade out and morning sounds slowly fade in. Birds chirping and the sound of people walking.

So we just passed a little shamba. And there was this older Maasai man there with his big stretched earlobes. And he had scarring on his shoulder and forehead which you don’t see very often.

But as you are walking you have to stop and talk to everyone even at the best of times. The fact is as a white guy walking through means that everyone is doubly interested in knowing what we are doing.
 
And after pleasantries they say to me “why are you making problems?

And at first I took this to mean that my presence would be making problems for them as we walked through. And then someone explained that they didn’t mean that. What they mean is, why am I making problems for myself by walking when I could just go by car and everything would be easier.

So anyway, we just met this old guy and we go through pleasantries and then the Maasai always sort of work out where each of them is from. Which clan from the Maasai tribes.
Where they live and what their background is.

And Mako gave all his side of the story and the man turns around and says, ah yes, I know your father. Your father is the reason I am big and here today. Because when I was younger we were very poor and we had no food and your father gave us some cows that made good milk and that kept us alive and stronger I guess.

Anyway, as he explained this he said I went to stay with your father before you were born
and I slept with your father’s sister and we have a child together.

And everyone had a giggle about it and the conversation moved on.

Stuart now begins to talk directly to Mako.

Mako, that guy had scarring on his forehead and shoulder. What does it signify?

Mako
They used to put some like markings on themselves. And that’s for beauty.

Stuart
For beauty. Just for beauty.

Mako
Yeah.

Stuart
I think that’s the first Maasai man I’ve seen with them. I’ve seen it in lots of other places. So it’s very rare now.

Mako
It’s very rare now.

Stuart
Just the oldest people now.

Mako
Just the oldest people…

And he is telling me he doesn’t want to see us, I mean my dad’s children just walking away and not passing time in his home.

Stuart
So what did you say? We’d be back?

Mako
I told him we’d be back. Please allow us to go. And he was like, oh yeah. But you know your dad was a …And he starts a long story. He really wanted us to stay and talk to him.

Stuart
I would have liked to have talked to him. Problem is you don’t have time to talk to everybody...

Robert

When you hear some of the stories Stuart did record and there were about 80 hours of them that I went through you do in fact wish there could have been even more.  

There are some absolute gems among them, including this next section which is an interview
with a man who Stuart says “has the most interesting life story I had ever heard.”

A little background before we begin. Moses Kinyaka was a gun bearer for Glenn Cotter, who came from one of the oldest white families in Kenya. You might remember that Stuart was staying at a Cotter lodge when I first introduced him.

Back in 1978, the family was still involved in hunting but that year the Kenyan government
declared a ban, in particular on the killing of rhinos and elephants. The Cotters moved on with the times, and today are leaders in the conservancy movement, something I’ll explain more about in a later episode.

But Moses, who came from a famous elephant hunting tribe, decided, oh the hell with things,
he was going to keep doing what he had always done. And so he became a poacher.

Just a word of warning here: Some of the content coming up is a bit chilling.

Sound of guns firing in the background.

Stuart:
So we are just on the border of Tanzania and Kenya In the Masai Mara National Reserve. And we are going to talk to Moses Kinyaka. Moses is 67 years old. He looks no more than 50. And he carries an old, that’s a bolt action rifle isn’t it?

So Moses, can you tell us what happened after big game hunting was banned in Kenya?

What did you do?

Throughout this section Moses speaks first and then Mako translates.

Mako
Actually what he did was when he got to the gate, when he was going to hunt, he was with guests that had already paid to come hunting.

Stuart:
Big game hunters.

Mako
Yes, big game hunters. He was told by rangers that from today there is no more hunting of elephants and rhino. We allow you only to hunt buffalo.

It was very stressful for him so let him continue to tell this story.

Pause

So when they went back the company decided to pay them to go home because there is no more work.

He is actually using me as an example. He told me that if now tourism collapsed in Kenya everyone would all be paid to go home. So when that happened, they were paid to go home,
they decided to go to the bush to hunt by themselves to kill, to be poachers actually.

So his brother, they went together to become poachers but there was nowhere to sell
their tusks or horns or ivory because everyone was scared of buying those things and security was very tight back then.

Stuart
So back then, the late 70s, was the ivory trade not really a big trade then? Or was it just that people in Kenya were scared to do it?

Mako
He said that even at that time there was not enough money for them. I mean it was not valued like it is now. So he says we hunt those elephants and our mzungus take the tusks and then they get to carry meat to their homes.

Stuart:
So then he went back to Cotters. Doing safari tourism. So why did he leave Cotters again?

Mako
He realized the horns of rhinos are coming to be very expensive. So he said if I kill one rhino
and sell those 2 horns I will earn a lot of money.

Stuart
So he quit Cotters. What did he say his reason for leaving was?

Mako
He was on safari with Glenn’s guest. When he went back he found young boys they have lots of money because of those rhino horns. So he didn’t even come back to say Glenn I am not coming back.
Heh heh.

Pause

There is a place called Yeta Plateau. So in 1983 they went to stay in Yeta. They stayed 3 months in the bush.

If the KWS came….

Stuart:
KWS?

Mako
Kenya Wildlife Service. So if they came these poacher lie down if they see the plane going around. I think that was the time poachers had been killing a lot of elephants so there was an aeroplane going round looking for them.

Stuart:
So did they bump into any rangers? Did they have gunfights with them?

Mako
Several times, running quickly. But at that time the Kenyan government didn’t allow anyone to shoot people so when they see poachers the rangers have to run and catch them.

Stuart here is telling us the actions that Moses is making.

Stuart:
He’s doing all the actions of what they do to hide.

Mako
They have some things they carry in their pockets. They put on their hand. They take it and swallow it. And then they do like this…blow.

Stuart
And what would that do?

Mako
That means the rangers will not come. They are blowing the rangers away.

Stuart
So basically they are using magic.

Mako
Yeah. Magic.

Stuart
And the magic worked?

Mako
Yeah, it works completely…

…And then they moved from that place to another place. They went long distance like probably 50km and the place they went has a lot of rocks. So they have to go directly on rocks to get water.

Stuart here is again telling us the actions that Moses is making.

Stuart
He is doing impressions of something stuck in a rock

Mako
In that rocky area there was not good water that they can drink. So what they did was
they took a piece of their clothes and they cut a little piece like this. And then they tie it on a stick and they put that stick inside the hole and then they get water.

And then they squeeze the clothe into their cup until their cup is full.

They stayed a long time with no food so they also took bark off acacia and tied themselves on their back like this.

Stuart
Oh so they were so hungry they couldn’t stand properly. So basically they’d make almost like corsets out of acacia bark because they were so weak as they hadn’t eaten. And it would hold them up so they could carry on walking.

Mako
Yeah.

Stuart
And they were walking because basically they were chased off that plateau?

Mako
No, they finished all the animals.

Stuart
Oh you just killed all the animals so you were moving on…

Pause

Mako
So they had to eat some honey. And then they had to drink a lot of water. They boiled the bark off trees which they knew were very good in energy. Then they stay a long time. He said maybe a month or more.

Stuart
Just walking and looking.

Mako
Just walking and drinking the roots of the trees…

Stuart
How many were there?

Mako
There were 3 of them…

…So when they passed the rocks at maybe 3 in the afternoon they starting to see the vulture flying.

So when you are very hungry and you stay in the bush and you are a poacher you depend mostly on vultures and hyenas. Because if you see vultures there must be there is something dead.

Or if you hear a hyena laughing you know there is some meat there.

So when they see these vultures they become like very happy. So they all start to move quickly to where the vultures are so that they can get the meat before the vulture finish everything.

We knew that it was a big thing as many vultures will not land for a small thing.

So when they get there they only get the bones. So they grab all the bones.

Stuart here is again telling us the actions that Moses is making.

Stuart
He is indicating running toward them.
He is indicating picking up the bones.
 
Mako
And then they get ribs. Just ribs and some bones.

Backbones.

But the vultures almost clear everything.

So because that was a little old meat it had probably been killed a day ago before they found it.

So they cut the bones and then they went back to the rock where the water is.

So all of them had to use their clothes the same way to get a lot of water to cook that meat
and then they drank soup.

Stuart
Oh so they used the bones to soak in the soup. But there was still some meat on them.

Mako
They roasted some. And then they ate.

Stuart here is again telling us the actions that Moses is making.

Stuart
He indicates ripping the meat off the bone.

Mako
So they went back again.

And then they get a head of a human being…

On their way to get water they get a bone of a human…

Stuart
Oh they found a human head.

Mako
They found a human head.

And they are wondering what?

What is this?

Stuart here is again telling us the actions that Moses is making.

Stuart
He is indicating looking at the head on the floor. Being confused and kicking it away.

Mako
Once they know this is what they eat they kick it away.

And they start to ask each other is this what we eat?

Ah, no problem. If this is what we can get. No problem.

And then on the other side they found the back of the leg

Stuart
Oh then they found the foot of a human being.

Mako
They found the foot. And then they said ah, this is a human being.

And they run away…

And then they start to be crazy. They eat human being. They have nothing. They don’t have money. They don’t have anything. They live in the bush. And they happen to eat a human being.

Stuart
And what does human meat taste like?

Mako
They said it’s not really delicious but we had to eat because we were very hungry.

Stuart
Did they find out who the human being was? What happened to him? Do they know?

Mako
No they didn’t. But that man could also be a poacher as he was heading toward that water.

So all that was the beginning of 1983. So in May 4th is when he was arrested by Kenya Wildlife Service.

Stuart
And how was he caught?

Mako
He said, I think because we eat a human being. So very bad luck and I was arrested.

Pause

So they were just walking and they heard the plane coming. So the plane saw them.
Made a radio call. The rangers come. So they started to run!

And the plane…

Moses makes sounds: Po po po po, ta ta ta ta.

Those are the bullets.

Stuart
What! From the aeroplane?

Mako
From the car. And then they were beaten so so much by the rangers. And then they were taken to the jail and they stay in the jail for 4 good years.

And then when they were released he decided to come back to Cotters and say I am sorry for what I did and now I want to work with you again.

Stuart
Now he is basically involved in a company that is involved in conservation.

Does he regret it?

Mako
Yes, he regrets why I did this. Because I killed and I didn’t get anything.

Stuart
So the ivory and rhino horn he didn’t really make anything from it? Did other people? He was selling it on to other people?

Mako
He is actually saying that he made a lot of money but even if you earn a lot of money you…

Stuart
Oh so he did make money from the ivory but it wasn’t worth it.

Mako
Yeah it wasn’t worth it.

Stuart
If he could go back in time would he change things, would he do it again?

Mako
Never ever. Even if things change I would never go back to being a poacher.

I think when I was born I got a blood that likes to kill, but I realized now it is nothing.

Stuart
And what does he think of the poachers today? What would he say if he could meet them?

Mako
He says I can’t even talk I have to kill.

Stuart
Over the years, how many elephants does he think he shot? And how many rhinos?

Mako
Probably 30 rhinos.

Stuart
And elephants?

Mako
Elephants can be 200 and something. Killed a lot of them.

Stuart
Which was the most exciting to hunt? Of all the animals what animals does he like hunting the most?

Mako
I like to kill giraffe because of meat.

And then rhino and elephant because of money

And I like to hunt them because it’s a sense of, not really easy, and not good, if you aren’t careful you will be killed.

Stuart
But they were hunting these with guns when they were poaching?

Mako
They used the bow and arrow.

Stuart
So when they were poaching the whole time it was all bow and arrows?

Never guns?

Mako
There was a time that he got a gun but without a license.

Stuart
Well, he was a poacher.

I don’t think that was an issue. Heh heh heh…

Robert
Poaching is still a very serious problem not just in Kenya, but across Africa. The illegal sale of elephant and rhino parts is a multi-billion dollar business worldwide

It’s estimated that there are around 400-600,000 elephants left in Africa. It’s a 50% decline over the past 35 years. But those numbers look even worse when you consider that in 1900 the number was 10 million.

In episodes 2 and 3 we’ll talk more about the state of conservation, and introduce the conservancy movement which is having a positive effect on preserving wildlife.

But that’s it today for Travel Tape. If you enjoyed the show I really would like to hear from you.

End