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Paul Salopek in Rwanda Paul Salopek has worked as a photojournalist in remote places around the world. (Michael Nichols / National Geographic)

A Walk Around the World

A journalist from Texas plans to retrace the steps of ancient humans

By Jennifer Marino Walters | February 1 , 2013

Before leaving his home earlier this year, Paul Salopek asked himself a simple question: Should he take his house keys or leave them? After all, he was heading out on a very long walk—a seven-year walk, to be exact.

Salopek, an award-winning photojournalist, is retracing the migration of ancient humans from Africa throughout the world. (Scientists believe our ancestors began leaving Africa about 70,000 years ago.) His journey began January 10, when he headed out on foot from a small Ethiopian village. From Africa, he plans to walk through the Middle East, across Asia and into Alaska, down the western United States, through Central America and South America, and finally to the southern tip of Chile, where his journey will end.

The 21,000-mile walk is called the Out of Eden Walk. It will take Salopek across 30 borders and bring him into contact with dozens of ethnic groups speaking varied languages.

Salopek, 50, hopes to talk to many people and immerse himself in a variety of cultures along the way. His goal is to put together a mosaic of stories of modern people around the world. He will explore such topics as climate change, education, and the economy.

“A walk of this magnitude, along this route, has never been attempted in a single lifetime,” Salopek wrote on his website.

AN EPIC JOURNEY

Salopek plans to walk an average of 15 miles a day—about five hours a day—for half of each year, and will spend the other half of the year recuperating and writing. He will write a blog and post updates via Twitter along the way.

Throughout the trek, Salopek will wear a backpack containing a laptop, a small video camera, a satellite phone, and some camping gear. Though he’ll complete almost the entire journey on foot, he says he may have to ride on horseback or in a vehicle for small stretches for safety reasons. He will also use a ship to cross the sea between Russia and Alaska, which were connected by a land bridge long ago.

Salopek foresees some challenges along the way—trouble crossing certain borders, old minefields, the Arctic winter in Siberia, and more. But he says he will deal with them as they come. Though he won’t carry a gun, he does have some secret security measures in place.

“The guiding star of the walk’s storyline isn’t me,” he wrote. “It’s the journey itself, the swarm of ideas and people encountered along the road. Children can grow up with the journey.”

To keep up with Salopek’s historic walk, you can read his blog updates here.

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