Journalist to retrace human migration on 7-year walk
Paul Salopek stands by the supplies he will be taking in the village of Herto Bouri, Ethiopia, in this photo taken January 9, 2013. / John Stanmeyer,AP Photo/National Geographic
NAIROBI, Kenya On the eve of an unimaginably long walk - one that starts in Africa, winds through the Middle East, across Asia, hops over to Alaska, goes down the western United States, then Central and South America and ends in Chile - one question nagged journalist Paul Salopek: Should he take his house keys?
Salopek on Thursday departed a small Ethiopian village and took the first steps of a planned 21,000-mile walk that will cross some 30 borders, where he will encounter dozens of languages and scores of ethnic groups. The 50-year-old's quest is to retrace man's first migration from Africa across the world in a go-slow journey that will force him to immerse himself in a variety of cultures so he can tell a global mosaic of people stories.
The Ethiopia-to-Chile walk - which took human ancestors some 50,000 years to make - is called Out of Eden and is sponsored by National Geographic, the Knight Foundation and the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. A two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, the American plans to write one major article a year with periodic updates every 100 miles or so.
"Often the places that we fly over or drive through, they aren't just untold stories, but they are also the connective tissues between the stories of the day," Salopek told The Associated Press by satellite phone from the village of Herto Bouri, his starting point, late Wednesday.
Those fly-over places explain how environment or education are connected to the economy - stories that are more nuanced and complicated "that take slowing down to explain," he said.
Though Salopek's planned walk may be among the longest in modern times - Guinness World Records doesn't track "longest walk" because such a feat can't be standardized - such long, investigative walks have been done before.
Rory Stewart, now a British parliamentarian, walked across Iran, Pakistan, Nepal, and then circled back to post-Taliban Afghanistan to walk from Herat to Kabul, a journey chronicled in the 2005 book "The Places In Between." Stewart's walk took 21 months.
"The best thing about it for me was simply that it gave me access to people and communities. It forced you to stop every 20 or 25 miles. It forced you to spend nights in village homes," said Stewart, who spends six weeks every year walking through his political district. "For me the real great thing about this kind of journey is that we live in a world which is very focused on destinations, a city or a tourist site, which ignores 99 percent of the country."
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