In this week’s EverWalk blog, we share the journey of “the war correspondent walking the world” in a National Geographic project to retrace the global migration patterns of our human ancestors. Since January 2013, 59-year-old American journalist Paul Salopek has been walking from Africa along the ancient path of human migration, which started between 50,000 and 80,000 years ago.
According to the project’s website, “Paul Salopek’s 21,000-mile odyssey is a decade-long experiment in slow journalism. Moving at the beat of his footsteps, Paul is walking the pathways of the first humans who migrated out of Africa in the Stone Age and made the Earth ours. Along the way, he is covering the major stories of our time—from climate change to technological innovation, from mass migration to cultural survival—by giving voice to the people who inhabit them every day. His words, as well as his photographs, video, and audio, create a global record of human life at the start of a new millennium as told by villagers, nomads, traders, farmers, soldiers, and artists who rarely make the news. In this way, if we choose to slow down and observe carefully, we also can rediscover our world.”
Please click here to learn more about this project and view his progress on the route:
Recently, BBC correspondent Neeta Lal caught up with the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and National Geographic Fellow and reports: Currently, Salopek has covered 12,000km until getting stuck in Myanmar due to a pandemic-induced border clampdown. A scientist by training, Salopek says his project is about storytelling; an experiment in slow and immersive journalism. Salopek is committed to gathering knowledge “ in a slower way, at a more human pace, infusing his work with richer, deeper insights into the landscapes and lives of the people he encounters.: Here are the most moving highlights from Lal’s interview about what he is learning about our world by walking.
You can read the full article by clicking the link at the bottom of this blog, but we are excited to share the quotes that we feel will resonate most with our EverWalk community of worldwide walkers and storytellers.
“Because walking makes every square metre of the Earth that I stand
on my home: in no village, road or continent do I feel lonely.”
– Paul Salopek, journalist
Here are Paul Salopek’s words on walking:
Like almost everyone, I’ve been affected by the pandemic. Borders are closed. Movement is restricted. I’ve paused the walk in northern Myanmar, waiting for things to open back up. Fortunately, among the things that walking teaches is patience.
I’m not sure Covid makes my journey’s messages more urgent. It might make them more pertinent. Pandemics highlight our interdependency. We won’t heal until everybody heals. Our safety is communal.
This project is about storytelling. Walking is just the antique vehicle for that mission. Ancient Greek bards. West African griots. Confucian walking scholars in China. The human habit of combining foot travel with narrative, learning and sharing culture is very old. It is a tradition found in many parts of the world.
I was a conventional foreign correspondent for years, zipping between breaking stories by plane or car. The advent of the Information Revolution has only sped up that whole process. Our stories today move at the speed of light. So, the Out of Eden Walk is a bit of pushback against all that. It aims to gather knowledge in a slower way, at a more humane pace, at the rate that these Stone Age brains that we’re still carrying around were designed to process – at 5km/h.
By slowing down my reporting process, my work is hopefully infused with richer, deeper insights into the landscapes and lives of the people I encounter. Walking bakes in the added element of time. It connects one story to another in a primal way. It encourages you to think before writing. I call it “slow journalism”, but it’s just our oldest form of discovery.
What you learn on foot is that every village is a cosmos, with [its] own personality and issues. That said, what I chose to focus on in my work was water. India is a riverland. Every one of its rivers is a deity. Yet the country is undergoing a silent water calamity – shortages, pollution – that impacts a staggering 600 million people. That’s a whole lot of human woe and the problem is so colossal that few can even look at it squarely.
What keeps me going? The stories I encounter. They’re never-ending and no two are alike. Each one raises a new question.
I write weekly or fortnightly dispatches, and the people who walk with me – the project’s walking partners – also contribute their own storytelling. Most of this material appears on the National Geographic website. There are “milestones” that I record every 100 miles (160km) of displacement along the walk. There are narrative maps. There are photo galleries and videos. My editor calculated that the current rate of production, the journey is on track to produce a million words of text. My walking partners and I also conduct workshops en route in “slow journalism”.
From [the] beginning of the walk in Ethiopia, I have moved with local walking partners. At first, this was for logistical reasons mainly – for navigational help, and interpreting interviews. But I quickly discovered that walking with people through their own homelands became a fundamental pillar of the project itself. Without them, I would learn much less, be able [to] share much less with readers, and in general have a diminished experience of the journey.
Nothing would make me happier than to leave a multicultural community of thoughtful storytellers in my wake.
This is especially true about walking with women. They help open the doors to the stories of half the human species and contribute a crucial perspective of their own that I can’t often access, especially in conservative rural societies. My walking partners – and they include Ethiopian camel pastoralists, American palaeontologists, retired Saudi army officers, Turkish landscape photographers, Georgian high school students and amazing Indian writers, among many others – are like family. We now incorporate their stories of the walk into the fabric of the narrative. In this way, the walk is building a global community of narrators, artists, thinkers who will be the real legacy of this lunatic jaunt.
I think that this educational mission will be the journey’s real legacy. Nothing would make me happier than to leave a multicultural community of thoughtful storytellers in my wake. In that way, the journey continues via others long after I hang up my boots in Tierra del Fuego.
I think walking teaches about the world in an ideal way. The horizons are earned. You live within your body’s limitations – marking progress by the length of your stride. It keeps you grounded, humble. Like a lot of things that are good in life – love, friendship, food, conversation – the slowness of it is essential. There is a sort of sacrament of days. You wake up, have a cup of tea, pack your rucksack and move on. At sunset you carry out this process in reverse, savouring it.
Walking reacquaints you with the forgotten ceremonies of arrivals and departures. These are daily rituals that motorised transport, speed, schedules, have obliterated. And you wake up to every sky not knowing where you will sleep next, yet with a steadying directionality to your life: east. You experience a continuity in life that I think must have been our original state. The world slides by, your waking hours balance between alertness and daydreaming.
Around 60,000 to 70,000 years ago, when the first modern humans began roaming out of Africa in earnest, the main obstacles were deserts or oceans or ice caps. For me, the big hurdles today are artificial – political borders. I wasn’t able to get a visa to walk through Iran or Turkmenistan, two countries that are important centres of human migration and culture. I walked around them.
Now I’m waiting for borders closed by the pandemic to reopen, hopefully in the month or two. Then I’ll walk from Myanmar to China.