Since 2013, journalist Paul Salopek has been on a gruelling, fascinating and unique mission; to walk 21,000 miles to discover the routes the first humans took out of Africa. As well as tracing that fascinating history, Paul has covered current events, politics, climate change, culture and more, all in his own way and with his own goal; to humanise how we report on and consume news.
“The walk is primarily a storytelling project. When I was reporting in Africa and elsewhere as a foreign correspondent, I thought, ‘Can there be a more human way to convey the global news of our day that doesn’t involve putting current events into artificial boxes?’. I came up with the idea for the walk as a way to braid all these issues together in a more truthful manner – because in real life, topics like conflict and health and culture are not siloed: All human experiences are interwoven; they touch each other,” Paul told Lonely Planet.
Called the Out of Eden Walk, the project sees the National Geographic Fellow literally slowing his storytelling down to a human pace – 5km an hour, and revealing the hidden connections that are missed when we move too fast. Beginning in Africa, the route takes Paul through the Middle East and Asia, before a planned boat journey to the Americas. Originally thought to take seven years, Paul has so far covered 9000 miles, and has realized that his project will take more time, a fact that does not seem to bother him. He also feels that trying to trace our routes in this way makes the experience more genuine. “By carrying out this walk along the pathways of the Stone Age ancestors who first traversed the world, it’s all the better. Then the narrative becomes a collective journey of rediscovery that belongs to everyone.”
In southern Turkey he walked through pistachio orchards and saw throngs of Syrian refugees escaping civil war, before following the silk road through Central Asia. He has met and stayed with local people and families in many destinations he has visited, taking captivating images that show another side of life and the rich diversity of cultures around the world. He has seen first-hand the impact of climate change on communities, and witnessed political and social unrest.
Like everyone else, Paul has been affected by COVID-19, and as a result his trip has been paused. He is currently in Myanmar and has taken the opportunity to finish a book that he is working on.
More information on the Out of Eden Walk is available at the dedicated National Geographic Page.