Paul Salopek: the slowest journalist alive?

Photo by John Stanmeyer/National Geographic. Paul Salopek wanders through the ancient Nabataean ruins of Madain Salih, Saudi Arabia, carved into sandstone outcrops some 2,000 years ago.

Photo by John Stanmeyer/National Geographic. Paul Salopek wanders through the ancient Nabataean ruins of Madain Salih, Saudi Arabia, carved into sandstone outcrops some 2,000 years ago.

Here at DG Towers we’re big fans of journalists who get stuck into a story over an extended period of time, committing themselves to epic research in order to produce something original.

And no one takes it quite as slowly as Paul Salopek, who started a seven-year journey by foot in 2013 for National Geographic. The mission of his ‘Out of Eden‘ project is to retrace the steps of our ancestors as they left the African heartland and settled around the world. As he walks from Ethiopia to the southern tip of Patagonia, Salopek has been charting his progress on his blog, giving insights into little-known places and reflecting on what he uncovers along the way.

Last Friday, Salopek answered questions on Reddit: we’ve pulled together some of the highlights.

Where in the world are you right now, and how are you communicating with us? (ScubaDanel)
I’m on the third largest island in the Mediterranean. Just took a cargo ship here to get safely around the tragic bloodletting in Syria.

How many pairs of shoes have you gone through to date? (jhludlum)
I’m still on my second pair of shoes. Merrells. They’ve lasted so long because I’ve been walking mainly through sand and dirt for hundreds of miles. As I inch into the more affluent higher latitudes, though, concrete and asphalt are probably going to eat them away.

How have your communication tools evolved since you started walking ? (jhludlum)
Still using basically the same kit: ultra-light laptop, pocket camera, satellite phones. We’ve been experimenting with better batteries and solar panels, though. Hopefully by Patagonia in 2020, all this stuff will be rolled into one instrument the size of a walnut.

What has been the most difficult challenge you’ve faced and how did you overcome it? (tajinjperez)
Borders. I was stuck in Djibouti for six weeks waiting for some country to green-light my walk through their territory. 120-degree deserts and – eventually – glaciers I suppose I can handle. Imaginary lines inked on maps are insurmountable. The solution? Wait. Some alternative will turn up. That’s what the walk teaches—patience. A scarce commodity these days.

How difficult is it to transition from walking in isolated, desolate areas to entering “civilization” when you come across cities? (LaursenL)
Rural areas are great to walk through. Cities also have their beauty. But the transitions between the two can be hell. The two worlds collide in an anarchic tangle of junkyards, fenced urban plots, construction spoil, dumped animal carcasses- – a nightmare of pell-mell land use that creates and obstacle course, and assaults your senses. I just walked through such a transition zone. I got lost in a vast, unfenced scrapyard.

From all the travels, trials, triumphs and tragedies you have documented, what do you think could be the most lasting impression “current” humanity would leave for a hypothetical traveler studying our remains at some distant horizon? (adrongardner)
I think it was Hemingway who said that all the monuments, laws and armies crumble to dust and are forgotten. But not the art. Universal art lasts. We still admire the cave paintings of the Cro-Magnons.

How do you feel when people flat out deny that we have evolutionary ancestors? How would you convince them? (captain_jim2)
I don’t try to convince anyone of anything. The project is called the “Out of Eden Walk” for that very reason. You can see it as a walk out of our anthropological or evolutionary African “eden” or a walk from the Edens espoused by many world faiths. One idea bridges everything: We are indisputably on a common journey somewhere – so why not walk it fully awake?

How often do you contact “home”? (Pzonks)
Family meets me en route where possible. And one of the gifts of the walk: I move so slowly through people’s lives that I end up acquiring de facto family everywhere on the trail. It’s going to be a great party at the finish line in 2020 – I’m inviting all my guides, and everyone who has helped along the way. Un gran pachanga.

Follow Salopek’s journey on the ‘Out of Eden’ blog, or check the full ‘Ask Me Anything’ here.

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