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New Year’s Travel Inspiration

by Meredith Mullins on January 9, 2017

Paul Salopek in eastern Turkey (2014), nearly two years into his walk around the world
© John Stanmeyer/National Geographic Creative

The Out of Eden Walk Around the World

If I had made New Year’s resolutions, “walking around the world” probably would not have been on the list.

A get-off-the-couch, 10,000 steps a day? Maybe. 10 million steps? Not a chance. That would be travel inspiration of the monumental kind.

The 10 million number is not random. Ten million steps is an important milestone for Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Paul Salopek.

Why? He is walking around the world.

And he just reached the ten millionth step of his 21,000-mile journey. Millions more steps will follow.

Great Rift Valley, Ethiopia, Africa, travel inspiration for Paul Salopek and the Out of Eden Walk. (Image © AL-Travelpicture/iStock.)

In January 2013, Salopek began at the beginning—The Great Rift Valley in Ethiopia—one of the
world’s oldest human fossil sites.
© AL-Travelpicture/iStock.)

Out of Eden

I have followed Salopek since he began this ambitious odyssey in January 2013. For me, an adventure lover, the idea of a walk around the world was as mesmerizing as it was wild and crazy.

His “Out of Eden” project, sponsored by National Geographic, follows the path of the first humans as they migrated out of Africa during the Stone Age to begin their exploration of the planet.

World map with Out of Eden route marked for travel inspiration a la Paul Salopek. (Image © Chrupka/iStock.)

The proposed route mirrors how the first humans migrated out of Africa.
© Chrupka/iStock

It took them 40,000 to 60,000 years to make the journey— from Africa, across the Middle East and Asia, and finally to North and South America.

Gulf of Tadjourah view in Djibouti, travel inspiration for Paul Salopek and the Out of Eden Walk. (Image © VUSLimited/iStock.)

Salopek’s African journey took him from Ethiopia to the Gulf of Tadjourah in Djibouti and a boat
(full of sheep and camels) to Saudi Arabia.
© VUSLimited/iStock

Salopek’s journey will be shorter—a mere 7- to 11-year commitment. The original projection was seven years; but now, in his fourth year, he knows that plan was overly optimistic.

I’m way behind schedule and thankful for it . . . I’m having the time of my life.—Paul Salopek

Slow Journalism

What inspired this expedition?

Salopek believes that if we slow down and observe carefully, we can rediscover our world. He calls it an experiment in slowness.

Slowing down doesn’t dull the world. It makes it sharper. It makes it crisper. That’s what walking does.—Paul Salopek

He explains that he is simply moving from story to story. It just so happens that his feet are what gets him there.

Feet in Ethiopia, part of the travel inspiration of Paul Salopek for the Out of Eden Walk. (Image © rweisswald/iStock.)

When talking about a walk of 21,000 miles, feet become a topic of conversation. Most of the desert dwellers wear plastic or rubber. Salopek wears Merrell hiking shoes. Each pair lasts about 1000 miles.
© rweisswald/iStock

This walk is not about setting records or walking a certain number of steps a day, he explains. It’s strictly about storytelling.

The stories are about the people he meets, the changes he observes, and what it is to be human.

Walking is addictive, in a positive sense . . . It forces you to engage with people. You can’t ignore them. You have to say hello.—Paul Salopek

He interviews and photographs the strangers he meets (with a “Milestone” story every 100 miles, in addition to his frequent dispatches.)

He observes and records changes, such as camel grooves becoming oil pipelines and The Silk Road moving from a trade route for silk and spices to a route for oil and gas.

Hasankeyf, Turkey, and ancient town that provides travel inspiration to Paul Salopek on his Out of Eden walk. (Image © Asafta/iStock.)

Salopek sees past and future changes. Sections of the ancient town of Hasankeyf, Turkey will be inundated when a new dam is built. Layers of civilizations will be erased.
© Asafta/iStock

He writes often about the hospitality of strangers—sharing the last of their water, alerting him to the challenges of the terrain, or helping him to find the perfect camel.

Although he sometimes walks alone, he is most often with local guides, translators, or his trusty pack animals. Many of his guides have become good friends. (And, yes, mules and camels can be BFFs too.)

Camels in the desert, travel inspiration for Paul Salopek on the Out of Eden Walk. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

A walk around the world is never lonely when there’s a good camel by your side.
© Meredith Mullins

Occasionally, he is joined by National Geographic photographer John Stanmeyer, whose stunning photographs add a unique perspective to the continuing saga.

In the virtual space of the internet, his footsteps are followed by thousands of people around the globe—well wishers, students, educational partners, and fellow adventurers who want to see, as Salopek does, what the far reaches of the globe are like.

We should be relieved to find out that Salopek’s view (so far) is that “the world is, by and large, a hospitable place.”

Evening view of Jerusalem, Israel, travel inspiration for Paul Salopek on his Out of Eden walk. (Image © Silverjohn/iStock.)

The path along the Red Sea included Saudi Arabia, Jordan,
the West Bank, and Israel. (Jerusalem is pictured here.)
© Silverjohn/iStock

Paradise Lost?

As he contemplates his journey, he imagines the world’s first walkers. They had no maps, he notes in his walking journal. They had no pre-planned routes.

In fact, he concludes, “they had no destinations because the very concept of ‘destination’ had yet to be invented.” This leads to his final conclusion: “These pioneers were, by definition, never lost.”

Hunter walking on a mountain, another traveler seeking travel inspiration along with Paul Salopek of the Out of Eden walk. (Image © Oner Enarih.)

You may think you’re the only traveler in the remote mountains of Kyrgyzstan, but there is always
life in the distance. Here, a hunter walks on a secluded hillside.
© Oner Enarih/iStock

You can tell he wants to walk as if he is one of these first pioneers . . .  to feel never lost.

But we live in a mapped world. There are destinations, borders, and GPS coordinates. It is possible to be lost.

The good news, Salopek says, is that getting lost can be a positive thing—it wakes you up.

You stand a little straighter. Your eyes and pores open. You become more alert. You study the world carefully, scanning the horizon for landmarks, signs, clues — for a way forward.

 But ultimately, you become alive to possibility: a new compass bearing, a new story, a trail untaken.—Paul Salopek

A Map for Adventure

Salopek’s route is fluid. There are challenges. He is influenced by which countries will grant him visas. He also listens to his inner survivor and tries to avoid places in conflict.

He has logged nearly 5000 miles in his first three years, from the Rift Valley of Africa to Saudi Arabia and a path following the Red Sea through the holy lands, to Cyprus and Eastern Turkey, to a trek across Georgia into the Stans.

Registan Square in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, travel inspiration for Paul Salopek on his Out of Eden Walk. (Image © Ozbalci/iStock.)

The journey interweaves brutal deserts, endless mountains, and historic cities, such as Samarkand, Uzbekistan, one of the major stops on The Silk Road trade route.
© Ozbalci/iStock

He is currently wintering in Kyrgyzstan before he tackles the Tian Shen mountains into China and the Taklamakan Desert (also known as the desert of no return). He will eventually make it to North America and walk south to the southernmost tip of South America.

Mountain peaks of the Tien Shan, Kyrgyzstan. (Image © Oner Enarih/iStock.)

After Salopek’s winter in Kyrgyzstan, the Tien Shan mountains await.
© Oner Enarih/iStock

Oh, I See: New Year’s Resolutions

No, I will not add walking the world to my New Year’s resolutions. But the travel inspiration that Salopek provides and his Out of Eden words and images will find their way into my core. There are many “Oh, I See” moments in his stories.

And so, if I had made New Year’s resolutions, they might have looked something like this.

  • I will slow down to really see.
  • I will look for the best in humanity.
  • I will seek the trail untaken.
  • I will live new stories.

These are resolutions worth keeping. Thank you, Mr. Salopek.

You can follow the Out of Eden story here. See more of John Stanmeyer’s photography here or in the OIC story about his World Press Photo Award. Join the Out of Eden Facebook page here.

Comment on this post below, or inspire insight with your own OIC Moment here.


2 thoughts on “New Year’s Travel Inspiration

    • Hi Helen,
      Thank you for your comments. It means a lot coming from an adventurer like yourself. Walk on …


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