With a journey that will take close to 30 million steps, Paul Salopek’s seven-year walk will be perhaps the "longest, most arduous piece of reportage ever undertaken,” wrote Paul Harris in a recent story for The Observer, the Sunday edition of The Guardian.
“Out of Eden" is the forthcoming project by Salopek, a National Geographic Fellow and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. Salopek, a Pulitzer Center grantee, will walk from Ethiopia's Great Rift Valley eastward to Patagonia. It is a reporting assignment that will take him on an expedition that spans the globe and crosses 39 different borders as he retraces the migratory route walked by our ancestors 50,000 years ago.
Salopek will begin out of Ethiopia's Great Rift Valley, before crossing the Red Sea into the Middle East, then travel through Siberia and across the Bering Strait before he makes his way to the southern tip of South America. Harris writes that Salopek has "admitted that the mental challenges were likely to be harder than the physical task." There will be imposed periods of solitude for rest and ground-level reporting, which demonstrates a certain prescience as Salopek embarks on what Harris writes "might seem like a crazed plan." It is in fact a voyage for which Salopek said he has been "unconsciously preparing…for many years."
As issues of identity and exile are explored in what Harris terms "a journalistic assignment like no other," the audience will glean insight into ongoing cultural shifts and the most pressing issues of our time. "It is an old way of story-telling: the wandering bard. I am curious myself to see how it all turns out," Salopek told Harris. "It is the notion of a questing story which we find in all cultures, that you have to go away from home and come back in order to truly discover what 'home' was."
Beyond the physical challenges of walking from Africa to South America, Salopek can expect to travel through "some of the globe's most dangerous political hotspots – such as Iran and central America," notes Harris. "Borders will open or close as regimes rise and fall, potentially blocking his way," he adds. Salopek responds that he will "simply adapt;" he will "pivot around obstacles" and so emulate our ancestors.
Dispatches will be published throughout. Salopek's audio visual records will create an immersive documentation--the changing landscapes, voices and faces of the people he meets preserved and posted along the way. As he adds to this "journalism laboratory" every 100 miles or so, Salopek expects to create "a portrait of humanity for the next seven years." National Geographic magazine also will publish an annual feature-length article, threading the long-running narrative. By virtue of a slower pace of reporting, Salopek hopes the stories that emerge will be seen as nuanced markers of our time. "It is everybody's story. This journey belongs to everyone," Salopek said.
The Out of Eden walk will begin in early 2013 with support from National Geographic, the Knight Foundation, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, and Harvard's Nieman Foundation for Journalism, among others. The Pulitzer Center is supporting Salopek in a special educational initiative that will provide opportunities for students to connect with him—and other students around the world—during his journey. The program launched this fall with online and in-person visits to schools in Philadelphia, St. Louis, Chicago, and Washington, DC. Through online activities and link-ups over the course of the walk, students will travel along with Salopek, exploring history, geography, current affairs, and the nature of news through his reports—as well as through their own “journeys.”
Salopek's work as a foreign correspondent in Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and Latin America has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, The American Scholar among many other publications.
Read Harris's full report.
Paul Salopek's Out of Eden journey can be followed on Twitter with #edenWalk