The Out of Eden Walk, a National Geographic-sponsored retracing of our ancestor’s slow-motion exodus from Africa, through time and countless footsteps, is finally resuming after COVID-19 closed overland borders last year.
The host (or perhaps victim) Paul Salopek is a Pulitzer-winning journalist and photographer, and has been traveling overland on foot since the middle-years of Barack Obama’s presidency, documenting his trip across the beltline of the world. In Myanmar, the pandemic hit, and like everyone else he was stuck in one place for months.
Finally back on the road again, his latest dispatch is characteristic of a great travel memoir.
“For more than eight years, I have trailed the first human beings who roamed out of Africa during the Stone Age,” he writes in his most recent entry.
“My storytelling journey, called the Out of Eden Walk, has been stalled for more than a year in Myanmar. The novel coronavirus, a life form one thousand times thinner than a human eyelash, has blocked thousands of miles of Asian land borders.”
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Salopek describes thinking back to eight years ago, when he started in the rocky highlands of Ethiopia, visiting resting sites of the earliest human ancestors.
Entering the Holy Land, he wandered through scenes of war and the worst refugee crisis of a generation in Syria, before crossing the vast grasslands and savannas of the Central Asian Steppe, then the Indian subcontinent, before reaching the steamy river valleys of Yunnan.
“Roads are older than empires in Yunnan,” Salopek says as he finishes his first travel days in 20 months. “A hundred generations of long-legged mountaineers have hauled jade, tea, copper, and ivory atop the crooked lanes of Yunnan.”
While difficult to say, Salopek’s journey could be described as half over, as he still must cross northeastward through China and Russia, before crossing the Bering Strait in winter and plunging south all the way to the tip of South America, just as our early ancestors did, with the special exception of the Pacific Islanders.
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Half-time is often a good period to jump into a sports match, and as Salopek prepares to continue one of humanity’s all-time great walkabouts, it’s worth tuning in to see how the match ends.
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