In Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, protagonist Phileas Fog sets out to circumnavigate the globe. First published in the year 1873, Verne’s story is considered a classic adventure book. Fast-forward to today, more than a hundred years later and people look to create similar stories. In our fast-paced world where quality is measured in speed and efficiency, one would think that a modern-day Fog would attempt to up the ante by conquering the world in 80 days or less. Like something plucked straight out of Verne’s imagination, there is a modern-day Fog traversing the planet. But, he’s not doing it in the manner you might expect. The traveler’s name is Paul Salopek and unlike Fog, he’s real. Unlike Fog, his trip is taking 2,557 (including leap years) days instead of 80. And unlike Fog, he’s walking the entire way. The project is titled Out of Eden, and it will cost Salopek seven years of his life.
National Geographic Fellow Paul Salopek is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist on the ultimate assignment. He’s on a mission to retrace the global migration of humanity around the world, starting in Ethiopia and ending in the southern most tip of South America. He’ll be embroidering his walking wake with stories, catching wisps that are missed at anything other than a slow pace and cultivating them into larger connections with a perspective and wisdom one can only gain by walking around the world. Here’s his trip by the numbers:
One slow journalist
Slow journalism could refer to the speed of Salopek’s pace, but it also refers to his reporting philosophy. Before his trip began, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting where Paul gave an overview of his journey. What stood out to me most was the intensity of his desire to capture the minute—the stories that are over-looked and at risk of never being told and therefore, heard. So far, his dispatches have included descriptions about the the sound made by hyenas’ footsteps and how deserts become polished. He’s writing about places I’ve never heard of and things I’ve never seen, and he’s writing about them intimately. This exposure, and the time required to nurture it, is my interpretation of slow journalism. In short, the results are amazing.
Along the way, Salopek will be taking inventory (or Milestones as the project refers to them) every 160 kilometers (100 miles). This sampling includes pictures of the ground and sky, a sound clip and a brief, standardized interview with the nearest person. You can see some the Milestones he’s already collected here, as well as his route to date. An accompanying education program, in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and Project Zero, translates the gravity of his journey into the classroom.
Out of Eden is a reflective title for Salopek’s undertaking. A friend of mine describes Eden as signifying “a starting place and an end point at the same time.” Eden, as a concept, contradicts itself—a beginning and an end. The beauty of the Out of Eden Walk is that it captures the big using the small, the old using the new. Salopek is physically moving forward and simultaneously moving backwards, diving deep into our collective humanity and sharing it with us in brand new ways.
I’ve heard a medical rumor that our bodies regenerate every seven years; that it takes seven years for all cells in our body to replace themselves and completely turnover. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I do imagine that Paul will be changed after these seven years. I imagine that we will be too if we join him on this journey, and let the stories he’s sharing become a part of us.
Written by Samantha Zuhlke, National Geographic Education