Around 60,000 years ago, humans migrated out of Africa to the rest of the world. They reached the tip of South America about 10,000 years ago. Traveling on foot, Salopek is following their path.

Sole Brothers

Rift Valley, Ethiopia

January 31, 2013

Salopek’s trip will take millions of steps, so his footwear is pretty important. In Ethiopia, there are few shoe options.

How do you judge a man? Look at his shoes. Shoes reveal their wearer’s class, style, even job. It is odd, then, to be walking through a place where millions of people wear the same-style footwear every day— the cheap, plastic sandal of Ethiopia. Many people buy and wear them because they are affordable.

A couple of my camel handlers on this part of my journey wore lime-green plastic sandals. The surface of the Rift Valley is covered in footprints stamped by these plastic shoes. Yet if Ethiopia’s sandals are mass-produced, their wearers are not. Their tracks tell different stories and identify different people.

Many Ethiopians wear the same style of shoe, made from plastic.

Our guide knelt down the other day on the trail. Pointing to a single sandal track, he said, “La’ad Howeni will be waiting for us in Dalifagi.” He was.

Awad’s Refrigerator

Umlajj, Saudi Arabia

October 30, 2013

Salopek and his guides must carry everything they need as they travel for weeks at a time. Carrying water across the desert is essential. But who said anything about it being cold?

The first modern Homo sapiens, or people, walked out of Africa. At that time, the region’s seas were lower. Its hills were greener. What the people experienced, we do not know. What is certain was their need to carry water.

Water is heavy. To carry enough water across great distances requires strength. What did the first humans use as containers? Nobody knows. Canteens or buckets made of natural materials? A gurba, or goatskin water bladder?

Awad Omran, my camel handler, has a solution to quenching our thirst.

Awad’s cold-water canteen is made from a sack,cardboard, plastic twine, and a plastic water bottle.

Awad builds a water-cooling thermos. It’s made from junk discarded around a farm. He wraps a large water bottle with cardboard. He wraps burlap around the cardboard. He makes a long handle from twine.

Awad’s thermos operates on the principle of evaporation. Wetted and hung on a saddle, its dampened cardboard cools our drinking water.


Near Siverek, Turkey

December 11, 2014

Salopek rarely travels alone. He’s usually joined by a guide and pack animals that carry supplies. Here, he writes about his mule while traveling through Turkey.

First things first: A mule is not a donkey. A donkey is a small, long-eared creature from which mules are bred when mated with a horse. A mule is an animal I rely on during my travels. A mule is bigger. Males are jack mules. Females are jenny or molly mules. Mules are used for all sorts of jobs. There are cotton mules, sugar mules, mining mules, and more.

It doesn’t matter what you call a mule, however. Mules don’t answer to names. Each of my walking partners has called our white jenny by a different name. One guide called her Barbara for reasons only he can explain. Another dubbed her Sunshine. Still another called her Sweetie. John Stanmeyer, my photographer, refers to her as Snowflake.

My preference is Kirkatir, a Turkish name meaning “grey mule.” The truth is that, like all mules, she answers to no label handed out by humans. She comes when she feels like it. And she does what she pleases. Thankfully, that includes carrying our supplies!

Paul Salopek’s mule in Turkey may not come when called, but she shoulders much of the burden on the walk.

Walking Grass

Near Khurramabad, Pakistan

January 02, 2018

Along his travels, Salopek meets many people going about their daily lives. Here, in Pakistan, he comes across some farmers harvesting and carrying hay.

The mountain range that cuts northern Afghanistan from Pakistan is a cold desert. There is little rain. For all their thick glaciers and snow, the mountains are mostly dry. In late summer, glacial melt streams down, washing away at villages, roads, and topsoil.

The people who live here, many of them farmers wait for the pastures to dry. Then they harvest wild hay.

Among the farmers are Rehman Ali and Bibi Pari. They are older now. Their sons have moved to big cities. But they remain to harvest their rocky fields themselves.

I can barely help Pari carry her load. Yet, to her, it seems like nothing. She says, “Thank you, brothers,” for the simple act of watching her work.

A farmer carries hay to his house about 3.2 kilometers (two miles) away.