The Current

After going through 7 pairs of shoes, Paul Salopek continues his walk around the world

Journalist Paul Salopek has been trekking the world by foot retracing our ancestors journey out of Africa. The National Geographic Fellow estimates he's walked 12,000 km in over five years — only a third of the way along his global walk.

'Home is where my boots are,' says the National Geographic Fellow

Paul Salopek rests on his way up the Tash Köpruk valley to the Irshad Pass and into Pakistan. (Matthieu Paley/National Geographic)

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For over five years, journalist Paul Salopek has been walking the world by foot, dedicated to retracing the journey of our ancestors from Ethiopia to the southern-most tip of South America. 

The National Geographic Fellow estimates he's covered 12,000 km of the Out of Eden Walk so far —  a journey that is around 34,000 km in total.

But he admits to his readers on his latest leg through Afghanistan, Pakistan and India that there's one section where he was forbidden access.

"I thought I had planned my route through northern Pakistan through very safe areas but when I came out out to a mountain valley near a town called Schloss, the Pakistani police stopped me and my walking partner Naveed Khan," Salopek told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Even with government documents giving Salopek permission, the local police chief refused entry on foot, telling him, "If something happens to you, it's my head on a platter. I'm going to lose my job."

Salopek said he "argued vehemently against it," but he and Khan eventually complied, driving 130 km around the mountain, tracking their departure and restarting the walk again with a GPS.

The view of Kret, Afghanistan and the Baba Tangi mountain as Paul Salopek passes through on the Out of Eden Walk. The agricultural land seen here was created, in part, by a digging water channel from the mouth of the region’s glaciers in the Pamir Mountains. (Matthieu Paley/National Geographic)

This is just one of many surprise moments Salopek has faced on his adventures.

So far, Salopek has gone through seven pairs of shoes on his epic walking project.  He expects to go through a lot more, since he's only a third of the way complete.

The trip was initially scheduled to last seven years, but after five years already on the road, he estimates he's still got another six ahead of him.

The Current has been following Salopek on what he calls "slow journalism" from the beginning:

Slowing down to drink Chai tea

In Pakistan, Salopek learned to see the power differentials between being a journalist coming into town in a rented car with a translator versus walking through local communities for a genuine, true connection.

"You arrive on foot, literally at eye level with the people that you're meeting. You're kind of on the level with them literally — your boots are planted on the same Earth. You're dirty, you're sweaty, you stink. You're burned by the same sun," Salopek explained.

"There's a much easier access into their lives and what they say to you when you slow down and have a chai with them."

In the village of Qala-e Panja, Afghanistan women (mother, daughter, grandmother) prepare milk tea and dinner, as the men return from the fields where they worked all day. (Matthieu Paley/National Geographic)

Amidst their hospitality, Salopek said he had to absorb the resentment local people felt about how the outside world judged them, associating Pakistanis with extremist terrorism.

"They feel it's unfair," he told Tremonti.

"It would be like an outsider coming to say the United States and judging that extraordinarily complex country, the very regionally diverse country with different ethnic groups and different languages by its gun violence only."

'Home is where where my boots are'

As a long-time foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, Salopek has spent a lot of his life on the road. He says everyone he loves knows this is a part of who he is.

"It might seem crazy to some people that I could maintain family relationships, even deep friendships, when I'm inching across the world for five years. But this is not a departure for me. I've been doing this my whole life," Salopek told Tremonti.

He attributes his start as a global nomad to a life-changing move over the border from Southern California to to a small village in Mexico.

"[It] taught me that … I may never be truly at home anywhere, I'll feel at home everywhere to some degree, and that home is where my boots are," he said.

Paul Salopek makes his way through the Daliz Pass in Afghanistan on his way to set up camp in the village of Shaur as he crosses the Roof of the World in the Pamir and Hindukush mountains. (Matthieu Paley/National Geographic)

He argues it's not as hard as it seems, nor is it a new way of thinking.

"Moving with people who you're connected with emotionally is actually the norm. It's been the way we've been relating to each other for 90 per cent of our history when we were hunter-gatherers."

Listen to the full discussion near the top of this page.

Produced by The Current's John Chipman.


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