Writer prepares to retrace early humans' journey out of Africa's Great Rift Valley

By Paul Harris

Paul Salopek will begin trip in Ethiopia and hopes to reach most southerly point of South America in seven years

It will be a journalistic assignment like no other. Call it "the longest walk".

In what is probably the longest, most arduous piece of reportage ever undertaken, Paul Salopek, an experienced writer for the Chicago Tribune and National Geographic, is embarking on the astonishing task of retracing the journey taken by early man tens of thousands of years ago.

Beginning in the exotic surroundings of the Great Rift Valley in Ethiopia, Salopek will take an estimated 30 million steps, reaching his destination seven years later, three continents away at the most southerly point of South America.

Along the way he will be writing stories for National Geographic at the rate of one long article a year, while maintaining a website that will be filled with regular multimedia updates from his 21,000-mile journey. After its starting point in Africa, his route will cross the Red Sea into the Middle East, traverse China, head into Siberia, cross the Bering Strait into Alaska and then walk all the way down the western coasts of North and South America.

Speaking to the Observer as he was still putting the finishing touches to his journey's beginnings – and spending some time with his family – the 50-year-old said he saw himself carrying on an ancient human tradition of the roving poet or musician. "It is an old way of story-telling: the wandering bard. I am curious myself to see how it all turns out," Salopek said. "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," he added.


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