Like most individuals meriting news coverage, Paul Salopek is on a mission. And his, like many news-worthy missions, is admirable in scope, stretched vast over time and space. He is embarking on a seven-year walk across the continents, following humankind’s dispersal around the globe. Robin Banerji talks with Salopek as he plans his trip.
“I shall be retracing the pathways of the first human diaspora out of Africa, which occurred about 50 to 70,000 years ago, as authentically as possible, on foot,” he says.
“I’ll hop a boat across the Bering Straits and then ramble down the New World to Tierra del Fuego, the place where our ancestors arrived about 12,000 years ago, the last continental corner of the world to be colonised by our forebears.”
Salopek has many motivations for undertaking this long journey of such epic proportions it sounds more fairy tale than reality. He argues that this “slow journalism” will provide more accurate reporting, full of the missing colors, flavors, and textures that characterize the bleak “fast food journalism” he aims to avoid. Most of Salopek’s motivations are very grounded, however.
A biologist by training, Salopek argues that human beings evolved to understand the world at walking pace, after they developed the ability to walk on two feet three million years ago.
“There is an actual neurological basis to what I am talking about,” Salopek says.
“You can make a pretty good evolutionary argument that this was how we were designed to absorb information at about 5km an hour (3mph),” he says. That is an average walking speed.
But he also admits that the idea of a long-distance walk strikes him as fun.
Fun sidenote: “For 95% of human history, people walked on average 5,200km (3,200 miles) per year: “Like walking from Boston to Portland on the West Coast every single year of your adult life,” says Salopek.”
Read more at “Paul Salopek: Going for a seven-year walk” by Robin Banerji for BBC News.