The Washington Post

Explorer Paul Salopek answers kids’ questions about his 7-year journey

(Steven Stankiewicz/For The Washington Post)

Paul Salopek is on a 21,000-mile, seven-year trek to trace humans’ journey — it began about 60,000 years ago — from East Africa to the tip of South America. His most recent travels have been in Saudi Arabia. (Read his recent reports on the Out of Eden Walk site.) KidsPost featured a story on Salopek, and he agreed to answer readers’ questions. Here are his answers.

What was the strangest or most interesting animal you discovered on your walk?

Paul Salopek: Homo sapiens. [That means “people.”] They never cease surprising me — the same bundle of appetites, but every single individual is just that: a unique package. We live among a mosaic of 7 billion original personalities.

How many pairs of walking shoes did you use up on your journey?

P.S.: Still on my first pair, though they’re getting beat. Same pair of feet, too.

Where are you sleeping at night during your long walks? Are you staying at people’s houses? Do you sleep in tents?

P.S.: My walking partners and I camp out, mostly. I don’t use a tent unless it’s raining. (A rare event in this part of the globe.) When we hit towns, we stay with families or rent rooms in cheap hotels.

How many countries are you visiting?

P.S.: There is no set number — it will depend on what routing I take, and that depends on everything from the seasons to local political turmoil. Roughly speaking: between 25 and 30.

Was there any thing that you did not take but wished you had?

P.S.: No.

What kind of food do you eat?

P.S.: Whatever local people consume. Lately, that’s been mutton, the staple protein in the Middle East. [Mutton comes from sheep.] But since I started, the menu has included goat, rice, unleavened bread, United Nations-donated Nutri-Mix, peanuts, more goat, camel, soft drinks, barrels of tea and sand — lots of sand.

What is the worst kind of weather you have had so far?

P.S.: The deserts of Saudi Arabia are warm in August. When the hot winds blow, you tend to accumulate dust on your sweat-drenched skin. This forms a coating of salty, abrasive mud.

What day and country/city you started/finished the journey?

P.S.: Started January 10-11, 2013, in Herto Bouri, Ethiopia; will end on my birthday, 2020, in Puerto Williams, Chile.

Was walking the Silk Road challenging?

P.S.: It will be. It’s very, very long and in many places extremely dry.

Did you cross the Red Sea directly or did you take a boat north to Jeddah?

P.S.: I took a Syrian-owned livestock boat, the MV Abuyasser II, north to Jeddah. It wasn’t easy finding passage. The Somali pirates have discouraged most shipping companies from carrying passengers. The companies are afraid not only of the pirates — but [also] of lawyers who will sue them if anything bad happens.

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