I’ve walked 11,000 miles from Africa to Southeast Asia. This is what I've learned.

My 8-year journey has offered lessons in navigating a troubled world: Tread lightly upon the Earth. Share what you can. But most of all, remember.

Children of nomadic Afar herders in northern Ethiopia gather in Herto Bouri, the Milky Way lighting the night sky. From here our ancestors began their spread across the planet, and journalist Paul Salopek set out, in January 2013, on his 24,000-mile storytelling odyssey.

No one knows precisely why, after knocking about Africa for roughly 240,000 years, anatomically modern humans began walking in earnest out of the maternal continent and conquered the world. 

Our dominion was hardly fated. After all, as everyone knows, life is mostly accidental.

This question preoccupies me because for nearly nine years as part of a storytelling project, I’ve been trekking along our ancestors’ Stone Age trails of dispersal out of Africa. I’ve reached Southeast Asia. Eventually, the plan is to slog to the tip of South America, where Homo sapiens ran out of continental horizon. My aim has been simple: to foot-brake my life, to slow down my thinking, my work, my hours. Unfortunately, the world has had other ideas. Apocalyptic climate crises. Widespread extinctions. Forced human migrations. Populist revolts. A mortal coronavirus. For more than 3,000 mornings, I’ve been lacing up my boots to pace off a planet that seems to be accelerating, shuddering underfoot, toward historic reckonings. But until Myanmar, I’d never walked into a coup. (A storyteller on a global trek maps his walk through a city agonized by a military coup)

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