The second reason that Paul Salopek’s Out of Eden Walk is so fascinating to me, is its theme. As an Anthropology major many years ago, I have a lasting appreciation of cultural exploration. I have also been particularly interested in hominid evolution since interning at the Field Museum of Natural History back in 1999. At the time, I was involved in a project to create a computer-based “field trip” touring students through human evolution. Technology-wise, our efforts were laughable in the face of what is commonplace today. In fact, the Out of Eden project itself has a program to bring classroom students along for the walk, as it were. It looks really neat – I wish I were a teacher or homeschooling parent and could sign my students up!
But I digress…
My particular interest in hominid evolution and expansion has focused on the linguistic repercussions. I have always wondered if it would be possible to track expansion out of Africa based on the similarities of languages… and for now I am left to keep wondering! Mr. Salopek is a journalist – his trip isn’t intended for scientific research, or to bring new facts to light for the world community. Instead, he is documenting the way life is now in each of these places, with reflection on the first humans to have walked before him. His intent is to slow down his speed of observation to a walking pace, to get to know the locals on his trek, and to bring that experience to the rest of us. He has chosen to travel in a mode that humans – and one might add only humans – have always had at their disposal: our two feet. In doing so, with all the added support and conveniences of modern life apart from transportation, he showcases the tremendous effort it must have taken those first humans, the drive they must have had to reach new lands. Along the way, he records the struggles and ambitions of modern people along his route, in conversations and interactions that point out our universal human similarities, as well as our large cultural differences.
This is what travel is always about, for me. I can find similarities and difference a couple of towns over – and not more or less of either on the other side of the world! I may not get to walk around the globe, or the country, or even this state, but whenever I reach a new destination, I am full of curiosity about the people who live there. I do get out of my car, off the bus or train, and just walk, through neighborhoods, fields, skyscrapers, or backcountry trails. I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Salopek that you can’t see the world of people unless you are moving at a human pace.