Out of Eden Walk — A Journey’s Lessons

Photo by John Stanmeyer for National Geographic. Portrait of young Afar boys under the milky way in Herto Bouri, Ethiopia. February 5, 2013.

John Stanmeyer’s latest story — the 9th chapter of the Out of Eden Walk series — is out now in the November issue of National Geographic

Out of Eden Walk is Paul Salopek’s 24,000-mile odyssey — a decade-long experiment in slow journalism. Moving at the beat of his footsteps, Paul is walking the pathways of the first humans who migrated out of Africa in the Stone Age and made the Earth ours

Often I remember that evening. No human-created light could be seen except our universe, reminding us what minute specks we are. Pastoralists Herto Buri asked me to join them in songs and dance. Young women and men for an evening of call and response. Where all in unison would breath in murmured voice, then one would call out a word or phrase, another responding in the expansion of lyric. Back and forth, their voices whirled, many in dance, others jumping. A passionate tossing of words I didn't understand but could feel.

That night in the Afar region of northern Ethiopia was the first week of a very long walk that would take me across the world in the footsteps of our ancestors. A global journey following the migration of humanity that began some 50,000-70,000 years ago from a region today we call the Horn of Africa.

My dear friend and colleague, Paul Salopek, is the walker, me his Passepartout. Since early 2013 Paul has walked more than 18,000 KM (11,000 miles), from the origins of Homo Sapiens through 16 countries. I have walked around 800 KM (500 miles), primarily backward, for eight chapters of the walk, where one photograph of Paul appears amongst countless others in my attempt to tell the visual narrative of who, as humanity, we are today. As I write, Paul's feet are on the ground in the longest continuous country of the walk; China. Once COVID restriction ease, I will rejoin Paul through I land I know well.

Of the 18 stories I have photographed for National Geographic, the Out of Eden Walk is like no story I have ever done. Creating an indisputable testimony of our commonality that we are all sisters and brothers on the only place we can live — earth.