3,000 Air Miles From Africa—30 Inches at a Time

In southern Georgia, a global walk teeters near its ninth border.
Lagodekhi, Georgia, 41°47'32" N, 46°14'28" E

Ethiopia… Djibouti… Saudi Arabia… Jordan… the Palestinian Territories… Israel… Cyprus (south and north)… Turkey… the Republic of Georgia… and now, Azerbaijan on the horizon.

I reach my 30th Milestone—the latest recorded storytelling pause, every 100 direct-line miles—along the crooked pathway of the “Out of Eden Walk.” There will be hundreds of such panoramas logged on this immensely long foot journey to the last corner of the discovered world: to Tierra del Fuego.

I peer around. A muddy river bottom field in the Caucasus. Grass so green it burns out the eyes. The ramparts of a distant mountain range, shining with the first winter snow. New friends, a Turk and ...

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Photograph by Lela Mepharishvili

Treasure of the Caucasus

In Georgia, when a prehistoric gold mine is pitted against jobs—who wins?
Kazreti, Georgia, 41°22'4" N, 44°23'44" E

“Ah, as long as there's no find, the noble brotherhood will last but when the piles of gold begin to grow... that's when the trouble starts.” –The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

We walk into Kazreti town.

Houses of stone. Tin roofs. Narrow lanes of black mud. Cracked and ugly apartment blocks of Soviet vintage. “Three-five-nines,” explains my walking guide, Dima Bit-Suleiman. “Under the Russians, you lived in buildings with a standardized number of floors. Three. Five. Nine.”

It is hard to believe: Here is the El Dorado—the Klondike, the pot of gold, the sparkling treasure—of the Republic of Georgia.

Kazreti is a company town. A Russian gold mining ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek

Mapping Police Stops on a World Walk

Authorities take an interest—for the 43rd time—in a global foot journey.
Near Lemshveniera, Georgia, 41°28'21" N, 45°10'19" E

We live in a motorized world.

When you traverse continents on foot, this becomes painfully obvious in the utter subjugation of the human landscape to the rubber wheel, to our automobiles.

Space is parsed, diced, scissored, and torn into unnaturally straight lines (highways) and into right angles (streets). We lose track of the truly vast scale of our homes—our towns, our provinces, our countries—because our brains have atrophied, grown flabby, through unearned speed. (Twitch your right ankle muscle, and the accelerator pedal underfoot annihilates miles, hours.) Even more unnerving: The oldest, most natural, form of locomotion in the human experience—walking—often elicits suspicion in motorized societies. To be ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek

The Natural History of Compassion

A fossil site in Georgia hints at the evolution of kindness.
Dmanisi archaeological site, Georgia, 41°20'15" N, 44°20'40" E

The oldest hominins ever found outside of Africa were unearthed atop a rocky promontory in the Republic of Georgia, in the lush southern Caucasus. Their bones lay—gnawed on, in some cases, by giant prehistoric hyenas—beneath a medieval town. Under mossy ruins that include a church and a fortress. Under a cross. Under the sword.

I think about this primordial contrast in human aspiration while walking the Dmanisi archaeological site. When I hold the fossils in my hand, I can’t help but stare at my hand. Are we good? Shall I drink your blood?

A fundamental tenet of Darwinian theory dictates that we should all behave like louts.


At its most ...

Photo by Dima Bit-Suleiman

Cloud Villages

In the Republic of Georgia, remote mountains hide phantom German colonies.
Ipnari, Georgia, 41°31'29'' N, 44°24'08'' E

Where is Ipnari?

Is it to the right? The left? Does it lie straight ahead? Or does the tiny, elusive village recede behind us? It is impossible to know. It is impossible to see. We stagger blindly, my Georgian walking guide Dima Bit-Suleiman and I, through the foggy, rainy, dripping mountains of southern Georgia. We grope our way ahead in near-zero visibility. It is like stumbling through a landscape smothered in icy smoke. Dense mists collect in our mouths as we pant up and down muddy slopes: the cleanest taste in the world, like wet steel.

These spectral ranges seem lifted from the pages of European fairy tales, from books ...

Composite photograph by Paul Salopek

New Milestone—East to China

A global walk records its next 100-mile storytelling snapshot.
Balichi village, Republic of Georgia, 41°22'4" N, 44°23'45" E

As regular “Out of Eden Walk” readers know, one of the project’s storytelling innovations is to take a standardized recording every 100 air miles along the immensely long and winding pathways of the ancestors I am following on foot—the Stone Age people who first discovered the planet 60,000 years ago. These GPS-located stepping stones along my route, called “Milestones,” always include: a panorama photo, images of the sky overhead and Earth underfoot, sound and video captures, and a formal interview about identity with the first human being I meet.

Yesterday, I logged the walk’s 29th such waypoint.

After more than 4,000 miles of plodding out of Africa, the ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek

Flag for Sunrise

After a long pause in the Caucasus, the Out of Eden Walk resumes.
Near Poka, Georgia, 41°22'43" N, 43°46'36" E

We stand on a high plateau that holds shining Lake Paravani like an open palm—a broad, timeworn flat of grasslands turned russet and gold under a weak autumn sun, an upland of bitter winds, winds that streak over the boulders shaped like colossal skulls, a wilderness of pale and glassy light, the Siberia of Georgia.

“Is this Murat’s underwear?” Dima Bit-Suleiman, my new walking guide across Georgia, jokes.

This is where we begin. At an old camp fire.

The charcoal is dusty ten months after giving its last heat. It was here, in a ruined house by a snowed-in alpine road, that I arrived last winter on foot from Turkey. It ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek

Bone Lessons

Remote crypts in the Caucasus whisper a tale of longing—and bravery.
Anatori, Georgia, 42°40'16" N, 45°10'48" E

“The past is never dead. It's not even past.”

— William Faulkner

They lie piled inside stone huts, the dead.

They are the men, women and children of Anatori village. They were ethnic Khevsuretis, a tough, warlike, and honor-bound mountain people reputed to be the descendants of wandering Crusaders. When did they die—200, 300, 500 years ago? Nobody knows. All that is told is that every soul perished—the village was erased. Wiped out. Today, its strange hut-like crypts built of grey rock dot the slopes of a high and remote river canyon in Georgia, near the wild frontier with Chechnya. Peer into the vaults’ portholes: skulls ...

Photo by Paul Salopek

Fantastic Invasions

An old Soviet front line becomes a bird sanctuary in Georgia.
Near the Georgia-Turkey border, 41°13'58" N, 43°15'31" E

“The high stillness confronted these two figures with its ominous patience, awaiting for the passing away of a fantastic invasion.” — Joseph Conrad

We stand atop a tall guard tower under a metallic grey sky—a sky the color of polished lead.

A quarter of a century ago, Red Army soldiers gazed into enemy territory from this spot. It was a no-man’s-land, a tense front line between two competing global empires: the frontier between a Soviet ally and an American ally, a no-go zone between the Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia and NATO-member Turkey, a political gash dividing East and West. Barbed wire slunk across the hills. There were patrols, flags, ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek

Republic of Verse

In Georgia, poets—not politicians—are national heroes.
Near Chargali, Georgia, 42°19'27" N, 44°55'33" E

What are you doing, Natia?

“I am staining my lips with walnut juice.”

Walnut juice?

“Yes. When I was a little girl we used it as lipstick.”

Natia Khuluzauri, my guide in the hills of eastern Georgia, rubs the walnut’s sun-yellow hull against her lips. I watch her doing this. I look at her pretty little girl, Nutsa, playing in the grass field with a tethered black mare. I look at the long, woolly string of sheep raising pale dust on a country road—sheep driven by whistling, long-legged shepherds burned by the summer sun, their pack horses in tow. I look at the picnic lunch of bright red tomatoes. At the rumpled ...