Sunken Ark

In Georgia, a fatal flood unleashes zoo animals—and murky eddies of human compassion.
Tbilisi, Georgia, 41°42'46" N, 44°46'37" E

“Be careful out there,” Nodar said. “There’s a lion on the streets.”

This is not a warning one hears often while stepping out the door of a cafe equipped with a wine cooler and an espresso machine.

The last time I worried about large carnivores was more than two years ago in the desolate Rift Valley of Ethiopia. I have walked out of Africa. I plan to ramble on foot to the tip of South America over the course of seven years. I did not expect to ponder being eaten again until Siberia. And yet Nodar, the owner of my thoroughly urban watering hole in Tbilisi, was dead serious, even ...

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Photograph by Paul Salopek

Sidewalk Jungle

Are Georgians the worst pedestrians on Earth?
Tbilisi, Georgia, 41°41'53" N, 44°47'54" E

I am walking across the planet.

For more than two years, I have hopscotched over searing lava fields. I have crabbed sideways through alleys in vast migrant slums. I have traversed sun-hammered deserts and scaled peaks in blinding snow. I have swaggered down fashionable boulevards. What has all this plodding taught me? It has taught me one thing: Georgians are the most inept pedestrians in the world.

This is a painful verdict to accept.

Georgians are wonderful people. Warm. Hospitable. Funny. Cultured. Life-loving. If Earth were ever to dispatch an emissary to another planet in the Milky Way, a planet inhabited by intelligent life forms, I would vote that our species’ ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek

Golden Fleece

A mother’s quest in the Caucasus
Tbilisi, Georgia, 41°46'22" N, 44°46'33" E

“Why does tragedy exist? Because you are full of rage.
Why are you full of rage? Because you are full of grief.”

― Anne Carson, Grief Lessons: Four Plays by Euripides

The latest savior hails from Israel.

Liza wants to fly the baby to him tomorrow: a total stranger, a second-hand medical reference, a voice on the phone, a doctor whose first response to her plea for charity surgery is an estimate for his wondrous services: $77,400. (“Quoted prices are valid until 31/05/15.”) I want to murder this man. Liza does not: She is relieved. She is thankful. She clings to his absurd fee as to a ...

Photograph courtesy of Georgia National Museum

Honey, I’m Dead

In the Caucasus, a Bronze Age site hints at embalming with honey.
Tbilisi, Georgia, 41°41'48" N, 44°48'01" E

Three years ago, on the banks of the Alazani River in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, the archaeologist Zurab Makharadze cut into a 40-foot-high burial mound that bulged above the surrounding green farmland.

“One of our botanists noticed it first,” Makharadze said of the odor wafting up from some of the unearthed artifacts. “She was in the laboratory, working her microscope. She was analyzing samples. She started smiling.”

The samples, in this case, were wild berries—offerings left for the entombed dead. Their aroma: thick and intensely sweet, but with musky undertones, with hints of molasses. The berries were astonishingly well preserved. They were still red. They were 4,300 ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek

A Milestone for the Walk

Thanks to a Knight Foundation grant, the Out of Eden Walk Web sites will be merged.
Near Kars, Turkey, 40°23'58" N, 42°58'35" E

As many readers know, one of the unique storytelling features of the Out of Eden Walk is Milestones: standardized recordings I take every hundred miles across the surface of the globe. Like beads strung on a necklace, these systematic stops along the trail will offer micro-snapshots of life on Earth across four continents.

I have logged 28 such narrative pauses so far. None are pre-planned. They simply occur whenever the distance logged on my GPS—as measured in air miles from my last Milestone—ticks over from 99.99 to 100.00. To date, the walk’s Milestones have cropped up in the middle of empty Saudi Arabian deserts, at dog-eared ...


Walking Tbilisi, Georgia

Discover Landmarks of a Historic Crossroads of the Caucasus
Tbilisi, Georgia, 41°41'39" N, 44°50'01" E

A storied crossroads between Asia and Europe, between Islam and Christianity, between covetous empires muscling in from the north and south, east and west, Tbilisi’s history is a kaleidoscope of invasion and reconquest.

The Republic of Georgia’s strategic capital has been occupied through its 1,500-year history by Persians, Arabs, Byzantines, Ottomans, and Russians. Throughout this turbulent past it has retained its essential character: A polyglot outpost on the old Silk Road that has welcomed all traders and coopted all invaders. This easygoing attitude endures today. Its 1.5 million citizens bustle about a small city in the heart of the Caucasus that is replete with Georgian Orthodox churches, techno dance ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek

Ghost of the Vine

In Georgia, science probes the roots of winemaking.
Dzalisa, Georgia, 41°57'39" N, 44°37'036" E

Meet Maka Kozhara: a wine expert. Young, intelligent, friendly.

Kozhara sits in an immense cellar in a muddy green valley in the Republic of Georgia. The cellar lies beneath an imitation French chateau. The vineyards outside, planted in gnarled rows, stretch away for miles. Once, in the late 19th century, the chateau’s owner, a Francophile, a vintner and eccentric Georgian aristocrat, pumped barrels of home-brewed champagne through a large outdoor fountain: a golden spray of drinkable bubbles shot into the air.

“It was for a party,” Kozhara says. “He loved wine.”

Kozhara twirls a glass of wine in her hand. She holds the glass up to the ceiling light. She ...


Glance Back: Mule Checkup

A Four-legged Update From the World Walk
Dereköy, Turkey 41°19'04" N 42°48'27" E

Huseyin Yilmaz is a friend. So is Kirkatir the mule.

They met each other recently, at my behest, in a remote mountain hamlet high in the ice-shellacked mountains of northeastern Turkey. Months ago, I had left my faithful cargo mule with a kind farmer there named Ahmet. Quarantine laws had foiled Kirkatir’s entry into Georgia. So Huseyin, a rural development expert who lives in the nearby city of Kars, and a man who knows animals, agreed to pay a house call. (more…)

Photograph by Paul Salopek

Caravan Stop

Heat—political and solar—blocks a walk across the world.
Tbilisi, Georgia, 41°41'48" N 44°48'01" E

Nodar says: Stop.

Stopping is good, he says.

Why? Because life is short, and only friendship lasts. Friendship is perhaps the finest treasure in life, Nodar says. It is beyond price, and possibly above all forms of love. How does one acquire this precious jewel, this rare prize—friendship? How does one keep it? By stopping. By pausing. By walking into Nodar’s little café in the old Armenian quarter of Tbilisi. There, one must sit down at one of the small wooden tables. One must order a coffee to sip. Or a beer. Or a yellow Kakhetian wine with an aftertaste of Georgian clay. The drinks matter little: It is the ...

Photograph by Matthieu Chazal

Trail Gallery: Anatolia Through Other Eyes

Tbilisi, Georgia, 41°41'48" N, 44°48'01" E

From its first dusty step the Out of Eden Walk was framed as a shared journey.

This long walk isn’t mine: It belongs to everyone, because all of our ancestors blazed the pathways I now follow—the compass points of human need and fear, of wonder and curiosity, that in the Stone Age led us questing out of Africa and across the unknown world.

Today, we make this idea concrete by launching “Trail Gallery,” a periodic feature that will showcase the creative work of the people who, for vastly different and complicated reasons, choose to join me as local guides and walking partners.

As I pause for the duration of an icy ...