National Geographic

Camel Walking

Yangudi Rassa National Park, Ethiopia, 10°33'12.9'' N, 40°21'30.5'' E
Ahmed Alema Hessan, the 60-year-old balabat, or leader, of the Bouri Modaito clan of the Afar in Ethiopia, hasn’t driven camels for more than 30 years. The start of this walk is a journey of rediscovery for both of us. He tries to recall the complicated harness roping of his youth. And I struggle to apply, once more, the skills of mule packing learned in childhood Mexico. As often happens in this part of the world, people materialize out of the desert void to help us. They mock our clumsy handiwork and rebalance our loads. Most walk along for awhile, exchanging news at a murmur before padding away, so quietly that by the time I’m aware of their absence, they’re often mere squiggles on the horizon. Such random encounters are a pleasure of foot travel in the Great Rift Valley—an inhabited wilderness. Listening to a camel train pass, inching across the land at two or three miles an hour, is like eavesdropping on a public conversation. It has its own syntax. Alema chats at its head. I walk at the rear. The camels’ soft feet whisper through the dust in the middle. A tea kettle keeps the beat. And a relay of stray curs zigzags behind like wary punctuation. It is a sentence that renews itself.

There are 53 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. michelle
    January 25, 2013

    I love this walk, and like epic kinds of challenges myself. Paul, Enjoy and savor.

  2. Joes en Nicole
    January 25, 2013

    This is so inspiring!
    We feel like we’re living this experience with you, and with the rest of the planet.

  3. Nancy
    January 25, 2013

    Love the video. Especially the audio. You have excellent percussion happening with the teakettle and the crunch of the sand.

  4. Mary Benanti
    January 25, 2013

    I wonder what occupies the spaces and silences between the thoughts and the steps of such a long journey

  5. Claudia
    January 25, 2013

    Amazing view

  6. Phyllis
    January 25, 2013

    Ah-h, beginning in the land of my birth–makes me homesick and longing for adventure. I am glad to travel vicariously with you.

    • Paul Salopek
      February 23, 2013

      So far, so good. But I feel that I’m already moving too fast. More about this soon.

  7. Penny Moody
    January 25, 2013

    Thanks for the sounds-amazing.

  8. Marie
    January 25, 2013

    Thank you for sharing this journey with us. The writing and the photographs of the people and places are beautiful.

  9. Mary
    January 25, 2013

    Unseen we walk with you. When using my own water kettle, I’ll remember the sounds of the rhythmic camel walk. Godspeed and thank you.

  10. Earl Williams
    January 25, 2013

    Thank you for bringing the sights, sounds and discovery of this trip to us. Am loving it already. Remember you will walk for a long long time and feel very lonely. Please remember that we will be with you iin spirit every day.

  11. Eileen Koochin
    January 25, 2013

    So inspiring. I 2m 81 yrs old and woul love to baround for the conclusion!!

  12. Margy
    January 25, 2013

    If you become lonely, remember all of us following you with our hearts on this incredible journey.

  13. Karen Winterholer
    January 25, 2013

    Wonderful! I listen to the audio and read Paul’s words, and I’m no longer in NH, but part of Paul’s journey! Thank you for sharing your experiences!

  14. Matt
    January 25, 2013

    I’m following this walk with great interest, as I was born on the African continent and now live on the other side of the world. So let me wish you well in words spoken further south on the continent – “Mooi loop” and “Hamba kahle.”

  15. shawn olsen
    January 25, 2013

    “I wish I was a flea on the camel’s back”

  16. Joyce
    January 25, 2013

    I was in Africa in the mid 1960s as a wild life photographer and spent time in the deserts and the bush. We flew small planes but we also walked and I felt so at home in the continent..I think for us all it is like going “home again.” I envy your journey and it will be something unique. Thank you for sharing it with those of us now too old to plod with you in person, but can spiritually accompany you. God bless.

  17. cam
    January 25, 2013

    So inspiring, Paul. Are you open to having walking companions for small legs of your walk?

  18. Stanford Kimmel
    January 25, 2013

    The beginning of an amazing journey… Good luck, Paul. We are all rooting for you!

  19. Kostash
    January 25, 2013

    It seems every time I’ve got the blues and think I might have been born on the wrong planet I find another fellow human that is doing something to make me a bit proud of our species again. Thanks for finding the courage Paul, I’ll walk along..

  20. Terry Dodson
    January 25, 2013

    Well done Paul. So much respect for what you are doing. Oz.

  21. Lilly Lyons
    January 25, 2013

    Such a wonderful adventure to trace our ancestors’ journey. Thank you!

  22. Antonio
    January 25, 2013

    Please number the posts!! As the days pass, this will prove helpful to those of us (me) who want to read it all, or as much as possible.

  23. Lucian Irimia
    January 26, 2013

    Good luck! Walk safe and inspired!

  24. lindsay
    January 26, 2013

    How are your feet holding up?

  25. angela gearhart
    January 26, 2013

    Here, reading, watching and using your journey in my classes. T H A N K Y O U!

  26. Joe Foster
    January 26, 2013

    These new relationships you are building with the local people around you remind of the impact that each of us can have on our surroundings. I look forward to watching and reading how your steps transform not only yourself but the people and the landscape around you.

  27. Antonio
    January 26, 2013

    As I read (and on this post, listen), the emotions pile one upon the other: admiraton, envy, joy, concern, thrill, longing, gratitude.

  28. doretha
    January 26, 2013

    I wish I have half of your courage to do something I’m so passionate about.. Have fun, be safe, and keep walking, Paul..!

  29. T.J.
    January 26, 2013

    Thanks for the Journey what a wonderful thing to do. Gods Speed.

  30. Gary Boivin
    January 26, 2013

    Most likely, one form of camel or another will be your great friend, all the way to Lake Baikal. They seem to not entirely deserve their spotty reputation.

  31. Annalie
    January 27, 2013

    Soul food. Soul sound. Soul journey Thank you for sharing.

  32. Priscilla
    January 28, 2013

    We will always be rootin’ for you, Paul….We will be with you in spirit every step of the way. God bless.

  33. Claudette Gravel
    January 28, 2013

    I was in the desert twice, in 72 (Algeria, Niger) and 2001 (Tunisia). It was wonderful to hear you all walk in the sand, with the surrounding sounds. You took me back on my camel’s back, with my guide walking beside his own… This was the most extraordinary experience of my life ! Wandering where the few people met on the way were coming from and going to, exchanging few words and steps with us… I envy you, even if I know there will be some really hard moments. I am sure all of us reading you will pray for your safe journey. Thanks for sharing !

  34. rut
    January 28, 2013

    Wishing you an incredible journey. G-d be with you all the way.

  35. Chairul Bahri
    January 29, 2013

    Thank your for sharing the walking sound. It is so refreshing.

  36. Raghu Nathan
    January 31, 2013

    Loved the sounds of the bells and the buzz of the group as they walk. I feel I am with you.

  37. Vladimir Suchy, Czech Rep.
    February 2, 2013

    Paul, your comments, writing, dispatches are excellent. I love your journey, your idea. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you. A lot of respect for what you are doing. Keep walking, enjoy and good luck.

  38. Brianda
    February 2, 2013

    I read you lived in Mexico in childhood! Well, well; I lived in Mexico City from the age of 9 to the age of 59 (moved to Spain and later to France where I now live). Would love to know where you lived in Mexico. Brianda

  39. Nancy
    February 2, 2013

    Love the teakettle Paul. I am already moved by your experiences and the comments. I look forward to sharing in this grand adventure of yours for the next 7 years. Your pal in ABQ

  40. Tom Dailey
    February 9, 2013

    One thing that grabs me about this trip is the juxtaposition of its epic scope with the multitude of possibilities for tiny, intimate encounters. Go, Paul! Thanks for taking us along.

  41. Jim Kasper
    December 30, 2013


    This is beautiful.


  42. Azucena
    January 15, 2014

    I’m glad I went back to the initial posts to catch up with the journey. What a delight to read about those silent encounters with desert wanderers!

  43. cafox
    February 6, 2014

    is it sort of like a marathon?

  44. Suzanne Lyon
    February 13, 2014

    Just joining – catching up during ice/snowstorm. The poetic description of the journey is lovely to read. I am enthralled!

  45. Alan fox
    April 13, 2014

    How exciting to follow your adventure.we wish you well. Frost

  46. Emma Lindner
    November 5, 2014

    I love your writing it really moves me and it makes me so exited and I hope your adventure goes really well and so does my classmates- Emma

  47. Kayla
    November 5, 2014

    You are really inspiring and amazing and have done some awesome things. Me and my classmates wish you the best of luck.

  48. Kimberley Smith
    November 5, 2014

    Great article!

  49. Veronica Shmelder
    November 5, 2014

    I love your writing

  50. Tom Stewart
    March 1, 2015

    I’m a long time NGA reader. Your Eden articles are magical reading, so perfectly descriptive, a special way with words. All have been. I looked for more about The Walk, found these posts, rejoice at the gift of reading the rest. I send deepest wishes for a safe and continued journey to the end.

  51. Claude Lassigne
    December 27, 2015

    Saw this story on PBS a few days ago and had to go and start reading your journal. Fascinating and well written. I look forward to 7 years of great reading. I plan to tell as many people about this wonderful adventure you are on.

  52. Sherilee Williams
    March 30, 2016

    I have heard the same sentence renewing itself – . 4 months walk from the Dog fence in South Australia south to the coast. 16 camels. 12 wild. The metal water drums my back beat. Jim – my protector and guide now past. The journey never ends though, it just changes form.

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