National Geographic

Trail Notes: Well Being

Warenzo, Ethiopia, 11°18'11'' N, 40°31'36'' E

Hand-dug wells are the wormholes of desert travel. You are transported immediately  from your solitudes into the universe of others. There is always someone there. For a few minutes, or an hour, while yanking up cans of grey, salty water, there is an almost painful intimacy. The forced proximity of water holes imposes a consensus of willed blindness, an aversion of the eyes, as both sexes wash themselves and their clothes and drink next to each other.


The Ali sisters, Marimah and Fatimah, at a hand-dug well.  Photograph by Paul Salopek

There are 13 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Angele Parker
    February 4, 2013

    And I thought the Camino Santiago de Compostela Pilgrimage was ambitious. You’ve provided us with such an ingenious and ravishing perspective of how we live. As a viewer, I want to thank National Geographic for supporting this project.

  2. Brent Rutherford
    February 4, 2013

    I am enjoying your quest immensely. I want to share it with my father-in law who is only partially sighted. Any ideas about how he can share your journey? Thanks.

  3. charlotte
    February 4, 2013

    We take this precious commodity so for granted here on the North American continent. We’re so very fortunate and at times forget that. Thank you so much for your postings, they shake us into reality.

  4. kimberly
    February 5, 2013

    . i feel compelled to add my name to your long list of followers . i have derived such energy from your escapade . walking the world is a far flung goal . and you are all but doing it . great inspiration and imagination . thanks for sharing . . .

  5. Alex
    February 5, 2013

    it is amazing how people live in such a way

  6. Gesine
    February 6, 2013

    Hi, fascinated by your project!! I’m following your route on the map and was wondering wether you could tell us a little about the choice of routes/streets you are taking. I.e. it seems you are avoiding major roads etc. Do you have the routes you will (or will not) take pretty much sketched out or do you leave this up to local guides etc. Just curious. All the best!!

    • Paul Salopek
      February 8, 2013

      Apart from setting the walk’s local destinations, the routing is almost completely in the hands of the guide, Alema. I tried suggesting a shortcut, against his advice, and ended up in a badland that wore out the camels.

  7. Lois Farrington
    February 8, 2013

    Basic human survival trumps social convention. I have experienced a similar blindness while climbing mountains, taking care of feminine necessities while roped between two men on a glacier.

  8. George Okoh
    February 21, 2013

    If only the world would be such a simple place to live in as you portray, then there might still be hope humanity. May you be safe as you as you follow our ancestors’ steps.

  9. Joe Weldon
    August 17, 2013

    Too old to follow in your footsteps so I will follow your air and transmissions.

  10. Jim Kasper
    December 30, 2013


    If only we in the United States were forced into this forced “painful intimacy” more often…


  11. Susan Anderson
    July 19, 2014

    Stupifying! Brings one to tears.

  12. Michael Girum
    July 31, 2014

    Good Luck. I am from Ethiopia so it is great to see it from another persons perspective

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