National Geographic

Out of Arabia: The First 100,000 Hard Footfalls

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 21°28'9" N, 39°10'11" E

A new subcontinent—a new world, really—deserves a new way of storytelling: the Out of Eden Walk’s first narrative map.

Sailing on a camel boat from Africa to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s biggest commercial port, I plunge into a delirium of contrasts: from rural to urban, from poor to rich, from slow to fast, from landscapes gripped by human feet to ones subdued by the wheel.

Jeddah is the world walk’s first urban traverse. Back in Djibouti, I arrived in the capital by ferryboat and navigated that city’s warren of streets by foot and minibus. In Jeddah, a world-class metropolis of three million, I plod straight through: more than 60 miles of sidewalks before reaching desert sand. Unexpectedly, stretches of this booming, simmering metropolis recall the loneliest stretches of the Danakil Depression.

Another rare encounter: a walking human. The corniche. Photograph by Paul Salopek

Another rare encounter: a walking human, on the corniche. Photograph by Paul Salopek

Fill your water bottles. Look both ways. The bearing is due north—into the scalding heart of the Hejaz.

From Paul Salopek on Vimeo: Walking companion Mohamad Banounah seeks relief from the heat in Jeddah.

The narrative map of Paul’s route through Jeddah was produced with the collaboration of the Knight Science Journalism program at MIT, the Center for Geographic Analysis at Harvard University, and National Geographic.


There are 18 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Linda Hoernke
    July 9, 2013

    Thank you again for your post and an introduction to the Hejaz. With all my travels, I had not heard of that before, I looked up the history. So fascinating following your travels~~

    • Paul Salopek
      July 12, 2013

      The Hejaz is Saudi Arabia’s melting pot. The diversity of people here reflects the immense sweep of the global Muslim community—Southeast Asia, China, Turkey, North America. One feels at home.

  2. Brad
    July 11, 2013

    My kids and I have followed your walk since you first started. We love your stories, pictures and mostly your videos and sound bites. Good luck with your journey. We look forward to years of great stories.

    • Paul Salopek
      August 4, 2013

      Many thanks for joining our erratic caravan, Brad and brood.

  3. bear
    July 12, 2013

    How are your feet holding up on all that pavement?

  4. hatija
    July 14, 2013

    instead of china, it might be endonesian or malaysian people or another but not china 🙂

  5. Guillermo Chacon
    July 16, 2013

    Amazing story! A nice, subtle, suggestion to walk my own city to discover the hidden treasures that must be around.

    I also liked the map integration with the story, hope I could get this for my trekking club.


  6. HikerBob
    July 18, 2013

    Just returned from walking at 9,000 ft for miles in the cool rains, in the spruce, fir and aspen, to the warm story of the World Walk.

  7. Gina Beadle
    July 27, 2013

    You sit still like a H u m m in g b i r d!

    • Paul Salopek
      August 3, 2013

      And sometimes my heart beats 1,000 times a minute, too, Gina. Thanks for writing.

      • Gina Beadle
        August 3, 2013

        WHATEVER it TAKES! Just keep moving!!! Sometimes sideways adds a ‘lil bit of spice>

  8. W. Grace
    August 28, 2013

    Well Paul I think my mouse legs have finally caught up to near where you actually are on the map these days! What an extraordinary site you’ve created (I know – with the help of Nat’l Geo. and the Knight Foundation – thanks to them too!) for all us armchair travelers! I’ve so enjoyed the whole thing and look forward to even more over the years. I do have a question though which I haven’t seen asked as yet, but am wondering why you chose to begin your trek on the east side of the Red Sea at Jeddah and not further south where the waters are much more narrow? Was it a political decision or just plain thinking about walking through all that desert? I found Jason Ur’s site fascinating! Imagine finding ancient travel routes through old spy photos! I love living today! Thanks so much for all the sharing!

  9. Stian Amundsen
    September 8, 2013

    Hi, I am from Norway.
    Good luck with your journey! 🙂

  10. yoloswag
    September 9, 2013


  11. Judith Bassoul
    December 26, 2013

    I am just catching up to December (still in July) and I can’t wait to read it all and walk with you in my thoughts. Thank you, thank you!

  12. Nishi shishir
    December 27, 2013

    May you have a safe journey.pleas do tell me when you reach india

  13. john
    January 18, 2014

    Kinda like a summer afternoon walk through downtown Houston.

  14. Pablo Castro
    May 14, 2014

    When Sami came to the rescue of Paul and his companion in the exurbs of Jeddah, I remembered a quite unknown book by Julio Cortázar and his partner Carol Dunlop, “Autonauts of the Cosmoroute” (, the descriptive tale of a 33-day ride from Paris to Marseille by car that they made in 1982, stopping in every available rest stop and never walking out of the autoroute. A mix of travelogue, fiction, essay and poetry. Quite a good read. Remarking the hidden beauty of what most of us think that is commonplace. Excuse me for my divagations (and my lousy English). I hope to see you here in Colombia (perhaps in 2019?) and walk along. Best hopes in your travel.

Add Your Comments

All fields required.

Related Posts

Song of a Scorching Badland

A Central Asian furnace greets a global walker at Milestone 38, the first hundred-mile marker in Uzbekistan.

We were following the old Soviet-built rail line across Central Asia. The stations held the ...