Tarsus, Turkey, 36°54'59" N, 34°54'12" E

We walk into Tarsus, St. Paul’s hometown. A refurbished stone church here receives pilgrims from Italy: St. Paul’s Church. There is a café that serves Turkish coffee across from a pension: St. Paul Café. There are stone foundations of an old Roman house: St. Paul’s house (maybe). And there is St. Paul’s well. The well mixes Hellenistic, Roman, and even Islamic features. Busloads of faithful come to sip its water. They say it is curative.

“The water comes from the municipal supply,” Hakan Erkul says. “Who can say what miracles faith can cause?”

Erkul is a friendly, thickset, sleepy-eyed man and an apostle himself—the lone tourism booster in Tarsus.

Aside from St. ...

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The Hinge

Kirit, Turkey, 37°04'49" N, 34°53'45" E

“How did you find our mule?” I ask Deniz Kilic.

“Taxi driver.”

“You asked a taxi driver where to buy a cargo mule?”

“I have never bought a mule before. I know nothing about mules. Where do you buy a mule? Who knows? So I asked my taxi driver driving me in from the airport. I said to him, ‘Don’t laugh. This is serious. Where do I buy a mule?’”

Kilic is my walking partner in Asia Minor.

We meet in Mersin, a large industrial port in southeastern Turkey. I have just disembarked from a ferry from Cyprus. And Kilic has agreed, based on two emails and one long-distance phone call, to join ...


Ghost City

Famagusta, northern Cyprus, 35°07'03" N, 33°57'30" E

A fenced “Green Line” separates northern and southern Cyprus. It is a barbed-wire scar: a forgotten no-man’s-land, a fossil from an unresolved war that is out of place in today’s Europe. In 1974, Greek nationalists staged a coup in Cyprus. This provided Turkey reason to invade, to protect the ethnic Turkish population. Forty years later, the island remains partitioned. But many Cypriots—Greek and Turkish alike—dream of reunification.

“It will happen,” says Selin Ruha, a Turkish-Cypriot friend who meets me at the border. “We islanders have more in common with each other than with either Greece or Turkey.”

I cross the Green Line on foot.

The south checkpoint: a British military policewoman—yet ...


Treasure Island

Near Kellia, Cyprus, 34°58'29" N, 33°36'46" E

“In the distance are always mountains. And over the whole scene hangs a peculiar light, a glaze of steel and lilac, which sharpens the contours and perspectives, and makes each vagrant goat, each isolated carob tree, stand out from the white earth as though seen through a stereoscope.”

— Robert Byron, “The Road to Oxiana”

The ship docks in Limassol. Sunlight falls like a chrome guillotine. Gleaming. Sharp. Lethal. I stagger into it, walking down the iron gangway toward beaches pink with Russians on holiday, past the frozen coffee drinks sold at every corner shop, atop smooth flat asphalt everywhere (this inescapable feature of affluent societies will raise my first ...



Aboard the MV Alios in the Mediterranean, 33°36'14" N, 34°6'43" E

We had come up over the forested ridge through the old fire burns of Mt. Carmel, over charcoal-peppered soils, thorugh the young new pines. Then down, down, down—ricocheting down ravines that guttered past Druze villages, down through a derelict army firing range, across the rumpled hinterlands where the prophet Elijah had been fed in exile by wild ravens sent by God—or by friendly Arab herders. Biblical scholars disagree.

The journey through Palestine, the Land of Israel, the Cisjordan, Jund Filastin—through Canaan—was coming to an end.

My Israeli walking partner sang.

Yuval Ben-Ami is a public intellectual, a street performer, a writer, a radio personality. He is a tireless walker. My cell ...



Nablus, West Bank, 32°13'15" N, 35°15'15" E

We're cooking: cutting up zucchinis, rolling dough, stirring pots of boiling yoghurt. We are with the women of Bait al Karama. They are teaching us about the flavors of remembrance—about its frailty, its persistence, its loss.

What is Bait al Karama?

It is a cooperative, the “House of Dignity”: dozens of women gather each month in a stone house in Nablus, a trading center founded by the Roman emperor Vespasian around the time of Christ, an ancient town bloodied by the Second Intifada, and famed outside of Arab-Israeli conflict for its olive-oil soap, its baked sweets, its still-vibrant medieval souk. The women teach cooking classes. They are writing a ...


Children’s Crusade

Shilo settlement, West Bank, 32°3'14" N, 35°17'55" E

Marc Prowisor says he will take me to see a Palestinian. And he does, wheeling his dusty SUV out of the hardline Israeli settlement where he lives—perhaps the biblical site of Shiloh, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept in a tent—past the security fences, the electric gate, down to the scruffy farm of Khaled Daraghmeh.

Daraghmeh is not happy to see us. The Palestinian farmer wears grey stubble on his chin. A shock of thick, black hair. Work-soiled trousers. A wary squint.

“Who are you?” he says stonily. “What do you want?”

“Sabah-il-khair!” Prowisor replies: “Good morning!” He is the happy warrior. He smiles warmly. He has ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek


Nabi Salih, West Bank, 32°01'0" N, 35°7'29" E

We turn the corner of the road when the first round whips in. It kicks up dust one yard in front of Bassam Almohor. He stops walking.

“We’re being shot at,” my guide says. His voice is aggrieved. “That was a bullet.”

It was, to be precise, a rubber bullet. Or, more exactly still: a rubber-coated bullet, a slug of steel dipped in hard plastic. The term “rubber bullet” connotes non-lethality, harmlessness, a comical form of deterrence—a bouncing ball, a children’s toy, a pea-shooter. Yet anyone who has been struck by these projectiles knows differently. Rubber-coated, metal-cored bullets can flatten people with the force of a swung baseball bat. They ...

Photograph by John Stanmeyer

Glance Back: The Hejaz

Al Wajh, Saudi Arabia, 26°14'2" N, 36°27'45" E

The July issue of National Geographic features a story about the Out of Eden Walk journey through the Hejaz of Saudi Arabia. The article, illustrated by John Stanmeyer, describes the power of memory—and forgetting—in one of the most fabled landscapes in the world. I invite you to re-walk the old hajj trails with me, seeking out hand-dug wells that once sustained caravans, pilgrims and empires gone to dust.

Next week, we resume the foot traverse of the West Bank and Israel.

There are thousands of wells
in the old Hejaz.

We walk to them.

Sometimes their water is sweet. More often it is salt. ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek

The Judge

Beit Hanina, East Jerusalem, 31°49'55" N, 35°13'44" E

The tribal judge sits in the shade of a shop verandah. The shop is closed. It is a Saturday—a weekend. The judge plays a table game in black and white: Mahbusa the Arabs call it.

“I resolve problems between families,” Fuad Zaghayer explains, sliding a checker forward. “Murders are the worst.”

He is a welcoming man, Zaghayer. Sober, thickset, stately in his gestures. A man used to the theatrics of power. He goes on:

“When someone is murdered, I first go to the victim’s family. I ask them for a three-and-a-half day truce. This is to allow them a period to mourn. It is traditional. After that, I go to them ...