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The Sahara On Foot: Another Month, Another Pair Of Shoes

June 7, 1996

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ He wore out seven pairs of shoes, weathered two bouts of diarrhea and was blinded by blistering sandstorms along the lonely dunes of the vast Sahara.

And he made it.

Jong Yul Choi, a 38-year-old South Korean adventurer, emerged Thursday from the solitude of a seemingly unending desert after walking for seven months. Organizers of his trip say he’s the first person to cross the Sahara from west to east.

A hotel reception welcoming him to Cairo was a bit overwhelming. Camera flashes. Reporters’ questions. Greetings from well-wishers.

``I am disturbed by the noise because I walked through the ultimate silence,″ said a tanned Choi, wearing jeans and a t-shirt emblazoned with the word Sahara.

On Nov. 11, he left Nouakchott, Mauritania, near the Atlantic Ocean, and covered 4,500 miles of dunes and hills over nearly seven months. He arrived Thursday in Suakin, a Sudanese port on the Red Sea, and flew north to Cairo.

In all, he crossed five countries _ Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Sudan _ under an unrelenting sun.

``There was a desert in Africa so I wanted to cross it,″ Choi said at a news conference.

In the 1980s, Choi climbed Mount Everest. He raised the Korean flag at the North Pole in 1991. The Sahara offered a contrast. ``I went to the cold North Pole and wanted to experience the difference between the ultimate cold and hot,″ he said.

Choi walked for 13 hours a day, covering 25 miles at first and working up to 37. He woke at 4.30 a.m., breakfasted for 30 minutes and then started walking.

He allowed himself an hour to cook and eat a lunch of rice, dried beef and pork and a few 10-minute water breaks before resting for the day at 6 p.m.

Choi said he went through seven pairs of shoes, slept sporadically because of the heat and had malaria and diarrhea. Sandstorms often made walking impossible.

Near the end he was hassled at the border between Egypt and Sudan, whose relations have deteriorated in recent months. Egyptian border police refused to let him enter the country, he said.

So Choi moved the final leg of his trip from al-Quseir, an Egyptian Red Sea port, to Suakin.

The trip was a deviation from the more popular north-south route across the Sahara, taken each year in the Granada-Dakar auto race.

Choi’s expedition, two years in the making, was sponsored by Kia Motors, a Korean car maker that provided his supply team with two jeeps, and South Korea’s Dong-A Ilbo daily newspaper.

Sometimes a reporter, a film producer and a translator accompanied him.

But most of the time, he walked alone.

``I am confused. I was used to walking every day and now feel something is missing,″ said Choi, who returns to South Korea on Sunday. ``It will take me at least a month to get used to normal life.″

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