for National Geographic News
After 34 days in a Sudanese jail, National Geographic journalist Paul Salopek, who had been charged with spying, landed in his home state of New Mexico on Sunday morning.
At the time of his arrest, Salopek, 44, had been freelance reporting for National Geographic magazine on the Sahel region, which stretches east-west across Africa along the southern edge of the Sahara.
Don Belt, Salopek's editor for the Sahel assignment, embraced the reporter upon his arrival and later said he "might have lost a little weight, but he looks like he's none the worse for wear.
"We're over the moon about" Salopek's return, Belt added.
Salopek, who is on a scheduled leave of absence from the Chicago Tribune, arrived in Albuquerque with his wife, his Tribune editor, and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.
Salopek said it feels "fantastic" to be home.
"It's great to see my wife, who's been through a lotin some ways more than myselfin the last 35 days," he said.
After he's spent some time with his family, Salopek says, he plans to "make rounds in Chicago and Washington" to thank his friends at the Tribune and the National Geographic Society.
"I can never really repay them," he said. But, he joked at a press conference Sunday at the Albuquerque international airport, what he can do is "rack up an enormous beer tab."
On behalf of National Geographic, Belt thanked Richardson, the Tribune, Sudan's ambassador to the United States, and Jimmy Carter. The former U.S. President had written to Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir on Salopek's behalfa gesture that had been kept secret until Sunday.
(Both National Geographic News and National Geographic magazine are parts of the National Geographic Society.)
Once Salopek is back on the job, he intends to return to Africa, first to Chad to check up on his two assistants, who were arrested and freed alongside him. Then he will complete his National Geographic assignment in Chad, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal (map of Africa).
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