The Modern-Day Marco Polo Duo

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” —Mark Twain

In A Nutshell

Starting in 1993, two Americans spent over two years and traveled 53,000 kilometers (33,000 mi) to retrace Marco Polo’s supposed route from Venice to China—a modern traveling feat never before accomplished without resorting to air travel to manage Central Asia’s most inhospitable regions.

The Whole Bushel

Denis Belliveau, a wedding photographer, and Francis O’Donnell, a former Marine, put history’s most famous travel writer to the test. The pair crossed the Eurasian continent and continually documented their experience against Polo’s 700-year-old “guidebook.”

Belliveau and O’Donnell started at the location of the very house that Marco Polo once lived in and would eventually travel via jeep, boat, foot, camels, and horses to eventually reach their final destination in China—where they were greeted by an angry mob.

It seems that, despite the many advantages afforded modern travelers, Belliveau and O’Donnell contended with a host of challenges foreign to Marco Polo, who crossed the Eurasian continent bearing tablets proclaiming the owner a “guest of the emperor.” That emperor, Kublai Khan, controlled nearly all the lands Polo traveled through, assuring the Italian safe passage.

Hundreds of years later, Marco Polo’s route took the two Americans through war-torn places like Afghanistan where Belliveau and O’Donnell were captured during a firefight. And while the two men eventually negotiated their release, they then got lost in sandstorms crossing the Taklamakan Desert. Either of these events would have been a very good reason to reconsider the whole trip. Instead, Belliveau made a pact with O’Donnell that, “under any conditions, no matter what, we were only coming back to the United States two ways—either dead or successful.”

This was a good idea, since they’d need that resolve during multiple detentions and interrogations by the KGB. Apparently, two Americans riding pack mules laden with video equipment across Eastern Afghanistan is cause for suspicion. Who knew?

That video equipment was worth it, though, as Belliveau and O’Donnell recorded an Afghanistan in between a violent war with the Soviets and the turbulent rule of the Taliban yet to come. In that respect as well, the two men succeeded precisely as Marco Polo had: by capturing and sharing a rare glimpse into a country often shrouded by its remoteness and, recently, violence.

Show Me The Proof

Marco Polo’s Guide to Afghanistan
In the Footsteps of Marco Polo: Production Diary, Part I
In the Footsteps of Marco Polo: About the Film

  • Exiled Phoenix

    To bad we have lost our spirit for exploration on petty wars and aggression against each other. I believe it is countries like, Russia, China, N. Korea, Iran. And religious organizations like, Christianity, Islam, Judaism. These ideologies from these groups are holding our species back from exploring space.

    • Dumas911

      Yep, if they want converts then what better way than to see the great sculptured monuments, ziggurats, temples, etc…

      • Exiled Phoenix

        True, what always amazes me about religions are the largesse they expend on their houses of worship. The saints, prophets, messiahs of these religions never spent so much on places of worship. They were content walking around preaching to people. Religion is used by those in power for personal gain.

        • Dumas911

          AMEN BROTHER!!!!

    • EdouardM

      In part, yes, as it is the retention of power. ( although, when it comes to petty wars and aggression, you forgot the USA)

      On the other hand, humanity has always chosen profit over the advancement of mankind. At the beginning of the 20th century, Edison and Ford were developping an electric car, but electric cars didn’t become big until beginning of the 21st century. Imagine if the apollo missions’ rockets were not based on combustion, but off of electricity. Where would we be now? ( Basing on the fact that within 70 years, we went from the first plane to the moon, such technological advancement is plausible)

      We lost 100 years of advancement so that oil companies can rack up profit. And that’s just oil, we also have coal industries in energy, pharmaceutical industry, the US prison system ( rehabilitation industry based on profit? Doesnt make sense.)

      And it’s not only those countries’ faults. First, Russia is a superpower and is far superior in scientific advancement. Second, China and North Korea, I agree completely, an Orwellian society does nothing but regress humanity, and its exposire on the world stage does only further its reach. Third, Iran doesn’t deserve to be on this list, as they have very rarely declared war on the outside world. Let’s not also forget that Iran is the Persian Empire, which has been around for thousands of years, and is source of some major advancements for humanity. Iran is only on the world stage, because the US is pissed that the Iranian people saw through the puppet shah (obviously for the huge natural reserves Iran has) and installed a government based on Islam. (And Bush listed them as part of the Axis of Evil, only to benefit his personal agenda. Did Iraq have WMD? Should we believe that Iran and North Korea actually pose a threat or should we question the BS they put us to sleep with? ). The bad reputation the US gives them, and the media attention that is put on non-existent subjects/threats, is actually more of a hindrance than anything else. They could be doing something useful for humanity instead.

      • EdouardM

        Every country and individual has some sort of responsibilty for the mess we’re in today.

      • Exiled Phoenix

        Lol, Russia is not far superior in tech to the U.S.A. further when you subjugate people to prison terms for mocking religion as russia did to a band named “Pussy Riot” that is a weak central government. Putin is a punk from the kgb era. He isn’t a thing.

        • EdouardM

          As a government, I agree that Russia is in worse state than the US. Putin is just the latest crazy Russian to rule that country, like Ivan, Catherine, Rasputin, Stalin, etc.

          However, as far as technological advancements, Russia is better than the US, if only because they have held their power even with the brain drain, which has had opposite effects on the US and Russia. I just think we shouldn’t underestimate Russia.

          • Exiled Phoenix

            During the cold war the U.S. overestimated russias capabilities to make our military complex the money drain it is now. However with that comes some relief, we are advancing farther by those scared of working in russia because of putin and what they see as a totalitarian regime. Like before we will gain more intelligent people. The U.S. is stronger because we have ingenuity in our nation.

          • EdouardM

            The cold war made that money drain? Is that why the budget has more than tripled since the end of the Cold War?

            I guess that some people are afraid of working in Russia, but now we also have China to contend with. Educated people go where the money is, and I don’t think we’re doing too good economically.

            Igenuity in the US? I feel like that’s a joke. You mean the ingenuity to reduce education budgets in favor of the military budget? You mean the great idea to privatize prisons, or sponsored public schools? You mean the ingenuity of the war on drugs ( I’m talking about marijuana; cocaine, meth, and heroin should be taken off the streets)? And then, there’s Congress.

          • Exiled Phoenix

            We may have issues yet are still powerful enough to destroy the world. There are those of us in the U.S. that would rather deploy our full thermonuclear arsenal before allowing either of those communist bastards to run the world. Screw them!

          • EdouardM

            We can destroy the world, along with about another half a dozen countries. And so what? True power is not needing to resort to destroying the world for our ego.

            Obviously, if a war were to break out, I would advocate for the complete and utter destruction of our enemies. As in, there wouldn’t be a living soul left from that country to remember and one day get revenge. And there wouldn’t be an enemy country left to remember that that war ever happened. That is when it comes to war, if war need happen.

            But as far as swinging our nuclear dick around to get our way in other scenes than war, then I find that to be foolish. If we invested a quarter of what we put in the military budget into schools, and paid teachers better salaries, we wouldn’t need to threaten war at every turn, because we would be smarter than that. Basically, you knock on the Devil’s door long enough, someone is going to answer.

            And our country is united only by name. Whether it’s the unfathomably rich angainst everyone else, or race wars, our country is far from being united. I really do hope that one day we will see further than our pride and fix our faults, but unfortunately I think we are in the same type of decadence that led to Rome’s demise.

          • Exiled Phoenix

            It is in our interest to “influence” other nations to see things our way. While yes I believe more should be invested in education and educators salaries. Yet I do believe we still need to keep our offensive and defensive capabilities ready because I am of the mind not to trust Russian or Chinese intentions. Further I think we should support Japans military buildup to counter the chinese threat.

        • Logan Rieck

          I believe Pussy Riot went to jail for mocking Putin in the guise of mocking religion because they set up Putin as a perceived Messiah as Putin tries to extend his cult of personality to represent such a degree of greatness. Basically, they were mocking how the Russian people see Putin as: a person akin to Jesus Christ.

          • Exiled Phoenix

            They mocked putin as the piece of shit dictator he was. They used a messiah reference in the same way.
            The world doesn’t need a messiah, it needs people willing to work together.

          • Logan Rieck

            I’m gonna correct you there. “Dictator he is still.” The Messiah Jesus Christ taught this same thing, though, to love our neighbors as ourselves (He was even quoting the Old Testament) and to put others before ourselves. It’s a fundamental part of Christianity, not always obeyed, though.

          • Exiled Phoenix

            Humanity predates all modern religion. The current religions will one day be relegated to the bin of mythology where it permanently belongs!

          • Logan Rieck

            Humanity predates all modern religious understanding, yes. Humanity also predates any modern: biology, psychology, language, astronomy, physics, musical (and so forth) thinking.

            Now that I think about it, language is the root of all evils. Without it even modern religions couldn’t exist because they would be no longer written down without language dictators and tyrants who issued exterminations of millions upon millions couldn’t have done so without language, they couldn’t have gathered the masses without writing in language and hypnotizing them and brainwashing without language. You may say language plays a good role but against the deaths of millions and probably billions is it still justified for what good it does? /sarcasm

    • Logan Rieck

      Religions don’t quite hold our species from space. If anything, exploring space and finding aliens would give them a chance to proselytize and advance their faith.

      Wars exist within and without religions. It is, at the end, a struggle for selfish ambition that necessitates aligning themselves with a particular religion for support. Religion hardly causes these evils, evil men do.

      • Exiled Phoenix

        Religion gives evil people the means to use it to further their ambitions upon the backs of weak minded individuals. All religions should be relegated to the bin of mythology once and for all! Then we can truly advance as a species.

        • Logan Rieck

          Because religion can be a vehicle for the evil and despotic it should be thrown away? What of government that easily holds a prominent role in giving access to the corrupt to abuse others? Is that become obsolete as well?

          I hardly think religion shall be stopped as it feeds a natural need in man for purpose and comfort that nothing else can adequately supply. When it is used as a means of evil then the abusers should be stopped, not the religion. That’d be illogical.

          • Exiled Phoenix

            Religion in its entirety is illogical. As previous gods are now viewed as myth, the ones of today shall eventually fall into the same bin as science advances. Religion held value when our species stared up at the sky and felt alone, however it is no longer needed. It is
            in humanities best interest to relegate the gods of today to mythology as Ra, Zeus, and the rest have been.

          • Logan Rieck

            Yes, religion must be viewed in faith, that is the inseparable premise of itself as the Bible testifies. I’m not quite sure you understand the differences between the myths of the past and the Bible; Ra, Zeus, and all the other intemperate selfish gods of the ancients were obviously the reckonings of their imaginations (hence they gave them emotions, beginnings, and conflicts entirely human), while the Bible paints a perfect One God that initiated the beginning of the universe (or did something come of nothing?) that involves itself in human affairs eventually culminating in the promise of eternal life for man, the only truly rational animal.

            It is in humanity’s best interest to gather wisdom, virtue, and love to comfort his brothers and sisters created in the image of God and regulate this care unto all Creation as best we may as God has commanded us. We must partake of love and serve it to others, this alone will ensure our survival and advancement.

            I hardly think that science will overturn religion. At the end, if anything, the Cause for Creation is unable to be explained (that is, what caused the Big Bang) and to see the Cause would be impossible for scientists to explain purely scientifically without taking liberties.

          • Exiled Phoenix

            Yeah because your one god isn’t jealous, doesn’t get angry, doesn’t find appeasements from sacrifice. The one god you speak of was also created by imagination. When a god can say “I love you, but will condemn you to an eternity of suffering because I love you.” That is as bad as the rest. Humanity created deities, not the other way around. Religion in its entirety is hypocritical and worthless.

          • Logan Rieck

            God having jealousy and anger are the poetical terms used by the authors to show a semblance of the reality of God’s motivations are. Yet, His jealousy is not like man’s jealousy for God is all-knowing (even unto the contents of the heart) and therefore aren’t subscribed to the sin that man’s jealousy places itself. His jealousy reaches to the multitude for salvation and good works, as well as does His anger.

            You need to understand what the condemnation of Hell truly is. God doesn’t condemn us because He loves us, rather we deserve the death as sin against Infinity Itself multiplies itself unto infinite indignation against God.

            Religion is hypocritical and worthless? Quite a definite statement with little thinking behind it. Yes, religion is hypocritical (even Christianity holds this as quite true), but worthless? I think you forget that the West is founded upon religion, specifically Christianity. Christianity took us out of the declines of amoral Rome and set upon the pedestal of morality in the West this: “Do unto others as you would others do unto you.”

            To simply discard religion is to show you don’t understand it.

          • Errkism

            Yes Christianity destroyed Rome from within and sent Europe to the Middle Ages where religion was able to control the weak minded citizens and make money off indulgences. Christianity took a thriving society and threw it into a pit of chaos. Glad we have religion!

          • Logan Rieck

            Actually the Reformation (started by Martin Luther’s 95 theses against the sale of indulgences), I believe, is partly recognized as the early modern era or at the end of the Middle Ages. Christianity destroyed Rome? I thought that was from the barbarians that the Romans had previously abused, on no account of religion except maybe that the barbarians were generally Arian but I hardly doubt that constituted the motivation for the assaults against Rome itself.

          • Errkism

            It was a combination of Christianity destroying Rome from within, and barbarians from the outside. Read “Ideas: a history of thought and invention, from fire to freud” by Peter Watson. He explains it perfectly.

          • Logan Rieck

            If you would partly express how Christianity destroyed Rome from within that’d be wonderful. I could understand the Councils upsetting the Barbarians, especially the First Council of Nicea that directly condemned Arius and his theology but I can’t think of how Christians destroyed Rome to such a degree that allowed it to collapse.

            The Church even helped spare the city and provide relief for the Romans from the barbarians (I’m talking of Pope Saint Leo the Great and Attila the Hun, though this isn’t quite at the collapse of Rome) but I’m not quite sure of what you’re speaking of.

          • Exiled Phoenix

            A god that allows people to use its name to rape, murder, pillage, or for hatred of other religions is not a god I wish to follow. I’ve heard the religious chants before. “God gave free will and these evil people will receive their punishment when they face their creator.” That is a joke. Where was the free will of the people that suffered these attrocities? Rome may have been decadent, but throughout its history the Roman Empire incorporated the beliefs of other religions into itself and worshipped akin to their gods. The religions of today incorporate the old religious doctrines as the work of evil and say it has always been known to be evil. Religion is nothing more than an opiate for the masses. Unfortunately the uneducated and downtrodden fall for these fairytales. That is truly sad.

          • Logan Rieck

            So the problem of evil is your issue then? Even Solomon says this concerning the oppressed:Ecclesiastes 4:1-3 KJV

            So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter. Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive. Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.

            At the end, what concludes the oppression and joys of life?
            Ecclesiastes 12:8 KJV

            Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.

            A terribly hard saying isn’t it? I notice frequently that atheists don’t know the contents of the Bible.

            Yes, at the end men have free-will and this is continually shown in the Bible and a fact of life. Perhaps I can ask you to read the book of Ecclesiastes, it is rather frank.

            But religion is only for the uneducated and downtrodden? How haughty, and I find this affliction in many atheists. Perhaps I can introduce you to Catholicism that accepts modern science and reconciles its beliefs of 2000 years with it, saints Albertus Magnus or Thomas Aquinas. The religious are far from ignorant or in despair.

          • Exiled Phoenix

            Lmfao, yeah because oppressors need comforters. That is pathetic. I have read the bible, it is a joke. I doubt you have and follow all the laws listed in Leviticus i believe chapters 17-26, i doubt you follow those, yet are believed to be from around the time of moses. You know the ten comandments guy lol. And you’ll probably give me some excuse like the rest ” Oh it was old testament, we follow more the new testament and those things don’t apply.” Yet these types of books are in the bible and can not be excused as being of that time. Religion is a contradiction of logic.,

            I look forward to the day when a teacher walks into a classroom and says “Children please open your tablets to the curriculum entitled religious mythology.” While the kids giggle at what people used to believe.

          • Logan Rieck

            Again, your haughtiness shines.

            I’ve read the Bible 15 times. The oppressed seek comforters, not the oppressors. The oppressors don’t want a judgment.

            Anyhow, no, Mosaic Law is nullified as shown in Acts 15, Hebrews 10, and Galatians.

            It cannot said to be of that time? God obviously would know the end of His Law and settled it for the time until the coming of Himself, and be as a sign unto the heathen as a symbol of Himself and virtue amongst such iniquities. It isn’t quite as illogical as you say at all. Christianity has had 2000 years for this questions, if you think these questions had never appeared then that is illogical.

            Please treat who you argue with with respect or there really is no point in arguing.

          • Exiled Phoenix

            You are confused. At no point have I said I hold respect for religion. I veiw kt and the people that preach its doctrine as wrong. Humanity has existed far longer and the sumerian tablets have shown stories similiar to your bible, which was begun far after that civilization fell. What the religions of today preach are as mythological as the religions of the past. They are all fake and your haughtiness to your position shows as much as mine.

            The only good thing is that with the advent of information available so readily, people are viewing religion as an obtuse albatross meant to be overcome and relegated to the past.

            Information is power and the people are gaining it for themselves instead of allowing it to be told to them from the pulpit.

          • Logan Rieck

            I understand you don’t hold any respect for religion, I had meant respect for the person you were arguing against such as when you assumed I had never read the Bible and that I was arguing blindly through such an accusation.

            So because ancient cultures shared similar stories then the Bible is as mythological as the stories of the past? So if an ancient culture shared our views such as even a minute understanding of evolution would it then be considered false? Hardly. Shared stories, the really only common being the flood in Noah’s time, doesn’t disannul the Bible from truth at all.

            It’s a wonderful thing that information can be passed so quickly but the truest pitfalls of it are uneducated people start to decide what certain things mean without the understand gathered through centuries applied to them (the start being the Protestant Reformation). We see clearly that a gathering of information is worth nothing if not educated properly. Surely you balk at Creationists that postulate a young earth because they have no education and proper schooling but if you are to advocate the same as for an understanding of religion, history, and the two’s mixed history, then knowledge is defeated and left to bleed in the gutter.

            Anyhow, may you have a good day. If you wish to continue this argument just reply back but I don’t see a satisfactory answer coming for either party and should be stopped as it is now become vanity for both of us.

          • Exiled Phoenix

            I do not think of any argument as vanity. I view it as an idealogical divide with neither party wanting to take account as to the others understandings or belief.
            Neither of our sides can convince everyone. Yet we will both continue to try because it is the right thing to do when viewed from either side.
            I wish you a good day as well.

          • Errkism

            There will never be a NEED for religion.

      • Errkism

        Religion without a doubt holds us back. Each person pushes their religion on their kids. So we have kids growing up believing that heaven is in the clouds and god created earth. So kids are growing up with a lack of knowledge about how things really work. There is a reason religion thrived in the Middle Ages when literacy was at an all time low.

        • Logan Rieck

          Heaven isn’t quite in the clouds. Religious doesn’t mean they are raised in ignorance, that is a general statement that can’t be supported, at least for Christians.

          Illiteracy was high in the West because knowledge escaped from Rome to Constantinople after the fall of Rome. It was the Church that allowed for knowledge to not escape totally from Europe.

          Also, let us not forget the near him possibility of actually the lay people to accessing books and such and how expensive and laborious books were to create.

          It’s a shame when history is forgotten for one’s purpose. Did religion commit evils? Undoubtedly. But the Church is nowhere near the menace as told by atheists.

  • Hillyard

    Sounds like a fun time. Would love to see what footage they shot.

  • Thanks-a-mundo for the blog.Really thank you! Great.