Betchya can’t guess where I was in this picture?

Just kidding. Pretty much anyone can recognize the Pyramids of Giza in the background. They’re an amazing sight. Eygypt7Access to the interiors is limited (only a certain number of tickets per day are sold) so I didn’t get inside – until later at the Steppe Pyramids of Saqqara – but I’m told they all smell the same inside (bat guano, anyone?) This photo, courtesy of friends who worked at the embassy then, was post 9/11 but pre-Iraq invasion so the atmosphere was one of relaxed curiosity. I was glad I was able to go, even though I did not step inside the Great Pyramid of Khufu.

 

 

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Footprints in the Far Places

Two or three years ago, in the “Reader’s Digest” magazine, there was a letter to the editor, accompanied by a photo from Machu Picchu (Peru), from a reader suggesting a new way for travelers to document their journeys: taking photos of their feet.

ImageNew? Hmmmm. No disrespect to the letter writer, who inferred that this was an innovative technique which he and his family had created and wanted to share with the world, but it’s hardly new. I’ve been taking pictures of my feet since sometime in the early 1980s. I’m not claiming to have invented the idea either, but I do have a picture just like the one they published in “Reader’s Digest” that was taken in approximately the same spot about a decade earlier than theirs.

It started in a moment of spontaneous silliness. Sitting on the beach in Santa Cruz, California, I pulled off my shoes and dug my toes into the sand, seeking the warmth trapped below the surface. I then placed my shoes – new pink and white Nikes – in front of me and snapped a photo of them with the waves crashing onto shore as a backdrop. Okay, that technically doesn’t qualify as taking a picture of my feet since they weren’t in the shoes at the time, but that quickly led to a new trend.

A few months later at Disneyland, sitting on the Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster, I slid my foot next to my cousin’s and snapped a picture of our two feet while waiting for the ride to start. That was only the beginning.

I have pictures of my feet everywhere: at home (which usually include a cat or two who are sleeping on them) and around the world: Norway, Zanzibar, Argentina, British Columbia, Antarctica, Iceland, Dubai, etc. I have pictures on beaches, glaciers, and man-made structures. I have pictures of my feet in places where it was probably a bit disrespectful: standing on top of Hadrian’s Wall in England, propped up against the Great Pyramid in Giza, Egypt. I tried to take a picture of my feet on a bench in the British Museum (London), but got yelled at by a matronly white-haired docent with a sharp accent and even sharper tongue. I have pictures of my feet alongside relatives and friends at any number of places from a nameless lake up in the Sierra Nevada to a park trail in Bandelier National Monument. The friends and relatives think I’m a bit crazy, but they go along with my urging to “hey, put your foot there!” I even have one friend who, when now viewing any of my vacation photos, always first asks “Where’s the foot pictures?”

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Do I have a foot fetish? No, I don’t think so. Feet, mine or other people’s, don’t fascinate me. I don’t run around in my daily life snapping foot pictures in ordinary circumstances. I don’t take pictures of strangers’ feet like some crazed stalker.

Like the letter writer in “Reader’s Digest” I came to discover what a unique way the foot photos were to document my travel, to say “Janet was here.”

All of my photo albums (traditional or electronic) have at least one foot picture. My Antarctica photo book even includes pictures of penguin feet (I thought that was a nice counterpart to pair with mine), and even a couple footprints in the snow. As eco-travelers like to say (and this might be a National Geographic slogan, but I’m not certain): “Take only memories, leave only footprints.”

I will eventually be making a photo album containing only my feet pictures, but I’ve got two more continents to go first (Asia and Australia). I envision using a global map and placing a foot photo on each country my feet have touched. My journey. My footprints.

Do you take pictures of your feet? Dog owners – do you take pictures of your foot next to your dog’s paw? It’s an ordinary thing, walking the dog every day, but did you ever think to memorialize it for later? Parents – you have tons of photos of your kids, but of their feet? Their foot next to yours, say once a year, as their foot grows in comparison? Take note of where your feet have been and whose paths they have crossed.

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Fear in the Far Places

In last week’s post, I wrote about traveling solo, something which intimidates a lot of people who are otherwise quite outgoing in different aspects of their lives. While I always encourage people to step outside their comfort zones, I will never judge negatively anyone who won’t or can’t, especially when it comes to travel. There will always be legitimate reasons a person is too afraid, or nervous, to travel to a dream destination. The current volatile state of world affairs being first and foremost. Heck, I’m the first person who will admit that it’s not always wise to travel to a particular country. (I often joke that someday – far, far in the future – my tombstone will end up reading “Brave, but stupid.” but that doesn’t mean I want that to come true.) So I plan my travels with the right amount ot caution, the right amount of respect for those I might impact, whether it be those I encounter while traveling or the loved ones waiting for me back home.

Still, I must say in reality, the world is not always as dangerous as the media wants us to believe, a tactic they employ for sensationalism and ratings. The majority of people all over this planet are kind, helpful, generous, and curious, and they eagerly welcome the adventurous, especially those open-minded individuals whose goal it is to experience their way of life, their culture, and their history. Even in countries that hate “America.” (They still love Americans, although it can often be for your tourist dollars rather than your sparkling personality.)

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LIke the old woman in the bathroom at the Cairo Airport back in 2002. It was my first encounter where, in many places, the elderly or poor will appoint themselves as bathroom attendants, handing out towels and toilet paper in exchange for a few coins. I remember how her eyes lit up at the handful of British currency I pulled from my pocket (acquired during my layover at Heathrow). Even though the total was probably a lot more than the average tourist gave her, she was so happy to see it, I dumped all the coins into her eager hands.

And, of course, there were all those shop keepers eager to sell me any number of trinkets.

But then there were the teenage school girls on the Cairo Metro who surrounded me and, via the only girl who spoke some English, proceeded to ask me where I was from and (a question which seems to arise primarily in the Middle East) if I was married. I wasn’t, but I had thought it wise – traveling solo to Egypt – to wear a plain wedding band. I still remember the laugh of the old woman sitting on the floor after a translation of my answer to the question “was my husband pretty in face?” (handsome). I said “I think he is.”

And I still remember the girls, sensing my concern about missing my stop (they had surrounded me so completely I couldn’t see the names of the stations we were at), and how they made sure I got off the train at the right place.

Those are the moments which show me that other people – complete strangers – care, the moments which humanize the “other” that we in America seem to be so afraid of.

Yes, being surrounded like that made me nervous, but the girls were so warm and curious, I quickly lost any fear. I found myself wrapped up in our “conversation.” I use quotation marks on that word because it was only a partially successful exchange due to the language barrier. For example, I’m not sure they understood my explanation of where California is, but they knew “Hollywood” and that was close enough.

Given the current turmoil in Egypt, I wonder how those girls are. Happy? Facing their own fears? Married to their own husbands who are “pretty in face”?  Are they alive?

I will not go back to find out, however. At least not any time soon. Egypt is simply too unstable. And even I’m not brave enough to face that. Instead, I will have to find a way to memorialize them by somehow incorporating those encounters into one of my stories.  I haven’t yet, but I’m sure they will show up some day when my readers least expect it.

In the meantime, there are so many other Far Places on this gorgeous planet to visit, so many other ways to encounter, and conquer, new fears.