Friday 30 December 2016

2016: The year of walking barefoot around the sun

It's that time of year again, when we glance back over our shoulders at the year that's been before striking out into a new one brimming with possibilities.

Barefoot on Bruny Is, Tasmania
How to measure a year? For each of us it's one lap around the sun, another birthday, a cocktail of losses and lucky breaks.

Where I live, the passing seasons are marked by blooming jacarandas, autumnal offshore winds, the winter whale migration. Numbers can help: I spent two and a half months away and three months not surfing (after a knee injury), had 50 stories published, wrote 15 blog posts.

Lately I've realised there's one constant however (well, two) whatever happens and wherever I go: my feet.

I don't wear shoes much these days, since moving to the NSW north coast two years ago. It's often too hot, and going barefoot is just easier and freer when you live near the beach (and I can live with my car being full of sand).

But I've been going barefoot when I travel too.

I've heard that taking off your shoes and walking on grass is a good remedy for jetlag when you arrive at your destination (possibly just because it gets you outside into natural light).

Bare feet are infinitely practical: all-terrain, weatherproof and amphibious. They're cool in summer; in winter I swaddle mine in sheepskin (ugg boots, worn with shorts - it's a north coast thing).

Barefoot in the Maldives (last year)
But there's a less rational reason I kick off my sandals whenever I can: it makes me instantly happy. Just to feel the air on my toes and solid earth under my feet is enough; if I can make contact with water - a stream, a pool, a puddle, the sea - even better. It calms me, slows me down, brings me home.

Now I seem to have developed a new habit: taking pictures of my feet in various locations - like the globetrotting garden gnome that sent selfies back to its owners.

My feet are my constant companions after all (see what happens when you travel solo too much?).

So I'm looking back at this year by looking down. These are a few of my barefoot highlights of 2016 (with links to my stories about them):

Barefoot in the Amazon with
citronella anti-malarial anket
In the Peruvian Amazon I sat on the deck of the beautiful Delfin II expedition vessel, dangling my feet over the muddy water while getting tips from Lindblad's resident photographer on how to snap the pink river dolphins cavorting in front of us.

Sometimes my bare feet were clad in hiking boots (walking the secret mountains of the Larapinta Trail in Central Australia) or in fins (while snorkelling with sharks, turtles, manta rays and elusive humpback whales on Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia).

Atlantis Pool in the Kimberley
If there's anything better than an outdoor shower, it's a wild swim, and in the north-east Kimberley I had both. I stayed in low-key luxury at Berkeley River Lodge on a media trip and one afternoon our guide led us barefoot over sun-warmed sandstone to one of the most perfect (croc-free) swimming holes I've ever swum in.

I had both at Bruny Island in Tasmania too, last month (see pic at top): showering in a forest of the tallest trees I've seen in a long time then relaxing barefoot in my tent after walking all day.

Bare-pawed cat in Lima, Peru
I even had barefoot (or near-barefoot) moments in cities, which I seem to enjoy a lot more now I don't live in one. I kicked off my sandals at a cat park in Lima, Peru, to hang out with dozens of friendly, stray felines.

And looked down during an Art Deco walking tour of gorgeously retro South Beach, Miami, just in time to see some footpath graffiti (see below).
Footpath wisdom, Miami

And there have been countless barefoot days on home soil and sand: surfing with friends, walking on the beach and along grassy headland trails, swimming in the sea, going barefoot in local cafes.

One of the most memorable was a lonely winter's Sunday when I had a small adventure, crossing the Richmond River by car ferry to South Ballina and a neverending beach I'd never set foot on.

South Ballina blues
But my barefoot beach walk was cut short when I saw a piece of sky poking out of the sand. That tiny bit of Mount Franklin-blue plastic was just the beginning; I spent the next couple of hours beachcombing the high tide mark, picking up as much plastic as I could carry. A good deed is surely better when done barefoot?

My new year's resolution for 2017? To have more barefoot time, at home and away, and to remember my favourite Kahlil Gibran quote: "Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair."

Happy barefoot new year, everyone.

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