Adventures of a Traveling Gypsy

Shoes......the lessons I have learned.

A great pair of shoes (and/or boots) has always been something that makes me feel good.  What can make a woman happier than a great pair of boots after all?!  There have even been songs written about them...."Blue Suede Shoes", "These Boots are made for Walking", “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem”, just to name a few.  So, why not write an article about them?

Shoes may seem like a fairly mundane topic, and you may be thinking, "well this is going to be boring......" however, from my very first overseas trip in 1980, I have found that shoes (or footwear) seem to be an ongoing topic of learning, adventure and intrigue.

Come along with me to a few pit stops of the past 38 years of travel and shoes.

38 years ago, today, I was visiting a silk factory near Miyazaki, Japan.  This was during my first overseas trip and the first time that I had been on an airplane.  After missing my flight from Saskatoon to Vancouver (big city challenges for a small-town gal) and having to beg for another and then fly solo for my very first time in the air. 

The Air Canada agent had got me on the next available flight, leaving about 5 minutes in Vancouver to catch my Japan Airlines flight to Tokyo, I was lucky to have gotten to Japan at all.  

I was wearing a great pair of dark brown leather sandals with about a 2 1/2" heel.  The shoes were both comfortable and stunning.  The vamp was an open weave in an X shape, there was a delicate strap that went around my ankle and the heel was tapered in slightly leaving my footprint appear a bit smaller than the size of my foot.  Regardless of how impressive my footwear was, it was certainly not the best choice for a sprint from the domestic arrival lounge to the international departure gate of my JAL flight!!  Having said that, I managed to not break an ankle and with the guidance of our trip chaperone, was able to navigate through the expanse of the Vancouver airport and blessed to spend the next 6 weeks on a Lion's Club Youth Exchange in Japan.

#1 Shoe Lesson:  Either wear appropriate footwear or own the consequences of your decision.

Travelling opens doors not only to adventure and experience, but also to countless opportunities to learn about the history of countries as well as their present day practices.  The history of Japan is mind boggling, from the ornateness of their architecture, right down to their feet. 

As you may know, as did the Chinese, but not to the same extent, the Japanese used to practice the disfiguring tradition of foot binding, sometimes even breaking the bones in a young girl's foot to acquire the desired and appealing look of a smaller foot.  It was said that the smaller the girls footprint, the higher status she would hold and more beautiful she would appear to her male suitors.  Traditionally, a Japanese sandal is sized so that about 1.5-2 cms of your heel hangs over the back.  This is practical, in that it assists in the balancing on the everyday sandal, "Geta" which are the wooden 'tooth soled' sandals.

This sizing system is also used for the "Zori" or dress sandal which is worn with the more formal Kimono.  The beautiful tradition that I learned about Japanese footwear and something that you probably don't know is that when a girl or woman is at a formal event such as at their wedding, the size of their Zori (dress footwear) is always the same regardless of the size of their foot.  This tradition of equality is so that every woman, regardless of their foot size is no better or lesser in status than any other woman.  They all leave exactly the same size of footprint whether they are esteemed royalty or common folk.  

#2 Shoe Lesson:  Regardless of any so called status, nobody is any better than anyone else.

Skip ahead to Cuba – 1994. This was Ted and my very first “hot” winter holiday. We stayed in a quaint little hotel near Manzanillo, Cuba called Marea del Portillo with the nearby village being of the same name. The wait staff was 3:1 per guest and they were continually cleaning and attending our every need. Our door had no lock (we just kicked it to open it) and apparently we were very lucky to have a seat on our toilet. We ventured out and met the local people of the town of Marea and soon became what would be lifelong friends. Visiting with them and joining them for meals, as the pickings were a bit slim at the Hotel. They were so grateful to have us as their guests and treated us as family.

One of the things that still stands out vividly when I think about those visits was that many of the children’s shoes (many had no shoes at all) had the toes cut out of them as their feet had outgrown them and there was little money and even fewer places to purchase new ones. We bought what shoes we could at the Hotel Gift Shop and gifted them to the children, but we made a very small dent in the shoeless children of Marea. Shoes or not, those children and their parents were so proud and happy to show us their homes and treated us as family even though we could not speak each other’s language. I still correspond with a few of the ladies from the village to this day. We call each other Sista.

My Cuban Sista and her daughter, Linda. I am holding her nephew.

#3 Shoe Lesson: Shoes are meant to protect our feet while walking and like a true friend, they will always continue to be there and protect you, even when you think that you may have outgrown them.

Dominican Republic – 1995. Met some great friends from Ontario and England on this trip!! Again – we are still in contact with a few of them. The drinks flowed very freely in the DR back in the 90’s and some of the time the glasses weren’t quite big enough for some of our newfound friends. The night that is pictured here is the going away party for a lovely couple from England that we had become very good friends with. Harry (Canadian) and Fred (UK) decided that it was a good idea to drink their rum from their cowboy boots.

#4 Shoe Lesson: In a pinch, shoes and boots can double as glassware. Don’t be too quick to judge what something can be used for or who someone is. Life is full of surprises – be versatile and flexible in your thoughts and actions.

1997 – San Andres Island, Columbia – This was a wonderful holiday on a very small island in the Caribbean. We were joined by a couple from Markham whom we had met on a previous vacation and it started out with them not being able to find their passports that were needed for the trip. They had to pay dearly for emergency ones only to find their ‘lost’ ones in a ‘fanny pack’ while we were in Columbia. As you can imagine, carrying 2 passports is never a good thing, doing so in a drug smuggling country with - even worse. We wisely held a passport burning ceremony on the beach soon after the old ones were located.

As it turned out – losing things was going to be the common thread of this vacation. The very first evening we were there, we walked down to the beach and I removed my sandals to feel the wonderful soft, powdery sand surround my feet as we sat and looked over the beautiful turquoise stillness of the Caribbean Sea. And….I left them there, tucked safely under the lounge chair – never to be seen again. I am unable to give you any visuals of this trip or destination as the 7 rolls of film that we had taken of this amazing destination were discovered to be missing once we arrived in Toronto. After some discussion, we realized that we had left them on the bed in the Hotel Room. We had purposely ledt them aside to insert them in the outside pocket of our carryon so we could get them developed during our stopover in Ontario to share pictures with our friends. Unfortunately, we never took them off of the bed and the maid (as we found out after a few challenging phone calls to the Hotel) threw them in the garbage, assuming that they were just that.

#5 Shoe Lesson: Shoes CAN walk away on their own, as can passports and rolls of film. It is always a good idea to keep the people and things that you love close to you. Check in with them and embrace them often. You never know when they may slip away unnoticed.

Jump ahead to 2010, doing the 3 day, Lares Trek through the Andes Mountains. Neither Ted nor myself are much into hiking (or exercise for that matter), so we figured we had better at the very least, get the proper footwear for the trip. Work Boots and Flip Flops, somehow didn’t seem to be appropriate. Before we left home, we went to our local sporting goods store and spent a fine sum, purchasing good, supporting, high top hiking boots. We even wore them a bit before we left to break them in. Myself, not being much of a mountain goat, rolled my ankle on the first day. As I was favouring my sprained ankle, I guess that I was putting excessive pressure on my other foot and acquired a nice blister on my heel.

Regardless of the hardships of a sprained ankle and blister, acquiring oxygen at 4,800 metres, being in less than athletic shape, trying to keep up with five 20 something year olds, sleeping on the side of a mountain in a tent for 2 nights in slippery sleeping bags (yes, they tend to slide down the mountain)……...we had the most incredible time!! We saw sights and experienced things that we will cherish forever. We gained knowledge and friendships that will always be a part of us and we survived!!!

One of our Guides taking a look at my swollen ankle.

#6 Shoe Lesson: You can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it – and it is even easier (to hike through rough terrain on a sprained ankle) when you have a supportive pair of high topped hiking boots. Always keep supportive people and systems in place around you. And make sure you give them what they need to be most effective (like taking the time to break in a great pair of boots).

November of 2013 was witness to us watching the Roughriders win the Grey Cup in one of our favourite little restaurants in Mexico. We were surrounded by both new and old friends and I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to celebrate Saskatchewan’s victory than in Flip Flops and a green sun dress!!

#7 Shoe Lesson: Always stand behind who and what you love and believe in. They may not always be the championship team, but will always be a winner in your heart!!

2015 – Denia, Spain. Ted and I spent a glorious month at his cousin’s villa in Spain and were thrilled to be joined by a friend from Sweden for a few days. While our friend was there, we went on a little shopping trip to a nearby mall one rainy afternoon. In a little local shoe store I found the cutest pair of soft, supple leather booties. They had elastic laces so you could just pull them on and a lightweight rubber sole perfect for walking. I instantly knew that I had to have them and it was a real debate trying to decide between the black or the brown. With the help of Ted and Towe, I finally decided on the brown, and proceeded to the checkout to make my purchase. The shoes that I was currently wearing had been to 7 or more countries already and even though they were still very comfortable, I knew in my heart that they were ready for retirement. I may have had one of the biggest revelations of my life then and there by leaving those very much loved companions at the store for them to dispose of.

#8 Shoe Lesson: Sometimes, no matter how difficult it is, we need to be able to let go. Some people are not meant to be in our lives forever, and decluttering our space and our minds is good for our souls.

An amazing drive around the southern coast of Spain that same year brought us to Portugal. Here we stayed at the beautiful coastal resort city of Portimao, which kind of reminded us of Waskesiu on a much larger scale. It was off season, so many of the shops and attractions were closed, but we were able to enjoy the peace and quiet of the tourist’s absence. We walked down the endless boardwalk on the beautiful white sand beach and dipped our toes in the Atlantic Ocean in calm, unrushed or inhibited silence. It was beautiful beyond our imagination.

One of the major resources in this region of Portugal is cork, and we were able to see many cork trees along the highways as we drove. The way that cork is harvested is by slicing a portion, and peeling the bark (cork) off of the tree, continuing to let it live to produce even more cork in years to come. I decided that the perfect thing to take home from Portugal had to be made of cork and discovered a wonderful pair of cork flip flops (by now you probably have realized that this is my favourite type of footwear) in one of the shops on the oceanfront.

#9 Shoe Lesson: The world has all that we need to survive, be prosperous and comfortable as we go about our lives. With a bit of resourcefulness and ingenuity, we can use the things that are given to us while still allowing them to continue on and flourish. One person or thing does not have to suffer to give support or abundance to another…..there will always be enough to go around if we treat each other in a dignified and respectful manner.

2016 – Lunar New Years in Nha Trang, Vietnam!!! Wow!! What an incredible opportunity!! We spent the evening among what seemed to be millions of people on foot and scooter lining the shores of a city that we had grown to love. The fireworks went on for what seemed like hours while loud music and singing came from the gigantic speakers lining the street. It was definitely a celebration and display of joy that we will never forget.

There are many traditions that surround Lunar New Year in Vietnam from travelling to be and feast with family, incredible displays of red and yellow fruits and floral arrangements, parading the streets carrying tall bamboo poles, dragon dances, cleaning of the homes …. I have touched on only a few, but there are many more. The one, very interesting tradition that really resonated with me was that of purchasing a new pair of shoes.

The days prior to New Years are spent looking through shops or going to cobblers to decide and purchase a new pair of shoes to wear first on New Year’s Eve and then throughout the following days of celebration and into the coming year. The reasoning behind this tradition is that you are starting the New Year off on a new and better foot. The celebration of New Years is all around new beginnings, out with the old - in with the new. I absolutely love the idea of starting your steps in the New Year in a new pair of shoes!!!

We flew out of Nha Trang on New Year’s Day and I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the array of new shoes on each and every person’s feet at the airport!!! From the smallest of babies to the person’s collecting the garbage and sweeping the floors of the airport, everyone’s feet were clad in new shoes. It didn’t matter if they were $1 flip flops or $1000 Jimmy Choos, what mattered is that they were new!!

Nha Trang Airport on New Year’s Day – Every foot in this combination of pictures has a new shoe on it.

#10 Shoe Lesson: Leave the past behind and start each day with a new and brightly polished outlook.

The final lesson that I will leave with you was not learned on vacation or in another country, but right here at home. I have a cubby hole under our stairs where, through the years, I have put shoes that are still in good shape, but have either been outgrown or have gone out of choice. The sad thing is that I never revisited this space except to pull out the odd pair of shoes for a Halloween costume or to stuff another pair or two in.

This summer I was doing a month long decluttering exercise and decided to tackle the space under the stairs!!! I found footwear from every decade of my life as an adult under those stairs and even some that had been left there by Ted’s Mom and Dad (I had cleaned the space, but had never thrown any of them away). Some of our son, Les’ shoes were from when he was probably about 2 years old (he is 35 now) and surprising, some of them were still in great shape. I packed up those shoes and took them to my Grandchildren so that they could wear their Daddy’s shoes and boots. Take a walk in his footsteps so to speak.

We had a fabulous day of reminiscing and making memories. All 4 of my grandchildren found at least 1 pair of shoes or boots that they could wear, and when we were leaving, there were 2 pair that were too small for any of them. I was going to take them to donate, when Les asked me to leave them. Much to my surprise and delight (I may have shed a couple of happy tears) he sent me this picture from his truck on his way to work the following day.

#11 Shoe Lesson: Honour where you come from. Cherish the lessons of those who went before you and create wonderful memories that will be remembered and held dearly by those that are, or will one day follow in your footsteps.

Thank you for walking down memory lane with me. This has been a wonderful look back at times and experiences that have helped to bring me to where and who I am.


I live and farm with my husband Ted and our dogs, Biggar and Siyah close to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. We have one married son, and 4 incredible grandchildren. Ted grew up here on the farm and I was raised in a small village 1 1/2 hours away (the furthest away I have ever lived). My roots and sense of family are strong and steadfast, but I have always had an interest and desire to see how others live, who they are and what makes them tick. Whether it be traipsing through a tropical jungle at sea level or hiking 4000m high in the Andes, I always try to admire and understand my fellow beings for who they are and what they stand for rather than how they compare to me. I have sat through leg numbing tea ceremonies, 100 man acapella humming concerts, Buddhist weddings in 40C heat and no A/C. I have been robbed, missed flights, and have survived some of the worst 'bathrooms' and 'hotels' in the world, yet I have never had a bad vacation. The reason for this is that I truly love life and all that it has to offer!! I seek the best in everyone I meet and every experience I have is either an amazing adventure or an incredible lesson. I will NEVER spend my hard-earned money to have a 'bad' time, instead, I will do what I need to make them all 'great' times. I have been blessed with a partner who loves travelling nearly as much as myself and I joke that 'he will follow me anywhere!' Well, at least he has so far. We have traveled somewhere each year since 1993 and have many stories to tell. I have journaled my vacations since the start, had a travel channel on "Ball of Dirt" (a website that is now extinct along with all of my pieces), have tried my hand at a blog (, have an open life on Facebook and have recently started to write published articles about my experiences. I have recently taken up drawing and some day I hope to write a book or two as well. Come and experience new people and places through my words (and a few pictures). My dream is that you will all see the world and others in a clearer and more understanding light. My hope is that my insight will help everyone to know that no matter where we come from or how different we may seem, we all have a life to live and a story to tell that is worthy of others to listen, understand and admire.