Saturday, December 31, 2016

Top 16 Photos & Vines of 2016 - Viewer's Choice

2016 marked the 10 year anniversary of my blog....thank you for your visits! Though my written posts have been few and far between this year, my photography website has continued to grow and I'm pleased to say this has been one of my better years for photography licensing, sales, and publications. To close out the year, I have assembled a few visual lists.

First, the Viewer's Choice - the top 16 most viewed photos of 2016 on my website, Mira Terra Images. Note that the #1 spot is a 3-way tie, all taken of the same subject!

Top 16 Viewed Photos of 2016

#16 Top Viewed Photo of 2016 Somali Ostrich, Meru National Park, Kenya.

#15 Top Viewed Photo of 2016 Papier Mache Fruits, Mexico.

#14 Top Viewed Photo of 2016 Itamaraty Palace, Brasilia, Brazil.

#13 Top Viewed Photo of 2016 Fresh catch, Santorini, Greece.

#12 Top Viewed Photo of 2016 Modern art of Stockholm, Sweden.

#11 Top Viewed Photo of 2016 Tiles of Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco".

#10 Top Viewed Photo of 2016 Favela of Rio de Janiero, Brazil.

#9 Top Viewed Photo of 2016 Belly Dancer, Marrakech, Morocco.

#8 Top Viewed Photo of 2016 Mating Mexican Wolves, Arizona, USA. (this was #1 in 2010!)

#7 Top Viewed Photo of 2016 Kapana in the Market, Windhoek, Namibia.

#6 Top Viewed Photo of 2016 Quechua Boy, Peru. (this was #10 in 2011!)

#5 Top Viewed Photo of 2016 Royal Palace of Fes, Morocco.

#4 Top Viewed Photo of 2016 Cathedral of Brasilia, Brazil. (this was #17 in 2010!)

#3 Top Viewed Photo of 2016 Quito Cityscape, Ecuador.

#2 Top Viewed Photo of 2016 Sari Textiles, New Delhi, India.

#1 Top Viewed Photos of 2016 (a 3-way tie) Oberoi Amarvillas, Agra, India.

Sadly, as 2016 comes to a close, so does the Vine app, where I managed to entertain a following of nearly 200,000 fans! My early travel vines were featured by the SF Gate Travel Section, and I later became a featured contributor to the Orbitz Travel Blog, with my #Vinecations series of articles. I hope that my vine followers will follow me over to Twitter and Instagram where I will continue posting photos and videos. Meanwhile, I hope these embeds will remain viewable on my blog for years to come.

Top 16 Vines - Viewer's Choice

#16 Most Popular Vine Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.

#15 Most Popular Vine Pentre Ifan, Wales.

#14 Most Popular Vine Atlas Mountains and Desert, Morocco.

#13 Most Popular Vine Huntington Beach Pier, California.

#12 Most Popular Vine Pembrokeshire Blue lagoon, Wales.

#11 Most Popular Vine Dogs & Carrots (RIP Jambo 12/12/99-12/19/16)

#10 Most Popular Vine Black's Beach Sunset, San Diego, California.

#9 Most Popular Vine Brittlestars, Cardiff by the Sea, Caifornia.

#8 Most Popular Vine Pacaya Samiria Reserve, Amazon, Peru.

#7 Most Popular Vine Cardiff by the Sea, California.

#6 Most Popular Vine Yosemite National Park, California.

#5 Most Popular Vine Mid-Vernal Falls, Yosemite, California.

#4 Most Popular Vine Cruising the Amazon River Tributaries, Peru.

#3 Most Popular Vine Osa Rainforest, Drake's Bay, Costa Rica.

#2 Most Popular Vine Kasbah Oudaias, Rabat, Morocco.

#1 Most Popular Vine Gatehouse at Machu Picchu, Peru.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Travels as a Hillary Clinton Lookalike

Preface for new friends/visitors: I've spent the past 25 years working in the travel industry. My earliest experience as a tour leader was when I was tasked with escorting groups of travel agents on “luxury” cruise products in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. Escorting a Travel Agent FAM (familiarization) trip is, well, let’s just call that experience “bootcamp” for tour directors - survive it, and you’re ready for career deployment. I was writing, taking pictures, and leading tours within the travel industry for years before I set up my own travel photography business (2000). I supplemented my primary photography business with contract work as an international tour director, leading groups of mostly Americans to over 65 countries around the globe. My story begins on one such assignment. But first:

Oath of Office

As a Tour Director, the single most important unwritten rule is this: Never participate in conversations of religion or politics with the group members. More often than not, my tours would finish with folks still questioning whether I was Democrat, Republican, Christian, Jewish, etc. So here’s a look at how this has played out under different administrations, when you’re me, and you happen to closely resemble Hillary Clinton.

First Lady (Russia)

Late 1990’s: At the height of President Clinton's scandals in office, I was leading a group of Americans on a river cruise in Russia, and my local Russian guide looked exactly like (a thinner version of) Monica Lewinsky. Everywhere we went, the American guests were taking candid pictures of my guide and me together (before digital cameras, iPhones, social media) for their scrap books - sample captions: "Hillary and Monica spotted taking a girlfriend getaway cruise together on the Volga,” or “Hillary and Monica seen commiserating over vodka martinis at the Astoria.” It was all light-hearted, fun, and funny. I was addressed as First Lady for the rest of the trip. Nobody, American or Russian, Republican or Democrat, insulted me for my resemblance, and many said they would travel with me again. And many have since! But that was just the beginning.

Paparazzi (China)

Forward to 2006 (George W. Bush is President) and I'm on assignment as a photographer traveling with an American group. We’re at the Great Wall in China. Suddenly a screaming crowd of Chinese people mobbed around me to the point that I couldn't take a step in any direction on the wall. One by one they handed their pocket cameras (some digital, but still no iphones) off to someone else in the crowd to be photographed next to me. I asked my local guide what was going on. He laughed and whispered, "they think you are Hillary Clinton touring China and that I'm your Chinese government translator - I'm not saying a word." I decided to play along. I was overwhelmed with welcoming smiles and stranger’s hands running through my hair as I put my arms around them and posed for their cameras. I handed my camera to my guide to take MY picture with some of these lovely Chinese people. It was a long morning, but incredibly gratifying to feel so much love and admiration, and to return it to complete strangers. The American travelers I was accompanying were somewhat bewildered. The Democrats loved it. The Republicans, surprised to see how the locals were behaving (which continued throughout China), were nice and enjoyed the spectacle, agreeing “maybe you do look like her, but a younger and MUCH prettier version.” Everyone was kind and civil.

That kind of paparazzi attention popped up with some regularity in my travels, professional and personal, throughout the remaining Bush years. Sometimes it got ugly.

Allies (United Kingdom)

“You bloody Americans, you’re all the same. Just like your cowboy President, nothing but a bully. America is a giant bully, pushing other nations around. Go back to play with your guns at home and leave the world be.” - white male Englishman, London, 2006.

2008 Election Year

I’m in the UK again, in a cab from Heathrow. The driver, an enthusiastic immigrant to the UK, had no end of questions for me about how I would vote and what I thought of Obama. Jet-lagged and struggling to formulate coherent statements, I turned it back on him. “What do YOU think?” I asked. He replied, “It doesn’t matter what I think. It doesn’t matter who is President of the United States. America will always be America in our eyes – the welcoming land of freedom and opportunity. The world looks up to you. Be proud.”

Election Day – China

November, 2008. I was back in China when Barack Obama won the Presidential election. I’ll never forget the moment. My group was comprised of 4 couples – 2 couples were Republican, 2 couples were Democrats. All couples had adult children who voted for Obama. We were in the VIP lounge at an airport in Guilin glued to the Chinese news channel (no satellite tv; internet access was blocked out at the time; but we all had cellphones and texting). Our flight was delayed, thankfully, so we were able to watch the historic moment as the news broke. It looked like this:

I taped the moment, we all toasted, and then our flight was ready for boarding. We came out of that lounge to cheers and hugs from non-Americans, which followed on the flight (everyone wanted to sit next to and talk to us). Clearly, the Chinese people, and other nationalities on our flight, approved. But it wasn’t just China. My American groups and I were welcomed and congratulated with equal enthusiasm for President Obama everywhere I travelled during his two terms.

From Clinton’s, into Bush’s, and throughout Obama’s administration, my travel work took me from Asia to Africa, Europe to South America - Nepal, Egypt, Ireland, Kenya, India, Morocco, Bhutan, France, Namibia, Argentina, UAE, Sweden, Tanzania, Nicaragua, the UK, Zimbabwe, Portugal, Cuba…there’s more, but suffice it to say I encountered a wide and diverse sampling of humanity on our planet. Without exception, the people I spoke to in these other countries applauded President Obama. Indeed, these past 8 years have been my proudest to travel as an American.

Diplomatic Missions (Cuba)

Let’s pause on Cuba. I was greatly honored and proud to lead some of the earliest State Department licensed People to People Cultural Exchange Tours to Cuba as relations eased under President Obama. One memorable group was a true American melting pot. There were first-generation immigrant-Americans – from Hungary, Iran, and Ireland; Christians from Texas; Jews from New York; two Canadians; a venture capitalist; a film maker; a doctor; and me, their tour leader - a laid back southern California vegetarian surfer mom, who resembled the US Secretary of State. They were all seasoned travelers, but this was the first time I actually felt need to apologize for some of my fellow Americans, who arrived to Cuba with very narrow minds, biased agendas, and nasty attitudes. In March, 2013, this group and I arrived at a particularly historic moment, the announcement that Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez had died. When you finish this article, please come back and click my story about that trip here: Cuba from the Heart: Mourning and Music.

Presidential Travels (Morocco)

March, 2014. This one is just for kicks really. My group was another melting pot, but this time a fantastic group of Americans who made me enormously proud. I add this story not so much about my resemblance to Secretary Clinton (though it was certainly pointed out), rather, more for the striking resemblance of my local Moroccan colleague and guide to President Obama. “Maroc Obama” we fondly dubbed him. And he wore it with honor and a big smile…and together, we made a great team.

From the royal Casbahs of Morocco, to The Casbah nightclub in San Diego, October, 2016, I have been approached by strangers commenting on my resemblance, and have been asked to pose for pictures as Hillary Clinton. I always oblige with a smile.

Even those who despise her have been kind: “I hope you’re not offended, please don’t take it wrong.”

I don’t. I’m flattered. She’s a remarkable woman, and she’s a mother. Like me, she doesn’t give up.

As the attention grew this past year here in the US, I’ve continued to roll with it, happily smiling for iphones right up to Election Day, when I went full out and shared this on social media:

Vote! Let's Do This! #imwithher #pantsuitnation #hillaryclinton #igotstamina @hillaryclinton #electionday #electionday2016

A video posted by Kymri / Mira Terra Images (@kymri) on

I’ve never had more likes and shares on Facebook, and I especially appreciated the comments from my Republican friends: they refrained from nastiness and instead, enthusiastically applauded my front handspring. Some comments began as I’d heard before, but with some new qualifiers:

“Wow, Hillary’s really agile! And she’s looking 30 years younger!”

“Much younger, much better looking and probably a better head of state!”

I certainly hope so. I strive to be kind, open-minded, and the very best American I can be when I travel abroad.

But here at home, in these delicate post-election days, I’ve never been more challenged. I’ve started to experience and witness hatred like I’ve never seen before, here in my country, in my state, in my city, and even in my “bubble” of paradise by the sea. But you know why I shared my video?

Because I landed on my feet. So did Hillary. And I hope, so will our country.

I pledge to keep traveling and to keep putting America’s best foot forward out into the world. Agree with me or not, this is who I am.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots in Cardiff by the Sea

“Every single one of us matters, and has a role to play… every single day we make a difference.” – Dr. Jane Goodall, 2016

Cardiff by the Sea Roots & Shoots children visiting a local agricultural farm. Photos courtesy of: Jessica Toth

Recently I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Jane Goodall speak at the 20th year celebration of the Disney Conservation Fund at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  Here is a short clip in which she talks about the beginning and growth of the Roots & Shoots program she founded:

As she spoke about Roots & Shoots, I recalled the small group that started up in Cardiff by the Sea, when my daughter was in grade school. As a family, we participated in several of the activities, and although our daughter was quite young, those experiences and lessons would stay with her.

I decided to reach out and re-connect with the parent who started our local chapter, Jessica Toth. While many years have passed and she no longer runs the Roots & Shoots program, I thought it would be interesting to see where the shoots grew from the roots she planted almost 10 years ago with her two daughters, Zoe and Quincy, now aged 14 and 16.

I was not the least bit surprised to learn that Jessica is still quite involved in environmental education, and both she and her daughters had carried forward much from their Roots & Shoots experience. (note: all Cardiff Roots & Shoots photos courtesy of Jessica Toth)

What is your current position and title?

Jessica: I currently work as Executive Director of Solana Center for Environmental Innovation, an environmental education nonprofit, providing programming throughout the San Diego region. Solana Center was awarded California's highest environmental honor this year, the Governor's Environmental and Economical Leadership Award for our food waste diversion initiatives.

How did you first learn about Roots & Shoots?

Jessica: While I was getting involved in my daughter's pre-school, exposing kids to environmental concepts, I read about Jane Goodall'sRoots & Shoots program. Roots & Shoots was designed to offer service-learning opportunities to high school students. No other elementary school Roots & Shoots programs were listed on their websites at that time. But I liked the concept, and decided to find ways to implement it with age-appropriate activities for children in elementary school. There are definitely elementary schools involved now.

What inspired you to organize a local chapter of Roots & Shoots?

Jessica: I felt that kids are not easily connected to the needs of the environment, animals, and people. I wanted my kids to be sensitive to what's around them. By including others in our activities, it enhanced the experiences.

I created a program for learning and exposure, which seemed more appropriate for younger kids. While Roots & Shoots was intended more for focused service learning projects for highschool and college students, we did do community support activities, such as beach clean-ups, visiting a retirement home, and donating to the Community Resource Center.

What types of activities did your chapter participate in?

Jessica: I designed a program in which students and parents participated twice a month -- once through an outside activity and once in a classroom setting. The activities were all local so that participants (kids and parents both) could think of what they'd learned each time they passed the sites. We did beach clean-ups, toured our water treatment center, made animal toys and earned money to donate to the animal shelter, decorated re-usable shopping bags and educated people about avoiding single-use plastics, monitored the quality of our waterways, visited a fish farm, toured the recycling line and our landfill, visited agriculture farms, created a lunchroom recycling program, planted our own school garden, toured City Hall, presented at school assemblies, donated books to kids in need, performed waste audits at school, learned about watershed protection, solar energy, animal tracks, and composting, and more!

How did the Roots & Shoots program impact the Cardiff by the Sea community?

Jessica: When I was still running Roots & Shoots, I began developing environmental programming for the Rob Machado Foundation, whose children were also attending Cardiff Elementary. I folded in Rob Machado Foundation support for recycling cans for Cardiff Schools' athletic fields, reusable water bottles for students, expansion of the school garden, reusable classroom party kits, and a bike rack at Ada Harris.  I also had Rob Machado speak at a Cardiff School assembly as we rolled out the lunchtime recycling program.

Elements are still in place in the Cardiff School District. For example, lunchtime recycling and the school garden.

How has your Roots & Shoots experience shaped the way your kids are growing up?

Jessica: I believe that they will each carry the experiences with them forever.  Quincy points to her interest in community service.  She recently started a soccer league for special-needs kids; this is her great passion.  Zoe is interested in working with animals.

My kids amaze me with their understanding of the real world, even though they've grown up in a very comfortable, cloistered environment in southern California.

From an early age, they understood, for example, that marine debris can impact an entire food chain from brine shrimp and small fish to seals and sharks, as one of them illustrated as a 6-year-old.  I think their Roots & Shoots experiences informed them well.

We live beside a canyon inhabited by coyotes and snakes.  I'm pleased that my daughters are not fearful of animals in nature.

How does your family spend (more) time in nature?

Jessica: We enjoy time camping in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We also love to snorkel around to see life under the sea.

What advice would you give other parents wanting to make a difference?

Jessica: Kids are never too young to learn about their community. It doesn't matter the age; they learn from new experiences, often reflecting back and finding new meaning later.

To learn more about current Roots & Shoots projects and search by community, please visit Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots.

And if you are involved in a local Roots & Shoots program, please share your experience in a comment!

Many thanks to Jessica Toth for her time and for providing photos. And many thanks, endlessly, to Dr. Jane Goodall for inspiring so many of us!