The Collector: Always stuck on trips around the world: the magnet collection fondly recalls all the places it’s been

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Stepping into Jessie Lang’s Spokane Valley kitchen is like taking a trip around the world.

Her dishwasher is strewn with magnets she picked up on domestic trips and her refrigerator is full of magnets she picked up on international trips.

As a girl growing up in Northern California, Lang remembers looking at National Geographic magazines owned by school friends.

“I’ve always wanted to travel,” she says. “My parents talked about traveling, but they never did. I was 11 or 12 before seeing the ocean and it was only a few hours away.

Her eyes shone as she remembered wading ankle deep in the Pacific.

“Then I saw the Redwoods and I was hooked.”

In high school, she studied Spanish and hoped to study for a year in Mexico, but it was not planned.

Most of her domestic travels took place after her marriage, and her then-husband pursued higher education. His work at EWU brought them to Cheney, where Lang found purpose and passion in the budding recycling movement.

“I looked around and saw the waste and the need,” she said. “I started a small non-profit recycling center in Cheney.”

In 1989, she was chosen to be Spokane’s first recycling coordinator. Soon after, she began booking an annual trip to a distant land and when she retired in 2002 she upped her travel game.

“I have visited 60 countries, all seven continents and most American states”

Her overseas travels have taken her from Antarctica to Zanzibar and collecting magnets has proven to be an easy and inexpensive way to remember her travels.

An iceberg with a penguin perched on top denotes his Antarctic adventure. To get there, she said, “You go to the end of the world and you take a boat.”

When asked what there was to do on the frozen continent, she smiled.

“You look at the penguins.”

A colorful magnetic carpet marks his visit to Kyrgyzstan and beyond.

“I’ve been around all the ‘stans’ along the ancient Silk Road,” Lang said.

In Morocco, she slept in a tent in the Sahara and rode a camel.

“Once was enough,” she said of the ride. “My camel was not happy with life.”

An elephant ride in India proved more enjoyable, but witnessing the great disparity between rich and poor saddened her.

Although she has seen many wonders of the world, she doesn’t really count the Great Wall of China.

“The smog was so strong we couldn’t even see our feet,” she said. “It was disappointing, but we saw the Terracotta Soldiers and it made the trip.”

Although Lang said she was not adventurous, she took a hot air balloon ride in Turkey.

“It’s an absolutely beautiful country,” she says. “I’m a chicken, but when I saw where they would fly over, I went there. It was wonderful !

Of course, sampling native cuisine is part of the travel experience. Lang has eaten guinea pig in Ecuador and warthog in Africa and more traditionally enjoyed pizza where she hails from Naples, Italy.

“I also took a liking to limoncello,” she said.

Lang has always traveled with tour groups like Overseas Adventure Travel or Elderhostel (now called Roads Scholar). These visits provide opportunities to spend time with the locals, which she has enjoyed.

“People really look the same everywhere you go,” she said.

As an example, she remembers traveling along the Amazon River in a boat. Their guide saw a man working on a canoe and asked if they could stop and visit.

He agreed and as he chatted with the tourists, his young son came running towards them with his arm in a sling.

“His kid was playing Superman and jumped off the porch and broke his arm,” she said. “My child would have done that too!”

She arrived in Mexico as she wished as a high school student.

“I’ve been there four times – two of them were voluntary holidays where I taught English to high school students. I loved it.

When asked to pick a favorite from the countries she’s visited, she said her standard response was, “The next one.

“But how can you compare standing in Greek ruins to, ‘Oh, look! There’s a lion in that tree.’

Unfortunately, an injury put an end to his travels around the world.

“I traveled through the late 70s until I fell and broke my hip,” Lang, 83, said.

Her displays of colorful magnets remind her of the many places she has visited.

“There was a world out there and I wanted to see it,” she said.

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