To Sonder While Travelling

I was in a hostel in Bogota, Colombia when I overheard a guy talking in a Welsh accent. I started talking to him because I think it was the first Welsh voice I’d heard since being away. We talked about Welsh stuff, like rain and rugby briefly and then both started the process of getting ready for our nights out. Later in the dorm, he suddenly and quite randomly came out with a word and definition of which I am really very fond in order to describe a common feeling experienced while travelling (well for me anyway)…

Sonder: “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

This got me thinking of the many people I have seen and photographed in the streets while travelling around Latin America. Their stories continue in the places I saw them and they will never realise they became part of my trip. Maybe they noticed me, maybe they didn’t. I wonder what their fears and dreams are. The concept of sondering is quite incredible when travelling the whole world and becoming aware of the ridiculous number of people there are out there. My own inherited craziness eases a bit, when realising how little my every day problems are in the scale of it all and especially when thinking how my presence in a place could be sondered upon by another person, who will never know of me either.

Here are some of the very beautiful people that made me ‘sonder’ without realising that they had impacted on me at all. I hope at least some of their dreams come true….

T Shirt Lady
T Shirt Selling Genius

I watched this lady from an upstairs pupusa restaurant in Santa Tecla,  El Salvador. You can see the market from the restaurant and there are always interesting characters. I was told that some are possibly not trading legally, and what better way to run away quickly than to wear your product. Not to mention the benefits for wandering around finding customers. No need for a market stall here. A genius T-Shirt/ skirt  invention.

Ecuadorian man wearing a poncho
Buying animals is a serious business

When I visited the animal market in Otovalo, Ecuador I wanted to become a vegetarian again. It’s quite a fascinating place, with so many different people there looking to buy or sell every type of animal you can think of (pigs, cows, donkeys, kittens, chicks, pidgeons…), however not a particularly pleasant place to be, as it’s quite cold and there are a lot of very upset animals everywhere. This man caught my eye, mostly because of his very good hat. There are a lot of very good hats in Ecuador, but this man has coupled his with an excellent poncho and that made him even more interesting to me. He didn’t appear to be selling or buying anything, just watching life go on. I wonder why he is so serious and what he wanted out of his day there.

Bolivian celebrity
Bolivian Celebrity

When we visited Isla del Sol on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca, we took a quick detour to Isla de la Luna on the way. We were incredibly lucky on the day to discover that this was a special day for the local people and a ceremony to worship the sun was happening.  They were performing an ancient ritual to say thank you for the water that allows them to grow food, and it was also related to celebrating females and fertility. There were many elements to this ritual, but this lady was involved in a small group of women who were preparing an offering to the lake, consisting many types of foods, such as corn, fruits and herbs. She blessed the offerings in Aymara, which is the indigenous language of the region. Each woman there, including myself, put something into the pot so that we were all involved in the ceremony. This pot was then taken on a boat and ‘given to the lake. People were incredibly emotional at the ceremony, crying and intently watching what was happening. I was told that this particular lady was a bit of a celebrity in Bolivia. She is well known in the world of these spiritual ceremonies and to be involved in something with her is very special. If she were to bless you or involve you directly then you are likely to have a very good bit of luck afterwards.

Guatemalan Schoolgirls
Guatemalan School Girls

The women in San Pedro, Lake Atitlan in Guatemala wear very beautiful and colourful traditional clothes. These three were laughing and chatting together in the park proving the BFFs are a worldwide phenomenon.

Ice cream seller
Selling ice cream without a bell

This lady selling ice cream in Quito looked really fed up taking her break here. I bet she has lots of dreams that don’t involve any form of sweet, dairy based product. My question is… when selling in this way, how does the ice cream not melt?!

Artist on the beach
Artist and a boobie

I met this guy on the beach in Huanchaco, Northern Peru, where boobies are prominent (cue many boob jokes). He asked me to take his photo so he could use it for his website. However, before I realised he was nice, I had given him a fake name, so I couldn’t email it to him without opening a fake email account. Still feeling guilty about that. I like the photo though and the memory of chatting on the beach.


Kids of Quito
Kids of Quito cleaning shoes

This is sadly a common site in Quito. Talk to them for a minute and you’ll quickly realise they are not just money hasslers, they are lovely kids who would much rather be playing than cleaning someones shoe. A sondering moment indeed.

Peruvian Ladies
My hat is better than your hat

Peruvian women in the village of Ollantaytambo, Peru where everyone wheres red. When we climbed up a little to look over the town on voting day, all we could see was a sea of red as everyone was wearing their best clothes to cast their votes.

Bolivian journalist
I want to interview Brad Pitt

This lady was interviewing a musician by the water in Puno, Lake Titicaca on the Peruvian side. She was very dressed up for the occasion and extremely self conscious for the camera. I couldn’t hear the interview very well, but the musician was making everyone laugh, except her, as she didn’t want to wobble too much for fear of losing her hat.

Guatemalan parade dancer
Next year I’m coming as a Michael Jackson tribute

This was the new years, very strange dancing carnival in San Pedro, Guatemala. I loved this costume taking the micky out of backpackers, who have swamped the lakeside part of the village in a place known as gringolandia. I will never know what the real face behind the costume is though…


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