I didn't expect to see her as soon as I slid into the water.
in fact, I didn't expect to see her at all -
But there she was.
her ancient form floated through the coral metropolis, her mammoth shell speckled with barnacles and patterns which seemed to dance in the watery sun beams.
a fractalline kaleidoscope.
a steady stream of bubbles burst
from my mouth as I squealed in excitement
upon beholding this
a sense of calm quickly enveloped me in composure,
as it dawned on me that this moment
was a gift.
I centered myself
and tuned in
the gentle sea turtle and I
glided gracefully alongside one another
she, absorbed in
plucking food from the coral with her beak-like jaw
absorbed in her.
I dove down and swam with this timeless being
she accepted my presence
and the dry world I generally inhabit faded from my
consciousness as ten, twenty or thirty minutes passed
when she went up for air,
I went up for air.
our wet heads bobbing momentarily above our
secret underwater world
and back down we would glide
into the loud silence that is home for
as many fish as there are stars in the sky,
sea snakes and jellyfish and manta rays
octopus and prawn and
a sea turtle
my imagination revelled in fantasies of
the Places she has surely been,
the Wonders she has surely seen
that no human ever could.
beneath the watery cloak of blue I marvelled
at her shell,
within my reach -
a mobile home for this ancient aquatic astronaut
as she traversed the endless labyrinthian ocean
for twenty-something years,
if not longer.
I looked into her eyes and
I accepted the glass of mysterious liquid from his outstretched hand and took a sip. It was sweeter than I'd expected, and carried the familiar flavour of rum. Grinning from ear to ear, the grey-haired man tilted his blue plastic pitcher and topped up my drink. His smile not only enveloped his mouth and eyes, but his entire being exuded this smile of such a caliber that the receiver is left no choice but to involuntarily reciprocate. My face hurt from the joy of it all. The best part is, if you had asked me this morning where I would spend the day I would have honestly replied, "I don't have a clue!"
And that was the whole idea behind renting a scooter in Asia. You pay ten bucks for the bike, bring some cash and a camera and you're off! Eyes wide like a kid on the Fourth of July, heart soaring, free to explore every road's curve and alley's secret with nowhere to be but anywhere.
Dom and I sliced through the morning sun and basked in her glory as I scanned the ever-evolving scene around us. We rode through towns which became villages which turned into untouched nature, save for the pavement beneath our tires that kept us grounded. Waving children, stray dogs and indifferent cows met my eyes while palm trees, tropical fruit stands and the occasional sound of groups of smiling villagers squealing "HELLO!" rose and fell in our wake.
Sunshine suddenly gave way to clouds and my glistening skin welcomed the unexpected temperature drop. A rain drop or two fell down my cheek, followed by a drizzle and quickly - am absolute downpour. When the road became a river we realized our scooters were no longer a safe means of transportation and were forced to pull over and duck for cover. Luckily, shelter was readily available in the form of a small makeshift bamboo hut with a hole-riddled tin roof, leaning precariously on the side of the road. We joined five or six locals here, caught together in a game of 'waiting for the rain to stop' (an unpredictable and slow-moving game at best). When Dom lit up a cigarette, the group erupted in a gleeful chorus of "Marlboro, Marlboro!" and the pack was doled out equally and promptly. Raindrops fell through holes in the roof, threatening our Marlboros as we laughed, smoked, and waited. I watched miniature rivers fly down the leaves of banana trees and revelled in this unplanned moment of silence and kinship.
The rivers from the sky eased their aggression and soon enough we were off again, chasing down spontaneous adventures! While cruising along down the main road, I felt compelled to veer right, off the beaten path and up a steep and slender diversion. This brought us to a definitive fork - left or right? We were feelin' left.
The pavement eventually subsided and put our scooter tires (and driving skills) to the test with dirt, holes, loose gravel, a steep grade and sharp turns. But with this rugged terrain, there came a peaceful ambiance. An easy pace, small huts, a slow river. Silence. We came to a vantage point and stopped to take photos of the jaw-dropping view we had stumbled upon: rolling, jungle-covered hills to our left. The endlessly vast ocean and distant islands to our right.
What happened next is the type of thing that creates a distinction between memorable and remarkable.
With five kids in tow, a man with an infectious smile approached us, a little timidly. He walked slowly up the hill as the children yelled excitedly,
"Hello! How are you! What is your name! How old are you!"
"I'm Sonja!" I replied, matching their enthusiasm. Dom introduced himself, smiling.
The man introduced himself as Ben, and after a very brief chat he insisted that we come see where he lives. Feelings of excitement rippled through my chest as we followed him to his home, where we immediately met his entire family. Ben, his dad, his daughter and sons and all of their children were there to greet us like long-lost friends. All the generations gathered here in one communal space, living together in a smattering of small houses and huts. We were invited to sit in a shaded bamboo gazebo where rum and ice tea mix was promptly forced upon us. We explained that we can't drink because we are driving, but their smiles held strong as the outstretched hand that offered the drink. I'd like to know if anyone has ever been able to resist a Filipino smile.
We sat and talked for a while, Ben insisting that we help him eat his lunch - liver, of a pig they had raised, with vegetables unrecognizable to me and of course, rice.
"In Canada, we don't invite people we don't know into our homes," I shared with the family, their eyes so warm and curious.
Ben's nephew, about 20 years old, furrowed his brow in genuine confusion, processing my statement.
I didn't know the answer, but my best guess came to me on the spot - "I think we are fearful. And also too busy, perhaps. No time to open our door, or our hearts. We stay in our own walls."
My words made my heart ache as they fell from my lips. I would like to believe that these beautiful, kind people gathered around me would receive the same hospitality in my country as they were showing us in that moment, but I doubted that would be the case.
This family was so happy, welcoming, loving and abundant in not money but true wealth. The company of one another, pigs chickens and rice to eat, the biggest smiles I have ever seen, and of course their local Tanduay Rhum and ice tea. A peaceful world tucked away on a mountain, overlooking the ocean, suspended in time inside a country of islands.
It was time for us to go. Feeling elated beyond measure, we started up our engines. The entire family followed to see us off. All the generations before our eyes, their smiles penetrating our spirits. We had driven up this rocky dirt-holed path not long ago following curiosity as our compass, and drove back down now, changed in some way. Inside me, a piece of the pain that comes with living in a world that is often cruel, unjust and plain crazy - was healed here. And that is more valuable than anything.
near Badian, Cebu Island, Philippines
VANCOUVER - SHANGHAI - MANILA - BUSUANGA ISLAND
The Journey to the Philippines was long. Thirty-something hours of airport queues and holding rooms, security-checks and air time, baggage-drops and immigration lines; floating through the motions with no real grip on time or space. And even longer was the journey before all that. Seemingly endless months of late-night drink slinging, weaving through restaurants in Calgary ever-balancing my tray of pints and shot glasses (with only minor spillage).
“Would you like to add bacon to your burger?”
“.... and another round of shots, right?”
Be an Order-Maker, not an Order-Taker, the managers would tell us.
I was created for more than this, my inner voice insisted. Meanwhile in my daydreams, I already inhabited foreign, warmer lands.
“Your beer is flat? I'm so sorry, let me get you a new one,”
I smile sweetly.
I wasn’t sorry.
And finally the time came to cash in my tip jar and subsequently explode in the infinite possibilities that travel offers! LIFE!!
It didn’t begin to sink in until the third and final plane, a 100-seater propellor aircraft that whisked us from the Philippine capital of Manila to a small paradise island called Busuanga. The staff on the aircraft wore smiles as bright as their sunflower-yellow shirts, rivalled only by the morning sun which began to illumnate the dreamy view below. In that short flight, my eyes soaked in at least thirty small, jungle covered islands which grew sleepily from the unbelievably turquoise water. I carefully selected a song to complement our landing, and couldn’t help but cry with happiness as palm trees greeted us to the ground, waving their windswept welcome dance.
I made it back to Asia! My other home, my happy place. And this country that's entirely new to me.
Seven thousand one-hundred and seven islands.
we are the the modern-day Sky Sailors.
without a compass or clock we knock
on the ornate door of the Unknown
looking for a home
and some of us find it -
others don’t want to.
an intangible concept bursting with many forms,
I have endless ideas
definitions and decisions about
what this word means.
Home is an ever-changing experience
depending on how I feel that day,
where I find myself
who I’m with
or how good the coffee is.
it’s a simple choice to decide to place
everything you have into a cloth contraption
and strap it to your back.
but this choice is an electric catalyst and
it changes the world around you and as
the world around you changes
your insides begin
shifting gears, shedding fears, pruning away
your dead leaves to allow
your vibrant Green to blossom,
a shade of green unlike anything else
you've ever seen.
this eternal spring garden within you will grow
and with such tenacity
you'll touch the sun you yearn for.
I wrote this poem two years ago, after returning from my third time sleeping under a blanket of stars in the Arabian desert. These dunes are called Sharqiya Sands, and they exist quietly yet powerfully in a country named Oman. The photo at the top of this page was taken right before I wrote this poem, actually :) You can see for yourself where the beetle went for lunch!
All of the memories I’ve made in those seemingly endless dunes are held close to my heart, and every time I reunite with the sands I feel inspired, cleansed, and vibrantly alive. Sitting atop a dune amongst an endless sea of sand, I wrote this poem about my kinship with this unique and mesmerizing environment. I hope you can take with you a little piece of what I feel when I’m there!
Desert, my dear friend
and silent sister of the ocean,
how do you imitate your
salty wet sibling so
I shriek with delight upon beholding
but for the shimmering dust trail that's lifted
and carried away by the wind
before my eyes.
I watch as Wind,
the invisible artist
carefully carves your powdery face
Stillness and Silence are always the
guests of honour here, while
Sun, Moon, Beetle and Camel
are regular attendees
The Moon’s radiant smile
is contagious here, Desert.
She grins as she peeks over the
dark side of your dunes and
spills light into my pores
I thank her for the tapestry of stars
she has so elegantly woven as a
it is the Sun’s turn to play again.
In the Sun’s glow I gleefully
trace the patterns in your skin,
which holds no secrets.
I learn where the beetle went for lunch
and how deeply the camel’s padded hooves
imprint upon your curved shoulders.
I let you lovingly fold your
immeasurable sand over my dusty feet,
while you carry stories of
frankincense through my soul,
as you have for centuries.
I recall a time
when you were an Ocean.
and before that,
you were Stardust with me.
We laughed together as
we were jostled around in The Great Hand’s
purple cloth sack of Everything,
in a delirious fit of joy
he grabbed heaping handfuls of waves, stars, dirt
then scattered us along the
tides of existence.
I am here with you again, Desert.
We both look different now
I recognize you
and you just winked at me.
A lot of people have reached out and messaged me to ask about my experiences in Myanmar, curious (as I was) about this unique country seemingly shrouded in mystery. It's been exactly two years since I spent a month exploring the country and its people, and it's about time that I finally tell the stories I've been eager to share!
an awesome little interactive map showing where I went:
I have so much to say about my time in this magical country, so my Myanmar posts will be split up into portions so that each post doesn't get too ridiculously long!
Anyways, here it is - Myanmar through my eyes. My best friend Morgan and I, with no idea what we were getting into.
Our first stop: Yangon, to experience life alongside monks in a Buddhist Monastery.
10 Day Vipassana - Silent Meditation
Morgan and I landed in the capital city of Yangon after a quick flight from Bangkok, and hopped into a taxi headed to Chanmyay Myaing Meditation Center, where we planned to deeply practise meditation for 10 days and take a vow of silence.
Upon arrival at the Center, we handed over all of our electronics. We traded in our street clothes for traditional monk-in-training attire and had a vaguely embarrassing time with a resident nun as she tried to teach us the proper way to wear the skirt they call a lyongi (pronounced long-ee). It’s a long and giant piece of cloth in the shape of a tube that is intricately tied in a knot at your hip. The people of Myanmar wear these lyongis every day because they're comfy, breathable and you can do that classic Asian squatting/sitting position without exposing anything. It felt alien and overbearing on me. Orientation took place right away - a tour of the area and an introduction to how things work there. We were then given a brown sash to always be worn across the shoulder, and shown to our separate rooms.
this backpack is my home,
I call her Turtle Shell.
she’s olive green
or, she used to be.
years of travel have lacerated her thick skin
with rips, holes
dirty cement grime.
foreign city street scum
the sidewalks have
into her exterior.
I am fond of these stain-smear souvenirs.
because within the canvas walls of this
tattered threadbare sack
lives an elegant library of memoirs,
finely bound with
gold lettering gracing
each hand-pressed page.
her seams breathe with
books of adventure and spontaneity
these autobiographies so fiercely alive
with tales of
reunions and last kisses,
more stories here
than her seventy litre frame
could ever carry in print.
Turtle Shell has cruised
down the cobblestone pathways of curiosity
she’s been soaked in saltwater slime.
she flew frantically down the Mekong
on a boat made of wind
and whizz-jump-skipped through time.
she dodges with me,
in reckless abandon
oncoming motorbikes tuktuks and vans.
and each time I carry her weight up a hill
or heave her onto
the last train to anywhere -
I feel hopeful, but never sure.
I hold her close
as my surroundings blur.
to rest my eyes on her
she is familiar.
this backpack is my home,
I call her Turtle Shell.
she’s olive green,
or, she used to be.
Sand in my backpack, shells in my shoes
freedom is easy when I get to choose
where home will be next.
flying on a whim
no plans before or after
a routine-lover’s disaster, my life is a
of last minute decisions and visions,
incisions in the thread of consciousness where I tie in
a divine rhyme
as sun-drinking trees whip this train window
I remember home, and her seasons.
Canada, the snow
A linear world so structured
I’m reluctant to attempt to squeeze my intergalactic mind,
this wandering worldLife
the hum of my inner Adventure Machine!
money talks but I can’t hear it,
the things I value are experiences
music gratitude synchronicity connection
my barefoot callouses complement
this endless summer complexion and
I don’t need anything else when
my wings are dusted with
my heart’s intentions.
Southeast Asian streets
a chaotic kaleidoscope
of humans, animals, aromas and noise.
vehicles eternally dodging
roads wrenching, churning, clogging
horns and humans yelling,
everybody street-corner storytelling.
a four-legged friend with a patchy fur coat
he’s been through a lot, it's easy to note
he sniffs a delicious scent as it
floats from a nearby plate
soon a man kicks him
and he scampers away.
And there’s Ollie
independent, knows no other way
she’s striving to survive in this tropical bay
paradise for many, a struggle for some
her reflexes tense, ready to attack or to run.
too many distasteful run-ins with humans
loving encounters, none.
white-spotted on black
meanders through the night in search of a snack
sniffing out the next bite -
the city spits occasional scraps.
regurgitations of human consumption
dismal discarded morsels
he devours in darkness out back.
these smog-covered nibbles line his stomach for a while
still hungry when he’s finished,
he curls up in a trash pile.
To be utterly invisible
or reprimanded, chased away
which would you prefer to endure
I can't help but cry as
I hold a litter of puppies
born into a kind of poverty so far under the radar they’re
In a place where the people are impoverished
a diseased homeless dog
is an alien.
Bottom of the barrel,
below the food chain.
I stroke their coats gently,
A future so daunting for such little beings.
The motorbikes, the busses these puppies will dodge,
the miles they’ll walk
grime under the claws
forever searching and wild
follow the nose
kicked, scolded and beaten
that's how it goes.
these innocent creatures
will have to learn young
how to navigate this human-designed
To the one we named Ghost,
hunger carved the shape of your ribs with a chisel so sharp I got whiplash double-checking if you were a walking phantom. In the slightest breeze you’d topple over, your shaking legs jangling like skeleton keys. Knew your previous meal might be your last so we bought you some dinner and you inhaled it fast, then limped over to thank us in your own way. A gentle bow of your forehead,
soul to soul,
For the fur-cloaked solo sailors riding churning asphalt seas
trying to stay afloat in this unforgiving city,
I see the Being behind your mange-ridden coat.
the fleas that you’re scratching can’t penetrate your soul
creature of light born in a difficult time,
an impossible place
I can’t begin to imagine the things you have faced.
For the silent soldiers
the dirt covered warriors,
I wish that this poem could put food in your belly
you all have a story but no way to tell it
I’ll be your conduit, you’ll be my muse
we all just walked a mile in your shoes
I’ll stroke your fur
and my words.
The world's forgotten dogs,
I didn’t forget you.
I am a sun-child, a summer worshipper to the core. Yet each year, as Summer begins to fade and Autumn takes her place on Mother Earth's stage, it is difficult to resist falling absolutely in love with the fiery winds of Fall. Her chilly breath grips our collective souls as she dances through the trees, engulfing every branch in her gold-crimson flames. Autumn is an artist of harmony and balance - she paints with a flaming palette on a canvas of frost.
My sister and I decided to do a Fall Photoshoot in Edworthy Park here in Calgary. If any of you YYC-dwellers haven't been to this park - GO IMMEDIATELY, before all the leaves are gone! Edworthy park in Autumn is a Pumpkin Spice Daydream of red, orange, yellow and green, where every corner you turn invites you into an entirely new world so colourful and magical that you wouldn't have been shocked to see fairies having a tea party. It was the absolute perfect place to frolic with my sis and get some Forest Fairy shots of us wearing my newest Goddess Crown creation!
This Crown was inspired by the magestic colours of Autumn. Both sides have a different feathers and designs, making it like two crowns in one! The feathers on it were all found with care, as always...
Peacock - feathers given to me by a local farmer who raises peacocks
Pheasant - a taxidermy bird I found at an antique shop in BC, upcycled and given a new life
Crane - gathered along the riverbank in Saskatoon by a dear friend
Grouse - unfortunately killed by a friends dog, but upcycled and given new life
The Third Eye Stone on this Crown is a shimmering Blue Goldstone, reminiscent of a starry night sky. Draping down the sides are layers of red Jasper, blue Pheasant and green Senegal Parrot feathers, and lava stones that absorb essential oils (if you want some delicious scents to play around you!) Carved wooden leaf pendants perfectly finish this whimsical Autumn piece.
Let me know your thoughts! The crown is for sale and will be available in my store shortly. Email me if you have any questions, and enjoy the colours outside my friends. You're never too old to play in the leaves!