n. 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.
Every stranger has a story. Not only is this our company slogan, but it’s also a profound truth. We chose the word Sonder as the inspiration behind both our cafe and now, our beautiful guesthouse, because of how perfectly it captures a sensation that so many of us have felt before. Perhaps when staring down at a foreign city from an airplane window or at fellow strangers in a coffee shop, or at all of the illuminated lights of an apartment building. The realization that the strangers all around us, those we do not know and may never see again, are living lives as deeply elaborate and complex as our own.
But how did all of this begin? Well, it starts like many great stories do, a boy meets a girl.
Boy and girl date briefly and then lose touch. Eight years and a hell of a lot of stuff goes by (think cancer, death, travel and immense growth) and boy and girl are reunited. They live apart for a year during outbreak of deadly virus but speak every day over Facetime. Then the South African border reopens and boy and girl move back to the same city, and fall madly in love.
Three months go by and boy and girl, both unemployed and with pretty much nothing left to lose, rent a space in their neighbourhood and open up their dream cafe.
Girl loves words and she especially loves weird words that capture feelings that are very hard to explain. She tells boy about the word Sonder. It feels like a particularly perfect name for a cafe that aims to bring strangers together during a time when the world is so isolated.
And so, Sonder Cafe is born.
The cafe soon grows into a wonderful, interactive space where they meet so many incredible and interesting people. Soon they find themselves hungering for more interaction, to create more spaces where people not only feel at home, but also understood. They discuss the concept of a hotel. Not just any old hotel, but a place for travelers to reside, a place where they too can meet other interesting people and realize they are not alone. All in the most beautiful city in the world, Cape Town. Everything seems to fall into place and fate helps them find their perfect location.
A six bedroomed, restored Dutch house in the heart of the city with a breathtaking view of Table Mountain that never, ever gets old. And so like crazy people they spend all their money and purchase it on a whim, painting and renovating and morphing it into their dream space, a space to share with strangers.
The home and heart of Sonder.
It sounds like a life long plan but really it is only because of chance meetings and wrong timings and almost missed reunions, it’s only because of global pandemics and reopened borders, of lost jobs and crazy spur of moment decisions that any of this came to be. It’s only because boy and girl decided to say screw it to living by the book, to playing by the rules, to following convention, because taking a risk felt safer than playing it safe, because life is short and why the hell not, because tomorrow is never guaranteed and sometimes you just have to say you tried. It’s only because of all of that, that any of this came to be.
The story of Sonder is long but it’s also short and sweet and wild and ridiculous. Just like life.
We hope you enjoy it.