On The Wild Side: Introducing Sara Mang
This is a shiny new feature where we spotlight an awesome member of our Wild Women Expeditions community. Grab a warm cup of joe and lean in on a fun chat with Sara. She’s a writer, a storyteller and a skinny-dipper to boot!
Well, to start, I grew up in Happy Valley, Labrador. My house was built by a local carpenter whose son loved Alice in Wonderland, so the doors were shaped like keyholes. This fun fact may have impacted my decision to become a writer of contemporary fiction and poetry, but who can really say? I studied chemistry at the Royal Military College of Canada and spent almost twenty years in the military before leaving this ill-fitted career (what was I thinking? Was I really thinking though?) to dedicate myself to my family and my writing. I have three awesome energetic kids and a tall husband who is handsome despite the twirly moustache which he proudly pomades on a daily basis. We also have a coonhound who has a sinister history of chasing sheep off cliffs and/or into the ocean.
Clearly, my family occupies a large portion of my headspace, so I cherish solitude, and am happy to travel alone, dine alone, meander strange new places by myself. That said, I also enjoy connecting with people, especially fellow artists and fellow parents. My favourite places are those that cater to arts and cultural history and imagination. I also love any opportunity to savour good food, especially good food from the sea.
In July, I joined a vibrant group of Wild Women onboard the Ocean Endeavour’s Atlantic Canada Explorer. We spent two whimsical days with wild horses on Sable Island, sailed over the Gully Marine Protected Area, visited the fishing village of Cheticamp, shopped in Charlottetown, meandered Les Îles de la Madeleine, tasted caramelised scallops in St. Pierre et Miquelon, and got sopping wet hiking in the remote outport of François, Newfoundland. The ship departed from and returned to my favourite place on the planet, the colourful and ever original city of St. John’s, Newfoundland. Margaret Atwood was onboard throughout the expedition, and was as fearsome and fabulous as one might expect of an internationally celebrated literary giant.
Why did you choose Wild Women?
If I’m honest, I didn’t choose Wild Women. My husband discovered this tour. Yes, it gave me pause. Why are Wild Women on my husband’s social media feed? But then, Nathan is an unapologetic feminist so it makes perfect sense and he strongly encouraged me to go. I argued that it was too expensive. He reminded me of my devout admiration of Atwood’s work and advocacy. I imagined Margaret and I chewing gum and blowing bubbles together while contemplating the annual migration of birds and the state regulation of wombs. Alas, I signed up, spent a fortune, and had an experience of a lifetime.
What’s the one story you keep telling everyone about the trip?
One story? I’m a storyteller, so one story won’t cut it for me, but I’ll try to compress:
I made a point of skinny-dipping in every port. I had decided at the get-go to turn this trip into a self-directed writing residency, so every chance I got, I ventured off on my own to write for a few hours. I found myself on secluded beaches and skinny-dipping felt necessary. During my day trip to Les Îles de la Madeleine, an archipelago off the coast of Quebec, I climbed red rocks in order to achieve privacy for le dip. I found a cave. I felt like I was inside a lucid dream. After my plunge, I returned to the main beach because the tide was rising. I sat on the beach and wrote for the afternoon.
After a few hours, two ladies walked toward me on the beach. It was Ms. Atwood and her sister, Ruth. Ruth informed me that it was time to head back to the ship, and with their permission, I joined them. During our walk, I witnessed Margaret Atwood in action. How intently she observed the plants, the birds, the section of the asphalt path that had been swept into the sea. We talked about wind and pack-ice, how the ice used to protect the coastline, and now that the ice is gone, the wind is wreaking havoc. We talked about my daughter Heidi and the rules she taped to her bedroom door. Rule #1: DON’T MESS UP THE VIBES. Margaret asked me how old my daughter was and I told her Heidi was thirteen. “Prepare to deal with that for the next twenty years,” she said. It was an exquisite experience to have such an intimate and candid chat with her. We talked about writing. She told me to hang in there.
Do you keep in touch with anyone from your trip?
Yes! I made some very good friends on this adventure, Cline, Dara, Linda, Paula, Jocelyn, Marissa. A highlight was my cabin-mate, Etsuko. Her name rhymes with lets go! and every morning she bounced out of her bed. Her energy was contagious, and I admired her uncompromising approach to being an authentic person. Less than five years ago, Etsuko decided to learn how to paint and draw and I was deeply moved by her dedication and her profound artistic talent. She generously shared stories of being a young woman, working in Japan; personal stories about her immigration to the US, her marriages, her careers. I fell kindred with Etsuko in a short span of time. I love it when that happens, and I think trips like this one can create an optimal environment for kinship. There’s a collective sense of abandon and freedom that makes it easier to open up to others, to share, to connect, and even to love. Etsuko and I keep in touch and she just gifted me with a beautiful painting of a photograph I took during the trip. I’m certain we’ll meet up again. I hope so.
What are three things you MUST travel with—not necessities but kind of frivolous luxuries?
- My favourite earrings. I feel a little unhinged without them. Yes, it’s true.
- Chamomile bee pollen tea/heaven on earth.
- Obviously, the book/audiobook I’m reading. For this trip, I brought my old faithful, Lives of Girls and Women by the great Alice Munro. I consider this book a sort of literary bible and I have read and reread it; it’s sectioned off with sticky notes and covered with hearts and exclamation points. Margaret Atwood is a contemporary and writing pal of Alice Munro, and she has defended this particular work as a novel when others claimed that it was a story cycle. Margaret kindly signed this book for me and I am still giddy when I think about it. I was also audio-booking Anna Karenina on this trip because Tolstoy never fails to be the life of the party.
What are your socks or trail-runners or gear of choice?
To go from Tolstoy to socks feels like a giant leap, but I’m game and my Keen hiking boots never let me down.
What is a destination you dreamt about as a child?
I remember a children’s book that featured Venice. The streets of water and the gondolas seemed exotic to me and I travelled to Venice as a college student backpacking Europe in the ‘90s. It’s a beautiful and historic city, but it runs on tourism, and I visited during peak tourist season, so it wasn’t as magical as I had imagined. I did love it though.
Where do you dream of now?
Often, my reading inspires my travel desires. Elena Ferrante’s books draw me to Naples. I’m currently obsessed with Deborah Levy, and in her book, Hot Milk, she writes about Greece, and Greek culture and myth. I’d definitely like to travel to Greece. West Africa has been on my bucket list for a while, mostly because of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s fiction and essays.
Do you still send postcards?
I do! Mostly to my Dad and my kids. I also like to purchase postcards for souvenirs of a place. I keep them in my travel journal or frame them for display in my office. Other souvenirs I typically go for are earrings by local artists. It’s a challenge for me to say no to handmade earrings.
What is a destination you would like to see offered by Wild Women Expeditions?
The destinations currently available are incredible, but as a writer and an artist, I’d appreciate a trip that explores remote landscapes as well as an element of cultural history or artistic phenomena. Hiking across Jane Austen’s England or Exploring Georgia O’Keefe’s New Mexico or Elena Ferrante’s Naples or Zadie Smith’s North West London.
If you could travel with another woman (famous or not, alive or not, family member or not), who would it be? Where would you go?
Well, this is the easiest question of all. My mom! There were a number of mother/daughter travellers in our group and I watched them closely and imagined what it would be like if Mom was on the ship with me. She’d be such a laugh, and would have pushed me to be much bolder when it came to Margaret Atwood encounters. My mother would have skinny-dipped without an iota of hesitation. She worshipped the sun, and actually travelled to the Bahamas with her mother, only a few weeks before her cancer diagnosis. In photos from that trip, she is beaming and tanned and happy and so young at 47… So yes, Mom would be my #1 choice of travel partner.
An interesting thing is that I usually search for my mother in the women I meet. Her brand of charisma and humour, her warmth, her sense of adventure, her understanding of the frailty of a life. I think the Wild Women community encapsulates many of these traits. In my experience on the Ocean Endeavour, there was an abundance of zest for life. Most of the women I met seemed to be in a place in their lives where they were ready, able and willing to take the plunge! I loved my experience with Wild Women and can’t wait to do it again.