On a nice spring day, we were wandering around in a park and there was a small bicycle promotion going on. Suddenly, we were attracted by the stand of a young guy who traveled through Africa by bicycle. We started asking him so many questions, he asked if we were thinking of doing something similar. Although we had never really thought of it, we simultaneously answered, “Yes.”
Setting off on a whirlwind bike trip
Two years later, we managed to put aside enough money for our trip. On June 6, 2004, we straddled our bicycles and took off, leaving everything behind. We abandoned our jobs, our flat, our friends and family. We were free electrons, without social status or obligations. We had no destination, no deadline, and no idea of what the road would bring. We had never cycled or bivouacked before, yet we threw ourselves to the unknown with excitation, happiness and emotion. At that point, we hoped we’d reach Berlin… and we did… we enjoyed it so much that we decided go on and on, to Istanbul, Almaty, Tokyo, Vancouver, Mexico, New York…we’d started cycling around the world.
A Stowaway…or two
Three years, three months, three days and 27,962 miles later, we reached Brussels again. Our heads full of memories, encounters, and the generosity we met along the way. My belly was also nice and full, with a little free rider who would see the sunshine three months later.
After a go at settling down, we decided to travel again. In 2010, we set off with our daughter Maïa, who was two, in her bicycle trailer. This time we went south, thinking we would travel a few months until we reached Africa. But in Morocco, we found a cheap flight to Caracas, which lead us to South-America.
Two days after landing in Caracas, I realized I was pregnant. As always we decided not to decide anything. We would see how it went and continue our bike trip south across the Andes as far as we could.
A Quick Pause in Our Bike Tour for Baby
When I was seven months pregnant, we found a nice village in Bolivia where we rented a little house. Unai came to the world in Samaipata, a wonderful town between the Altiplano and the low-land. At 5,906ft of altitude, Samaipata is blessed with eternal spring, surrounded by mountains, rivers and lakes and covered in forests.
It is a village still free from asphalt, mobile networks and internet. However, there are still 25 different nationalities there, as people from all over the world go to that mountainous region looking for a more sustainable lifestyle and cheap, fertile land.
On the Road Again
When Unai was two months old we started cycling around the world again, through Argentina and then back west through Oceania, Asia, Europe for a little over three years.
Altogether our bike tours around the earth took us seven years along 46,603 miles of road.
Our route took form as we progressed. It was a profoundly human journey. Indeed, our bicycles became much more then transportation. They helped us connect to the earth, the people and our presence on the hearth of each country we crossed, opening doors to us wherever we went.
We came back from our bike trip totally dazzled by the empathy and the generosity we met in the richest and the poorest corners globe. Whether we were staying with a long-installed family or new migrants did not matter. Neither did it matter if we were talking to people who shared our language or those who did not. Everywhere we went we were understood, helped and cared about. Everywhere people shared a little bit of their life with us, and gave us a wonderful sense of belonging and purpose.
How did we do it?
People often ask how we did such a bike tour… I can only answer that we never really did it… it just happened. We didn’t set out on a cycling trip around the world. We knew we wanted to experience freedom, therefore we needed to leave everything, uproot ourselves. However as we had never cycled before, we did not dare to plan anything too strictly or ambitiously. We moved as long as we enjoyed it and stopped when we were invited to do so or felt tired. We made our route little by little through of advice or invitations along the way.
We never timed our bike trips either. When you’re on an extended biking trip like this, time quickly stops making sense anyway. The sun and the weather became our markers of when to ride and when to stop. Amazingly when the elements were too hard for us to cycle, we were always invited into the warmth of someone’s home.
Cycling Around the World with Children
Small children are wonderful travelers. They have yet to establish norms; so for them everything we do is normal, it is how life should be. They are still totally adaptable, without expectation or inhibitions.
They actually have much to teach us adults. They do not see poverty or filth, they have no cultural or linguistic barrier, they do not see differences in others, they only see people: children to play with, adults to talk to, and substitute grandparents to be cuddled.
I remember one evening, we were in the Peruvian Altiplano and we couldn’t find anywhere to pitch the tent. Night was falling and with it, the temperature. Someone from the hamlet told us to wait for him. He said he’d come back with the priest who would probably open the church for us. It had been an hour… no one else was around, just one kid playing happily with Maïa in the middle of filth. I remember cherishing her insouciance and trying to take lessons from her, just living the moment. She was right to not worry and just play, a little later the priest arrived and we were able to sleep in that small church.
Kids are completely in the present, taking life as it comes. That quality is essential as you travel by bike. Touring, we actually embraced the natural rhythm of our children. Today I find it a lot easier to cycle around the world with them then to stay at home where we are constantly reminded of a timetable that needs to be respected.
Being pregnant and a mom on our bike tours
Often people are amazed I could manage a pregnancy and the birth of our son while touring. I loved having Unai on the way. We loved being far away from home and the contrasted advices everyone usually tells you. It was so enjoyable to just live fully in the moment for the first months of bonding a mother experiences with her newborn.
Witnessing the daily life of families all around the globe, and the very contrasted way they educate their children, also gave us a lot of perspective and confidence to raise our own children the way that seemed most appropriate to us.
For Maïa we always took care to stop regularly on our biking trips, always looking for children she could play with. Maïa felt she needed to know how to say “play” in each country we crossed. Once she knew that word, she’d just go to any kid, say “play” and 3 second after they were playing hide and seek or mother and father.
When we arrived in Norway, after three years cycling with her, she was really impressed by all the toys children had here. Naturally she remembered her friends in Bolivia, where a family of 6 lived in 1 room with barren floors. She was then totally unaware of the material simplicity she was evolving, just enjoying the exchanges and the games. I asked her what was better, playing with no toys with her friends of Bolivia or here with all the toys? “It’s exactly the same,” she answers me “We play just as well.”