Five years ago French couple Celine and Xavier Pasche set out on a destination-less journey from their home in the Swiss Alps. Little did they know that five years later they would still be in the saddle with a baby in tow.
Nomadic by nature, we have travelled by bike through some of the most remote (and potentially dangerous) parts of the world; the Mongolian Steppe, Tajikistan and Syria. We love the freedom and the space to breathe. At first, it was an adventure to discover diverse cultures but after time it became a way of living. Some way into our journey we decided to start a family. And a month later our daughter was conceived. At the time we were about to scale Mount Everest. Our parents asked; ‘When are you coming home?’ But we wanted to try living this nomadic lifestyle as a family. We arrived in Malaysia by bike, seven months pregnant. I had no fear about the pregnancy. I fully trusted the ability of my body to nurture our baby. Every time I cycled, the baby would be tucked away in a position where I didn’t really look pregnant. On our resting days, my belly doubled. It wasn’t the cycling that was difficult, the intensity of the countries we crossed was challenging. The population in Bangladesh illustrates an unmatched human density, much like an anthill. As we travelled through on our bikes, we were escorted, accosted, surrounded, stared at, all day every day. Any privacy went out of the window. Moreover, it seemed that being pregnant was considered taboo. The few times we mentioned it, there was an abrupt silence with a sense of unease. Cycling in India was also a challenge for us. The contrast between the love and tenderness we wanted to offer to our child and the outside world was tremendous.
A NATURAL BIRTH Looking for a place where we could have a natural water birth, everything pointed towards Penang in Malaysia. And this is where our daughter Nayla was born. Our families flew out to welcome our child and started to accept that our lifestyle meant that the three of us could be together all the time. Still, they had doubts about our future, as we did. But we asked them to trust us and our choices.
However, not everyone could understand our choices. When our daughter was five months old, we set out to cross altitude passes and deserts. ‘You’re crazy!’ remarked our Chinese neighbour in Penang. ‘How are you going to cycle with a small baby?’ We really didn’t know but we had to try.
TRUSTING LIFE We were diving into the unknown. We needed more than courage, first we had to untie the link to our little nest. Then we had to trust life, to surrender to the path and to let go of the “how?” We had no idea how we would manage to live this nomadic life pulling our baby in a trailer. But in our hearts it is what we wanted to do.We had to learn to travel at a different pace with a baby, to find a balance between her naps, breastfeeding, her need to move, her desire to learn, and the necessity that the road imposes, the meteorologic changes and the need to find a place for the night.
One night was particularly trying. We were in a tent in the middle of Eastern Thailand. Nayla had reached a temperature of 40°C. We were worried that she might have dengue or malaria. That night, we didn’t sleep; we were too worried. In the morning, the fever went down to 38°C. Released, we cycled to a Buddhist temple, and discovered her first teeth.
But we have learnt one thing throughout this journey and it is to trust life. So we just tried, and we did it. Step by step, we found a balance, step by step life pushed us to camp on the side of the road, in full autonomy. Slowly we learned to be in harmony.
The only time we had to see a doctor was when Nayla was two months old for a check-up. He measured and weighed her, and told us she was in perfect health. Breastfed until the age of two, she has a strong immune system. I often breastfed her on the side of the road, sitting at a foot of a giant cypress tree or watching the night sky. We always had full confidence in her innate wisdom to tell us her needs through non-verbal communication.
When Nayla was young, we cycled around 60 km a day, about the same as before but with a lot more stops! We usually rode for one to two hours. Most of the time, Nayla would be sleeping in her hammock or reading a book in her baby trailer. And then we would stop for at least two hours in order for her to play, test her strength and agility, coordinate her movements and discover the world. The most important thing for us, was to follow Nayla’s rhythm. We went swimming in tropical waters in Thailand, admired the fabulous Angkor Temples in Cambodia, met the hill tribes in Lao, followed the Ancient Tea Horse Road in China, cycled to the sacred Yushan mountains in Taiwan, crossed the Nullarbor Desert in Australia and finally reached the Southern Alps in New Zealand. Fifteen thousand kilometres and two years later, we reached New Zealand.
GENEROSITY OF SPIRIT Living outside everyday also meant surviving all weather conditions. When the sun disappeared behind the dark clouds and the first drops announced rain, we needed to find alternatives. But Nayla was always a ray of sunshine in the icy mist. She played and laughed cheerfully in the puddles. She shone with life under the same rain that drenched us. She knew how to create games and fun in every situation. One day, just as we were arriving at the top of a pass in Taiwan, a local shouted at us that a typhoon was about to hit. ‘You have to find a shelter!’ he yelled. We were tired and covered in sweat but we had to hurry. Arriving in the first village, we were welcomed by villagers who offered the school as our shelter for the night. The hospitality of people we met was always amazing. We slept in Buddhist temples, in schools, in police stations. If we needed help, we always found someone. We have been impressed by the generosity of the people in every country we have visited.
Cycling across the world has also given us the opportunity to meet people and learn about their culture. It’s given us the chance to take traditional child-rearing practices from many cultures. In Thailand, children bathe at the hottest time of the day. So we were invited to bath Nayla in a bucket in the middle of the market. In Lao, children always walk with a hand full of sticky rice. And our daughter also walked in the middle of rice fields with sticky rice in her hand. In China, children don’t wear nappies, but instead wear pants with a section cut out. Nayla has done the same.
KEEPING CLEAN On the road, we washed with a home made shower. We used organic coconut oil for our skin and chose washable nappies that dried on the back of the trailer as we go. We also used elimination communication, when Nayla was playing outside. We carried a lot of water with us, which enabled us to stop anywhere, for a break, a meal or the night. And we used a ceramic filter, to ensure the quality of the water.
Spending our time in amazing landscapes, we mostly slept in a tent, listening to the sound of nature. Nayla swun in crystal clear lakes and emerald rivers and watched kangaroos jumping in front of our tent. She lived through all the changes of our nomadic life. Everyday, she opened her eyes in front of contrasting landscapes, taking in the scents of exotic forests, or the bustle of a city with more than four million inhabitants. She has heard so many languages and played with children of all ages and cultures. She has tasted many different flavours of traditional food and has danced to all kinds of music.
EDUCATING ON THE ROAD Right now we are back in Penang, in Malaysia, for a few months. Settled, we realised we were sometimes better at following Nayla’s rhythm when we were nomads, because we had to focus all our attention on her needs. She started walking at ten months. Now two, she no longer wears nappies and can already swim. She speaks French and English, as well as a few word of Chinese.
Now we are planning a new route. We want to continue to live this nomadic life on bikes, at least as long as we feel in balance, as long as it nurtures our souls. At the moment, we are thinking about homeschooling her on the road, teaching her geography as we move, world history with the countries we will cross, learning languages with the local people. But we still have time to think about it and our desire to cycle the world might change. Now, we are happy in this life choice. It gives us the amazing opportunity to be together all the time and this is a precious gift for us.
FOLLOW The family’s incredible adventures are charted at ylia.ch