In this Clean Green Story, we will talk about Cloé. Two years ago, she decided to take the challenge to link France and Japan… By bike. Read her story and be inspired to travel differently….
This amazing journey started in Nantes.
Back in France, Cloé was a student in architecture. Already then, she was curious about the world and determined to go discover it on her own. She was just waiting, without even knowing it, for the inspiration to come.
“I have always wanted to learn things by myself, and not just sit on the benches of my school. I originally had the idea to go and learn the profession of architect in Japan for a year or so and then come back to France. But I got inspired the year before I left by 3 cyclists in Uzbekistan, where I was on holiday with my family. Although we were in the middle of the very hot Kysylkum desert, they all looked so happy and I couldn’t figure out why. I found their project incredible, and thought it would be fun to do it, one day in the future. Actually, I didn’t really think this kind of trips was for me. But the idea eventually bloomed in my mind and a few months later I really thought, ‘Why not?’.”
In her own opinion, Cloé was never an athlete or a big fan of bike. Her decision to go, though, was quite rushed, and within 3 months she had found sponsors and set up her bike and her equipment with the help of friends.
In September, after a small farewell drink, she was leaving with some relatives and friends who rode with her for a few kilometers.
“At this moment I wasn’t even sure yet of what I was doing. I was still thinking that maybe it wasn’t meant for me and that I would turn around after a few days. So I said to them ‘See you in two days, or in two years !’ ”.
Cloé is half-French, half-Japanese, so her project to link France and Japan might in a way come from a desire to reconnect with her roots. The bike, however, is more of a new way of life. Indeed, she originally liked the idea of living a completely new experience and getting out of her comfort zone to meet the unknown.
“Actually when I left, I didn’t really know where this desire came from. But I’ve had 2 years to think about it so now I think I can explain exactly why I am so happy to be in this journey.”
Let’s talk about the perks of traveling alone. Free spirited, Cloé likes not having to follow anyone’s path, that she can slow down whenever she wants and take her time to discover an area or speed up when she has a precise idea of where she wants to go.
But above all, there is the satisfaction of getting there all by herself :
“If you’re used to biking, I think you can understand this feeling of invincibility you get after arriving at the top of a huge slope on your own, with no help, and that you can just hurtle back down.”
“I never felt at risk. (…) On the contrary, people always received me with nothing but kindness and curiosity.”
Our first almost automatic thought though, if a woman wants to travel all by herself, cross several unknown countries and on top of that by bike, is: “But what about the danger?”. Cloé responds:
“I have never felt at risk. The fact is that I also travel according to people I meet on my way, so I know where it is safe to go and where it’s not. On one hand, my vulnerability as an alone woman is a strength because people tend to take care of me. For example, I spent my first winter in Croatia, where the weather is cold and rainy. I arrived one evening in a bar, soaked, asking for information on where I could sleep. And everyone in the bar welcomed me with so much kindness and hospitality. They all offered me to sleep at their place, saying how I could have been their daughter. I think this is the perfect illustration of how I’ve almost always been received: with nothing but benevolence and curiosity.”
Actually, Cloé has almost never been alone, because she has met people all along her path offering her to share a moment, a meal or a roof.
“It’s in Iran that I traveled the least kilometers per day (6km!), because Iranians are so curious ! A friend of mine joined me at that time and people would stop us all the time.”
One of the key learnings from Cloe’s journey worth noting is the loss of any prejudices she has experienced for this past two years. Indeed, sleeping and eating with people made her break down the postcard images of other countries we all tend to have, as well as the terrible portraits of certain countries that are often drawn by the news.
“I really got rid of all my preconceived ideas in Iran. It was supposed to be the riskiest part of my whole journey. In fact, there is a huge contrast between the political climate and the local climate, which is impossible to know without experiencing it. I arrived in Iran in the middle of Ramadan. In the most urban areas, all shops were closed during the day and the citizens kind of self-monitored each other. But when we left the city and arrived in a village, the atmosphere was different. Everyone was outside having picnic and they invited us to share a meal.
I also discovered things I had never imagined: in Iran, everyone sleeps together on the floor. So the common space becomes a dining room, kitchen and bedroom depending on the time of day. As an architecture student it was very interesting because living in the houses got me not to consider buildings as such, but as places where people live. Now I understand better the different types of architecture I encounter.”
Traveling with a bike enables you to go to places you could have never gotten to with another vehicle. On the other hand, you have to earn it if you want to visit remote places!
“When I was in India I developed interest in traditional architecture, so I went to meet people in a village where they build their houses from bamboo. I found myself in the Galo tribe, whose religion is the Doni Polo (Moon and Sun).
My way to the village certainly was the most difficult moment of my whole trip, because the road was so muddy and no one was around.
Except for a few guys… carrying machetes.
“It was a shock for me to find out we are still able build houses and respect Nature.”
I arrived at nightfall in the village, tired and covered with mud, and my hosts directly invited to a wedding that very evening. The local alcohol drunk from cut bamboos flowed freely, from the ceilings hung meat offerings.
For me, this stay was an architectural shock. The houses are huge for only one family living in there. They do not have foundation: the stilts rest on stones, so they are called “dancing houses”. Indeed, in the event of an earthquake, they just bounce on the rocks. They organize the house around a large central fire where everything happens, so the inhabitants live in a constant cloud of smoke. This smoke actually naturally protects and strengthens bamboo.
What amazed me is the very strong link between people and Nature. They cut bamboo themselves to build their houses and adapted them to their environment. Meeting them for me was a shock, since I realized that we could still build houses that fully fit into our environment without disfiguring it.”
“My biggest challenge? Leaving my 2-year-old routine and settle in Siem Reap.”
Cloé settled in Cambodia a few months ago, which strangely was her biggest challenge since she left France.
“When I arrived in Siem Reap I decided to stay here for a few months. Actually I had to leave the comfort zone in which I had settled in for the past two years. It was a big challenge for me as I was unsure of whether or not I could readapt to a sedentary urban life. The first few weeks, to meet people and to finance my stay, I sold peanut butter and caramel to expats. I have done some graphic design projects, and have also made notebooks with pieces of paper I have picked up on the way. I am planning on staying just a few more weeks now.”