In a world that’s ever faster, more globalized, and innovation-driven, the passion of two young French people to seek out ‘old’, ‘slow’ and ‘diverse’ ways of living around the world comes as a refreshing counter-current.
Elsa Marangoni and Ollivier Augier are now in the 11th month of a round-the-world journey. But theirs is no ordinary backpacking holiday. For starters, they’re committed to keeping their carbon emissions as low as possible. So, rather than hop on a plane, they’ve chosen to do it by pedal power – on a tandem bicycle.
Since leaving Provence in March 2009, they’ve clocked up 11,000 km and some 16 countries including Croatia, Bosnia and Turkey, Iran, Uzbekistan and Kirghizstan. After crossing the Tibetan plateau and China, they travelled down through Laos, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia … until they ran out of land and were finally obliged to take to the air to reach Australia.
Their travels have taken them through remote areas well off the beaten track and that, Ollivier assures me, is the main purpose of their trip: “ We want to discover – and document – how different peoples around the world interact with nature; especially those with more traditional, nomadic lifestyles.” What they learn, they relay to others via their website http://www.ventsnomades.org. They are also in liaison with a handful of French schools, whose students send in questions about the various destinations and the ecological issues most pertinent there.
“The overall aim of our initiative, Vents Nomades – which means ‘wandering winds’ – is to promote more sustainable lifestyles,” says Elsa, a marine biologist. “If we can develop awareness and dialogue about how humans view and use natural resources, it can help conserve nature and minimize our collective ecological footprint.”
It’s a remarkable undertaking, powered by idealism, and fuelled by a philosophy that can best be described as ‘slow living.’ Emerging from the Italian Slow Food movement, this is a trend which recognizes that the modern way of living – so prized of connectivity – is actually pretty poor in connectedness: we have become out of touch with the origins of our food, with place, with one another, and the natural rhythms of life.
The Slow Movement aims to help “individuals and families to integrate sustainable living methods into their lives [and] … adopt personal sustainable development” http://www.slowmovement.com/aboutus.php. At its heart is the ethos of SIMBY – Start In My Back Yard – the acceptance of personal responsibility for creating change. It’s a cultural shift to re-establish meaningful connections, to address the modern scourge of ‘time poverty’ by taking the time to slow down, build connections and promote people and place through bioregionalism. On March 15th 2010, a Worldwide Slowliving Day will be held in Shanghai, promoting greater harmony between economic development, people and the environment http://www.slowliving.info/.
The values of slow living and personal sustainability are amply showcased in Elsa and Ollivier’s project. From Australia, the pair intend to travel by boat to Chile, from where they will ride on horseback up the Andes, reverting to their tandem again for the cycle east across the United States and, ultimately, back to France, for a round trip of some 50,000 km. One can only hope the wandering wind will be firmly at their backs.