On her first date with Augustin Pasquet, Michelle Young found herself weaving through the streets of Paris on the back of his moped.
As they headed down the Champs-Élysées, Michelle snapped a photograph with her digital camera. In the distance, she captured the striking Arc de Triomphe. In the forefront, Augustin lifted his fingers in the peace symbol. In the moment, Michelle felt exuberantly happy. She didn’t know where the evening would go, but she knew she’d treasure that feeling.
“With that kind of camera, you can take quick photos in rapid succession, so I ended up making this stop action movie of the whole evening, from start to finish,” Michelle tells CNN Travel today.
“A lot of that footage was just taken along the Seine, with the lights of Paris. And so even if he was unintentionally on a date, it was still a magical introduction to France.”
Augustin tells CNN Travel he was only “unintentionally on a date” because, as a Frenchman, he didn’t really understand the concept.
“I didn’t know the word ‘date’,” he says today, laughing. “A date is a very Anglo-Saxon idea. For me, I’d met someone, there was a good connection and I was meeting her again in Paris.”
A meeting in Bolivia
Michelle and Augustin’s story had begun six months previously, thousands of miles away from the streets of Paris, in Bolivia, in South America.
It was 2009. Michelle was 26 and at a crossroads. She’d abandoned an unsatisfying job to play cello in a Brooklyn-based indie rock band and wasn’t sure where life was heading.
“I grew up in a pretty classic Taiwanese American household. Excellence in everything you do is expected and I had fulfilled my cultural destiny already by then by going to Harvard and going to the Juilliard School for Music,” Michelle says.
“But I had never done anything that was not planned out or pre-ordained for me. When I quit the only industry I had ever worked in, I was pretty lost.”
Amid that uncertainty, travel became Michelle’s escape. She went backpacking around Southeast Asia. Then, in summer 2009, she embarked on a trip through South America with her bandmates.
“I love everything about backpacking. There’s an openness that comes with traveling with no plan, with only your essentials, spending as little money as possible, and in a lot of cases, traveling alone. The people you meet have a similar openness,” says Michelle. “I wasn’t looking for love, but I was looking for adventure.”
Michelle and her friends traveled through Peru first, and then onto La Paz, Bolivia. From there, they explored the foothills of the Amazon and admired the Bolivian salt flats before arriving in the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra.
Traveling through Bolivia was an amazing experience, but plans went a little haywire when one of the group had her passport stolen. An impending move on to Brazil was put on hold as Michelle’s friend attemp