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Travel romance recalled by strangers who met in Bolivia and fell in love in Paris

Travel romance recalled by strangers who met in Bolivia and fell in love in Paris

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.

WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Three couples form after chance travel encounters.

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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 said.

“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.”

Michelle took this photo on the back of Augustin’s moped on their first date in Paris. Credit: Michelle Young @untappedmich

Augustin says 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 said, 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.”

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,” she said.

“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.

“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.”

Augustin and Michelle first met in Bolivia, before reuniting in Paris. Credit: Michelle Young @untappedmich

Travel became her escape. She went backpacking around Southeast Asia. Then, in summer 2009, she embarked on a trip through South America with her bandmates.

“There’s an openness that comes with travelling with no plan, with only your essentials, spending as little money as possible, and in a lot of cases, travelling alone. The people you meet have a similar openness,” Michelle said.

“I wasn’t looking for love, but I was looking for adventure.”

South America

Michelle and her friends travelled through Peru 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.

Travelling 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 tried to resolve the situation.

At this impasse, some of the group flew back to the US, some headed to Argentina.

Michelle booked a couple of beds in a Santa Cruz de la Sierra hostel for herself and her passport-less friend, happy to wait out the uncertainty.

While her friend sorted out her passport issues, Michelle killed time in the hostel.

She’d picked it – one of just two options – because her Lonely Planet said there was a “tropical outdoor courtyard with hammocks and two toucans”.

Sure enough, it felt like a green haven, and as an extra plus, it was filled with friendly backpackers.

Enter, Augustin

Among them was 24-year-old French traveller Augustin Pasquet.

That summer, Augustin was also making his way through South America with close friends. They’d started in Argentina, then travelled to Chile and onto Bolivia.

“We had spent three days in the desert, in SUVs covered in dust and everything, and suddenly we were in this beautiful hostel with hammocks, luxurious, lush plants,” Augustin recalled.

“And then next thing, this charming, charming woman walks by.”

Michelle and Augustin on their first date in Paris. Credit: Michelle Young @untappedmich

When he first spotted Michelle, Augustin was sitting with friends in a communal area of the hostel.

“I thought she was cute, she walked by and she clearly wanted to engage,” Augustin said.

“I’m less the engagey-type, so I asked my friend to ask her something, to start the conversation.”

Soon, Michelle had grabbed a seat at the table and was swapping travel anecdotes with the French boys. They were easy, fun company.

“One guy did catch my eye,” said Michelle. “But he was quieter than the rest.”

This was Augustin, happy to sit back and let his friends do most of the talking, even if he’d been the one to encourage the connection with Michelle in the first place.

The conversation continued into the evening. Michelle, Augustin and Augustin’s friends – later joined by Michelle’s friend after she’d resolved her passport troubles – went for dinner and then drinks at a nearby bar and restaurant.

Over the course of the evening, Michelle and Augustin realised they both had the same Nikon DSLR camera.

“We bonded about photography and found that we shared a similar sense of humour,” Michelle said.

Separate ways

They were intrigued by one another. But neither acted on their feelings.

The next day, Michelle and her friend prepared to leave Bolivia. Michelle’s friends’ passport issues were resolved, and they could finally head on to Brazil.

Michelle and Augustin said goodbye and exchanged Facebook details, in case there was a chance to reunite at another point on their respective South American adventures.

Augustin and Michelle in the Loire Valley together that first year. Credit: Michelle Young @untappedmich

Plus, Michelle had decided to go to graduate school back in New York, and with that came an opportunity to study abroad in Paris. Now she had a potential friend in France.

Michelle and Augustin finished their South American travels without crossing paths again.

Back home in the US, Michelle says she “thought about Augustin from time to time”.

She showed her best friend in New York some photos of the night out in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, saying “Augustin is the one if it somehow all works out”.

“I thought he was really cute. I thought we shared a sense of humour – and then the camera thing. So there seemed to be a lot of interests that were aligned. And I liked his energy,” Michelle said.

Back in Paris, Augustin also found himself describing that evening – and Michelle – to a friend.

The friend “pointed out that I was really into her – he put it in words for me”, Augustin said.

Planning for Paris

Six months passed. Michelle started her graduate school program and began planning her semester in Paris.

She sent Augustin a Facebook message asking if he had any tips on the best neighbourhood to find an apartment. But Augustin didn’t respond right away and Michelle sorted accommodation without his help.

Augustin did eventually reply but, when he realised the information had come too late, he encouraged Michelle to get in touch again once she arrived.

When she touched down in Paris, Michelle dropped Augustin a message.

He invited her to meet for drinks, and suggested they could then head to a dinner party hosted by one of his friends.

Michelle and Augustin in New York. Credit: Michelle Young @untappedmich

“I was definitely really excited to see him again,” recalled Michelle, and the feeling was mutual.

Augustin suggested the two of them meet first by a church in the 17th arrondissement.

“It was convenient, beautiful and easy. And we reconnected right away, same energy. We spent the whole time laughing as well,” said Augustin.

“I remember thinking: ‘There could be something here’.”

They went to Augustin’s friend’s dinner party – that’s when Michelle ended up on the back of Augustin’s moped, speeding through the streets of Paris.

“I did sense that it was pretty special to be invited to a friend’s dinner on a first date,” said Michelle of the evening, during which they drank wine and grazed on oozy raclette cheese into the early hours.

Cultural differences

For most of the evening, she struggled to work out which of Augustin’s friends were dating, observing there were differences between US and French culture.

“I’ve always appreciated cultural differences. My family’s from Taiwan, I grew up in the US and was born there, but was always part of two cultures,” Michelle said.

“And so I remember just taking a lot of it in, trying to figure out the codes of conduct.”

Michelle invited Augustin for drinks to repay the favour. This time he was the one to be confused by cultural differences.

Michelle and Augustin on their wedding day in 2014. Credit: Jane Hu Photography

Michelle invited a bunch of American and French people she knew, whereas Augustin thought it was going to be just the two of them. He was a bit baffled.

But after that, Augustin invited Michelle for dinner at his place.

“He said, ‘Bring your friends.’ So I did – but not 15 of them. I brought, like, four. I think from that dinner on, that was – that was it,” said Michelle.

“Official dating time,” said Augustin.

Falling in love

Over the next eight months, Michelle and Augustin fell in love in Paris.

They spent long days wandering the streets hand-in-hand, and long evenings sharing wine and food and introducing one another to their friends.

They also travelled around France together, to Bordeaux, to Brittany and to the south of France, to Provence.

During her time in France, Michelle got to spend time with Augustin’s family in the French Basque Country.

“They were super welcoming,” she said.

Augustin also met Michelle’s mum when she went to visit her daughter in Paris.

“She was also very, very kind,” said Augustin. “I felt a stamp of approval.”

Return to New York

Michelle slowly started to pick up some French and settled into her Parisian lifestyle.

But by September, her student visa was up and she had to return to New York.

“There were definitely a lot of discussions to figure out, how are we going to be able to make this work long distance?” Michelle said.

Michelle and Augustin with one of their daughters at home in New York. Credit: Michelle Young @untappedmich

“The flexibility in her (grad school) schedule allowed us to maintain this relationship over the phone and Skype, and so that was really great,” Augustin said.

“Then every four weeks, one of us would take the plane to go see each other.”

Long distance

The couple settled into a routine but the long distance became more draining – and there was no obvious end in sight.

“If we wanted this relationship to continue, one of us would have to make a move and go live in someone else’s country,” Augustin said.

At the time, Augustin worked for L’Oréal in Paris. He began exploring the possibility of transferring to New York.

“I had over 15 interviews in the US to get a job there. And finally, on Christmas Eve 2011, I was approved,” he said.

Augustin’s family was supportive of the move, and Michelle says her parents were excited she had met someone.

“They really liked Augustin, they were very welcoming when he arrived here,” she said.

Married with children

Moving in together after almost two years of long distance was “easy”, Michelle said, and the relationship became deeper.

They married in the US in 2014.

A decade later, the couple are still based in New York, where they run Untapped New York, an online magazine and tour company.

Augustin and Michelle, who is now fluent in French, have two children, who they’re raising as bilingual.

Return to France and Bolivia

The couple spend extended summers in France, while, back in New York, Michelle’s parents teach their grandkids Tawianese traditions.

Michelle and Augustin love returning to Paris and retracing the steps of their early courtship.

They dream about renting a Parisian apartment and embracing the nostalgia of those first dates and those moped rides along the Seine.

But they’d also love to return to Bolivia with their kids.

The hostel where they first crossed paths almost 15 years ago is now a government building.

But the bar and restaurant where they first bonded over photography and their shared sense of humour is still going strong.

“We are going back there, we are going back to that place, and we’re taking the kids with us – that’s 100 per cent on the cards,” Augustin said.

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