When Herve and Ursula Sauve met in Sudbury in 1970, it was the beginning of a relationship that has lasted 37 years.
But, it was also the product of good old-fashioned circumstance.
Ursula grew up in St. Gallen, Switzerland, which she describes as the “German part of Switzerland.” She found herself in the city, all those years ago, as an energetic 20-year-old eager to experience all life had to offer.
Conversely, Herve had grown up the son of a farmer in Glengarry County, a land-rich and largely rural segment of Eastern Ontario.
Herve’s father was known to have a bit of a Gypsy streak in him. He loved to work farmland, but he also had an adventurous side.
His family moved often in search of new surroundings and challenges.
The Sauves agree that the experiences of Herve’s childhood were the basis for his love of travel and exploration.
“I think that’s where it all started for Herve,” said Ursula “We have both always wanted to travel, and we have been lucky to be able to.”
And travel they have.
Herve Sauve spent many years building a successful career in law. By 1992, he had moved into a private practice in Sudbury. All the while, he and Ursula were raising three boys, Paul, Mark and Denis.
In 2001, the lease on his office was set to expire. With their sons grown and moved out, and the resources to make it happen, the Sauves thought the time was right to leave behind their empty nest to embark on their dream trip.
They decided on a one-year journey around the world. The pair “negotiated” when deciding where they wanted to go and what they wanted to see. But, the commitment to being “travellers” and not “tourists” was firmly entrenched in both their minds.
The Sauves have lived comfortably thanks to Herve’s law career and Ursula’s many years in social work. But the two are hardly the types to live a gallant or lavish lifestyle.
So they laid out a budget and designed a custom flight plan that included 15 destinations.
Their carefully constructed blueprint allowed for flexibility in length of stay and the ability to choose locations on the fly.
“We had to eliminate Europe, which is very expensive. We eliminated South America and Africa, expect for Egypt. And Australia wasn’t practical. It’s too far away and a trip on its own. We had it planned out, but not down to details in terms of how long to stay in any one place. We would end up in a certain place and would know when it was time to move on,” they said.
With an eye toward further cutting costs, they rented out their house, cancelled their car insurance and a host of other monthly budget-eaters.
The trip began with a month in British Columbia, much of which was spent between Vancouver Island and the interior of the province. The idea was to start the trip with a measure of familiarity.
But the challenge became how to avoid breaking the bank before the journey abroad had even begun.
“British Columbia was actually the most expensive part of the trip,” Ursula said. “We blew our budget in B.C. for sure. But we knew we would make it up in other countries. Our budget was aimed at living simply each day for under a hundred dollars per day, which we discovered isn’t possible in B.C.”
Much of the cost during their time in Western Canada was a rental car and motels.
They knew most of their stops outside of Canada offered the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of train travel, reasonable accommodations and food. These were means not practical, or offered to any meaningful degree, in a province the size of British
Columbia, where a more modern approach to travel is necessary.
In addition to a more frugal approach, the Sauves looked forward to the freedom of a simpler form of travel. Be it a trip on a packed bus, biking or backpacking, the elements they found most attractive were the things that would be most physically and mentally demanding.
But they soon discovered the simplicity they craved wouldn’t necessarily be found on their next stop: South Korea.
Having arrived with little prior knowledge of the country or its culture, they described their amazement with the extremely high-tech nature and well-
maintained infrastructure of South Korea.
“We didn’t see a single pothole in Seoul,” joked Ursula. “The buildings, people’s clothing, cars, buses…are all ultramodern.”
The biggest challenge in South Korea was adjusting to a place in which there was no English spoken. The secret, they said, was learning a handful of key symbols in a language consisting of elaborate script.
“We travelled for two weeks and had to draw pictures to figure things out,” Herve explained with a laugh. “So we would end up at the end of a bus line … because we thought we were going a certain place. And as it would sometimes turn out, we would show them our (language) book. But they had different script. Ten or 15 people would start chattering and everything took some time.”
But the Sauves were rarely fazed.
After travelling the country for two full weeks, the time came to continue their trek to Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and India.
Much of the time, the travel was gruelling.
In an e-mail Ursula sent back to friends in February 2002, she described the lengthy journey across Vietnam.
“We did it! We visited Vietnam from North to South, by bus … approximately 1,875 kilometres. What an experience!”
With each stop came bigger challenges. The steady stream of rigorous events would have derailed would-be adventurers of half Herve and Ursula’s years.
But they persevered, finding tranquility in reflection and therapy in writing about their travels.
Herve kept a daily journal over the course of the entire year.
“We had many opportunities to sit and visualize how things were in places a thousand years ago…to try to picture how things were,” Herve recalled. “Then you read about things while you are there. It gets so you sink into it.”
Ursula took to penning her take on their experiences, for hours upon hours. Her musings culminated in a book titled, An Un-Predictable Journey.
Although (admittedly) not religious by nature, the Sauves said they felt a level of spiritual growth they couldn’t have imagined over that year. And each said no place had a greater impact on that level of awareness than Nepal.
Again, from an e-mail sent in April 2002, Ursula relayed the essence of her Nepalese experience back to friends:
“The pool where Buddha’s mother bathed before giving birth and the exact spots where he was born are visited by many pilgrims. The most impressive part, however, is a 10-kilometre area where 15 Buddhist countries are building temples, monasteries and pilgrimage centres in the style of their respective countries. This will become the biggest Buddhist pilgrimage centre in the world.
“Our ‘luxury tourist bus’ to Pokhara turned out to be a very crowded bus, Herve and I being the only tourists. We wanted to take the mountain route instead of the new highway. The scenery was gorgeous, full of terraced fields and small towns. Our bus got stopped twice by military that asked every Nepali to step out in order to check their luggage. Tourists were ignored. We later learned that we had passed through prime Maoist area.”
The Sauves said it took some time to “reprogram” themselves after their return from the final leg of the trip, which included stops in Egypt, Turkey, Greece and Switzerland.
But, ultimately feeling at ease with their return to Sudbury, each returned to work.
Herve continues with his law practice although, he said with a smile, most men his age would have been smart enough to have retired by now.
Ursula has been busy with projects of
her own, none bigger than the Paris Bridge Flag Project.
Inspired by her travels, Ursula spearheaded a year-long campaign to raise flags from every country represented by residents of the City of Greater Sudbury along the bridge.
With the backing of the city and a variety of local groups, who have donated materials and services, Ursula said the project, is designed to celebrate Sudbury’s ethnic diversity and the harmony that exists among residents of all backgrounds.
In spite of any nostalgia the project evokes, Herve and Ursula are far from ready to retire their backpacks.
It has been six years since their epic adventure. And that’s long enough, both Herve and Ursula eagerly confirmed.
“It’s time to go again!” Ursula exclaimed, near the end of our conversation. “The thing with seeing so many places is you discover how many more you want to see. It’s addictive!”
The couple is planning another journey in October, this time for six months. They aren’t sure where they are going to go yet, but they know the trip will culminate with their son Mark’s wedding in Korea next March.
For now, the Sauves are quite happy with the prospect of navigating their way through another loose itinerary.
Not surprisingly, they wouldn’t have it any other way.