Travel Stories »

2 Wheels 4 Change – World-Changing Circus on Bikes to Mongolia

Changing the world, one world at a time.

Road Junky spoke to Tyle Fernandez, an American nomad who is about to cycle to Mongolia with a crew of clowns, acrobats and musicians on a mission to entertain, educate and learn. The traveling circus is called 2 Wheels 4 Change and their story is about inspiring as it gets.

Best of all, they have an open invite for anyone who wants to go along with them…

RJ: How was 2Wheels4Change born?

Tyle: The group that has formed to travel through Eastern Europe and Central Asia together is composed of several smaller groups. For instance, Felix and Konstantin have been giving workshops and shows with kids in Berlin, and Karin and i have been traveling (partly by bike) with other performance artists, making shows and music on the streets of Germany, Spain and Romania, and working with orphans in the Ukraine.

2Wheels4Change was born after Felix and i met at the TransYapit Festival in Istanbul in October 2008 — Felix was a volunteer, playing games with the street kids that overran the art festival, and i was performing with antagon theaterAKTion. i told him about my plans to make a traveling band on bicycles. After returning to Germany, i got a text message: want to go by bike to Mongolia?

I said actually, I was thinking of Greece, but i’ve been living in a Mongolian yurt for 4 years, so why not skip Europe and go east?!

Of all the places in the world to make a bike trip, Felix chose Mongolia because his girlfriend is studying Mongolian and will be in Ulaan Baatar when we arrive in September. I grew up in Japan, so after September I want to continue cycling east with a few people and perform in China and Japan. The return trip will be through southern Asia, or if we can get a sailing ship to North or South America, 2wheels4change will continue for several years before returning to Europe.

RJ: What kind of difference do you think you can make by playing to small schools in small towns?

Tyle: We want to to work in small towns, because the kids there don’t receive much attention. Large internationally known orphanages and UN-funded youth projects already found enough opportunities to enrich their kids’ lives. The institutions that are not in the internet have little or no contact to circus equipment, performance ideas or musical instruments. If I can show a kid how to make a drum and rattle out of trash and sand, or how to create a human-pyramid with 5 friends, or how to use pantomime to express a problem he or she has — I hope I can give them tools to make life less dificult and more fun. At least, that’s the challenge.

RJ: How much time can you dedicate in each place? Have you actually been invited or do you just plan on showing up?

Tyle: From my experience with three different projects for orphans the Ukraine, we plan to spend 3-5 days in each town where we stop to work with a group. That’s enough time to get to know the kids and their interests, show them a few skills and string the short skits into a performance for their peers. If we end up cycling faster than the 50km/day planned, or if we take the train more often, we may be able to spend more time in a town. Then we could present the kids with more skills, but the performance should remain an improvisation. i hope to perform with the kids in the town center and even to get permission for some kids to cycle with us to the next town.

These are all our ideas. With the exception of the organisations in Uzhhorod, the Father’s House in Kiew, and the Achlal Ger Project in Ulaan Baatar, we haven’t been invited. However, we have written to many organisations to let them know that we’ll be passing through their area. We hope that word-of-mouth will make us many new contacts.

RJ: Do you think the border police will freak out at seeing your traveling circus?

Tyle: Definitely. They wanted us to pay extra for our accordion and violin last time we left the Ukraine. We’re considering getting a “Carnet ATA” for the whole trip, which is a customs list of professional equipment that we are importing and exporting.

Crossing borders by bicycle is also not the easiest thing to do. There are many borders that require you to pay a truck driver to transport your bicycle and equipment. In some places, you’re not even allowed to walk across the border.

RJ: Will you be camping out along the way?

Tyle: Sleeping on a sheep skin under some tarp is a commonn occurance for me and my friends. I’ve been camping most of my life and have even lived in a Mongolia ger (yurt) for 4 years in Frankfurt/Main.

However, we have enough tents for everyone on the trip, thanks to Wechsel Tents in Berlin. We’ll also contact people through couchsurfing, Hospitality Club and the Russian version of couchsurfing, not only to get out of the rain, but to meet people along the way. After all, I want to learn their languages, play their music, cook their type of meals.

RJ: Can anyone really come with you or just those with circus skills?

Tyle: Every artist had to start somewhere, so why not with us? i enjoy teaching people how to clown, how to play the accordion, guitar, clarinet or trombone, and how to use theater techniques for many situations on- and off-stage. We like the idea of the Traveling School of Life and the wiki-principal of open spaces and free sharing of knowledge. Anyone who identifies with us and is prepared to face their own personal boudaries and critiques that occurs in such a group process, and whoever is prepared for a rather challenging bicycle ride, is welcome to come along.

RJ: How are you funding the project?

Tyle: Although we applied to many foundations that usually support this type of work, all of them turned us down because we are mainly practicing outside of the European Union. By the time we figured that out, it was too late to start a new round of applications. Maybe we can finance the trip after we return.

We mostly received material donations, such as new bicycle parts from Fahrrad XXL Emporon in Dresden, or juggling cones from Flying Colors in Berlin. Unterwegs and Bergfreunde, both outdoor retailers in Berlin, gave us a whole arsenal on outdoor equipment. Ortlieb helped us out with a big rebate on waterproof cycling bags.

An unusual sponspor was Natumi, who gave us over one thousand liters of drinks made from soy, rice and oats, which we used to make chai for visiters to our fundraising events, or passed on to community kitchens for a small donation.

Most of the money for the trains and visas has come from the circus show that Cabuwazi in Berlin graciously organised for us, as well as from the concert that the Berlin-based bands Daefa and Los Angeles gave for us. Other events in Frankfurt and personal savings or donations from relatives has helped a lot, too.

To check out news from 2Wheels4Change as they go along, join up with their crew or to make a donation, visit their site