Ever since she was a little girl, Zoé Sabattié dreamed of living in “a house on wheels.” This year, she and her husband, Carlos Cabana, made that dream a reality when they moved their family into a 36-foot school bus they purchased and renovated.
This couple’s relationship could be called unconventional — but, then again, their whole lives have been anything but conventional. Sabattié and Cabana already had years of circus performance experience behind them when they met in 2015 during a touring production of a Cirque de Soleil show in Louisiana.
Sabattié was the main aerialist and performed as three different characters; Cabana was the technician for the show.
Fast forward to 2020. The two were set to work on another show, but it didn’t open because the world essentially shut down with the pandemic. With their livelihoods on hold, the couple decided they needed a project.
In many discussions, they realized they wanted to live on the road – not for work but for themselves.
“After the pandemic we realized we were not going anywhere and we had time, and we went for it,” Sabattié said. “We started doing our homework and started with this project; we didn’t realize how ambitious it was.”
The couple decided to settle in Winter Garden and wanted to be near the city’s parks and downtown.
“In Winter Garden, you can cycle everywhere, you can walk everywhere, there’s a park,” Sabattié said. “I fell in love with Winter Garden.”
Cabana and Sabattié have a 4-month-old daughter, Leyla, and the family of three is enjoying life in the bus home. They moved in earlier this month after nearly three years of renovations.
“You don’t realize how much work it is,” Cabana said. “But it was something we both wanted to do. Zoe had the dream of having a house on wheels since she was very young. Ever since I started the circus and living the nomadic life, I learned to appreciate it and … I like to move and see different places. We like the lifestyle of having the minimum you need and the ability to change — take your house with you like a snail.”
Their journey with the project started in 2020 when they started researching the types of buses available. They made a short list of everything they wanted to include in their new home: living room, bedroom and kitchen. When they found the bus they would eventually purchase, they looked at how they could use every inch of the space.
“When we started thinking of layout, Carlos said, ‘I don’t want our bed to be a dinner table. When I’m tired I want to go into the bed,’” Sabattié said. “I wanted to have a handicap door at the back to open the door and be part of nature. I like to cook so I wanted a nice kitchen to cook in. And then, my parents are in Europe, and I want to be able to receive them and have a sofa that can convert into a bed. I like to have people over to play games, so we needed space.”
They brought their bus back to Winter Garden and are renting space near Cabana’s metal shop close to downtown.
“We kept brainstorming, doing, being stuck, dreaming, fighting, learning, doubting, accomplishing and moving somewhere,” Sabattié wrote on her Facebook page. “Lots of sweet thoughts, frustrations, understanding and exploring the unknown was part of the process. A mixture of fun, mission, excitement and stress.
“We recognize every corner of this bus, as they are linked to a decision that we had to make, having too many choices or not enough, overcoming the doubt and the struggle, finding solutions and not giving up,” she wrote.
STEP BY STEP
The first step was demolition. They took out all the seats, the inner lining walls, all the insulation, the heater and one of the air-conditioners, and they cut the top off the bus and raised it 15 inches to give them more headspace. They added electricity, flooring, countertops, kitchen accessories and plumbing.
All of this work has been done by Cabana, Sabattié and their friends.
It is livable but not finished, Cabana said. They plan to add an indoor shower, overhead cabinets in the kitchen and living room, and solar panels. The bus needs an exterior coat of paint.
“This is no different than building a house,” Cabana said. “But everything you need to make a house (needs to fit) within the constraints of a school bus.”
The couple hopes to take the home on the road and travel within the next few years but must first build some savings to be able to hit the road. They both love connecting with people and are eager to make new friends in all parts of the country.
“When we go on the road we want to go with the flow with the people we can meet and the places we can connect to and try out this lifestyle,” Sabattié. “I’ve been in the circus for a while, and I know I can bring a lot to people from this world. With the school bus, we can remain in contact with other people and see how long we can stay with the freedom to be comfortable and stay as long as we want.”
HOW THEY MET
Both were working in the traveling circus industry when they met.
Cabana, who was a trapeze performer before an injury forced him to stay on the ground, was part of Cirque’s fly-in department and traveled from city to city to set up and tear down the tents. One of his contracts was with the “Toruk — The First Flight” show, and it was there that he came face to face with Sabattié, who was portraying several blue Navi characters in the “Avatar”-inspired show.
“Touring with arena, we change cities every week,” Sabattié said. “You arrive, do the show, pack down, move away and set up … which is really fun because it’s stimulating.”
After meeting his future wife, Cabana switched gears and joined the show full time.
Their love story blossomed, and they toured together all around the world for the next few years.
“We wanted to be together, “Sabattié said. “We did some driving together, listening to music, laughing, having a good time, camping on the road. We didn’t book anything. It was really a freestyle travel, and when Carlos joined me, I was afraid it wouldn’t fit into his lifestyle. In Cirque we were in beautiful, comfortable hotels, and I wanted to be with the ground and the earth. We clicked.”
“I knew there was something there,” Cabana said.
After “Toruk,” the couple yearned for a change in scenery and worked for a Cirque de Soleil dinner show, “Joya,” linked to a resort in Cancun, Mexico. After 18 months, they traveled north to work on a small show in Quebec. Another change brought them to Orlando.
Sabattié has been in the circus industry since she was 14 and performing on silks, aerial hoops and trapeze. Cabana attended Florida State University, where he joined the Flying High Circus and fell in love with the flying trapeze.
Their mutual love of the circus turned into a deep love for one another. Cabana proposed to Sabattié while on a hike in Italy. They were married in 2019 in the jungle of Mexico with a shaman. The next year, they held an official wedding ceremony in Miami with their families present.
“We’ll probably have another wedding when we go to France,” Sabattié said. “I like renewing our vows and how we feel and where we’re at and how we evolve and grow.”