No Aunt May


This blog entry about the events of Tuesday, August 10, 2004 was originally posted on August 15, 2004.

DAY 297:  Living in a homestay with Nina was sort of being like Spider-man’s alter ego Peter Parker.  I lived in my own room with an old woman with white hair who, without me might be pretty lonely, just like Peter Parker and his Aunt May after his Uncle Ben’s death.  Meanwhile, she, nor did many people I’ve met, knew of my secret identity as this big world traveler — a superhero to those stuck in office cubicles — with The Global Trip insignia emblazoned on my chest.  (I don’t really reveal my 16-month travel plan to locals, thinking that they might think I’m some sort of millionaire.  RTWs make you poor!)

Anyway, the similarities end there; while Aunt May in the Spider-man comic is an extremely sweet and friendly old woman who would bend over backwards for her dear nerdy photographer nephew Peter, Nina wasn’t the type that would.  Don’t get me wrong; she was okay and sort of nice, plus she made a mean breakfast every morning — this morning included fried eggs and blinys — but that was about it.  Her obligations as a homestay host were to provide me a private room and breakfast and nothing more.  Anything above that would be a bonus, and the one bonus she did not possess was the ability to speak English.  To be fair, it was understandable; it was me that should have known more Russian.  But as a volunteer host, I figured the least she should possess was the patience to understand the Russian coming out of my mouth — as bad as it was — as I read it from my phrasebook.  My “Umm…”-Smile combos were only greeted by deadpan stares and often a stern-looking face. 

Nina went about her business in the living room (picture above) after setting my breakfast for me on the table, and afterwards when I sat in my room with the door open and tried to figure out what I’d do with the day, she shut the door on me.  Eventually she left the house, leaving me home alone with her cat, the one I called “Mr. Jinx.”  I had seen most of Irkutsk’s sights and so just decided to sit at my desk with my laptop until I was all caught up with Blog duties.  I went to the internet cafe and uploaded it all and then looked up the Green Express travel agency mentioned in my Lonely Planet book.  Since publication, the agency had moved way out from the city center.  I called them and they gave me hard-to-follow instructions to get there by public transportation, but suggested I should probably just take a taxi.

A FIVE-DOLLAR TAXI RIDE TOOK ME out of the city center, way off the my Lonely Planet map to an area looking even more like New Jersey — residential houses, followed by some factories and industrial parks.  Green Express was located in a ten-story office building in a business district.  On the seventh floor, I was directed to Eugene, who knew more than average English. 

“I’m in town for two more days,” I said.  “What sort of excursions or tours are there at the lake?” I asked.

“With only two days, you can go to Listvyanka,” he answered, which was my assessment as well; it was the closest village on Lake Baikal from Irkutsk.  I asked about the homestays and hotel situation, plus about horses and mountain bikes, and Eugene was a rather helpful guy — well, he was just doing his job.  After a bunch of phone calls, he told me that all homestays and hotels that worked with Green Express were booked solid, but that horses and bikes would be available for me at the Outdoor Center of his affiliated hotel, Hotel Terema.  With no where to stay, I wanted to make the most of the one day and wanted to get to Listvyanka as early as possible — spend from dusk ‘til dawn there — which counted out public transportation. 

“Is there a way you can call me a private taxi to take me?” I asked.  He said he could if I gave him Nina’s address and phone number — I only had the former.

“Ask your host if she can call you a taxi.  If I do it, it will be more expensive because of commissions,” Eugene told me.  “Does your host speak English?”

“No.”  Great, the entire fate of me seeing Lake Baikal — the reason I came to Irkutsk in the first place — rests in the hands of an old woman who shut the door on me that morning.

Eugene gave me his card and told me to call him if I had any problems with Nina trying to arrange a taxi.  I thanked him and hopped back in the taxi back to Nina’s apartment at 30 Karl Marx Street.

“[SOMETHING SOMETHING BAIKAL SOMETHING,]” Nina asked me when I came in.

“Umm… ”  Smile.  I whipped out my phrasebook while she looked for a map with a stern impatience with me.

“[Something something Baikal something,]” she asked, pointing to a map of Lake Baikal.

“Oh!  Baikal!  Da.”

“[Something something something.]”

“Um… ”  Smile.  “...I need taxi.”

“Um!” she sarcastically mimicked, throwing the map to the table.  “[Something something something!]” she scolded.  Like I said, she was no Aunt May.  I tried to look for a sentence in my phrasebook, but she just swing her arm in disgust and walked away. 

I went to my room, a pathetic, non-Russian-speaking Peter Parker.

What do I do now?  What would Spider-man do?  He’d jump out that window in costume and swing around to blow off steam and think.  Okay.  Damn, no skyscrapers outside.  And oh yeah, I don’t exactly have the powers of a radioactive spider now do I?  The only sticky white substance that comes out of me doesn’t exactly come out of my wrists.

Rather than unzipping my trousers and aiming out the window (ew!), I did the next best thing (in this scenario at least) and decided to call Eugene at the Green Express office.

“Mozhna at vas pazvanit?” (“Can I use the phone?”) I asked Nina, reading from my phrasebook.  She gave me a look and said [something] in Russian.  I showed her the number to prove it was local and she watched me dial the number.

Ring… Ring… Ring…  No answer.  I hung up and dialed again.  Ring… Ring… Ring… Ring…  Still nothing.  Nina gave me this look that said, “Yeah right you have someone to call in Irkutsk.  Who is it, you’re imaginary English-speaking friend?”  She went back to the kitchen and I dialed again.

Ring… Ring…  Come on you bastard, I was just there at the office.  Pick up!  You couldn’t have gone far.  Finally he picked up.  “Eugene, it’s Erik Trinidad.  I don’t think my host understands me.  Could you explain it to her?”

“Okay.”  I passed the phone to Nina and the two spoke in their native Russian.  I couldn’t hear what Eugene was saying on the other end — I assumed he was giving her directions to call me a cab at 8 a.m. the next morning.  I heard Nina’s replies of “Da"s and “Uh huh"s.  The conversation ended and I though Nina would call a taxi right after, but she just went back to the kitchen.

I DID MORE WRITING and went for another internet session, this time getting food before the town cafes’ weekday closing time of seven.  With all my Blog duties done, I celebrated with a couple of bootleg DVD purchases so that I could cuddle up to a good book that night — my iBook.

Back at the apartment, the phone rang and Nina knocked on my door for me to take it.  She hadn’t called me a taxi — knowing it’d be relatively expensive, she called her tour agent friend named Elena who spoke English.  The friendly voice of Elena told me how significantly cheaper the buses were and that I should take one instead.  In terms of time on the lake, I didn’t have to worry about finding a place to stay; according to her I could wander the village and find a B&B or homestay with a sign in the front in English — the residents would be more than happy to take me in for my money.  “The mistress will help you with the buses,” Elena told me.  “I’ll tell her.”

I passed the phone back to Nina and heard more “Da"s and “Uh huh"s and afterwards, I kept the door open so that Nina could come in with the so-called help with the buses.  But she just closed the door on me when she had a visitor stop by and didn’t speak to me the rest of the night.

I sat in the comfy armchair in my room with my laptop on the side table to veg in front off the screen with a big of chips, soda and ice cream that I bought from the supermarket.  In the middle of Kill Bill Vol. 2 (in English), which I hadn’t seen yet, I was interrupted by a guest who rang the doorbell.  It was Martina, my Russian-speaking contact with my train tickets for my fourth and fifth legs of my journey.  She was smart and brought a somewhat English-speaking friend to translate, but it was hardly necessary since the tickets were pretty straightforward. 

Although the cover of the Spider-man 2 bootleg DVD I bought said it was in English, it wasn’t — only in Russian.  I tried switching the audio track and played around with the subtitle options, but nothing.  I watched it anyway, hoping to pick up some Russian here and there.  As I watched the scenes with Peter Parker and his sweet aunt in their house in Queens, I finally found a similarity between Nina and Aunt May:  as much as I pushed the buttons, both only spoke in Russian.

Next entry: Deadpan Looks By The Deep Blue Lake

Previous entry: The Real Siberia

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Comments for “No Aunt May”

  • ROSEMARY:  Is this you, ROSE?  If so, THANKS for your pledge… if not, THANKS ROSEMARY for your pledge!  Whoever it was that sponsored me by buying a TGT Tote Bag, thank you very much!  (E-mail me your postal address and you’re on the new list!)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/14  at  02:27 PM

  • GREETINGS FROM MONGOLIA!  Yes, I’m in Ulan Baatar, after a long train journey which included a 6-hr border crossing…

    I’m behind a couple of days but will catch up tonight…  My host family here doesn’t speak English either, but they are quite nice (and patient too)!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/14  at  02:30 PM

  • Yes Erik…...It is I….Rose or Rosemary which ever I feel like at the moment.  I have ordered the bag as a special gift for someone who will be travelling soon!  and she reads your blog also…..

    P.S. I am first…..Erik does not count!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/14  at  04:33 PM

  • Rose - guess that won’t be a surprise gift then LOL

    Posted by Liz  on  08/14  at  05:13 PM

  • You are right….can’t keep a secret LOL.  Liz glad to see you caught up on your blog duties! Keep Cool!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/14  at  06:18 PM

  • Erik: Great analogies of Spiderman! From Siberia to Mongolia…’re really in the boonies now!  Those grumpy old ladies need to get out and see the rest of the world!

    Rose:  Pour moi? Tres bien! Wow - that’s so nice of you!  Everyone should have a sister as great as you!
    Love ya!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/14  at  06:56 PM

  • Great Post Erik!! And that’s not only because I’m such a comic fan! 

    For anyone else who may be interested:

    The travel channel has a new show on tonight called, ‘Super Heroes’ Guide to New York City’, should be interesting.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/14  at  11:34 PM

  • Harry - you’ll have to tell us all about it!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/15  at  09:14 AM

  • old hag!....she’s just mean cuz she doesn’t have a hot teenage granddaughter tennis star….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/15  at  06:26 PM

  • This post made me laugh out loud

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/15  at  07:37 PM

  • actually, in the spiderman comics, no one likes aunt may either. most of the readers were happy when she croaked. =P they just made her seem nicer in the movie.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/15  at  08:43 PM

  • A word about the Spiderman angle of this entry:  I really beated my brain over trying to find a unifying thing for the day—when I apologize about an entry, it’s usually because I couldn’t find one.  Anyway, you may have read the Spiderman references and thought it just came natural, but it actually involved a lot of thinking on my part; unless I bought that bootleg DVD that night, I might never have thought of it.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/18  at  12:35 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today,, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.

Next entry:
Deadpan Looks By The Deep Blue Lake

Previous entry:
The Real Siberia


Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:

BFFN: acronym for "Best Friend For Now"; a friend made on the road, who will share travel experiences for the time being, only to part ways and lose touch with

The Big Trip: the original sixteen month around-the-world trip that started it all, spanning 37 countries in 5 continents over 503 days (October 2003–March 2005)

NIZ: acronym for "No Internet Zone"; a place where there is little to no Internet access, thus preventing dispatches from being posted.

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The Trinidad Show: a nickname of The Global Trip blog, used particularly by travelers that have been written about, who are self-aware that they have become "characters" in a long-running story — like characters in the Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show.

WHMMR: acronym for "Western Hemisphere Monday Morning Rush"; an unofficial deadline to get new content up by a Monday morning, in time for readers in the western hemisphere (i.e. the majority North American audience) heading back to their computers.

1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year — I guess you could call them "1991ers" in 2013 — young, entitled millennials on the road these days, essentially.

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