Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Halfway There

On Sunday, after 78 hours and 2 minutes of train rides, I finally made it to Irkutsk. In addition to meaning I’d covered more than half the distance between Moscow and Vladivostok, it also meant that I was only 64 kilometers from the oldest and deepest lake in the world. I have dreamt of visiting Lake Baikal ever since I learned of its existence, so Monday morning found me on the first bus to nearby Listvyanka.

Standing on the very frozen Lake Baikal

There were only a handful of people on the bus, one of whom was also a foreigner. We got to talking before the bus had left the station, and by the time we reached the lake, we had decided to join forces on our day of sightseeing. Incidentally, the sights were pretty limited—Listvyanka consists of a smattering of hotels, bathhouses, and tourist agencies, all of which are closed in the spring. My new Dutch friend and I had coffee and lunch, then headed back to Irkutsk to pass the rest of the day wandering around and swapping travel stories.

He’s spent the last two years traveling around Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, and is now taking the train to St. Petersburg so he can fly back to Holland for his father’s 70th birthday. Because we are both the same age, and on the tail end of extended international adventures, we kept coming back to the topic of whether we were ready to “settle down” or if we wanted to prolong our vagabond lifestyles. I (mostly facetiously) predicted that I would settle in Texas, let my passport expire, and start acquiring an abundance of material possessions that would never fit in a backpack. And then I wandered off on a slightly tangential story that took us back to March of 2006...

I was studying abroad in Santiago, and was forced to meet up with a man my parents had met on a train in Peru in the 1970s. Despite my protests, my mother dug through her old travel journals, unearthed a 30-year-old address, and sent a postcard off to Chile. It reached the man’s parents, who forwarded it to Eduardo, who emailed my mother to say that he and his family would love to take me to dinner.

With strict instructions to “please be charming,” I begrudgingly set off to make small talk in a language I spoke anything but charmingly. Despite my misgivings, it was fun to meet Eduardo’s family and hear his account of meeting a young, American couple backpacking wherever their whims took them. I showed him a more recent photo of my parents, and he seemed a little surprised by how much older they’d become. “Your dad’s hair wasn’t as gray when I met him!”

I recounted the same story to the Dutchman over our second lunch of the day. I told him that even though neither of us can really imagine being “settled,” my parents probably never did either when they were staying in fleabag South American hotels that gave the option of paying by the hour. Like them, we will soon be far grayer adults who once took trains in far away lands and struck up conversations with strangers. But I promised that when I had a brood of little Texans, I would send one of them halfway around the world to meet him and his family for dinner.

“I would love that!” he said.

So that’s sorted. I think that means I’m halfway to adulthood—or maybe just halfway to becoming my mother. In the words of my mom (when she’s in a “cursing in Tagalog” kind of mood), puñeta.

Baikal from Olkhon Island, where I am staying until Sunday

1 comment:

  1. Where's the Like button? THERE'S NO LIKE BUTTON! Seriously, I really like this story.