Yelena Yerkhova, an 89-year-old retiree from Krasnoyarsk, has spent the past several years globe-trotting completely on her own.
A recent Facebook article written about Yerkhova by a young journalist she met in Vietnam went viral, collecting over 30,000 likes, nearly 15,000 shares and two thousand comments in just a couple of days. Lenta.ru brings you the story of Yelena Yerkhova’s amazing solo trips and her unexpected rise to fame.
Yelena has been wandering across the world on her own for six years, but until recently the only people to know about her trips were her relatives and neighbours. Things changed in mid-October, when Muscovite Ekaterina Papina met Yerkhova, or Grandma Lena, as she prefers to be called, while on vacation in Vietnam and shared a story about her on Facebook.
“Grandma Lena books her tours from a travel operator in Krasnoyarsk. She travels with a backpack which is much too heavy for her, but wherever she goes she always finds someone to lend her a hand with her things. I wish you could see her immaculate clothes, hung neatly in her room! This granny is simply gorgeous!” Papina wrote on her Facebook page.
After the story was published on dozens of websites, Grandma Lena was invited for interviews on several local and national TV channels. She is comfortable with her TV stardom and clearly doesn’t mind telling her life story to journalists.
To Vietnam Without any Baggage
One normal day in autumn, Yelena left home and headed for the airport with nothing but a backpack filled with travel essentials. In about ten hours she was in her hotel in Phan Thiet, a coastal resort in the south of Vietnam.
Like on her previous trips, Yelena started by exploring the hotel grounds, trying the exotic local food and making friends with the hotel's other guests, who watched the sprightly old lady with curiosity. It was at this point that Grandma Lena met the young journalist Ekaterina Papina.
Yelena told Papina that she adored travelling and had been to lots of countries over the previous six years. She confessed that the Czech Republic had been her favourite destination, especially Karlovy Vary, which she had visited five times. She also told her that it was her first-ever trip to Vietnam.
Papina helped the elderly lady get the most out of her vacation: she showed Grandma Lena how to ride a scooter, took her for a swim in the sea and introduced her to local delicacies. Fascinated by Grandma Lena’s story, Papina posted an article about her new acquaintance on the Internet.
Grandma Lena lives in a small apartment in Krasnoyarsk. The place has no frills, but is fastidiously clean, well-kept and full of potted plants, which Yelena grows and sells. The business and the money she puts aside from her monthly pension cover her travel expenses.
The first time Grandma Lena went abroad was with a group of friends. At first Yelena refused, saying she was too old for travelling. However, Yelena’s age doesn’t seem to stand in the way of her travel pursuits: she got her foreign passport and visas without any difficulty, and her travel agent helps her with the bookings. The only special travel arrangement she has to make is to buy senior citizen’s health insurance, which is more expensive than an ordinary policy.
The outgoing Grandma Lena is the life and soul of any company. While on holiday in the Czech Republic, Yelena met a German lady and visited her in Germany on her next trip. “She was so sweet to me when I was staying at her place,” Grandma Lena recalled, “She would make my bed, gave me milk with honey to drink and hug me before I went to sleep. I was moved to tears because no one had ever looked after me so well!”
In her youth, Grandma Lena had little time or opportunity for travelling. Born in 1927, she was a home front worker in Orenburg during World War II: she ploughed fields with oxen as well as sowing and harvesting crops.
Yelena met her future husband when she was living in Orenburg, and had a daughter by him. The marriage didn’t last as the husband began drinking and repeatedly beat Yelena and her daughter. Yelena now lives in Krasnoyarsk where she had moved with her daughter to escape her abusive spouse. She lives on her own, but her daughter and two grandchildren visit her regularly.
The only thing Granny Lena is concerned about is her eyesight as she has limited vision in one eye and is practically blind in the other. However, according to her grandson Dmitry, Yelena has been offered support by many Internet users who are aware of her story. “They want to send Granny to a good clinic in Israel and contribute money towards her treatment. This problem with her eyes is very complex, of course,” Dmitry says.
Yelena’s unexpected fame has given her new opportunities for travel: she recently set off on a trip organised by a national Russian TV channel.