SINGLE BROWN MALE SEEKS ROMANTIC PARTNER TO SHARE HOBO LIFESTYLE ON LIFE’S CROOKED HIGHWAY. MUST ENJOY TRAVEL & THE OUTDOORS. LACK OF AMBITION AND OPTIONS A BONUS. ALL OFFERS DESPERATELY CONSIDERED…
DAY 5. Sometimes I see my reflection in a roadside mirror and everything makes sense. Well, you have to laugh, especially when you’re hard up for entertainment:
People stare at me just walking around my neighborhood over here — the Koreans are not shy about staring — so no wonder I get looked at a lot on this trip.
And not in an admiring way.
Yesterday I was shaking ants from my pack at a convenience store and looked up to find a guy leaning over me, staring good-naturedly like — to use a favourite Hillaire Belloc line he used to describe some Swiss peasants — a cow staring at a train.
And then I walked on. I may well have been the highlight of his day. It’s important to give back when you’re travelling.
A weird day yesterday but overall very good, with just the sort of discovery of a hidden corner of Korea I had in mind when I decided on this ramble.
For a lot of people, Korea is industry or technology or Seoul or computer games, movies or sappy TV dramas. “My” Korea was always something rural and quiet and traditional. I’ve seen glimpses, but yesterday and today I hit pay dirt. And it was all due to a standard Goat screw-up.
I left Yangnam, the dreary beach where I wrote the last post, and almost immediately felt I’d stumbled onto a ghost road. Rt 31 seemed to be closed for construction; traffic sped along a road closer to the coast past another nuclear plant and high up in the hills.
I took a different road that was going essentially north, and decided to stay on it and see what happened. I really hate doubling back. And it was great, deserted and peaceful and taking me deeper into back valleys of lush rice paddies, clean and pretty farms and gorgeous green hills.
The only sad thing about this road was that it was heavily laced with power cables strung between very closely spaced metal poles, and huge pylons marching over the peaks from the plant fed power via these unfortunate valleys to Play Stations, hair dryers and high-def TVs out there in the outside world. It was a conduit, but an otherwise attractive one.
I walked that road, baking in a solar inferno, for a couple of hours, navigating by that too-slowly sinking sun, which stayed comfortingly on my left. Then I reached a junction. My phone battery was almost dead, so I quickly scribbled a map taken from Google and started off along Rt 4 as the sun set. I was now aiming well inland, towards the old capital of Gyeongju, but that was fine by me.
I came to a small shopping complex and took my phone into a convenience store to be charged — part of the service over here. Then I found a men’s room with HOT WATER and partied hard, washing, shaving, doing stealth-laundry till the phone was done. It was dark, and the road was tight; lots of ditch-jockeying to dodge oncoming cars. Just ahead Rt 14 split and shot for Pohang, back on the coast.
Just before the junction I gasped at the sight of a line of gigantic T-shaped columns spanning another valley, an unfinished highway about to lay waste to another quiet corner of Korea. I have to get a shot of that in the morning, I thought, and lay down my bedroll right at the feet of one of these concrete behemoths, storm troopers of the Hi-Pass Corporation. I fell asleep watching the headlight shadows from passing cars splash across the column…
And woke at 3:30 with light rain falling on my face.
Damn it, I really needed sleep. By the time I’d woozily packed everything but the groundsheet, the rain had gone and I lay back with my head on my pack, nodded off, and was woken by footsteps and an old farm woman staring down at me as she passed.
I saw I was only 20 miles from Pohang. An easy day. I walked half of it along Rt 14, climbing steadily over a range, dodging 25.5-ton dump trucks loaded with gravel screaming to and from the highway construction. It was nerve-wracking as verges were tight, weedy or non-existent — and those trucks FLY. But I felt great, very strong despite my four hours of sleep.
Pohang is a big port city famed for the presence of the state-owned POSCO steel works, one of the world’s largest. I could smell POSCO long before I arrived, a rotten-egg odor that hangs beguilingly over the town. It took an hour to walk past the plant. Cicadas were dropping dead all over the footpath.
I got a hotel room for 40 bucks, washed and napped, and went out to enjoy the spectacular lights of the steelworks sparkling along the breezy river. Hey, no TV for five days, remember?
I’m very tired now and must sleep. Tomorrow I think I’ll hit Rt 7 and slice my way coastward a lot further north. I really liked that lovely farmland of the last couple of days.
Thanks to all my readers and especially commenters. I’m not keeping a paper journal on this trip since this blog more than suffices, and I’m really enjoying documenting the walk this way. This has been an erratic entry though, I know. I’m tired, so tired, and this bed so soft…
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote