Well, it was with some trepidation and a well-stocked Kindle that I boarded my bus in Busan that Saturday. Chuseok is invariably mentioned in the same sentence as “traffic”; the exodus to hometowns and grandparents’ homes would inevitably mean clogged roads and a protracted journey.
But we made it to journey’s end in six-and-a-bit hours. The bus drivers here are wizards of an ancient and arcane order. I opened my eyes as we passed the SOKCHO sign that marked the finish line on my previous northbound excursion, and was soon strolling to the coast with a few hours of light to play with.
Sokcho is synonymous with squid. These ones seemed to be saying “Go west, once-young man.”
When the squid speak, I listen. Tomorrow, I said, Oh Tentacled Ones. I struck south, in search of the beach and a bed. Two bridges arched across the gaping mouth of the port. A few fishing boats chugged in; boatloads of cruising tourists motored out. Close, so close inland, the serrated ridges and eroded columns of Soerak-San loomed over the city fringes, gaining definition and grandeur in the last light.
I felt good, very good indeed. Nothing will restore a man’s enthusiasm for life like five days off work and the prospect of a Most Excellent Adventure.
Two castles near the water offered lodging; I chose the most rundown.
Where Quixote saw a castle in each dilapidated inn, I seem to see them in every love-hotel strip in the land. Minarets and crenellations are merged with abandon, and the sojourner’s quarters come with standardised accoutrements: towels, a shared toothpaste tube, generic yet mysterious balms and lotions…
..bar fridge with two — always — glass bottles of some vitaminised elixir (which I always drink on the theory that It Can’t Hurt), and a wide-screen TV offering one, or sometimes even two insultingly censored “adult channels”.
My domicile was a paltry $40. The bed seemed clean-ish, the water was hot (never guaranteed at this price) — and the TV was small, crappy and bereft of anything more erotic than the plethora of daytime dramas. Believe me, I searched. Twice. Probably for the best. I had to save my strength for the mountains.
My bed organised, I strolled back to the bridges to watch the sunset — I figured I’d save the beach for dawn. It was an inspired plan. From viewing platforms at the highest point, the eye swept between the fascinating disorder of the docks below…
..and the increasingly dramatic forms of the behemoths beyond:
The only distraction was the moon, fat, ripe and lovely:
To appreciate its ascendancy I had to race down to the docks and over to the beachfront. For an hour my neck was twisting between the silent spectacles of moonrise in the east and sunset in the west. Not such an unpleasant contest.
While the fishers, my fellow devotees and I enjoyed the technicolor dusk, one of the more pragmatic locals saw the opportunity to strike:
I made a foray into the dockside clutter and found this more elegant feline dignitary:
So, you see, it really didn’t matter that the pickings on TV were so poor.
And that was the highlight of my Saturday night. I did succumb to some rather base urges in the night — vale, one Twix Bar — and then not long afterwards a well-tanked buffoon bellowing in the corridors dragged me back to wakefullness. Quixote would have had his head on a lance; I packed as I have a thousand times before and gently placed my key on the counter. The manager slept on the floor behind it.
Insomnia means I’m usually near the front of any morning queue. I waited at the end of the little tourist pier for a dawn that was an inordinately long time advertising its arrival…
..before the curtains finally rose:
By this time my solitude had been vanquished.
A cruise ship glided in, ever so gracefully. Those mountains must have looked incredible from its decks:
It doesn’t matter how many times I watch this — it never loses its impact.
You are witness to the mysterious and timeless mechanisms of the solar system. You feel the interconnectedness of every element in the universe, the intricate but unimaginably immense workings of those cosmic gears and pulleys. In times past, they dragged stones into circles, sacrificed beasts or captives, prostated themselves to display their reverence.
These days we snap pictures with compact cameras.
It looked like being a beautiful day. Show over, devotions performed with appropriate solemnity, I headed to the bus stop I’d found right near the castle. In a few minutes I was being sped away from the coast to the next stage of my adventure…
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote