So, my last weekend in Korea. Spent the week lugging boxes to school — five so far — and slipping out to the post office when nobody was looking (nobody’s ever looking) to cocoon them in (free!) tape and throw more money at the very nice lady behind the desk.
The only drama was on Thursday when I realised I’d boxed up my Swiss Army knife with my apartment keys attached, and had to run back down there. Just in time, the very nice lady handed me a box-cutter with a weary smile. This is a busy time of year at the post office in Korea.
Anyway, another flashback to an Autumn walk. I had plenty of un-posted ones to choose from, but this one is a nice mix of things I loved and hated about walking in Korea…
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This was in early November. It started as a road-walk I’d done two or three times. The first was when, in August last year, I had the idea one night in bed of walking to Seoul on my Summer break. I didn’t sleep well after that. I didn’t know if it could be done, so that weekend I had a sort of trial run: just worked out some vague directions and started off down the road, heading sort of north-west.
It began well but after a few hours I was stymied by uncooperative roads; then attempting to loop back to Gimhae found myself approaching a motorway and tunnel (“NO PEDESTRIANS!”), and attempting to hike over the mountain that stood in the way, was halted again by a massive construction project. The loop back through an industrial belt was interminable and bleak; I gave up that walk and hiked up the coast to Sokcho instead.
But the good thing about that debacle was that I got to look at the ridges running out from Bulmo-San parallel to the road, and on a later trip I took a gamble and found a way across the paddies, up a winding road and then onto new trails up onto the ridges and across to Yongji-Bong, Jangyu Temple and other familiar landmarks.
That’s the route I did again on this walk in November.
It started nicely with my trek out of Jangyu, an unpleasant mile or so where a narrow road is shared with speeding vehicles. But my phone rang, and it was Kate with some good news. We had a good chat and lots of laughs as I watched for cars and leapt into ditches, keeping her updated with a running commentary — “Man, did you hear that truck?!” She’d had a wine or two and my peril provided gripping entertainment.
Passed that jeongja, above, under a magnificent pair of old trees; the road safety improves a little after that. Half a mile further I left the road and passed between the bare paddies, enjoying the sun and the space…
..gaining height at last on a steep road…
..that just got more and more beautiful:
Halfway up that leaf-carpeted road, a dozen cars parked on the roadside, miles from anywhere: Why? Then voices, a glimpse of people sitting near a forest grave, a priest speaking. Soon that sound faded but far worse was the constant yapping of dogs on a farm somewhere below: six or eight, it sounded like, and I could well imagine the life they lead and the fate awaiting them.
It took an hour to shake that sound…
..but it had bled out when I reached the gravel road leading to the temple.
I swung left when I got to a familiar trail down the mountainside — and an all-too-familiar adornment to that trail:
I knew this path but it had been a while. Although it was barely 4:00, the sun was low and it was chilly in the shade. (Thanks to Rachael for her tips on photographing the Autumn sun — trouble is, those starbursts are addictive!)
(See what I mean?)
I’d never seen that track looking so good. It was just perfect walking weather (I know: again), but I must say I was increasingly irritated by the behaviour of almost every walker I passed. I just don’t get the staring-at-the-ground thing — and I am baffled as to why any hiker would ignore an Annyeong haseyo!, even one as inexpertly delivered as mine. Even the notoriously shy Japanese will usually offer a cheerful Konnichiwa!
This woman, at least, offered a meek smile…
..but for several others, I was as invisible and welcome as a chilled mountain breeze.
Sometimes over here I feel like I’m actually dead but don’t know it yet and am just haunting the trails as a spirit.
This section near trail’s end (longtime readers might remember it from my first excursion with my new lens) was especially gorgeous…
..but when this clown waltzed past, avoiding eye contact…
..and then this creature glanced at me with dread and bolted like I was Leatherface out for a hike…
..I began to reconsider my philosophy of not wearing deodorant on the trail.
The final straw was this frightening bellow from somewhere up the trail, like Tarzan getting his legs waxed. If you hike in Korea, you’ve heard it: certain male walkers, even old ones, like to emit this primeval roar in the woods and mountains — I even saw an old guy do it on the street the other evening between stretches.
This was followed by another hazard on Korean trails: certain older people here (usually women) are fond of clapping loudly and at great length while walking. Some junk about health benefits, etc. Nothing worse while walking than a bad dose of the clap.
Then they came into view, the clapping getting louder and then suddenly stopping when they saw me — and it was the dude making all the noise. Also, the woman was in front — very rare, but maybe he was driving her batshit as well. As you can see, she scowled at me like I was Kim Jeong-eun out for a jog in a tank top and silk shorty-shorts. And no, I wasn’t even aiming the camera at her — it was a wide-angle lens, pointing nearly straight down:
And then, as I’m crouching over that leaf, grinding my teeth and counting to 10, I become aware of a presence — guess who’s standing there staring mutely down at me like I’m the weirdo?
But I stared back, and he loped off, clapping once or twice contentedly; I gave them a couple of minutes to disappear before walking on…
..and unexpectedly, a hundred metres too early, stepped out of the woods and into…this:
The excavators had arrived. The Mountain Eaters that have gouged the whole area for miles around to cram in more roads had truncated the trail and weren’t done yet. Soon this beautiful path would end, all too suddenly, at a highway. But it won’t be so shocking then — you’ll hear the machines long before you reach the concrete.
I was numb. It was genuine shock. When will this carnage end? Then the shock wore off and I wanted to bellow in rage like that mountain jackass not long before.
But nobody else here seems to care. Why should I? I’ll be gone soon, and the locals will enjoy all that extra driving convenience. So I walked on, past the reservoir…
..and in 20 minutes I was home, closing the door on the whole damned mess.
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote