The spiders were everywhere over there. When westerners talk about Korea as a destination or somewhere they lived and taught for a year or two, they often lose me pretty fast as they rave about the food or K-pop or the high-tech wonderlands to be found in the big cities. Well, I disliked the food, and Busan, the second-biggest city, just an hour or so from where I lived, will stay with me more for its decaying maze of hillside alleys and the really rather squalid seafood markets on its waterfront than any technological buzz it might have had. (Don’t get me started on the music.) Flashy, cutting-edge, Korea undoubtedly exists, but it was the half-made Korea, the good-enough Korea of the countryside, coast and city fringes that I spent most of my time in. Sometimes I wonder if I would have loved the country more if I’d been stationed in bustling Seoul with its mix of the gleaming-new and the mothball-antiquated, its countless options for diversion on weekends, holidays and before and after work. Certainly I would have been …
I thought I’d knock Days 11-13 off in one hit since Day 13 was just a few hours and I’m in danger of forgetting how to write. I hope you’ve enjoyed this lengthy series of souvenirs of an adventure I’m immensely proud of pulling off.
Another great walk yesterday, a Sunday-afternoon stroll along the river and through the local paddies, shooting (photographically) at anything that moved. A touch of the Wild West in the Mystical East.
Got back into some serious hiking today with a Saturday climb of Jangsan, a mountain overlooking Haeundae. Had a great time up there photographing fungi, streams, boulders and views of the Haeundae skyscrapers. And I felt strong, even if my heels still look pretty nasty. Bloody tired now, though — it’s through half-closed eyes that I hit “PUBLISH” tonight…
The typhoon was a relatively mild affair down here in the sheltered south-east. It blew like hell but didn’t carry much rain. Starting early, I got the standard series of conflicting phone calls and text messages from a couple of colleagues:
I hope you’re not tiring of this series — I’m only halfway through! I almost wish I’d never started, but at least it doesn’t require much commitment on your part — or mine. It’s refreshing, actually, to churn out some posts that don’t take several hours out of my Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and Mad Men time. Meanwhile, a typhoon is rattling my windows and turning umbrellas into confetti.
I don’t know, I reckon every day of this walk was amazing in its own way, even the hot ones, the long ones, and the long, hot ones. Even that first half-day with the garbage-strewn beach, even the pain-wracked ones near the end — and the ones like Day 5 where I had to stay on my toes for hours to avoid becoming roadkill…
A great day that saw me descend my mountain fastness and make for the coast; a swim; some typically inept navigation; and a “lost” road that was an unexpectedly delightful inland deviation into the outskirts of the ancient capital, Gyeongju. Oh, and another memorably offbeat place to throw down…
I didn’t take many pictures on this day: harsh, unforgiving light, a wearisome trudge through Ulsan’s industrial zone, torpor in a park during a brutally hot midday, another long slog out of town. In fact this would be one of the lowest daily photo tallies of any walk I’ve ever done. But you can’t force the magic!
DAY TWO I’m tapping this in the shelter and squalor of a former beachfront house that has been abandoned, ruined and completely degraded, though not necessarily in that order.
G’day and good evening to you all. Well, it was back at “work” yesterday, where I spent the whole day in my chair catching up on blogs — no students till Monday. I did enjoy the looks of horror on the faces of the vice principal and other staff as I cheerfully described my holiday fun and had it all translated. My ravaged feet were regarded with delicious horror, and the first aid kit was duly placed on my desk. Spray-on antiseptic, local anaesthetic and Band Aids were generously applied. Life was good.
Made it! In fact I made it yesterday and slept in my own bed last night, but was too beaten up, down and all around to type anything. This is coming to you from my favourite coffee shop back in Jangyu, the So Pung, post-2nd latte and kiwi smoothie. It’s good to be back. So, how did I get it done so fast? By quitting, about which I could write a how-to guide. Not quitting the Busan-to-Sokcho trek, the original concept, but the perhaps suicidal Soerak-San mountain-climb climax I invented in some deranged ecstasy of road love. Here’s what happened.
DAY 12. Another day, another Family Mart with my phone sneakily attached to the socket they always have out the front. I could ask and they’d happily charge it inside, but this way I can watch it. I use an adaptor with my foreign phone and if it’s not attached just right it doesn’t work.
DAY 11. Hi, readers. Well, here’s a sign of progress: this picture, taken a few hours ago, shows the first road sign on the whole trip to mention my destination, Sokcho. As you can see, it’s tantalisingly close. The bad news is my feet. Road-walking in the rain today did them no favours, and they feel like they’ve been shotgunned, sprinkled with sawdust and dangled in a cage full of rabid beavers.
..The bloody phone pulled a Lazarus and here I am, sitting in another park, in another seaside town, my wretched feet airing out and scaring the children while I tap. I was going to give you all a break, but thought I should use it before I (possibly) lose it again. Sorry!
The road is deadly, bright and brash, But I have welfare cheques to cash, And miles to go before I crash, And miles to go before I crash… ~ “The Hobo’s Lament” (with apologies to Robert Frost) DAY 9. Well, first the bad news. A loyal and constant trail companion is dead.
DAY 8. So I finally busted out of that last rest area and went dancing, I mean striding down the road. Or should I say “up” the road? I am walking north. Damn it, I’m always walking north. Anyway, moving ALONG the road. I was in dangerously high spirits. This was fortunate as I had a 35-mile day in mind. But all my distances are educated guesses based on my speed, duration and the very rare useful road signs; I might have done even more when I finally admitted that high spirits alone would not carry me all night, and started scanning for a place to crash.
DAY 7. Hi, all. I’ll make this short to reward readers for sticking with my endless saga of asphalt, sunburn and depressingly little romance… NEWS FLASH! I’d no sooner typed the above when an attractive young woman from one of the shops here just came out to my picnic table and said, “Excuse me, are you looking for somewhere to charge your phone?”
DAY 6. Well, this is pretty sweet. I’d have to say that despite some frustration, this has been the best day yet. But before I elaborate, let me set the scene in which I tap at these ridiculously small keys… It’s just about dark and I’m sitting on the sand at a beach called Hwajin, leaning back on my pack and feeling like a king.
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: