Thursday, 8 October 2009

Chuseok in Seoraksan Part Deux

Realised after the last post that I had not actually said who was in the group. Oops. I'm still not quite sure about giving names on this thing, but Anne has put up a note on Facebook (I am tagged if you want to read it), and Mark has a blog (with links to many more photos). So there are now three versions of this weekend online! Both Mark and Anne work for Yale, though Anne is based in Jisan. Also with us were two of Mark's football buddies, Steve and George, both English and currently living in Gyeongju. This weekend was the first extended period I've spent in the company of fellow Britishers, and it was nice to revert to my former accent and vocabulary.

Anyhoo, on Saturday, Anne and I enjoyed a well-earned lie-in until almost 11am and a leisurely breakfast in the hostel's adorable kitchen. I don't think I would have left at all were it not for Anne's gentle persuasion. I'm awfully glad we did!

Being sore from the previous day, we decided on a short walk up to Heundeulbawi ('Teetering Rock'), with a possible extension of the walk up to Ulsanbawi. I think the walk was around 3km in total, but again, we had not quite appreciated how steep it would become. Up to Heundeulbawi, the trail was easy and scenic, taking in a walk past the giant Buddha statue and temple and through some woods. The rock itself was smaller than I'd expected, and it does seem improbable that it hasn't yet been knocked off. Anne and I decided that we'd best not try to push it over - I remain convinced that, had we tried, our waegukin strength would have toppled the boulder and ruined everyone else's fun.

There was talk of turning back at this point, but as Anne said, there was no way we were going to ignore the chance to go further 'up'! From this point, the trail gradually became steeper, and legs protested at the further exercise. We thought we were there when we reached the bottom of a large cliff, but no such luck: there were stairs up to the top. I nearly backed out as it felt like a cheater's way up the rock (especially when there were quite a few bolted routes within sight of the steps) but that would have made me even more of a wuss. This was even steeper than the previous day's climb – it was also more exposed and windy – and far more crowded! At the top, we found not only handrails, but a stall selling souvenirs. I'll just let that sink in...we'd climbed metal staircases up a cliff and snaked through gaps in boulders at the top, and there, above all that, was a man with a megaphone selling gold medals. I absolutely had to have one – after the previous day's exertions, getting to the top of Ulsanbawi really felt like an achievement - and 10,000won seemed a reasonable compensation for the chap for hefting the medals up there and engraving them. (It says my name! In Hangeul! Which of course means it says 'Jenipa', but hey, that's as close as it's gonna get.)

Unsurprisingly, a steep metal staircase up a cliff is actually more scary on the way down, but it certainly was quick, and we were soon back in Sokcho enjoying a cheap and tasty bowl of chinese noodles for dinner. (I'm assured that this particular dish is about as common in China as chicken tikka masala is in India.) After so much hiking, an evening of beers seemed in order. Off we trotted to the local foreigner bar where punters can choose whatever tunes they fancy from the laptop in the corner. It was more like a house party than a bar – no bad thing! This was the same place a couple of us checked out on the first night, and the atmosphere both evenings was very friendly. From chatting with the local expats (can you be a local expat?) I think this might have had something to do with living next to a beach AND the most beautiful national park in Korea. If you had to put up with having only one local bar, you'd want it to be this one.

Can you guess what happened in Part Drei? Did our intrepid adventurers overcome the hangovers so obviously coming next? Or did they all hide in their respective duvets all day? Oh the suspense....

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