BusanOctober 27, 2014 in South Korea ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C
I spent about a week in Busan eating good food, hiking mountains and attending the 10th Annual Busan Fireworks Festival. The food photo is dog meat soup.
I wake to the sound of rain beating down on the roof of the pagoda. I roll over and go back to sleep because I know it’s my final night in the comfort of my tent. Besides, the pagoda is doing a good job keeping everything dry so I won’t have to worry about everything being wet when I pack. When I finally wake I watch another episode of Arrow as the grey light of dawn breaks.
A sign tells me it’s only 60km to the end of the cycleway in Busan. This is the last time that I’ll pass a distance sign to Busan because I am about to make a silly navigational error. The kind of error an adventure racer and rogainer should know not to make. I am about to force the ground to match the map when it clearly doesn’t. Every navigator has done it at least once. And it never ends well.
I reach Gimhae where I hit the CVS and eat a microwave hamburger, two Kit Kats, a fried chicken leg, a can of Gatorade and a pineapple Fanta. It’s just what I need. I navigate the city traffic past the airport and across Nakdonggang where a some rowers are training. It’s a delight to watch. I don’t row but I love watching rowers do their thing. It’s that balance of raw power, balance and timing that combines perfectly to make the boat move poetically across the water.
If I thought Seoul was big then Busan is ginormous. It took me 33km to get from my pagoda to Busan and then another 30km to get from Gupo to my hostel. And I didn’t even make it all the way to Haundae Beach. The traffic was manic but I fought my way through it, stopping ocassionally for more food when my body bonked.
I find a hostel online and make a beeline there. I find the alley in which the hostel is supposed to be located and suddenly feel overwhelmed by the sights and sounds. A man calls out, “hey are you looking for the hostel?”. I wouldn’t have found the place if I’d been left to my own devices. The guy leads me up the lift to the fourth floor of the building where I can park my bike. For just 13,000 won ($AU/US13) I get a bed in a dorm for most of the week. I can’t stay Saturday night because there is a festival but I can leave my bike and luggage at this hostel while I stay elsewhere for the night. All this is organised while I drink an ice cold glass of water, have access to an English language newspaper and wifi. It’s relaxed and friendly, just what I need.Read more
I woke to the sight of the sun breaking gently through the fog. Birds chirped in the trees and leaves rustled on the forest floor. The air was cool but not cold. I set about packing my gear slowly, ready for another day.
The path is wide and decorated with these wind flowers in many places. It is a simple but cheerful decoration that makes me smile.
I continue to travel through a landscape dominated by agriculture and the every-necessary quest to feed a nation’s population. In some fields the harvest is completed and preparations begin for the new crop. Plastic and reflective sheeting are placed on the ground everywhere to maximise the sun’s warmth as winter approaches. This is my first encounter with four-season farming and the realities of a bitter snow-covered winter.
There is no escaping the realities of farming here though. It’s hard work and every day there is something to be done. It’s the second Sunday in a row that I’ve noticed the older generation of Koreans working the fields. Walking tractors are pushed to plough the fields.
A farming village houses the Pak-jin memorial. This was a critical battle in the Korean War and possibly saved South Korea from obliteration. When all seemed lost and the capital had been moved first from Seoul to Daegu and then to Busan, South Korean and US forces took a stand here at Pak-jin. Outnumbered and outgunned they refused to give in, eventually routing the North Korean army and beginning the push to reclaim what had been lost.
A small museum marks the battle and tells the story of the Korean War. While the War Memorial Museum in Seoul was informative this museum touches me deeply. I am standing at a place of battle. Outside there are old men and women working their farms who are old enough to have been personally touched by the war, whether as soldiers, civilians or children. And it strikes me just how much the people of this country have achieved. Over the past few weeks I have spoken with a few men who were soldiers in the war. I have seen barbed wire, young soldiers, the captured submarine and monuments to mark signicant battles. And now, as I stand here I realise just how resilient the Korean people are. Just 64 years ago their country was flattened by war. Their army was pushed all the way back to this point just 80km north of Busan. Farms would have been destroyed and people killed or maimed. Yet this country is so advanced and the people so welcoming.
I continue along the cycleway, taking in the wide expansive river views. Green treed mountains drop into the water, reflecting golden in the afternoon sun. The leaves here in the south are not changing as dramatically as further north. It’s noticeably warmer here and perhaps winter will come a week or two later than in the north. This country might be small but it is so diverse and cycling makes this so obvious.
A particularly beautiful section of trail takes me through riverside reeds in flower. They are beautiful in their fluffy glory. A family walking along the path takes photos of their young children between the flowers. There is a festival here in this area somewhere every October to celebrate the reed flowers. Yet another sign of the seasons changing in a culture steeped in nature’s ebb and flow.
As the sun sinks lower into the west I come across a disused exercise park with a pagoda. It’s tucked away off the cycle path and I decide it’s a good place to stay.Read more
At the river I see a large group of people all wearing the same jackets. Many are wearing what look like race numbers: the kind you wear for a marathon or something. I stop to see what’s happening. A lady is singing on stage and there is a blow up arc like a race start line. Ray and Lisa, a Korean couple who have been living in the US for 40 years come to talk with me. They tell me this is a gathering of over 300 Koreans who live abroad. They are taking part in a big tour of Korea together and today they will be going on a walk; I guess like a fun walk. We talk some and I give Ray my contact details so they can look me up when they visit their friends in Sydney over the Australian summer.
It’s a beautiful Saturday morning. The sun is shining, a light breeze is blowing and there are lots of people out enjoying the day. I pass a “lesports park” where a group of men are playing foot volleyball. I’ve never heard of this game before, let alone seen it in action. It looks like a lot of fun. And, of course, in true Korean style there are lots of marquees set up with families eating and drinking lots of good food.
Nearby my eye is caught by something more familiar: a group of Indian men playing cricket. It’s summer at home and I just know this same scene is being played out all over Australia on a Saturday morning. It’s funny what symbols we find of home.
Sports are being played everywhere along the river at parks and grounds. The most common that I see is soccer. It makes me think of my sister and her husband who are big fans of the game.
Many cyclists are out enjoying the path. Husbands and wives wear matching jerseys. Many cyclists play music out loud without earphones. It is amusing when matching pairs of riders are playing different music while riding together. Young solo male riders seem threatened when I overtake them with my loaded bike so sprint away competitively only to walk up the next incline while I ride past. Young couples ride along on matching bicycles. When there is a climb the girl generally gets off with a resigned look on her face while the guy pushes her bicycle up the hill and waits. I see no solo female riders along the path. Perhaps they have better things to do with their Saturdays.
I stop at a popular pagoda and learn that I have been doing pagodas all wrong here in Korea: I should have been taking my shoes off. Oh well, live and learn. People try to talk with me but I cannot understand them. Some questions are familiar, like where are you from, where have you been and where are you going. Some comments are familiar also like that looks heavy and well done. But I know I am the subject of conversation that I can’t understand because they look at me, fiddle with my bike and laugh. I love how they try to talk more slowly to help me understand but still I cannot. Sign language isn’t such a big thing here; they just talk more loudly or slowly. It makes me think of how Australians sometimes try to communicate with foreigners at home … I can attest that louder and slower does not mean more understandable if the person cannot understand the words in the first place.
The landscape here is deeply rooted in an agrarian culture. Tractors move slowly, rice is dried on the roads and couples work the fields. Nothing seems rushed. It is as though the farmers know that the seasons will keep changing, the work will always be demanding and not much is likely to change for them. There are no young people here in the fields and I still wonder what will happen to Korea’s food supply as the older people pass one. Will young people bring technological advancements to farming? Will backpackers be relied upon for manual labour in exchange for the experience of working on a farm? It’s a conundrum being played out all over the developed world and Korea appears to be no exception.
I hear music and Buddhist prayer chants echoing from a hillside. My map says the path here splits with the riverside route being challenging and steep. But still I am drawn to the chanting sound; it intrigues me and is the first Buddhist chanting I have heard in some time. The two guards at the base of the hillside path should have served as warnings for what was to come but still I pushed on.
Nearby there is a stone pagoda. The chanting sound is coming from some nearby speakers. There doesn’t appear to be anyone here but perhaps I am wrong. It’s a very small temple that is not marked on any of my maps. The location is beautiful and I learn later from a passing cyclist that you can stay there for free.Read more
The rain is bucketing down outside the pagoda when I wake and I briefly consider laying in the pagoda for the day but that would be a bit soft and Daegu is calling. It’s only about 125km away and, while I’ve never ridden 100km in a day with a fully loaded bicycle the river path is flat and I am confident there will be a bed waiting for me at the Empathy Hostel despite my not having made a reservation. Besides, rain is only water.
As my Goretex fails to keep me dry I pass many Korean fishermen sitting comfortably in their tents with coal barbecues, picnic tables and soju. Their fishing set ups are epic and would make my uncle Big Muscly Bill in Holland jealous. With at least six rods a piece sitting on fantastic rod holders and at least three crab (?) nets in the water and a multicoloured scoop net on the shore, these men are not just here to watch the scenery.
I reach Korea’s answer to Silicon Valley: Gumi. Through the rain I can see a sign proudly proclaim that LG Displays is the Global Number One display company. I guess it probably is if many Australian households are anything to go by. This section of the cyclepath is industrial as it travels through Gumi’s industrial zones.
I spy a traditional looking building about 50m off the track. There is a place to park my bike at a pagoda so I walk in to take a look. The building is an old residence that has been partially restored. The story is not so interesting but the building has a charm and I enjoy a short stay.
After 95km of cycling I see Daegu sprawled out in the distance. The city is nestled between the mountains and river. It feels so close but what I don’t realise is that it will still be 5km before I reach the certification centre and then another 20km until I reach the city centre. But it’s only 2:30pm and this means I have time to make it to that warm dry bed and nice hot shower I have been daydreaming about. The cycleway into the city seems to end abruptly after about 5km leaving me with two choices: ride along crowded pedestrian footpaths that have a cycle lane painted on them or join the crazy traffic. I jam my helmet onto my head and select the latter as it will be much faster and, unlike the pedestrians, the traffic is only going in one direction. I don’t know from where I draw the energy to zip in and out of parked vehicles and sprint off from the traffic lights after the ride I’ve just done but somehow I find myself cranking down the road at speeds of over 30kph and throwing my 60kg loaded bike around as though it was built for trials. It’s worth it when the hostel has a bed and I enjoy a deliciously hot shower.Read more
The moonlight bridge near the dam is the longest wooden bridge in Korea. Even on an overcast day it is beautiful. I walked across the bridge to stand under the autumn coloured trees on the other side. A woman came over and asked me where I was from. She then called over her 10 year old daughter who had to do a school assignment in which she interviewed someone in English. The girl was small and shy. At first she didn’t even want to look at me because she was so embarrassed. So I knelt down to her height and tapped on her shoulder. “Anyonghaseyo” I said smiling. “I only know two Korean words: anyonghaseyo and komapsumnida” I said, nodding at her mother to translate. The little girl giggled a little and turned halfway around to see who this strange person was who couldn’t even speak Korean. “My name is Andrew. What is your name?” I said slowly to her. And there it was … the ice was broken and she was curious now. With her mother filming the interaction on her mobile phone (a Samsung of course) the little girl asked me some questions including what my favourite place in Korea is (the answer was Yangyang and Andong), where I am from (Australia) and what my favourite Korean food is (my response of fried chicken brought a big smile). The girl was from Gumi and went to an English language institute there. She introduced me to her father who works in a company (that is how she described he works in an office) but is a mountain rescue instructor too. Her father is clearly where the girl gets her shyness from so the mother explained that he was going to travel to Australia soon to teach a mountain rescue course. It’s spontaneous situations like this that make me wonder why so many people are xenophobic. After-all, we are all just people who happen to speak different languages or have different customs. And it confirmed to me that children all over the world are going to be our global future in tomorrow’s connected world.
Back in Andong I came to the mask park. Andong is famous for it’s traditional masks and the annual mask festival (which I missed by only a week). I had a lot of fun posing with the various masks and like the way they are specifically set up for photos.
There is an island in the middle of the river near Sangju with lots of little pagodas on it. I go to one on the far side of the river where I enjoy a pleasang night listening to fish jumping in the water and wake to hear a flautist’s music eminating from somewhere in the woods opposite.Read more
I wake invigorated by the fresh mountain air. After a short 800m (half mile) roll downhill to the park entry gate I return to the climb I had not quite completed yesterday. For the next 5km I ride up a steady climb surrounded by deep green mountain forest dotted by bright red and gold autumn leaves. Every time a strong gust of wind blows I am showered by leaves. I reach the first of many passes that I will cross through today. These do not have the height of those further north but they are still long hard-won climbs in a magnificent landscape.
Before I know it I am rolling into Andong. The less said about my arrival here the better. It goes along the lines of being unable to find accommodation after the hostel was fully booked but actually sitting right outside a perfectly good and reasonably priced hotel for half an hour worrying about what to do next. After 100km day on the bike I wanted nothing more than a shower, bed and internet access. Sometimes I can be so dramatic myself just like the landscape.
Not far from my hotel is the food street where vendors sell everything including my favourite Korean food, the donut and also some of the big apples I have seen on the trees.
I even eat my first decent meal since Seoul: a dish called jjimdak, which is steamed chicken. It is a massive meal but I eat all the chicken pieces, some of the noodles and most of the cabbage. It feels good and I decide to try to book a second night at my hotel to enjoy the foods of Andong again.Read more
. I decide to leave the coast and follow road 817 nland in a big loop towards Uljin where I need to be to take road 36 to the west. The road runs along many rice paddies with their grains bursting to be processed. In some fields it looks like farmers have been cutting the rice by hand, judging by the small patches that have been cut and bundled. It’s a lovely sight but probably not such a lovely job.
The road climbs and drops and climbs and drops. In the middle is a massive Spa World complex. I consider checking it out but the climb up the hill is steep and I know that I won’t feel comfortable stripping off in the communal showers or baths that are bound to be part of the spa experience. Not because I am ashamed of my body or have some western issue with nudity but for reasons that I prefer to keep off this blog. It’s out here in the hills on road 817 that the meltdown that’s been looming for a few days finally breaks. I’m not going to bore you with a vent because I know I’m on a fantastic adventure that many people would give their right arm to be on. But no one can be up all the time and when you are tired, hungry and unable to communicate effectively with people around you at some point it’s normal to lose the plot. I find myself sitting on the side of yet another climb questioning what I am doing here. I can’t help but feel helpless in a country where I can’t seem to grasp the language, where I can’t seem to make patterns out of the writing, where finding a place to eat and sleep has been a constant struggle for me. I miss the person I met a couple of months ago before I started this adventure and want to feel him near me rather than just talking by Skype whenever I happen to have wifi. I feel like a fraud because I am finding this adventure a challenge. And being unable to attend the spa was the icing on the cake at a time when I already feel so far from home. So I sit on the side of the road and do what I always do when I am overwhelmed. I have a bit of a tantrum and a cry. Then I dig into my panniers and find a bag of beef jerkey, a packet of biscuits and one of the bananas I just bought. I eat it all because I realise that lack of calories is one of my biggest problems.
I come to the Buryeonsa Valley. I wasn’t expecting this at all and here I am on what might be one of the most beautiful roads in the world on a perfect autumn day when the changing colours of the leaves create such drama.
The road follows a steep sided valley that has been cut by a river. Everywhere I turn there is something to see. From the crystal clear waters in the creek to the rocky cliffs that tumble into it.
Mountains extend forever and I find myself relishing every meter of the long climb. This is cycle touring at its best and I feel so grateful for the opportunity to experience this adventure. Where just a few short hours ago I wanted to be on the first flight home, now I am on an epic high that only Mother Nature’s beauty can create. I climb for hours from the base of the valley, stopping often to take photos and admire the view. Korean drivers slow down and clap as they drive past my slowly grinding progress. A few take photos of me as we both stop at viewing point.
I reach Buryeonsa (temple) itself. The temple is a good half hour hike from the carpark and I join the busload of Korean tourists on the trek. The temple is set in a quiet spot in the mountains. It has a solid calm about it.
I stop at Lovers Rock to admire the view. The rocks are the embodiement of two spirits: a brother and sister. The brother and sister eked a living selling medicinal herbs they found growing wild in the woods. One day an important man became ill and it was said that the only medicine that would cure him grew high up above a cliff. The brother and sister prayed for three days for safe passage before venturing out into the wild. Not long after they scaled the cliff and found the herbs, the brother fell to his death. The sister mourned his passing for three days before she threw herself off the cliff to be with him. The gods took mercy on the siblings and reunited them as this rock that stands watch over the valley below.
I climbed every higher looking for a place to camp when I saw a sign to the Tonggosan Recreation Park. I asked at the gate whether there was any camping allowed and the guard appologetically told me I would have to pay. I could see from the sign that four people cost KRW35,000 ($AU/US35) because the sign was similar to one I had seen at the campground in Yangyang. The guard spent a long time umming and aahing over a price. Eventually he let me camp for KRW5,000 ($AU/US5). It turned out to be a bargain because I had access to water, bathrooms, showers (all-be-it cold showers) and a platform on which to place my tent. The campground was gorgeous and I shared it with a couple of Korean families. I had ridden about 75km and was exhausted from the day’s events.Read more
I come to a rocky beach. It’s tucked away in a cove just after the industrial zone ends. If I had arrived from the south and stopped here I wouldn’t even guess that Donghae is an industrial hub. The golden sun creates silhouettes of the rocks and I walk a short path around the headland to properly enjoy it.
Navigation becomes easier as I follow the coast. Whenever the road deviates I can look for one or both the new east coast cycleway or the Romantic Road of Korea. The cycleway is well-signed where it exists (I believe it is under construction and not yet complete, which is why I keep finding places where it disappears) and the Romantic Road of Korea is clearly signed in most places (it sometimes disappears in towns, which might also be because I deviate from its course). The road is actually quite romantic with plenty of places to stop and take in ocean views and see cool tourist attractions.
There’s no shortage of fishing villages today either. Drying seems to be a popular method of preserving seafood here. I can’t help but wonder whether the drying of vegetables and seafood is a response to Korea having four distinct seasons (or so I am told by Koreans). Winter is approaching and perhaps drying is how food is stored for that season.
I find Haesindang Park with it’s famous phallic statues. That’s right … a whole park dedicated to the male member. Most of the other guests of the park (entry 3,000 won) are small groups of women giggling with each other. I even spot a nun wearing a habit amoung one of the groups. I spot two young couples holding hands with lovestruck grins on their faces and a couple of men looking embarrassed being led around by their wives. There is a large fishing village museum in the middle of the park but I don’t see anyone entering it. While some of the statues are rather erotic and suggestive, others are more creative. They have been placed here to appease the spirit of a young lady who drowned when a wave swamped a nearby island. She was a seaweed collector and loved a local fisherman. He took her to a small island to collect seaweed and said he would return after his day fishing. When the time came for him to collect the lady a storm broke out and made it impossible for him to reach the island. During the storm the island was swamped by a wave and the lady drowned. Thereafter, the village suffered poor catches until someone made an offering of a phallic statue in the shrine. After that statue was offered, the village again had successful catches so more statues were added to continue to appease the lady. The entire walking route is about 1.5km (1 mile) return and there are many statues to be seen.Read more