Monday, 5 September 2011

Hiking Up and Settling Down

There are soldiers everywhere. They are marching along the sidewalks and avenues. They are parading down Main Street. They are sat down in front of a stage watching scantily clad Koreans sing crass pop songs. Soldier Fest came to Sachang-ri on Friday. The town that I live in is full of soldiers all year round. We are about 10 miles away from the DMZ (essentially the North Korean border) so there are a lot of soldiers who are stationed here. Not only that, Koreans have national service and must join the forces for at least two years, so there are a lot of them about. All of them, walking around in their camouflaged army slacks. Every year my town hosts a festival for these soldiers, people come and watch live entertainment, drink Soju, eat silk worms and sausages, go on fairground rides and take photos of themselves on tanks and artillery vehicles. Which is more or less what we did on Friday night, certainly the highlight was the firework display, Koreans sure know how to use their gunpowder for the sake of entertainment. We also went on children’s fairground rides which were scarier than they looked. It was a pretty decent Friday night but we got home early because we were hiking a giant mountain on Saturday.

The mountain we climbed soars 950 odd metres above sea level and from the top you can see for miles in every direction, the cars driving through town look like ants. We set off at 9am, we got some lunch ready from the local market (Kims Mart) and we set off hiking down the long road which I usually take to school. We didn’t really know where the trail head was, we had done a little research most of which was in Korean, but we only had a vague idea of where we were headed. We must have walked about 1.5 miles down the road in blazing sunlight before we reached the place (where we thought) the trail up the mountain began. We walked over a small bridge and up a path which led to an eldely lady’s house, she was drying chilli’s in the sun. “This doesn’t seem right”. We turned back and started off down another road which we thought might lead us up the mountain. Then as if from nowhere a silver truck pulled up next to us. There was a bald lady inside who we later discovered was a Buddhist monk from a local temple, she spluttered and spurted at us in Korean and tried to show us the way. The way which she thought we could take was overgrown and to dangerous, so she invited us into her car and drove us half way up the road to the head of the trail. She dropped us of right next to a sign which led the way. What a lovely monk.

The hike was hard. The mountain was steep pretty much the whole way up and the whole trip took us about a hour and a half from the trail head to the peak. Which was pretty good going considering how steep, narrow and treacherous the path was. We stopped for lunch on the peak and took some photos. What a view. You could see for miles around from up the top which was truly magnificent. Then it was time to come down. The road down was tougher than the road up, there were ropes tied to trees so you could scale down rocks and metal foot holds knocked into the rock so you wouldn’t slip, it was a very steep climb down but we made it, and the round trip was about six hours. We headed for pizza and spent the night relaxing on the roof of the apartment.

On Sunday we decided to visit a place called Nami island. Nami island has declared itself it’s own country and its a quaint little island which reminded me of the ‘Curse of Monkey Island’ video game series. We jumped in the back of Ben’s car and in an hour we were there. There are two ways onto Nami island. By boat, or by zip line. The zip line is 80m in length and goes from high up a man made tower over the water and onto the island. We took the zip line. The only really scary part of the zip line is when they strap you in. You are leaning against a metal gate which opens at the push of a button. It’s fear of the unexpected. But as soon as the gate opened we were off, and it was a pleasant smooth ride down the zip line and onto Nami island. It’s a cool island, with very good ice cream, sculptures of breasts and penises, musical instruments, a train ride, black squirrels and ostriches which you can feed. We spent an hour or two here before heading back for more fabled dalk galbi!

That was a pretty decent weekend. I’m back at school now and my classes have gone well so far. It sure was lucky I prepared something for my grade 1’s though, because it’s like they speak more English than their teacher does, I guess I won’t really have a co-teacher for that class.

All the best from Korea, and wherever you are in your day, good morning, good afternoon, good evening and good night.

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