It has taken me a while to warm to Korea.
I guess after coming off the massive high of Japan, New Zealand and Australia, nothing would quite compare.
And this was my problem.
When I stopped comparing and started looking around with fresh eyes I finally started to enjoy this weird and wonderful country.
After just escaping a typhoon on Jeju I was stuck in wet and miserable weather for a good while.
Following the Yeongsangang river was easier than trying to pronounce it.
It is very clearly signposted,
there were even a few little climbs.
The track was mostly long, straight and uneventful, but whenever it would veer away from the river, into the hills, and if the sun would come out it was rather pretty.
I got some nice views of the river.
A lot of flowers this time of year.
Same country but a world away from the little old ladies working the fields where ever you look.
And lots of excercise machines in case you didn’t feel active enough just yet.
There is a few things Koreans seem to like. One of them is coloured lights. I like coloured lights too at times. But have to admit I was fairly surprised at the light show on a weir, miles away from any village, where I pitched my tent for the night.
Another thing is festivals, there’s a lot of dancing and singing going on in small and big towns, I can never figure out what the occasion is.
But pretty for sure.
The first big town -and getting bigger- along the river was Gwangju.
where I was lucky to find Declan, an Irish guy who is an English teacher. He happens to be from a town only a stone throw away from where I used to live.
And likes riding his bicycle too. So we had a look around town, and when the weather cleared up I decided to keep following the trail up to the dam.
As I rode along one guy came up to talk to me, he decided I needed his glasses as there were too many bugs to fly in my eyes (it was getting dark and I couldn’t see through my sunnies)
Not just that, he gave me a reflector, a light and bought me dinner! He kept on riding along until I found a camp spot that he approved off before returning to town (in the dark, without his glasses!)
I had seen this little building perched high upon the hill and wanted to check out what that was and how it got there.
Turns out to be a little old temple. As for how it got there, I’m still not sure.
A fairly well used tramping-trail wound its way up.
But some have different priorities.
I met two friendly fellows up that hill, Mister Kim and Mister Kang,
they spoke good english and we spent the morning chatting and wandering around. Then they invited me to have lunch with them, introduced me to pajeon, a seafood and green-onion pancake that is my favourite dish in Korea so far.
And makgeolli, fermented rice wine. Not my favourite, but the guy at the next table seemed to enjoy it alright. So much so he toppled backwards off the platform we were eating on. To everybody’s entertainment. And this was before midday!
One minor issue is, as soon as you get away from the bike trails, it’s not too easy to navigate your way. I had not yet managed to find a good map of Korea. So taking a bunch of small country roads got me pretty much back where I started.
Good thing I’m not in any major hurry.
I finally found the next river road and decided to follow it to town, I’ve heard the Korean Jjimjilbangs have dormitories where you can stay overnight. A Jjimjilbang is a sauna, like the Onsens in Japan that I really really like a lot!
On my way another man overtook me, he’s a doctor in Gwanju and out riding by himself as his wife doesn’t like cycling and his teenage son is too much into his computer games to get out the door.
We rode into town together only to find there’s no Jjimjilbang there! But a great little restaurant made up for that loss,
and I just continued along the river until I found a good campspot. There are many of those around.
Not sure what the red sign says. Probably something like ;”No tents or bicycles on this pagoda“.
Nice view in the morning though.
This river trail, along the Seomjingang river, was a lot more scenic and enjoyable than the first one. Lovely mountains and the weather seemed to have cleared a bit.
But I was over this very tame cycling and decided to head up hill.
And came across this sign!
I thought the bear-scare was over when I left Japan. I was almost worried to camp here in Jirisan national park.
Until I found out there’s a conservation project going on and at the moment 19 bears live in this 471.75 km2 park. The chance to run into one of them wouldn’t be too large.
According to one website Jirisan means “the mountain of the odd and wise people.”
I felt at home immediately.
I discovered that one of the things Koreans do really well is coffee! A wonderful discovery as I really like coffee. This lady was camping in the national park and poured me a brew.
This is a grandfather statue that protects a village.
He reminded me of Chad Morgan.
As I headed for Jinan the map-thing started to get on my nerves a bit. So I decided to head into Jeonju for the day and not to return before I got a good one.
Now, at least I could still take the minor roads with the main difference that I roughly know where I’m heading.
Of course the whole map is in Korean. So when people ask me where I’ve been or where I’m going I can only tell them the road nr.
Here along road 751 I came across a little tractor full of old ladies, they were about as surprised to see me as I was to see them.
But I didn’t use the map at all for the first 10-days. I decided to sit still with my eyes closed for 100 hours at a vipassana-course.
It was there I met Emily,
although we weren’t allowed to talk the first 9 days, we did all the more so on the 10th. And the 11th and 12th,
as we decided to walk up some hills with a guitar (she’s a wonderful singer!)
This particular mountain had a beautiful temple squeezed in between the two large rocky outcrops that give it its name, “Horse ear mountain”
The interesting thing about walking up hills in Korea is you’re never alone. And down at the car park you usually find a party going on as walking alone, clearly, isn’t enough excercise for some…
But, as Emily headed back to Seoul where her teaching-job was waiting for her, I climbed back on my bicycle.
To go and discover some more lovely country side
and spectacular roads.
I like the old bicycles you see around here too.
It has been cooling down and by now the autumn is in full swing.
The most amazing colours wherever you look. I just can’t stop taking photo’s of trees.
And one cheeky squirrel.
It really is gorgeous though! Don’t you think?
I particular love the golden Ginkgo trees,
not least because I remember my dad taking us to this tree, of which one grows in my hometown.
(on the ‘Waterloseweg, Apeldoorn‘, if you’re in the area)
This is pretty well a living fossil with 270 million years of history! One particular story struck me, as Hiroshima was bombed and every plant, animal and person in the area died, 6 of those trees survived and are still alive today.
I’ve decided to ride and hike to a few of the national, and provincial parks in the country.
Where some parks are very popular and you find dancing, singing Koreans and pancakes (the pancakes don’t dance and sing, just the Koreans..)
Others, like here, at Songnisan are dead quiet.
I did find out I walked up the ‘wrong’ hill. But it was still extremely enjoyable.
Meandering up the country is very nice, particularly since I’ve decided to let China slip and stay here another month.
Riding along my bicycle is getting lots of attention.
And me too.
To having people randomly giving me things,
not letting me pay for groceries,
inviting me for meals,
or letting me sleep in a church building.
God knows how long it’s been since I set foot in a church.
Let alone made pancakes,
setting off fire works with the pastor’s son,
and was introduced to the miracle egg-lollypop machine.
The last National Park I came across was Woraksan.
The first temple there is built in the year 587!
A nice walk takes you up to the stone carved Buddha from the 11th century.
It was just after leaving that temple a guy in a car flagged me down to ask if he could talk to me. He then showed me the bicycle-travel set up he had in the back of his vehicle.
A brompton bicycle, Hilleberg tent, even a great coffee machine!
The perfect set-up all together
He is a keen follower of “The path less pedaled”.
But he has to work. For another 10 years at least.
So for now his ambitions will be confined to the short holidays he gets from the army.
But that evening he joined me at a glorious spot along the road.
For a small taste of what life could be like….