Korea is great for giving its teachers lots of vacation time. So three and a half weeks after returning to work for the autumn term we had a full week off to recoup from the shock!
Not all teachers had the full week, but my school chose to shut for the Monday and Tuesday giving me extra time to relax.
The holiday got off to quite a hungover start after a frisbee pre-season team dinner turned into rather late drinking session. I still attempted to go for an afternoon’s hike in outer Daegu, but we didn’t really reach anywhere as we started rather late. Sunday was the opening day of the frisbee season, and after a very tough start against an unexpectedly strong opponent we finished the day unbeaten.
My Monday and Tuesday were the most relaxing days I’ve spent in Daegu with the majority of my friends working. I wandered to go and check out a market and university close to me, getting some delicious food and buying myself an upgraded pepper grinder! The old one wasn’t cutting it.
I’ve got the Busan half marathon coming up in a couple of weeks and I haven’t had time to do any distance running so I used an afternoon to run a practice one and give myself a target to aim for in Busan – hoping to run around a 1:30 time. Other than that I just did usual household jobs that get neglected when I’m busy, like deep cleaning my apartment, especially as I had a guest arriving Tuesday evening.
Yes, my friend Hodel, who I lived with in Spain for 5 months, has moved out to Korea! She’s living in another city about two hours from Daegu called Jinju and was visiting for the Chuseok holiday to come hiking with us. We were heading up to the most popular national park called Seoraksan to do a couple of days hiking there and then relax in the nearby coastal town Sokcho – famous for being one of the few places in Korea where Pokemon Go works.
There are very few buses running from Daegu to Sokcho and as we discovered when trying to be one of the first people to book them, you needed a Korean credit card to be able to book – which none of us had (I’ve now gone and sorted one) – so we hadn’t been able to get the Tuesday overnight bus that we’d wanted. Instead we ended up on the Wednesday day bus, losing a day, but at least still making it there. Our hiking crew was the same as when we did Deogyusan, with the addition of Hodel to the group.
As we had Tuesday night in Daegu, I treated Hodel to the great Gamjatang restaurant by my house. She’s only been here for two weeks, so still knows pretty much nothing about Korean foods – it’s good fun introducing new people to the delights! Our bus ride up the next day was smoother than I expected with only the traffic out of Daegu being pretty slow. There was a bit of drizzle in the air, but nothing too bad. When we arrived we went to an all you can eat BBQ place before getting the local bus to our hostel near the entrance to the national park.
We were staying a night up in the national park, the shelter booked the second it was released, and we’d chosen the one closest to the summit to have the least walking to do for the sunrise hike on Friday. I hadn’t really paid close attention the timings on day one when sorting the route, and so on the bus ride up when I had time to look properly at the map realised our Thursday hike was going to be a crazy 10 hours! We were taking the long way to the shelter we wanted to do ‘dinosaur ridge’ – probably one of the most famous ridgelines here, featuring on nearly all adverts for the national parks.
Undeterred by the distance we were going to be covering we got up (fairly) early on the Thursday, had the best free hostel breakfast I’ve had to date (toast, jam, peanut butter, cereal, yogurts, eggs and fresh coffee) and jumped on the short 10 min bus ride to the national park office where there was a large Buddha to great you before you set off.
We were incredibly lucky with the weather on the trip. The forecast in the week leading up to it had gone from rain to showers to cloud and we ended up with a nice sunny day. The hike was long and some sections gruelling. Dinosaur ridge was a ton of fun, really narrow and steep sections traversing constantly over the top of rocks with trees somehow growing out of narrow gaps. Chains and ropes were drilled into the rock face and when you looked back along the ridge you couldn’t see a passable route.
Our progress was slow yet steady throughout the day. We met a Korean hiker just before we stopped for lunch who when seeing where we were going was like ‘Bali bali’ – meaning hurry! I’d calculated that we’d probably end up doing the final 30 minutes or so in darkness, which is pretty much how it turned out. Three of us had head torches though so it was no issue and the sunset was beautiful as we made our final ascent to the shelter.
The shelter was no where near as nice as the Deogyusan one. It was just one huge room with markers to map out where each person was meant to lie, the room also got incredibly hot. I didn’t sleep well. Our dinner was plentiful though after our errors on the last hike – but the brand new stove that I’d bought (cheaply) off Gmarket failed – the lightest breeze would blow it out – infuriating our attempts to boil water. Luckily some more lovely Koreans lent us their stove and we feasted on Ramen, rice and curry.
Day two hiking was a stroll pretty much after the first day. The summit was only twenty minutes away and we got up there for a fairly unspectacular sunrise. Seoraksan national park is situated around 30km from the border of North Korea though and so from our position high up we could see over into the North. Not that you can see anything other than rolling hills, but it is still crazy to think about the different world that was situated just there. I’m currently reading ‘First they killed my father’ about the genocide in Cambodia in the 70s and seeing a world so close where human rights are constantly abused in secret makes you think what truths and atrocities will come out of North Korea when, (if), the regime collapses.
Our hiking down was just four hours and not strenuous at all and we were rewarded at the end by a natural hot spring bath house with many different pools and saunas to help heat out any ache from the legs. The wait for the bus back to Sokcho took quite a while, but we made it back and after a wander of the town centre got some delicious Dakgalbi at a very popular local place.
We had free day on Saturday to relax and wander around Sokcho. None of us had Pokemon Go on our phones, so couldn’t join in with the mass of young Koreans wandering the town glued to their phones, but we did see the town centre, its harbour and tower and the beach. It’s a fairly nice town although nothing spectacular. There’s some serious development starting and I reckon that within a decade or two it will be a fairly big tourist spot. More delicious food happened, this time in the form of JJimdak with more drinking and cards before our smooth bus ride back yesterday.
I got back much earlier than I expected so went out in the drizzle for a late afternoon 10k to wake up my legs after the bus. Monday back in work after a holiday is always the worst, but at least all classes are shortened 5 minutes today for some Korean reason. I have to actually teach everyday this week! Although this is the final full 5 day week until mid-November.. ah Korea.