Meetup.com Weekend Hiking Trip

November 27, 2008 at 2:23 pm (Uncategorized)

On November 1st and 2nd we took a trip with the Seoul Hiking and Tour group we joined through meetup.com (www.meetup.com).  This was to be our first full weekend outside of Seoul, and Dave and I were both pretty excited to get as far away as possible from the the city for a few days.  So after the craziness of Hallowe’en at Kids Club, we woke up early for the fourth weekend in a row and took the subway into Seoul to meet up with the meetup – ha.  The bus was leaving at 7:00 sharp, so we were out of the house by 5:45 – not my favourite time of the day.  We met up with Simon, Jocelyne, her roommate Ruth, and another friend we’d met on the Temple Stay trip named Heather.  As per usual, we settled into our seats on the bus and fell asleep for the next few hours.

At 11:30 we woke up to find ourselves somewhere in the far south east of Korea.  We left all non-essential hiking gear on the bus, and headed into a small restaurant for lunch.  Seeing as we were on the ocean, the specialty was fish, fish and more fish served Korean-style.  That means whole fish, with heads and eyes and everything, served on a plate.  We dug through the bones and scales to find the meat, which was surprisingly tasty, and filled up on rice, broth soup and some small side dishes.  Not a bad meal!

Then it was off to the pier to catch our boat to Saryangdo island at 12:00.  As we cruised away from the mainland we were given some spectacular views of the ocean and the hundreds of little islands that dotted the water.  After about a 40 minute ferry ride, we closed in on the island, which looked like a scene out of Jurassic Park.  This link has some pretty decent information about the mountain, and even a few good pictures: http://eng.tongyeong.go.kr/program/engtour/outTourInfo.asp?cate=A01000&SType=Tou_Name&SString=&idx=48&page=1

Once we arrived on the island we were given three different hiking options:  group A was going to hike along the paved roads at the base of the mountain, group B was going to take the easier hike, and group C was going for a full out Korean-style trek.  Having seen how hard-core the hikers in Korea are, we chose to opt out of group C and joined group B for a less strenuous experience, although Simon decided to take one for the team and went with group C.  We weren’t sure if we’d ever see him alive – he was the only white guy in the group, and the only one without a stainless steel walking stick!  A bunch of us ladies inquired about a bathroom break before we headed out, but were told that there weren’t any….the woods would have to do.  Yikes!

So we started off at ground level, and wove our way literally through people’s backyards to the start of the mountain path.  The few island residents obviously have a very spartan life – most are fishermen, and they have very few luxuries to speak of.  As soon as we entered the woods we got our first take of the “moderate” hike we were in for – it was straight up a rocky mountain path for us!  We were huffing and puffing within minutes, but kept climbing further and further up the path.  Our guide was a Korean man who’d ascended Mount Everest twice, so this hike must have been equivalent to a nice, leisurely stroll in the park for him.  We stopped after about an hour for a much-needed break, and all the Koreans pulled out their bags of hard-boiled eggs and cut up fruit.  So funny.  I took this opportunity to find a quiet spot for my bathroom break, making extra sure the ground beneath me wasn’t about to give way – wouldn’t want to fall off the mountain and break something trying to take a pee. 

We kept ascending, and were given a few amazing look-out points where we took some spectacular pictures (will be posted soon).  There were quite a few points where the path became razor sharp, and I found myself walking alone – I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone would hear me if I fell.  We reached the highest point in our hike and sat at the top, surveying the beautiful surroundings.  We were able to watch other hiking groups scale even higher parts of other nearby mountains – the views must have been spectacular, but I’m not willing to put my life at risk to get there.  We began working our way down an almost sheer rock face, and I basically travelled about a foot a minute because I had to walk sideways.  When we were back on the dirt path we briefly stopped at an intersection of two trails where a woman had set up a small tent serving hot drinks.  She had the cutest little puppy tied up to a nearby tree, and we had a blast playing with it.  Dave was rolling around in the dirt as the puppy bit his hands and arms to shreds.  We gave it a large stick, which provided a good 10 minutes of solid entertainment as the puppy wound itself around the tree trying to grab hold of the stick. 

Anyway, after about three hours of hiking we were all fairly exhausted, and ready to take the ferry back over to the mainland.  Well, unfortunately this was not meant to be.  We arrived at the docks by about 3:30, and just kind of stood around for a while, waiting for someone to tell us what was going on.  We waited, and waited, and waited.  Eventually people began lying down on the ground and taking naps, otherwise meandering around the docks trying to waste time.  Still no word from the group leaders, who were no where to be found.  After doing nothing for almost an hour, we decided to walk around a bit and see what we could see. 

We amused ourselves by taking in a little of the local customs at the fish markets – they have large open vats of various fish, crustaceans and the like sitting on the road, and one specialty we’ve noticed throughout South Korea is the sea cucumber  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_cucumber).  The ones we have here don’t have any spines, and look like enormous, hairless fingers.  It’s disgusting, but they actually breathe through their bums, and you can watch as a large hole opens and closes kind of like a fish mouth.  They’re revolting, yet fascinating to watch.

We walked up to one stall where a small group of Koreans were enjoying some seafood, and found that the old woman who owned it was preparing a Korean delicacy called sannakji (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sannakji) – live, baby octopus that are sliced up on a plate and eaten raw.  It was like watching a car crash; we didn’t want to look, but couldn’t take our eyes away.  The octopus was still squirming on the plate as they picked up pieces with their chopsticks and chowed down.  Next the lady pulled out a sea cucumber from a large tank, and before we even had time to react she’d pulled out a huge knife, sliced the thing lengthwise, and squeezed out all the guts right in front of us.  Half of us screamed (me included) and the other half gagged.  It was the second time in two days that I’d almost puked because of food in Korea!

Anyway, the ferry arrived just before 5:30, and we very gladly hopped on for the trip back to the mainland.  We were all tired, grimy and hungry (well, not nearly so much after witnessing the seafood massacre on the pier), and were glad to collapse into our comfy seats on the bus after a very long day.  We travelled into the nearby city of Tongyeong, which you can see at the south east tip of this map: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Southkoreamap.png.  It took over an hour because of the wonderful weekend traffic, so by the time we arrived we were absolutely starving.  The tour guide had arranged for a set meal at a seafood restaurant right near our hotel, and I was really excited because the specialty was fresh, local sushi straight from the ocean.  I love, love, love sushi, so was extremely excited – the quality of sushi (or kimbap, as they call it here, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kimbap) in Korea is pretty blah compared to what I’d expected, so my hopes were high for this meal.

The bus parked in a large lot, we grabbed our bags and walked about 5 minutes to the restaurant.  It was a very traditional set up – small, screened rooms with tables on the floor and mats to seat about eight people per room.  The tables were loaded with all kinds of seafood – whole fish, octopus, enormous prawns, and tons of side dishes.  We’d paid extra for the sushi, so I was holding out for the good stuff.  It arrived a few minutes later, and to my horror, it wasn’t at all the sushi I’d expected, but was heaps of various raw fish on a platter.  I was hoping for some sliced fish on rice, or even a roll, but this just blew me away. 

We had absolutely no idea what any of it was, so it was kind of like an episode of Fear Factor – we all dared each other to try a piece from different piles and watched as the person’s face contorted with disgust.  The raw stuff was either full of bones, was covered in a mucus-like slime, or was just so absolutely inedible that we ended up barely touching any of it.  The sushi platter had whole squid with beady black eyes that stared at us, starfish, clams, mussels, and of course, sea cucumbers.  The restaurant staff checked in on us a few times, and must have wondered why none of the plates were being emptied – the food was so horrible we couldn’t finish anything!  We made a very hasty exit, leaving our table still full of food, and wandered the streets of Tongyeong, searching for something edible.  I felt a little ashamed that we ended up at a Lotteria (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lotteria), the Korean version of McDonald’s, but after a meal like that we just wanted something that wouldn’t trigger the gag reflex. 

We wandered back to the restaurant about an hour later, picked up our room keys, and crashed for the night.  The hotel was actually pretty nice – it had a huge, comfy bed with great pillows and a bathroom much nicer than the one in our apartment.  I was so happy just to lie down and sleep, I almost forgot the 5am wake-up call that was coming the next morning.  Almost, but not quite.

Dave and I actually debated forgoing the next day’s hike in favour of a long, relaxing sleep-in at the hotel, but in our early morning stupor we decided against it.  We packed up our stuff and met up with everyone in the dark, cold alleyway outside our hotel.  The tour guide told us that breakfast was being served in the restaurant from the previous night, and one of the other hikers told us that it was whole fish and rice.  We all agreed that the thought of more fish, especially fish at 5am, was sickening, so we headed down the street to the nearest convenience store and picked up a few bread-type items to tide us over for a while. 

We boarded the bus and headed back to the water for the ferry to island #2 – Yeonhwado (http://yeonhwado.com/sub/sub_03_01.asp).  This was a longer ferry, and we boarded before the sun rose, so we got some spectacular views of the sun rising over the ocean.  Unfortunately the ferry was also very busy, and we were forced to sit on the top level, which had no shelter from the wind and cold.  It was not exactly pleasant, and I soon found myself huddled in a corner wishing I was asleep in a nice, warm bed. 

The schedule for the day listed an “easy, 2-3 hour hike” around Yeonhwado, and we were really hoping that this time the description of the hike was a little more accurate than the previous day.  We were all aching and tired, but we didn’t want to wuss out and not hike around the island, so we sucked it up and headed out onto the trail.  Well, an “easy” hike turned out to be anything but – we rounded the first bend and ascended a very steep path straight into the forest.  There were a few groups of Korean women hiking there as well, and at one point one of them grabbed on to the belt loop on the back of my pants and hung on as I hiked.  Older Korean women have absolutely no reservations about doing whatever they want at any time, and have no qualms about invading your personal space.  Just before we headed out Dave picked up a broken tree branch, which was the perfect height for a walking stick for me – it even had a little grip for my hand!  It definitely made the trek a little easier.  Now I see why all the Koreans have those metal poles – they’re not just for show! 

At one point we walked along the ridge of the mountain and came across a mother goat and her kids.  She was blocking our path, and staring us down with an awfully mean look in her eyes.  No one was particularly eager to walk by her first, but we all started making goat calls (after our trip to England, we now know that sheep and cow calls are Dave’s specialty, so this was just one step further), and the mom disappeared into the brush.  We walked along the path, taking pictures along the way, when I happened to look up – big mistake.  There were these enormous spider webs all around us, holding some of the biggest spiders I’ve ever seen in my life.  There were dozens of them strung between the trees all around us; the pathway was literally surrounded by spiders.  Of course, some of the girls on the trip ran screaming along the path when they realized what was above them, but I just crouched down and tried not to look up.  Spiders give me the creeps – especially when they’re as big as my hand.  Ugh.

We reached the top of the mountain, called the Dragon’s Head, a little while later.  The views were phenomenal, and we took quite a bit of time to relax and take pictures.  There was a huge boulder with a rope attached for those who wanted to get an even better view of the surroundings, but I decided to stay on solid ground.  Dave, of course, headed straight up to the top, and even dangled off the edge of the boulder to get the best possible view.  Such an adrenaline junkie.  There is a huge Buddhist temple on the mountain that sits right on the edge of a huge cliff – what a beautiful place to pray. 

Then we started the descent, and were actually able to walk on the paved road that winds around the island.  What a luxury after all the rocky paths!  When we got back to the small village at the water’s edge it was only about 11:30, and lunch wasn’t scheduled until 12:30, but the tour guide spoke to the restaurant owner and agreed to push up our reservation.  One guess as to what was on the menu – that’s right, more fish!  We knew not to expect anything else visiting islands on the ocean, but this was our fourth meal in two days of fish, fish and more fish.  This time there was no Fear Factor involved – the meal was very tasty!  Again, we had whole fish, but we were also given a delicious soup with clams, tofu and the biggest prawns I’ve ever seen in my life.  We definitely enjoyed this experience after the disaster of the evening before.  After eating we were all more than ready to take the ferry back to the mainland, but just as on Saturday, we had to wait for a good hour and a half until the next one arrived.  We meandered around, trying to fill the time, but after a while we ended up sitting in the information office lobby just staring into space. 

When the ferry arrived at 1pm we were all eager for a nice, comfy seat on the lower deck, but we were literally shoved out of the way by the lovely Korean women (called “Ajumas”), so it was the upper deck again for us.  We boarded the bus just before 2pm and began the trip back into Seoul.  As I’ve mentioned, traffic is ridiculously bad going out of Seoul on Saturdays, and going back into Seoul on Sundays.  This Sunday had to top them all.  It took us SEVEN HOURS to get back into the city!  I think we were all climbing the walls at that point.  We just wanted to get home!  Plus Dave and I knew we had a 40 minute subway ride waiting for us once we got into Seoul, then a 15 minute walk home from the subway station.  I was ready to jump out of the bus and run the rest of the way home.  Looking back now I can appreciate the weekend for what it was worth – we had a really great time, and bonded with our friends over some pretty crazy experiences.  We got to visit really fantastic islands and hiked some great trails, and I know I wouldn’t have been able to do all of this without having gone on the trip, so on the whole I give the trip 8.5 sea cucumbers out of 10.

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