This is all about my EPIK teaching adventures in Korea!
This past weekend was a busy one. May 5th was Children’s Day, which is one of the biggest holidays in Korea, as well as May 6th which is Buddha’s birthday. Wait, I missed one more… MY BIRTHDAY! We signed up with a group called Adventure Korea on a 3-day trip to the province of Gangwan into Seoraksan National park (설악산 국립 공원). I was calling it the Seoraksan mountains, but apparently “san” in Korean means mountain, so I was being a little redundant.
Scott and I left Ulsan on friday night at midnight for the late night bus. I mean, what other time is more convenient, right? The bus was supposed to take 4 hours, having us arrive in Seoul around 4:40am. Somehow we hopped down a magic rabbit hole and arrived before 4am. Okay, so 4 am in Seoul and we still have to find our way to the pick up location for the tour group, which is a few kilometres away. We found the subway, which doesn’t start up until around 6. Finally after taking the train we met the group and were off for the next 4 hour drive on the bus to Seoraksan. Traffic was a little like cottage traffic on the May 24 long weekend, but this wasn’t our main concern. We had barely moved from the parking spot when our bus driving collided with another bus. Nothing serious, we were hardly even moving, however the other bus did manage to take off the side mirror. Not 10 minutes later did our bus go up on the curb and hit the side of a guard rail. He actually had to back up and try going around the corner again. Not feeling too good at this point, but amazingly there were no other interruptions.
We ended up extremely close to Sokcho on the North Eastern coast of Korea, in a valley surrounded by luscious tree covered mountains. We stopped at a traditional Korean restaurant for lunch and had bibimbap 비빔밥) to give us the strength for the big climb. Scott isn’t a fan. Come to think of it, what Korean food is Scott actually a fan of. Pizza?…oh wait, thats not Korean.
The bus dropped us at the park gate and we soaked in the panoramic view. Enormous mountains 360degrees around us, a crystal clear river, a cable car going up the side of one mountain and coloured lanterns hanging all over for the weekend celebrations. The mountain we climbed is called Seoraksan daecheongbong (설악산대청봉), which is 1708m (5,603 feet), and is topped off with the Korean flag and a massive look out over all the mountains in the area.
Daecheongbong is the highest peak in Seoraksan National Park and the third highest peak in Korea following Hallasan Mountain (1,950 meters) and Jirisan Mountain (1,915 meters). Let me tell you, when Koreans mark a trail as “difficult”, they mean it. Just when we thought the hike was coming close to the top, we would look up and see people still hiking who were the size of ants another kilometre upwards. The top half of the trail is comprised of stairs made from wood, stone and then finally metal. The wood and stone stairs are uneven and quite difficult to walk over. I’ve never climbed stairs that were more steep than these. I asked Scott to help me describe the difficulty of the stairs. He looked at me and said, “hell”. There’s no other way to describe it.
Once we endured the most intense workout of our lives, we embraced our time at the top of the mountain and took as many pictures as we could just to prove we made it. At the top, suddenly the wind intensified drastically. At times, we had to hold onto the side rail or the group to keep from the possibility of toppling off.
The way down the mountain wasn’t the “easy part” I thought it would be. My calves have never felt so worn and torn. I had to stop numerous times because my legs were shaking so bad I couldn’t catch my footing.
At the bottom, we took a refreshing drink from the natural spring water fountain. Perfect way to finish a tough day.
The next day (Sunday) we had the day off, and went zip lining and to the beach. Ziplining, while mildly entertaining for my first time, was a little wimpy for me. We started atop a tower on the beach side, and flew across the harbour to the other side. The beach we later went to was interesting. We were dropped off around lunch time, with only fish/squid shops to eat at. Then we found the one place that serves Western food- pancakes, bacon, eggs and sausages. I guess the poor restaurant owner wasn’t expecting to make 8+ dishes with one frying pan, so it took about 45 minutes for all of us to get our food. The table of Westerners behind us who ordered after us wasn’t too happy about it. Even though the owners only speak Korean, they still felt the need to complain about not only the wait, but that their waffle was also cold. Really? The guy has one pan and is cooking 8 meals on his own. While out on a walk by the lake, we discovered several mini statues recounting a story about…. actually I have no idea. We were so focused on the ridiculous statues that we barely looked at the actually story.
The beach was the greatest entertainment of the day. There was a group of boys in front of us playing a series of strange games. In the one picture, the boys would try to reach their legs as far as they would go and the team who made the longest line won. The punishment for losing was a smack on the ass with a used firework tube. Seems like the obvious thing to do.
That night we went out for dinner and had some birthday drinks. We had all the traditional korean side dishes (반찬) with BBQ rib meat and Scott had “some shitty tofu stew”. Sounds delicious, Scott. Afterwards, some friends came to our hotel room (and by hotel room, i mean a cabin-like hostel in the middle of no where, with a mat on the floor to sleep on). We attempted a few games, which fizzled and failed. With limited resources, there wasn’t much we could do with a TV and some beers. We desperately tried to play the mustache game but it didn’t work so well. Normally we draw a thick and luscious mustache on a piece of paper and tape it to the TV. When ever the mustache matches up perfectly with someone on TV, you drink. We tried using a tissue and mascara, then using the static on the TV. I thought it was brilliant, but the static on the TV only made the tissue jump around like a silk worm with ADHD.
Monday (MY BIRTHDAY) we went for another hike to see the natural springs and hike more mountains. This time, they were a little less intense. We walked maybe 2.5km total, but still over uneven stones and stairs. Took longer than I anticipated. But we decided to take it easy and just take our time. Now it was time to load up the bus and relax for 4 hours on our way to Seoul. Or so we thought. 4 hours turned into 5, turned into 6, turned into….8!! Traffic was so bad coming home that it took 8 freaking hours. We could have taken a bus all the way to Ulsan for less time. It was a nightmare. An empty stomach nightmare. A pee emergency nightmare. A birthday nightmare. We got into the subway station 4 hours later than expected and decided to take the KTX high speed train home to Ulsan. The train was amazing and fast. 300km/h of fast. Next we took a taxi to the apartment since everything was closed by the time we got in. Finally at home by 2am. It’s a good thing it was a 4 day weekend, because I don’t think there was any possibility of getting up before noon on Tuesday. Adventure Korea, is right.