Hey everyone! I’m sorry this post took so long to finish, but work really picked up this week, I began taking a beginning Korean class, and I have finally made some more Korean friends outside the office, which means I do more in the evenings than work and sit in my room. Good for me, but less good for this blog.
Anyway, last Saturday Marino, Kelly, Seungbo (An undergraduate at GIST), and I hiked Mudungsan Mountain. It is over 1100 meters tall and sits at the edge of Gwanju. We took an hour long bus ride to get there, but the bus only costs the equivalent of US$1.14 to ride any bus anywhere in Gwanju. It used to only be US$0.90, but they raised the price at the beginning of July.
The bus ride was still pretty fun, because we got to see the city and the people riding the bus. We passed right through downtown. There are a lot of karaoke places around here, and more coffee stores and bakeries than I expected.
Mudungsan Mountain was the last stop. We arrived around noon. There is a small collection of stores and restaurants at the foot of the mountain. All of the clothing stores seemed to sell a specific hiking outfit that almost all of the people on the mountain were wearing: Long nylon pants, long sleeved under armor, a short sleeve nylon shirt, gloves, and a hat with a brim. The strangest part, though, was that a few women wore a mask that covered the lower half of their face. The hole for breathing was shaped sort of like a duck beak. I’m sorry I don’t have a good photo of that to show you. I had never seen anything like it before. Apparently, here pale skin is considered beautiful so the women especially cover up from the sun. Many people also carried fans so they could fan themselves while hiking.
I don’t know how they could handle wearing so much while hiking. I’ve never been so sweaty in my life, and I was wearing shorts and a tank top. The day was overcast and humid and after only a short time I felt like I was swimming in sweat. The scenery was really beautiful though.
The very beginning of the hike felt like being in Disneyworld in the Animal Kingdom. It was hot and humid, the path was wide and paved and surrounded by a thick green rainforest and the stream running by the path contained some pieces of carved rock, like from a column.
First we passed a Buddhist temple on the way up the mountain. The temple was beautiful and also included a fountain from the mountain stream. Seungbo said that some people call this “medicine water.”
A little while later, after the path narrowed and turned to dirt and rock, we also passed a small church. I’ve seen quite a few churches here; there are at least three or four within walking distance of GIST. There is actually a pretty big Christian population here. I was a little surprised because I had ignorantly assumed that the vast majority would be Buddhist, which I suppose is a lesson about assumptions and stereotyping. However, learning more about the world was a big reason for why I wanted to travel in the first place.
Anyway, we made it to the first rest area at the base of a huge tree. There were wooden platforms to sit on and rest. We met a man there who told us that there were two routes to the top, a steep-but-short one and a long-but-less-steep path. We took the long route, and I still thought it was plenty steep. There were long, long staircases of uneven rocks and it was soooooooo hot.
On the way up we met a lot of hikers who were on their way down. While we were resting, a woman passed us and said that I was pretty, which was a nice thing to hear since my sweat was making really obvious blotches on my shirt, and also a good demonstration of how bold Koreans are as opposed to Americans. In the USA, I think it would be very unusual to frankly comment about a stranger’s appearance to them, but here Koreans jump to it right away. Not just complements either; I know a German here at GIST who was told that his face was unattractive by some random guy. Not in a looking-for-a-fight way, just a for-your-information way.
The next guy we met totally saved us. He had a fan which he gave to me, saying we needed it more than he did since he was on his way down. Oh my gosh, that fan was heaven. The whole first half of the hike was in the thick forest with no breeze at all.
Finally, finally, we made it to the halfway point. The view here was amazing. Words don’t do it justice, so check out the photos below.
There was a nice cold breeze, so we stayed here for a while, snacking and drinking water. Kelly met a Chinese girl there who apparently hiked up in a skirt and fancy sandals and she looked fresh and not at all sweaty. So jealous!
After this, we continued onwards and upwards, up yet more stairs. It was at this point that we started running low on water. A couple of us ran out of water, so we started sharing, but by this point our shared water was running low, as were our snacks.
We reached another rest point that was next to some kind of radio or tv station, I think. There was a rest area with benches and a restroom, but no water. There were some tall standing stones around this area with a lot of small rocks piled on top of each of them. Seungbo told us that each little stone represents a wish, so we piled on more rocks and wished for food. 🙂
As we headed onward up the path, a man suddenly stopped us and asked, “Do you like candy?” Exactly like that, I kid you not. He gave each of us a hard candy and told us that Gwanju earned a world record in 1998 for being the first city of over a million residents located at the foot of a mountain greater than 1000 meters in height.
There was also a really load buzzing noise coming from the plants bordering the path. When I looked more closely, I saw that the noise was being made by these little guys:
It was shortly after this that we reached some really cool rock formations. Apparently they were formed from cooled lava 70 million years ago. I think pictures will tell better than I can:
We hiked past a few more formations but we were all getting tired and hungry and thirsty. I argued that we should push to the top since we were so close already, and so we kept going. And then we were saved. While we were letting a group of elderly people pass us, Seungbo said something to them in Korean. I don’t know what he said, or how he knew what to say, but one of the women stopped and pulled out four big, red, fresh, juicy tomatoes, one for each of us. It was the best tomato I have ever eaten. It was full of liquid I could drink and it filled my stomach a bit. It was thanks to those tomatoes that we finally reached the top.
There was no path to the literal top, but we could reach the 1100 meter point, only 80 meters below the real top. I’m sure the view is normally stunning but it was super foggy, so we couldn’t see anything. It was still definitely worth hiking all the way.
We hung out at the top for a while because it was nice and cool and then we turned around went down. When we got below the fog, we found that it had rained, so now the path was extremely slippery. I think all of us fell at least once. We were so exhausted. When we reached the big tree again we laid out on the wooden platforms and practically fell asleep. There were some funny kids running around the tree and talking half in Korean and half in nonsense. Seungbo kept trying to get them to come say hello, but they were too shy. Near the tree there was a small exercise area, and some tea fields.
We reached the temple again and drank our fill from the “medicine water” fountain and then it was just a short walk back to town. We had dinner at a restaurant at the foot of the mountain. It had a really long name that I can’t remember. My favorite part was one of the side dishes which was like a flatbread made mostly of egg with some kimchi and veggies. The main dish was a stir fry of rice cakes, veggies, and chicken on the bone in a spicy sauce. Let me tell you, eating chicken off the bone using chopsticks is not easy at all. After we finished the chicken we mixed white rice and other toppings in the hot sauce to make bibimbap, a popular Korean dish. An interesting side note: In Korea the basic utensils are a spoon and chopsticks and the spoon is used for eating rice, not just for soup as in China and Japan. Also, the utensils are nearly always stainless steel, while Chinese chopsticks tend to be plastic and Japanese chopsticks tend to be wood. I know the Korean steel chopsticks for a fact; the Chinese and Japanese chopsticks are hearsay. Still interesting, no?
The next day I was super sore, I think because I kept sprinting up the stone stairs so that I could photograph the rest of our group as they hiked up.
Tell you more next time! If you have specific questions, leave them in the comments and I will answer them the best I can.