One of the many wonderful things about Korea is that elections are national holidays. Since foreigners can’t vote, I just get an extra day off work with no guilt that I haven’t participated in the political process. The election this past November was actually quite a tight race between Park Geun-Hye, the daughter of Park Chun-Hee, dictator extraordinaire (now recast as “strongman” by the local press) and Moon Jae-In. The race was mostly interesting in the clear divide among age lines: the older a voter, the more likely to vote for Park and the younger, the more likely to vote for Moon. In the end, she won with 51% of the vote, but Craig and I were off enjoying our freedom in the countryside, Sobaeksan to be exact.
This was a rare return visit for us. We had planned to hike there last summer, but Craig got a heat rash and nearly burst into flames, so we settled for a trudge through the jam-packed caves.
As usual, we headed up the night before. For the first time, we took the train from Cheongnyangni Station which with the extension of the yellow line northward is only 30 minutes away. It was a slow train, but there was an old-style first class with the plush velveteen seats. A little more than an hour after departure we pulled into Danyang Station. A shortish cab ride later and we were back at the same yeogwan we had stayed in before. This time, we even got the real rate, 30,000. We paid double last time. Make hay when the sun shines, I guess.
We got a late start in the morning, despite our best intentions, and took a cab to the park entrance. The driver helpfully pulled out a map of the park and made some recommendations, and we were happy to defer to his experience. I do like it when cab drivers go above and beyond in the small towns. They know we aren’t from around there and they seem genuinely concerned that we have the best experience possible.
Anyway, it wasn’t that far to the Eolgok entrance he had suggested, and from there we set right off, since he warned us we would need to hurry to be back down by dark. Uh-oh. Craig and I are always far slower than the estimated times given for hikes. I was a little concerned, but knew that we could always turn back early if need be.
We ran into a ranger almost immediately, who made sure we were wearing crampons and then warned us to hurry if we were going to complete the hike before dark and added that we wouldn’t have time for a picnic at the top. No problem. It was freezing and any food we had would have been no more enjoyable if consumed while sitting on a rock than while walking.
The hike was meant to take six hours to get up about 1000m. The peak is about 1400, but the park entrance was about 400m. Well, over two hours in, and we were only 2.5km along and had another 500m elevation to go. By that point, I had pretty much had enough fun. I had long stopped feeling my legs and was having to remind myself that frostbite was unlikely. Craig, being the wonderful man that he is, and slightly hungover, was willing to call it a day at that point, too.
We headed down slightly defeated, but looking forward to being warm again. Unfortunately, the restaurants at the park entrance were all closed and there really was nothing around. Well, there were a couple of houses, but we were reluctant to knock on doors to ask someone to call us a cab. Enough Koreans think foreigners are crazy as it is. So, we started walking along the road, hoping for
signs of life a business which could call us a cab.
A few minutes, we saw a bus waiting at one of those imaginary stops they have here, you know, where there is nothing to indicate to the casual observer that a bus stops there, you just have to know. When I say we didn’t hesitate to take it wherever it might go, I mean that I ran just in case the driver’s break was almost over. Luckily for us, it was headed right for our yeogwan. A short wait later, we were on our way.
The bus ride was far more interesting than the hike. Everyone who got on seemed excited to see all the other passengers, and kids would actually gather to wave as it passed. That is when you know you are in a small town.