Monday, 3 September 2012

Making my way past the undersea tunnel to Yangsan

Today would be a very interesting day as I was attempting to make my way to Yangsan. I had heard that only vehicles were allowed in the undersea tunnel connecting the way to Busan but was determined to try my luck nonetheless. There was no way of getting my bike over otherwise so it was an early start, following the expressway that led to my one known path over.

I had met Andy during my last trip and it was the perfect time to meet him at Yangsan. The weather was clear and the ride rather uneventful. This was a slightly longer ride compared to my usual 50 km or so a day. Andy had been kind enough to invite me over to stay with him for a few days and I had to make my way to his address.
The ride down covered some greenery and I stopped by a little before proceeding on. Towards the entrance to the undersea tunnel, I came across a female officer blocking the path and waving her hands to say I could not proceed. Naturally I knew this would happen and was amazed when they led me in and allowed me to sit and relax as another officer came by to chat with me. I had covered some distance already and it didn't make sense to cycle back to find another way through the tunnel. The officer understood this and asked me if we could try for a cab. I agreed but after some time we both realized that the cabs charged a large fare for going past the tunnel.

To my surprise even the officer felt that the fare was too high and asked me to wait awhile. Coffee and some warmth definitely felt good while I waited. Some time later the officer returned and led me to a large lorry. He had spoken to the driver and they had agreed to ferry me over ! I was really impressed with the kindness shown and placing my bike at the back of the huge truck, headed off into the undersea tunnel, hitch-hiking a ride.

The driver who had agreed to drive me across was very nice and explained about the route and some of the things that we were seeing. Along the way, he also inquired on my destination and being familiar with the area, said he would drop me someplace convenient. We had to part ways shortly as he dropped me off but I was much more closer to my destination and naturally well rested and energetic. Life had once more shown me an easy way out and all I had to do was trust.

Following the path down towards Yangsan, I found it not too difficult to make my down to Andy's place. He had been sweet enough to share his entrance codes with me earlier and I decided to wait for him while he returned home after work. Walking into Andy's apartment felt like a breath of fresh air considering that I had been on a road some time. Walking in felt almost like I was messing up the place just doing so.

Having close to more then an hour, I showered and waited. It was truly a happy reunion meeting a friend I had met a year ago. Definitely felt amazing inviting someone to his own home !

After some time catching up and a proper introduction to his delightful home, Andy brought me down to a nearby restaurant and it was a beautiful end to a somewhat questionable day as it had begun.After a delicious meal, it was time to call it a night.

What I had learned that day would stick around for an entire lifetime, that when someone says a path is closed, it makes perfect sense to ride it to the last kilometer before agreeing.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Cycling past the scenic road of Korea, visiting (Windy Hill) Sinseondae and Haegeumgang island

It was to be a long day today though when I got up, I had absolutely no idea it would be so. After wandering around by myself this long, I had somewhat forgotten planning and it seemed to me that each day seemed to pack itself with lots of beautiful happenings, movement and experiences. All I had to do was trust this and be present.

View from the Geoje art centre
Having a room to keep my pannier set meant that now I was able to move much faster on wheels and as I cycled out, I came across a signboard detailing several places to visit. The eventual destination would be Windy Hill ( Sinseondae) and it helped that there were so many places to visit along the way. First up on the ride was the Geoje art centre. The center itself was closed since I was there so early but this didn't stop me from cycling around to the back and seeing the view from the back, really beautiful in the morning.

Since Geoje was a coastal town, my cycle route today was very scenic, always within viewing distance of the sea and clean roads made the ride so memorable. It was a breeze that the day was clear as well.

Turning in to the shipbuilding marine cultural centre, an old ship replica caught my attention as well as a few other ship artefacts placed around the building. What caught my eye was the attention paid to detail. The ship also had rather nasty metal spikes along the sides.
A picture perfect view
After some time cycling around the place, I hit the road once more, this time stopping by the O'Neill Dive centre for a well deserved cuppa coffee. Someone I met along the way had mentioned about this place and it offered rooms to stay as well as dirt riding and paint ball in addition to diving packages.

 Rather tempted to dive, I realised that I could not meet any of the timings so that had to be shelved however just sitting there having coffee and unwinding for a short bit felt so relaxing due to the view at the window. Finishing my coffee, it was back to road once more and this time round the day was beginning to heat up.

Cycling past the scenic road of Korea, named for its beautiful views as you travel past, I had a chance to visit the ranger office of the Hallyeohaesang National Marine park located just by the road. The marine park is huge and covering all of it would be close to impossible with the limited time I had.

Popping in to talk to the rangers, I was given cold water to top up my Camelbak and more directions and places to visit on the way down.
Along the scenic road of Korea
Stopping by the side walk to relax for abit, I sipped on my cold water while taking in the scene by the road. Smooth rounded pebbles dotted the coastline and the water was very calm. Definitely a place to spend the weekend or just go for a walk in the evening. This stretch was rather busy, with many couples walking hand in hand and families playing by the water.

Haegumgang was now a mere 5 km away and the rangers had told me this was a must see place. Cycling up, the elevation went up and now I got a high view of the entire place, with the blue sea and greenery surrounding it. Windy hill as the name suggested was exceedingly windy and quite an interesting ride as my wheels caught the wind.

The jagged rocks at Sinseondae.
The little windmill at the end was rather pretty but my interest was more towards Sinseondae, with its jagged rock faces due to years of exposure to the elements. I hardly ever locked up my bike and carried it down, cycling where possible. The rough  texture of the rock and numerous potholes and shapes spoke of the years of erosion, adding so much character to the rock faces that characterised Sinseondae.

Moving around Haegeumgang
Stopping by for a quick drink at the drink shop, I moved on to see if I could visit Haegumgang island, the island that the rangers had told me to head to. To my luck, the next trip was in 30 minutes time and I had some waiting time. The staff at the booking office were kind enough to keep my bike under watch as I went for the island tour. I had signed up for a boat ride around Haegumgang island and a ride down to Oedo Botania.

We would not be alighting at Haegumgang island, since it was primarily an island made up of jagged rocks but rather just go one full round before heading off towards Oedo Botania, another island made up of a multitude of carefully created gardens.

I had only been to the botanical gardens before and alighting at Oedo was a delight. It could be seen that so much care had been taken to craft the plants into the shapes and sizes they were at and sculptures placed throughout the park only served to accentuate this.

The walk around the park was not too long but spell binding as every little detail had been looked into in terms of aesthetics and beauty. Trees trimmed into all sorts of shapes and sizes and carefully arranged to bring out the combined effect of a garden was just astounding.

I walked around certain parts more then once and a particular sign on one of the sections caught my eye. Another feature was a water feature that seemed really nice to photograph and before I knew it, it was time to head down to the boats which would be ferrying us out. Since this was an island, the boats were the only way out and to miss it would be to have to stay on the island. It definitely seemed sad to leave such a beautiful place within the short time we were allocated.

Oedo Botania had food places but unfortunately most were closed by the time the day was ending. As such all we could do was to sit by where the coffee places were before heading down to the pier. The ride back was fast and allowed us to see the sunset along the way back, beautifully set against the islands as we went past.

It would be a slightly harder ride for me on the way back as I did not usually ride in the dark and had been totally unprepared for it. Luckily the staff at the office were kind enough to wait for me as I returned before locking up the office and I had to cover ground fast to prevent too much night riding. The distance however seemed to go by really fast and I reached the motel just around 8 pm or so, still within my own predicted timing.

It had been a tiring day but the sights of Geoje had simply amazed me and I went to sleep truly happy with how the day had gone.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Heading down to Geoje

Got up early today as my next location, Geoje was within 30 km and that would mean that I had an entire day to explore the place. Geoje was a place that my friend Sally had said I should visit, primarily due to its proximity to the coast. Cycling past a Tom Tom's coffee place, I realised that it was excellent weather to bike down, clear skies and such a short distance to my end point. Cycling past a bridge, I realised I was looking at the mountain I had been up the day before at TongYeong, as shown on a display board along the way.

Cycling along, I reached Geoje is a very short while, perhaps an hour plus and cycled in to a place that I had learnt offered the best options to view, the tourist information centre. Collecting my brochures and getting some advice, it was time to explore.

Entering the city area, I chanced up the historic park of Geoje POW camp and this definitely interested me. This place had many exhibits and images taken during the way, including even where the prisoners were kept. I had learnt a little of the historic battles fought in Jinju thanks to my two friends and that piqued my interest to visit this park.

Usually I would find a place to stay and then leave my bike in the room but this time was a change of plans. Luckily, the staff were kind to me and locked up my bike and belongings in a plastic box meant to store prams and other items. There was quite a crowd on that day and I definitely got the occasional stare walking in wearing cycling shorts and a camelbak.

The camp had been build to hold prisoners during the Korean war and had held inmates from China and Korea. Upon the end of the war, the camp had not been destroyed but converted to a park so as to remember the 170,000 prisoners held there as well as let us see the remains of the war, including tanks, trucks and relics. It was definitely an eye opening walk through.

Leaving the place, it was time to find a place to stay for the night. Visiting increasingly populated areas meant that it was difficult to find a place to pitch a tent and stay and I realised that many motels afforded decent stay rates of about 30,000 won. Checking in to such a motel, it was time to relax and unwind. Having been at Jinju for a few days, I had rested well and it was time to slowly pick up the pace. Walking around after a shower, it was time to walk around a little and grab a bite before heading back for an early night.

Time to explore Geoje a bit more tomorrow.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Aug 31- Cycling down to Tongyeong

Spent yesterday at Jinju doing nothing much besides visiting the movie theatre with Min to catch a movie. Learnt that the Jirisan National park's stand on opening the park was not going to change anytime soon. It had been a wonderful time resting and recuperating at Jinju but I was feeling restless and spent the day packing, setting off for Tongyeong today. Tongyeong is a coastal town, set by the coast and recommended by Sally whom I had met at Jeonju. It was rather disappointing to leave Jinju without heading up Jirisan but it taught me a beautiful lesson about moving with life and making the most of what life presented, rather then worrying about what had been left behind or could not be accomplished. Jinju had been a beautiful cultural exchange and it could not have been planned better.

Bidding farewell to a place I had been for a relatively long time, I left for Tongyeong. Tongyeong is about 50 km from Jinju and it was a comfortable day to ride. The weather had cleared up really well and there was no hint that a cyclone had passed by a few days ago.

My first stop was at a place that had several shops and a great view of the sea and mountains. Such scenes would be present most of the way but this was the first. Further along the way, I cycled past a place selling bonsai. Used to bonsai that were usually small, it was interesting to see big trees artistically shaped. Stopped by to take a break and talk to the gardener before proceeding on. Reaching Tongyeong, I did the routine, checking into the nearest tourist information centre. Besides being packed with pictures of places  a little pup caught my attention for some time.

Feeling rather lazy after staying in a motel for many days, it was time to check in someplace. Today had been a short ride and after a shower, I made plans to head to Mt Mireuksa which had a cable car ride to stunning views of the surroundings (

City view
Taking the cable car up, it was a short walk up the walkways to the views and it truly was worth the trip, especially as the day was very clear and sunny. Walking around the top yields a view of the city as well and this view was really nice as well.

After spending some time at the top, I made my way down and took a bus back to the city area enjoying a walk by the coast. There were a few fishing boats and it was really nice to take a relaxed walk, wandering aimlessly. There were a few things to see, such as the undersea tunnel and the beautiful sunset. Dinner was something light and I made my way back to the motel in the dark.

Most of my stays henceforth would be in motels and the stint at Jinju successfully broke the fixation I had with only using the bicycle as a mode of transport. Cycling would be the primary mode of transport but somehow I was more open to adapting to the situations life presented.

 In truth there had been no rules to follow except whatever I had imposed on myself.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Aug 29 - Dinner with Hyun and Min at Jinju city

The weather was still somewhat rainy and I had decided to stay put awhile to see if the situation at the national park would change. The lady at the motel was more then happy to let me stay and always greeted me with a smile. I was supposed to meet the 2 girls for dinner and spent my morning at Angel-In-Us, located at the HOMEPLUS just 3 mins from my motel.

Ordering coffee at Angel-in-us, I started chatting with the barista before finding a seat and starting to read. It was a pleasant surprise when she returned from her break and gave me gifts, consisting of chocolate espresso coffee beans and moisturizer tubes. This was not the first instance when I had been given gifts by people I met along the way though it never failed to surprise me each time. Having spent my afternoon reading, and checking emails ( HOMEPLUS has free wifi), I met the girls at HOMEPLUS and we heading out for dinner at a pretty decent joint called 700Beer. Dinner was spicy chicken and beer and it really was spicy ! Being indian I am used to high levels of spice but this one made me sniff incessantly. Dinner was on me and we decided to head out elsewhere for soju after this.

Sitting at a small cozy place, I had a second meal of sausages and soju, both of which went pretty well together. I particularly like soju and it was great having it after close to a week plus. The girls ordered something and said it was a surprise and I was looking forward to that TILL it came.

 Called Bondegi, this stuff definitely made me think twice before trying. Comprising of steamed silkworms, this dish tasted of an insect flavor and I gave up after trying one. The girls seemed to like it though and ate them with relish. After like 2 bottles or so of soju, we decided to call it a night and Min and Hyun ( my two friends) told me they would update me if the park was open for trekking.

 It had been a great night.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Aug 28 - First attempt up Jirisan National park

This day started off like a mission. After nearly a month, I got up at 5 am and rushed down to hire a cab. According to a friend, it would cost be about 40000 won to head to Jirisan National park. Didn't even contemplate cycling due to the bad weather and cyclone warnings. The cab driver was reasonable and I took the chance to snap a few pictures during the ride. The cab fare came up to more then 40,000 won but the driver was fair and kept to the pre-decided amount. He even inquired if I had enough food and water for the hike. The buses and cabs drop people off at a drop off point and the actual starting point ( and ranger station) is a short walk up. Along the way I saw a series of boxes that looked like they were for bees. Further up I began to see the damages that the weather had been causing.

Broken trees and fallen leaves covered the ground and sidewalk. It had been a rough night the night before. Making my way down to the entrance of the trail, I noticed the barrier down and headed to speak to the rangers. It was only then that I learnt the park was CLOSED till further notice due to the bad weather! A few others like myself had come up as well but we learnt that this decision was final and was going to be enforced for the next few days at the minimum. Grabbing a coffee from the restaurant just nearby, I chatted with the few other 'hopefuls', some who had even come from Seoul, driving down.

After the coffee, I made my way back down, deciding to take the bus back. While waiting for the bus, I saw 2 girls start to make their way up and told them that the park was closed indefinitely. We started chatting and I learnt they were from Jinju and came up here since they liked trekking. Time spent waiting for the bus was not wasted and we had a nice chat. Heading back to Jinju, I was given an impromptu tour of the place and was brought to Chokseongnu Pavillion, a place of immense historic importance. Wandering around the pavillion, I had a good view of the river as well and learnt of the role Jinju had played when the Japanese had invaded. Definitely changed my perspectives about the place I was at. The Jinju fortress itself was massive and old. It was saddening to hear of the number of individuals who had lost their lives in battles held here.

The next walk was towards the Jinju National Museum and my 2 hosts took great pains to explain everything along the way. It was really sweet to see them take the effort to communicate in english, a language they were not very familiar with. Watching a short 3D video of the Japanese attacks as well as the battles that had taken place at the museum, I definitely understood much more about Jinju. Any gaps that I had when comprehending, the video filled up. A delightful tea session was taking place within the museum and we joined in, sipping on warm tea in a beautiful setting. After tea we commenced walking around the exhibit halls and I got to see a rich showcase of artefacts and items from different eras with useful inscriptions about them.

This ended off in a room with masks for try-outs. This was definitely meant to engage people and engage us it did ! Trying on various masks and snapping pictures, it was time for the girls to head back. It was a nice walk out and after tucking me into a cab, the girls left. We had plans to meet up the next day for dinner and this was something I was looking forward to.

 It had been a disappointing day at first but such a beautiful one on hindsight. Heading back to the motel, I politely asked the lady if I could extend another night and she agreed with a smile. I decided I would stay in Jinju awhile more, at least till the weather cleared and it was possible to hike up Jiri mountain. It was also a good lesson to keep track of the weather changes and this I dutifully followed the rest of the way.

 It had been a very fulfilling day, one filled with twists and turns.