Day 6: Seoraksan National Park and the Naksan Provincial Park
Okay, so yesterday it was rainy and cold in Sokcho: the perfect day for editing photos, catching up on the journal and planning the next few days on the road. So after a nice, relaxing day to rest up and take it easy, I headed out this morning to the Seoraksan National Park. And, among other things, it’s absolutely breathtaking. The rock formations, the temples, the statues and artistry therein: beautiful.
The bus ride up to the park, though, was a great start to the day. Along with being the right thing to do, all over Asia, it’s expected that if you’re on a subway or bus, you give up your seat to elderly people and pregnant women. So, having that knowledge I graciously offered up my first seat to the elderly lady that boarded our half-filled bus two stops into the trip. Then the second. Then the third. Eventually, I just gave up and stood, noticing just how many old people live in this town. It’s amazing. They must have a great pension plan in this region of the country. It must be a hot spot for whatever Asians do instead of Bingo in their old age.
Whatever the case, I was becoming quite the entertaining element for all the old ladies at the back of the bus. Finally a seat would come empty as the bus emptied through the city. And the stop after I would sit, inevitably someone would board fitting the description of needing-the-seat-more-than-me. So I ended up just sitting half-assed on the inner wall of the wheel well that protruded past the seat above the driver’s side rear wheel. This pulled all but applause from the chorus of Asian cackling in the aft decks. But I knew that they all loved to see a foreign person obeying their virtues and being respectful. So I didn’t take any offence. Besides, I had hiking on the brain with a hefty reward of great views ahead.
And speaking of that: I am finding that “hard hikes,” per the Asian description, are more like easy. So unless they say, “It’s very, very difficult,” you’re likely to have a nice, easy climb to the top of whatever mountain you were told about by your nice, Asian “suggesteur.” Nevertheless, I decided to take the lazy way up the mountain and see the sights from there. I am glad that I did because I got a late start. But even if I went up earlier, the sun didn’t really give me too much to work with in the morning. Or perhaps I should say the clouds didn’t.
One thing I noticed, looking around at everyone who was at the park, though, is that they all love to wear their latest purchases at the lovely, little designer gear shops. Even in this tiny little town, items right out of Paris can be found in their full majesty. From sporty shoes to expensive suits – neither of which are useful in this snowy part of the world – can be found peppering the main drag of Sokcho.
But it’s still Asia. So, along with Hilfiger and Armani, they’ve also come up with amazing ways to provide quality, garner sales and still manage to save the customer’s hard earned Won. I give you The Red Face brand of outdoor gear; which carries all the latest fashions, all the climbing, hiking and camping equipment you’d ever need and even comes with a three-month warranty.
At any rate, though it was a tricky day for setting the camera for the ever-changing light patterns, I still wound up coming away with a great set of photos for the trip. So, in keeping with the great tradition of all good photographers, I will, instead of describing all the wonderful sights in detail, just let you get a peek at the peak from the pics.
The gallery below includes the best shots from the top and surrounds. I know that they are not the same as being there. They never really are. But hopefully you will enjoy this lovely little corner of northeastern South Korea from your computer screen in the best view that I can provide.
The atmosphere at the top was really cool. Once the cable car drops you off, it’s only a 10-minute hike to the very cusp of the mountain’s summit. You can literally stand on the very top of the highest rock on the peak. And just below it there are families having lunch and enjoying the brisk gales passing over on their way to the clouds above. The teenagers blasting their latest downloads from their iPods was a little annoying, but I guess you can’t have everything.
And if that wasn’t the most impressive part of the mountain, there was another unexpected item there. There was this guy running a little “shop” just below the summit. And, by the look of his face and physique, he’s exactly the kind of guy you’d expect to find there. He had climbing ropes and other gear available for those willing to brave the shear vertical cliff face. But what you wouldn’t expect to find there was his very large table, goods for sale (other than climbing gear), little medals (presumably to reward yourself for climbing the 10 minutes to get there), and his engraving gear for the medals – complete with power generator and etching tools.
How they got all the way up there is a wonder, but there they were; adding to the strangeness of the situation. I was going to ask him if he took credit cards because I just wasn’t ready for another shock. But I enjoyed the interesting conversation I had with him while I was busy snapping away in all directions.
I even noticed people in designer hiking boots while I was talking and taking photos. The guy must have thought I didn’t care at all for what he was saying. But he acted polite and forgiving enough.
Another strange thing that came about from the trip was that they asked me for my ticket to return back down the cable car. At first, this isn’t really that interesting. But what if I lost my ticket? Would they make me throw my belt over the line and zip down the 1400-meter descent to the park? Again, I wasn’t going to ask. But I figured I would jot it down on my little note pad for writing this journal later. Ahh, the things I think about when there’s nothing but thoughts and new experiences to entertain the mind…
For lunch I had fish sausage (yep, fish sausage) in “spicy paste” and dumplings with kimchi. It was delicious. So much so that I took a photo of it just to share it with you – in some small way. The good part about eating out in Korea is that they force you to chow down without silverware. Chopsticks alone with one, tiny napkin and your meal. If you don’t have alcohol with
your meal they look at you like you’re far too sober to understand the question. This is, of course, evidenced by the fact that they ask you several times if you want an alcoholic beverage. Then, when you say water, a familiar look of disgust aligns the panes in their face just before they turn to retrieve your tasteless (but refreshing) beverage.
After lunch I headed toward the bus station by way of the tourist shops. I have to say; they had some top quality knick-knacks in there. It wasn’t your normal trinket dive. They had everything from marble sculptures that you wouldn’t even be able to carry home to elegantly crafted small, wooden figurines of monks standing in the wind – or so the bark was shaped to indicate. And, of course, they had your everyday stuff like back scratchers and necklaces. But I had a bus to catch. So I couldn’t hang around too long.
I am not sure how many of you readers know much about meditation and the hand movements and finger movements that form ideas, or Mantras, for the person meditating. But on the bus ride back into town, I met this monk who decided he wanted to tell me all about the hand gestures that mean different things for meditative purposes.
For instance, holding the hand up, palm out, and thumb-to-ring finger connected means waterfall. Invert that same hand palm up, and you have a tree or mountain – depending on what you like better. Index finger-to-thumb and all other fingers connected and extended straight up means wind. Invert that same coordination and you have fire.
He was going to continue, and I was very interested in finding out more, but he got a call on his cell phone and spent the rest of the time LOL-ing with his BFF. So that’s all I could get from him.
Now, I am not artist, and therefore have no artist’s eye. But I know enough to know that this place has been painstakingly refurbished in the type of time-consuming manner that we in the west – well we simply don’t have time for. And as a non-artiste, I will again turn you over to the photos that I was able to capture of this absolutely magical place. That entertained me until I got to the Naksan-sa Temple just outside the beach area and up the hill overlooking the lower part of town. It was established in 671 and is protected from the sea by the Goddess of Mercy, Gwaneum, represented in a 15-meter-tall statue of her looking southward just barely
within eye-shot of the temples. Unfortunately She’s not a multi-tasker, though, since she’s not done any good at protecting the temples from the many fires that have besieged the surrounding forested areas since its inception.
The gallery follows in part two of Journal 32