If it’s not the broken foot that made this trip great, it was certainly the motorbike that broke it. This trip was just what I needed after a night of gloom and a hangover that threatened to chew its way right out of my abdomen like some alien movie. But all things considered, that would have probably been an experience all in itself. And therefore, I’d probably embrace it as I have the rest of the oddities along this long, winding road carved into the limestone bedrock of the Korean Peninsula.
The day started off great. I was up at 6am to hop a bus to the south of the island where I would take part in one or more of several key items listed on Lonely Planet’s inventory of must-see’s abound. They ranged in definition from slightly dangerous to downright taboo. And I was navigating my morning in the wake of a fresh detox. So what I saw was a recipe for fun and ordered up a heaping helping of misadventure with a side order of senselessness.
Unfortunately, one hour into my ride I found out that I was not on the right bus. But that was only a minor setback because I had plotted points all over the map that I wanted to see and there were a couple in that direction as well.
Once off the bus, I snapped a couple pictures of the volcanic tuffs in the horizon. Then I went on what turned out to be an early morning 5k walk and found out the hard way that this stretched out town along the sea was no place for a sweaty westerner with an expectation for seeing all there was to see in just one day. It just wasn’t going to happen in the time I had if I had to walk it all the way.
I eventually came across this little shop run by an older couple. The husband had a cap that I hired as the mule that would save me from walking another 10 kilometers into town. But whether I was walking or in a whatever I employed to speed up my sweaty trek, the Korean oddities just kept coming. All along the roadway there were things that just looked normal being in Korea, but so abnormal had they been in any other place.
On the other hand, the people that have added so much flavor to the preceding moments of this trip were out in full flavor as well. I snapped a shot of this shipbuilder grinding down the last of his nicks and burrs off the anchor he’d been repairing. And the closer that I came to the capital city of the south of the island, Seogwipo, the more interesting the buildings looked and the more flavorful the people.
Once in town, I headed straight for the oceanfront. It was very quiet all around, but I made my way to the pier and could tell that it was going to be a nice, bright day with lots of opportunities for great shots.
Looking directly across the inlet, I could see what looked like a huge park with inlets hidden by the large, vertical pillars building up the volcanic rock wall. I’d find out later that there were plenty of great little hikes, waterfalls and seaside resting areas to check out along the way.
What I expected to find was these amazing geological oddities. But along with finding them, I also found some other amazing things in the area.
Columnar basalt rock comes from areas of high submarine volcanic eruptions. Once the magma opens up on the sea floor, it quickly hardens, creating conditions where jointed columns of volcanic flows can be forced up over the seabed and given a longer time to cool and, under pressure, make large, polygonal pilasters. The areas where millions of these pillars (and other basalt formations) have been pushed up through the ocean floor to the surface are called “tuffs.” They are also known as pyroclastic rock formations. But whatever they were called, I was on my way to see the most awesome tuff I of all. Well, besides the fact that it was a famous one, it was technically going to be the only one I have ever seen. But I was no less excited to do so.
But before getting there, I knew I had to rent a motorbike to see all that this spread out expanse of land had to offer. So, on the way, I found a a place to grab a bite and sat on the steps inside to fuel up before I kept on. While I was sitting there, though, I noticed and interesting sign.
Now, I have seen a lot of strange translations on signs throughout Asia. And most of the time, I wonder how this translation got all the way through the design phase, through production, printing, constructing and finally even being posted without someone actually reading it and wondering if there might be a better translation out there somewhere. In fact, I often wonder if anyone actually even asked a white person how this phrase was supposed to be worded before putting up a ridiculous sign that means something much more comical than the author had intended. But this one definitely perplexed me. It was a sign on a trash bin. And, well I will just let you see if you can try and figure out what the hell they were trying to tell you what to put in there other than your dog.
Walking along the coast was great. I really liked the gardens and the way they were kept. It was cool to see so much use of the volcanic rock that was so readily available. And the things they crafted with it include everything from fences and sculptures to stepping stones and even curbs and sidewalks.
Moving onward, I could see that I was nearing a large waterfall that I had known would be around there somewhere. It was cool. Just a quick hike down and I was at its base. It was very tall — 20 meters or so. And I could see that during seasons of high rainfall, this could really be a very active one.
After that I made my way back up the hill and into town where I rented a motorbike and set off westward to circle the eastern roadways and head back to eventually make it back to the hotel on the other side of the island. It was a long, comfortable ride punctuated with wonderful seascapes and vistas of people, animals and object of a very diverse nature in their own world. It was something I won’t soon forget.
But another thing I won’t soon forget is the crash that snapped my left foot completely backward and left me limping for days as my blue-black ankle swelled to near bursting before the trip even started. I wish that I could say that I wrecked to save some poor child who’d run into the road after is bouncy play thing had found him careening into my path and it was either him or me. I wish I could say that the bike malfunctioned and the brakes went out, sending me barreling into the curb at an uncontrollable speed and I dove from the bike having known what to do in an instant’s notice and rolled to safety. Hell, I wish I could say anything but the truth. Which is that I turned to look at some random noise that happened behind me and when I turned back around, I was half-a-second away from plowing into the curb. But I must admit the truth. And when I hit the curb for lack of operable ability to manipulate the handlebars with cat-like calculation, I was sent over the handle bars and then the bike came over top of me.
It was completely embarrassing. But what’s worse is that I scuffed up my favorite pair of shoes. They remind me of Indiana Jones. They’ve been with me for the last seven years of travel. They’re so comfortable. And they’ve even been resoled to keep me from having to try fruitlessly to find a size-12 in Asia to replace them. They’re great. And the best part is that I bought them for $10 at a thrift shop in Mercer Island, outside Seattle, Washington. I will be oiling the hell out of them to try and save them. But I am not holding out too much hope. Time will tell.
Making my way to the tuff it was so awesome when I finally breached the last turn before seeing it tower high above the mainland below. I had no idea that it was that big or amazing. It was really something impressive. Hiking up its western side, there’s only one way that you can view it. But it was enough to be impressed. The surrounding area from the top is really interesting, too. It’s sea-chiseled bluffs and land jetties were quite random and beautiful from way up there. Here are a few photos of the climb and the surrounding area.
You can click on them to enlarge the photo just like in the galleries.
Well, this could be a very long journal if I detail every single experience that I had while pulling over to all the awesome places that I saw along the way back around the coast. But I think I will just add in a gallery and hope that the photos will fill in the blanks. It was an awesome trip and I was so happy that I got to do it — injuries and all.
Remember, click to enlarge!
Okay, there’s one more blog on the way and I will be home from Korea.