Friday, February 19, 2010

Climb Every Mountain

I've had the good fortune to do a bit of traveling during my 23 years. And a lot of my travel "plans" have consisted of me getting of the plane or train, looking around, and saying, "Now what?" And I find the touristy stuff, or at the very least, the fun stuff. With my laissez-faire, "it's all going to work out," attitude I've found that everything always does work out, and it is usually even more fun that way. Well apparently thinking "it's all going to work out if I try to get on a DMZ tour or take a ferry to Japan for the day" the day before you want to go... doesn't work out.

But! (Of course there's a but, I told you, it's all going to work out.) I had a Lonely Planet guide book (borrowed from a friend, because I would never be so prepared as to buy a guide book for a place I was visiting/living) with plenty of activities in and around Daegu. So this morning I got on the bus towards the Palgongsan Provincial Park, or what I really, really hoped was toward the Palgongsan Provincial Park because the signs were all in Korean and my Korean has yet to improve to the level where I can read it so I just guessed (i.e. hoped) that this was the right direction of the 401 bus. And it was! I was on my way to take the Palgongsan Skyline Cable Car because, like my father before me, if there's a vista I'm going to see it. I get out at the bottom of these hills (now what I like to call mountains) and look around for the cable car. Hmm... Lonely Planet I thought you said it should be right in this town. On the little map in the guide book it looks like it should be right where I am.

I see everyone start to head up this hill so I figure maybe it's just a little bit further... And that's when I realize: everyone is in hiking gear. (Even the old, old, old ladies.) So I start to think that maybe this isn't where the cable car is, and thinking that I look absolutely ridiculous. (Which the Koreans definitely agreed with as they all eyed my outfit, especially footwear.)

I remember when my dad took me to my first NFL game (Giants/Redskins) and my mother was trying to get me to wear more layers of clothing. My dad imparted a very special message to me that day (that still haunts my mother), "It's not about feeling good, it's about looking good." Well, today, at the bottom of this mountain, I neither felt good nor looked good. Looking at my skinny jeans and knit Uggs I looked like a damn fool instead of a hiker. But I figured I was already walking so I might as well continue! As Molly & Brittney might recall when there's a large hill my motto is, "The faster you do it, the faster it's over" (which nearly ended our friendship hiking in Cinque Terre) so I was charging up this paved hill hoping that around the next corner my agony would be over. It wasn't. I also realized that Koreans have a very, VERY skewed idea of distance. The signs kept saying the distance (to what I assumed was the top) but I am pretty sure they just kept saying the distance until the next sign.

At one point in the hike I came across a temple and thought, "Thank you! This is it! I'm done!" but then I saw everyone veering right and continuing up the mountain. Naturally my stupid, overwhelming curiosity got the better of me and I followed them up. And up. And up. There were thousands upon millions (fact) of stairs and every time I looked there were more. And then it hit me. I had NO idea what I was walking up to. It could have been a Buddhist Kool-Aid drinking ceremony (which I would have partaken in just so I could stop walking) for all I knew. I read in the guide book that there is a huge Buddha statue with a flat rock on his head so I just hoped that there was some sort of Buddha-esque statue or else I was going to have to carve one myself. I can't even explain how much of an uphill climb this was (not to mention I was the only non-Korean on the trail) but I thought, "I am 23 years old, I am able and semi-willing, so I can't stop now. Plus I have some pride, I can't let the old Korean ladies get the best of me."

Finally I made it. And yes, Buddha was up there! (Called Gatbawi and is up 850 meters and dates back to 638.) There were tons of people praying but I mostly just took in the view of the surrounding mountains. Pretty incredible. By the time I summited (yes I will call it that) I was seriously sweaty, and what happens when you're really hot and working hard and then stop in cold climates? Your sweat starts to freeze... So I didn't enjoy the view for too long and I began my journey downhill. I think I hate going down even more because I feel like I can get faster and out of control (plus Uggs aren't known for the superior traction) so I mostly hugged rocks and said, "It's all going to work out."

Once on flat ground I decided I deserved some celebratory kimchi. There were two restaurants across from each other, one a lot of people were going into but had a bunch of cats eating outside out of their garbage and an empty one with the woman beckoning me inside. Clearly I went with the welcoming cat-free empty restaurant. She kindly sat me down and I opened the menu. Crap. All Korean and no pictures. I decided as much as the squid surprise of yesterday was tasty I wanted to know what I was eating before consumption, so I pulled out my translation book and she grabbed a menu that had some English translations (another point for this restaurant. And there was a squid dish, so there! My fear wasn't totally unfounded!). I ordered a vegetable/rice thingy and when they serve you here you get a bunch of little side dishes (like kimchi and other vegetables that I really like) and tea--very different from the Swiss style of eating!

My food came (Cushing & Kristen I should have taken a picture for you guys) and the woman told me to mix my lettuce in with the vegetables. Well the salad was coating with little red flakes (i.e. things that will burn the inside of your stomach) so I was a little hesitant. I also kept the rice out because my vegetables were really, really spicy. Of course the Korean lady came over and dumped my rice and salad in and stirred it for me (and then fixed my shirt because my tank top strap was showing!) thus creating a very, very spicy dish with little to no respite from the spice. It was delicious don't get me wrong but if these two women hadn't been hovering over me during my meal I probably would have been gasping for air/water and doing all sorts of other ridiculous theatrics. After the meal one woman came over and said, "hefhfoiafgbfj?" (what I heard) and I've learned its just best to nod in these situations. So then she brought me over coffee. Damn! Now I have to sit here and drink this coffee (black!) while my mouth is still smoking and my nose is running like a faucet. I drank the coffee, paid my $5 (seriously?!) and headed back to the bus.

So all in all, it was a very great trip.

(Pictures to follow when I get home)

1 comment:

  1. You and your hills. I swear, when we go to Greece, I will climb NO hills with you...only walk the beaches!!!!