Hello friends. Sorry for the delay between posts, I’ve been meaning to write something each day these past few weeks and have never found enough time and/or energy to do it. While we won’t always be active enough to warrant multiple posts in a week, I think it was a hope of both Lily’s and mine that we could get something up about once a week, and in that we’ve failed. Apologies all around.
Plenty has happened since our last post, so let me hit the highlights. Many of our extra curricular activities this fall have involved mountains, and that includes our two most recent weekend adventures, hiking Palgongsan two weekends ago, and paragliding this past weekend. On the one hand this is a little strange. Lily and I love getting outside, especially in the fall, but we’re not extreme outdoorsmen; I’ve only been camping once in the last twenty years or so, and I hated it (loved the people we were with, in case any of them are reading, just hated the actual camping). On the other hand, if I don’t like the mountains, what do I like? The beach? The plains? Occasionally someone will ask, “Are you a mountain guy or a beach guy?” and I will of course say, “I’m a mountain guy,” because I’m obviously not a beach guy (Dunns burn easily), so I guess if forced to choose I would pick mountains. But it’s only now that I feel Korea has confirmed. Perhaps I really do love mountains.
The country is, for those that don’t know, extremely mountainous. We obviously haven’t seen every inch of it, but the inches we have seen have been covered in mountains. Literally, I haven’t yet been somewhere in Korea where mountains weren’t plainly visible, and usually quite close. This makes hiking hugely popular. When the weather is nice, the mountains and parks are packed with people, all wearing brightly colored mesh clothing, all toting backpacks and trekking poles (if I may generalize, Koreans are sticklers about wearing the proper clothing for the proper activity). While driving home from paragliding last Sunday we hit a major traffic jam north of Daegu, not from construction or an accident or weather or rush hour (it was 7:00 PM on a Sunday), but simply because so many people had gone out into the country and were trying to get home. We’ve tried to embrace this hiking spirit ourselves, especially while the fall weather holds, and this led us first to go hiking at Palgongsan.
“San” means “mountain” in Korean, so while I’m tempted every time to write “Palgongsan Mountain,” I believe that’s technically incorrect, and since I’ve never heard anyone call it Palgong Mountain I’m going to stick with “Palgongsan” and you can just think “mountain.” It’s north of Daegu, the highest peak in the area, and home also to Donghwasa Temple (I think “sa” might technically mean “temple” here as well, but just go with it). The two best sites to see, aside from any mountain peak, are Donghwasa and Gatbawi (Gatbawi, or maybe the Gatbawi, I don’t know, is basically a large stone Buddha with a hat. Like this). The sites are far enough away from each other that you can’t really do both in a day. We were open to seeing either, but after a bit of confusion at the bus stop ended up taking, along with our friends Jake and Maria, a bus that left us much closer to Donghwasa, so the temple was our first stop.
What can one say about a temple? It’s pretty, it had a large Buddha, and there’s probably a lot I don’t understand about it. End of list. We’ve seen three or four different temples so far in Korea, and they’re already starting to blend together. Genuinely beautiful and impressive, but after several my memory can’t distinguish them anymore (like cathedrals during my summer in England, or fireworks anytime). Regardless, we had a good time at this one.
It was a relatively short hike to the temple, so undaunted after our visit we decided to try for one of the mountain peaks. The sign at the temple said 3.6 kilometers to the top, but (sparing you a long account of us walking) let’s just say I think it was more. The day was unfortunately overcast, and the peak (when we arrived) was essentially blanketed by cloud, but as with our previous mountain adventure, it’s still a nice sense of accomplishment to get to top, and we had a lovely view of the clouds rolling over nearby peaks. From the peak we thought it would be easier to hike along the ridge to another peak from which we could ride a cable car down, but the advertised 2.4 kilometers felt, again, like much more (2.4 km as the crow flies, maybe). Either way we made it down, and despite some very sore knees the next day had an overall great experience.
The weekend after hiking was our paragliding trip. It was originally scheduled for a few weeks earlier, then moved because of weather, and the change of days led to some confusion about the schedule. We were going with our friends Candace and Yonid, who live in Gimcheon (about 45 minutes from Daegu by train), Candace’s co-teacher, and a few other Koreans who, I gathered, are in some sort of English study group with Candace’s co-teacher. Initially the plan was to paraglide somewhere near Daegu, so we got in the car that morning expecting to drive thirty minutes or so, forty-five at most. Three hours later we got out. It’s a weird experience to be in the car expecting a short drive and end up with a long one, not because we hit traffic or got lost or took a detour so much as just kept going and going and going. Three hours is obviously not that long, but it felt like we were never going to stop. Through our lack of language skills we’d obviously failed to realize that the plans had changed.
So we drove halfway to North Korea and ended up, finally, in Danyang, which it turns out is a really nice town, small by Korean standards, nestled in the mountains on a river. The leaves had all turned, and it looked and smelled wonderfully like fall. After some more time in the car spent looking for the paragliding spot we arrived, and it was on.
For those that don’t know I’m not big on heights, preferring both feet planted firmly on the ground, always, but Korea has made me slightly more adventurous and I was only a little nervous getting ready. We spent thirty minutes or so on top of the mountain waiting our turn, watching other people jump off, then very quickly we were getting strapped in and ready to go. I went slightly before Lily (she claims, as I jumped off the mountain, to have morbidly thought “I hope I see him again,” not that we were nervous or anything). In reality we shouldn’t have been scared. It was (in my opinion) really, really high, but also extremely gentle, and we floated around securely for five minutes or so before landing.
The best part? There’s video! One of the members of our group had a friend among the paragliders (the whole reason we were doing it), so we got the video package as part of our deal. It was essentially just a camera attached to a pole that we held, and as the video attests I didn’t know what to do with it and bungled things a bit at first, but it still turned out well. I don’t know that anyone should be interested in the whole thing, but you can at least get a sense of what it was like (I recommend from about 1:45-2:00, after we got the camera straightened out, and then anytime after 3:00, when I realized that I needed to hold the camera high if anyone wanted to actually see anything). Lily also has a video that she should hopefully be getting uploaded soon, at which point we’ll add it as well.