After enjoying 2 incredibly lazy days of our Chuseok vacation, Ryan and I decided we needed to do something active. A few weekends ago we were going to go hiking with our fellow American teacher, Brent, but that was the weekend we both came down with super nasty colds, so it didn’t happen.
So Friday morning we dragged ourselves out of bed at the terribly early hour of 9am to meet Brent for an adventure. We headed to a hiking spot that he hadn’t been to before, but that he had heard was better. Gwangju is situated in a valley surrounded by mountains, so we just had to take a 20ish minute bus ride across the city to get to the base of the mountain. We’ve mostly been taking the subway if we need to get somewhere (although I did learn how to take the bus home from downtown a few days ago!), so it was cool to see the city go by as we rode. The bus dropped us off at the end of the line to join TONS of other people heading to the base of the mountain. Turns out we were actually at Mudeung National Park (getting ready to hike Mudeung Mountain).
Now, hiking is sometimes called Korea’s national past time. Judging by yesterday’s hiking experience, it is more like the past time of Korean’s over age 50. And it seems that when they’re not hiking, their favorite past time must be buying ridiculous and unnecessary hiking clothing and equipment. Seriously, so much hiking clothing, and in the most incredibly bright (and mismatched) colors you’ve ever seen. It seems that here, orange pants and a blue top are fashionable, especially if you add purple hiking boots, a brown hat, a pink face mask, and flowery gloves. As a woman, it would clearly be the worst thing in the world to show even an inch of skin to the elements. And despite being completely covered up in the extreme heat, none of them had a drop of sweat on them! Meanwhile, in my tank top and shorts I was wearing about 70% less clothing than any of the other women, and I was a giant disgusting sweatball. The bright and unnecessary hiking clothing is not just for women though – men were wearing just as many colors, and just about as much clothing, just sans face masks and gloves for the most part.
None of this is to say that American hikers don’t wear hiking specific clothing and carry special packs and all (Dad), but the bright colors are a huge difference. Guess it makes it harder to get lost though! Had the three of us really wanted to fit in, we would have stopped in one of the twenty (or more) outdoor stores lining the street on our way to the trailhead – Colombia, Merrill, North Face, and my favorite, Red Face, to name a few. But alas, we just giggled at everybody with their hiking poles and went on our way.
Now, I knew we were going hiking on a mountain, which means going uphill. But boy was I unprepared for how steep this mountain was! The first bit, up to a beautiful temple, was all paved, but still reaalllly steep. Once on the real trail, it got steeper. But don’t worry, it was lined with grippy rope! What, aren’t all your trails carpeted? The steep climbing was definitely starting to wear on my legs (I couldn’t tell you how long it’s been since I really exercised…oops) when we passed a sign saying our destination was only 0.5km away – so close! So much hope for my tired legs! And then, immediately after the sign, it got steeper. A lot steeper. For all intents and purposes, it became rock climbing. Luckily the rocks created steps of sorts, although I was seriously struggling to keep up with Brent, whose legs are probably twice as long as mine. I had to keep telling myself that if all these little old ajuma’s and ajoshi’s (old women and old men) could do it, 22 year old me certainly could! I definitely wasn’t laughing at their hiking poles anymore though, I was coveting them.
Finally, FINALLY, we made it to the top, and were greeted with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, and the city itself. Seeing the city from above really put into perspective how incredibly big it is – it’s easy to forget as we have stayed mostly in one small area. I definitely (now even more) want to start exploring the rest of the city!
The hike down was much faster, but also difficult on the legs. We took a different trail down, and this one was covered in tiny loose stones rather than big rocks to step on – I fell and twisted my ankle a bit once, but thankfully not enough to hamper the rest of the decent. To celebrate our victory at the bottom, we sat outside a convenience store and drank makgeoli – traditional rice wine – out of tiny paper cups! We (mostly me) got a TON of stares while we were sitting there – I guess three extremely sweaty and smelly foreigners (weygukin) are quite a sight. My tank top wasn’t helping, as apparently a woman showing her shoulders here is considered very risqué – oops!
Painful though the mountain climbing was at points, the amazing temple, and absolutely stunning views from the top were worth it! It was apparently a bit too much exertion for Ryan and I though, as we both passed out at 9pm that night, and slept for almost 14 hours…yeah, we’re the cool kids!