Long time, no blog. But I have a good excuse: I was on a long trip to South Korea. It’s going to take me some time to get back into the swing of things in El Paso. I understand I missed some great commentary opportunities in the Limon/Niland fued, the naming of the Chihuahuas and changes in local media. But for now, you’re going to have to read a few stories about my Korea trip.
On any trip I take, I always get in at least a little hiking. But hiking in Korea, at least near Seoul, is a crazy experience unlike any other.
I had read that the big hiking spot was in the Bukhansan National Park and, naturally, I had to attempt the highest mountain in the range, Baegundae Peak. I had also read that to avoid the crowds, one should try to hike during the week. But work prevented that option, so I decided hiking with the weekend crowds would be part of my Korean adventure.
But, boy, what crowds.
I got the first glimpse of what I was in for when I got off the subway to get in line for the bus to the trailhead. The line for the bus was about 400 people deep, all dressed up in the finest of hiking and climbing gear. But, making it this far, I wasn’t about to back out now, so I waited the hour or so it took to get on a bus.
Made it to the trailhead and started climbing. It was a beautiful trail, going steeply through some lovely fall colors in the national park. The crowds were heavy everywhere, but on the first 3 kilometers of the 4 kilometer hike to the top, it wasn’t too bad because the trail was fairly wide. And because it was steep, everyone was going at about the same, slow pace. When I hit the mark of 1 kilometer to the top, the trail narrowed a bit, and I got in a single-file line of folks heading up, while the other side was a single-file line of folks coming back down. I still went along smoothly at that point, pausing only occasionally as the line backed up.
At .4 kilometers to the top, the narrow trail began to hit more backlogs, and I was forced to stop and wait a few times. Still not too bad until I hit the point about .2 kilometers to the top. At that point, it was a complete traffic jam. I was at a complete standstill for about 10 minutes. When, after 30 minutes, I had moved only about 30 feet, I decided getting to the top wasn’t worth the aggravation. I was already above tree line, so there were already great views. I hopped off the trail and had my lunch with others who had decided the same thing.
Dealing with the crowds on the way down was more difficult than the way up because of the pace. I had no problem dealing with the crowds on the way up because I could keep pace. But on the way down, the Korean hikers are sure footed and fast, while I am clumsy and slow. I had to strike a balance between stepping out of the way to let people pass, then stepping back in and going as quickly as I could to not hold people up. But that delicate balance eventually failed me when, trying to go more quickly than I should, I took a short tumble down the mountain. Surviving that with just a few scratches, I decided the rest of the way I would go as slow as I needed to, stepping out of the way more frequently, and I made my way slowly back down.
An adventure I won’t soon forget, to say the least.
The thing I looked most forward to on my trip was a visit to the Joint Security Area at the Demilitarized Zone along the border with North Korea. It’s not often you get a chance to look into North Korea … and even take a step or two into the country.
As part of a tour, we were given the history of the DMZ and the JSA before we were taken to the actual JSA. Once there at the border, we stared across at a North Korean soldier staring back at us through binoculars. We then were led into a United Nations building that spans the border, where we were able to stand on the North Korean side as two South Korean soldiers in the building stood guard. It was pretty fascinating.
I had plenty of other adventures that I won’t bore you with. I’ll just finish with the quick note that Namsan Park, with Seoul Tower at its peak, was the favorite area of my trip. I walked up to the tower four times during my trip and walked nearly every trail in the park. The fall colors are amazing on the trails, and the views of Seoul at the top are endlessly fascinating. Both day and night views offer their own charms. It’s quite the place.
OK, soon I’ll get back to commenting on El Paso.