Sunday, July 8, 2012

Drinkin- Excuse me, I mean Hiking and Rafting in Korea

This weekend I went hiking and rafting in Yeongwol, Gangwon-do (a neighboring province) with Climbing in Korea, a Meetup group based in Seoul. I'd heard rumors about hiking in Korea, and they all involved beer and women wearing heels, so I figured it wouldn't be too difficult. Of course, I probably should have figured that since this is an expat group with "climbing" in the title, that their version of an "easy" hike would be a bit different from mine. What I imagined would be a nice two hour stroll through the countryside, turned into three hours of this:

I naively took this self-congratulatory photo, wanting to document my conquest of the staircase. Little did I know however the next twenty minute leg of the path would be just as steep...minus the staircase, plus a side rope to dangle on as I huffed and puffed up the mountain. For the most part I am in good hiking shape, but the soju I drank the night before disagreed with my life decisions.

Thankfully a little mind-over-matter attitude, along with my just rip-the-band-aid-off approach to physical activity, helped me to high tail it most of the way up despite the lovely burning sensation in my calves. The views at the top were certainly worth it. I plan to keep doing hikes like this to see more of Korea. Plus the company is better than twiddling my thumbs alone in my apartment on the weekends.

When we reached the top we received an enthusiastic greeting from a group of Korean hikers. Now I should explain here that Koreans are, or at least like to try to be, extremely fashionable. In general, even on the subway, I always feel like there's a fashion show going on that no body told me about. On the subway at 6 AM you'll see girls in skinny jeans and sky high stiletto heels (and I'm pretty sure they're not coming home from a late night at a club, though some might be). Apparently though, you must be fashionable even whilst hiking. No Korean hiker would be ready to go anywhere without head to toe, top of the line, brightly colored synthetic hiking clothes. No old, free college t-shirts and worn out yoga pants here.

Anyway, once at the top we were given a bottle of makkoli, traditional Korean rice wine, by a jolly old man who was apart of the group pictured above.  I smiled at the old man as I drank a small cup of  the too-sweet, luke warm beverage, secretly wishing for bottle of Gatorade to appear. An old woman warned us not to drink too much so we wouldn't go crazy on the way down. It was fun to partake in this tradition with the other group, but I have to say its strange drinking on a mountain top since I've always thought of sipping on beer or wine as a sitting-on-your-front-porch activity. Clearly I've been missing out.

When in Korea, make like this guy and grab your makkoli (that green, soda bottle looking thing).

Here's an unimpeded view of the river. Usually the water is a nice shade of blue-green, but we had some monsoon rain the day before which stirred up the silt, etc. Luckily these rains make for good rafting which came next!

Here's me throwing up a peace sign with the Korean hikers. The nice man next to me let me hold his walking stick so I'd look more legit, but it was still kind of hard to blend in....

In case anyone was wondering, they invited us to take pictures with them, so I didn't have to awkwardly jump in. It might seem insensitive using a hiking group as a tourist attraction for a photo, but I assure you the using was mutual and all in good fun.

Halfway through the hike we walked along the river, but the path was pretty badly flooded. Luckily I seem to have retained my rock hopping skills from childhood. The worst part actually was the hornets nest on the path that led to some pretty bad stings! I was spared from injury but one girl who was stung on her lower leg could barely walk afterwards! Thus my fear of insects intensifies...the giant spider we saw didn't help either.

Once we got to the river though everyone was excited. They made us do some light warm up exercises which was pretty hilarious considering we had just been hiking for over three hours. The river was fast but calm, only one set of rapids nearly sent me tumbling off the raft. The most action we got really was using our paddles to engage in splash fights with other boats. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures since I don't have a water proof camera. If you really must see a rafting picture, I suppose you can Google "rafting in Gangwon-do Korea"

For your continued entertainment I'll end the post with my new favorite re-occuring theme: crazy Asian stuffed animals. I really want to get a dog but I don't want to pay for vet expenses/ I'm really not home that much anyway. So instead I decided to purchase a stuffed animal that made me laugh. I think it already has a name...and might be a her...but I'm going to call him Gus because I think something about that name really captures his expression. Gus, meet world. World, meet Gus:

Not sure why his face is like that...maybe he drank too much Soju, or just doesn't like what you're saying to him right now.


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