Bus Tour Hero

Trip Start Dec 02, 2011
Trip End Dec 02, 2012

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Flag of Korea Rep.  , Gangwon,
Sunday, September 2, 2012

We had an easy night and woke up a bit on the early side to get breakfast and head back over to the park. This time we set out on the trail to Ulsanbawi (울산바위). The trail went up the side of the "rock" and was known as one of the most difficult in the park despite its relatively short length. It was also said to have amazing panoramic views stretching all the way to the ocean.

Today's weather was similar to yesterday's. Foggy, low clouds, and a bit drizzly with actual rain towards the end. Again, while the clouds obscured the peaks, they made the weather cool for hiking and gave a good atmosphere to the hike. It was particularly nice around the small temple of Newonam (내원암), nestled among the rocks.

The only time the weather presented a problem was the final few tenths of a kilometer of the trail. Leading up to the peak was a long, steep, metal staircase. The clouds obscured the end of the staircase and the mist made the metal stairs slippery. While the climb wasn't nearly as nerve-wracking as the trails of Slovensky Raj, the extra wetness did make me think twice about the wisdom of ascending, and I wasn't sure how comfortable I'd be on the way down. The clouds also made it impossible to know exactly how much higher you had to go, which was a bit intimidating in and of itself.

At any rate, we made it to the top of Ulsanbawi slowly but without too much trouble. The iconic from the peak view was frequently featured in photos of the park, but today we mainly just saw clouds. Clouds and a tiny food stand that had been setup at the top. The land around the peak being swallowed in mist had a certain humor value, and the climb itself was fun, but I may need to return some time for the full view. That's okay, though, there seem to be a lot of good trails to sweeten a return trip.

It was finally raining for real as we descended the stairs so they were far more slippery. Although I'd been a bit concerned about going down, it turned out looking down the steep stairs was no problem for me. I also felt a bit silly about my concerns when I saw a man carrying crates of fruit strapped to his back up the stairs as we were on our way down.

Also on the way down, a couple of Koreans offered some of my friends a cup of soju, optionally mixed with powered coffee. At least my friends were also offered a packet of powdered coffee, so I assume the two were related.

After the hike, we met back up with the group that had spent the night on the mountain. Apparently it had been wet and there had been a bit of a problem with spaces in the shelter, but all-in-all they seemed to have done okay, although they were a bit tired. Because everyone was tired, and the weather was bad, we all tried to convince the tour operator to skip the trip to Sokcho beach planned for the afternoon. Almost all of us, that is, because a man and his girlfriend still wanted to go. Since it was on the itinerary, the tour operator said we had to go if anyone wanted to, so we all went.

It turned out there was a circular break in the clouds directly over the beach. We had a nice piece of sun to both warm-up and dry-off in. However, that wasn't the reason we all ended the day glad we'd gone to the beach. The man who insisted we go may have had a superhero sixth sense...

The layout of the beach was a bit odd. There was about a five or six foot drop off just before the beach ended and the water began. While it wasn't too steep to walk up or down, it was impossible to see people at the edge of the water while you were sitting on the beach as we were.

In fact, the only person in our group who saw the Korean college girl drowning was the man who wanted to go to the beach. He made two decisions today that allowed him to be in the position to possibly save the woman's life. The first was dragging the rest of the tour to the beach. The second was electing to pee in the ocean instead of walking back to the public bathrooms by the parking lot.

As he returned from the ocean, he saw two young Korean women struggling at the edge of the water. Although the water wasn't above waist level, they were both incredibly drunk and the second one was inadvertently pinning the first under the water in her drunkenly inept attempts to pull her fallen friend up. Our fellow tourist got to them before the woman underwater passed out, so she was able to cough out the water once he moved her friend out of the way and pulled her out.

When the man returned and explained what had just happened, our Korean guide talked to the women and made sure they were okay. They were grateful, but still quite drunk and mostly just wanted to date the white guy who'd rescued one of them. Our guide did manage to find out that they had gone down to go wading, but because the waves were unusually high and powerful today they were pulled under. I don't think either of them knew how to swim. Definitely the drowning one didn't, so it was a really good thing that our tour ended-up at the beach.

The weird thing, apart from the coincidence of the rescuer ending up in the exact right place at the right time, was that none of the Koreans on the beach seemed a bit concerned about what was happening. Sure, sitting on the beach you couldn't see what was happening down in the water, but there were many Koreans standing who could have seen the ocean. No one even gathered around the women after it happened to make sure they were okay.

Maybe the Koreans figured it was none of their business. One time, I saw a "culture tips" section in a book written for Koreans learning English where it said something like, "Americans will even ask a stranger who appears to be in distress what's wrong." So I guess being concerned about people you don't know is not something Koreans do. Which is odd, since they always seem concerned about me when I'm traveling alone. Who knows. I like to think some Korean on the beach would have rescued her if the guy from our tour hadn't gotten there first. They probably just figured he had the situation under control.

So apart from a long bus ride made two hours longer because of traffic, that was the eventful end of our trip. I really enjoyed Seoraksan and will almost certainly try to go back if I end-up spending another year in Korea. I think I'd skip the tour group and hopefully be able to plan for clear weather, though.

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