I kept hearing about how beautiful the foliage is this time of year at Seoraksan National Park. After a little research with my Korean coworkers I found out that it was a 3 hour bus to Sokcho where I booked a cheap hotel at the base of the park.
Blaine wanted to join me and I was happy to split some of the costs. We met in the subway Saturday morning before heading to the Express Bus Station. All week I had been worried that we waited too long to go and would miss the full spectrum of colors that Seoraksan boasted with the changing seasons. Regardless of the leaves I realized the trip would be a blast when Blaine and I ran into the only other waygookin (white people) on the bus; a group of 4 beautiful Russian girls: Катя (Katya), Нина (Nina), Маша (Masha), & Варя(Varya).
We sat together and found out they were all students at Korea University originating from St. Petersburg. They were impressed when Blaine and I surprised them with the results of our minimal Russian studies. A few more jokes, some colorful views which gave me hope for tomorrow, and a nap later we found ourselves in Sokcho looking for a taxi to explore the lighthouse & shoreline in this seaside city.
We got to the coast just before dusk and climbed a lighthouse for a view of the city. The Seorak mountain range provided a shadowy backdrop flanking the city with the East Sea. Along the shoreline were creatively designed wave-breakers which quickly drew my eye.
A light drizzle began as we made our way down the lighthouse and along a few of the sights at the shoreline. We found a pavilion that provided a beautiful view of the crashing waves before walking along a cement pier. With night approaching the city lights created a magnificent reflection as the lighthouse shone through a mild fog.
Suddenly we heard a scream! One of the girls had let out a shriek, our thoughts raced about how getting lost on slippery pier in a foreign country could be the set of a horror movie. Perhaps the cry was just Katya letting out a gleeful squeal at discovering her newest friend.
Putin (of course we named a starfish after the world’s “most loved” Russian) was the largest of his buddies stranded above the water on the cement walkway. We were certain they were dead but halfway to the radiant red lighthouse his tentacles started reaching forward. After snapping a few photos of the night skyline we opted to return Putin to his natural habitat and search for a more natural one for ourselves. One where we could enjoy some authentic Korean food with a few drinks!
Walking past a fish market we were tempted by the “squid sundae.” A Sokcho delicacy that consists of diced squid parts stuffed into the outer shell like a sausage. With Nina’s help as a Korean translator we were able to order one and all have a few bites. It was delicious and enough to hold us over until we found somewhere to get out of the rain.
Its hard to believe that Sokcho is such a small city; the streets are bustling and bright like in Seoul although there is a distinct lack of people. I was reminded of my stays on Martha’s Vineyard and Long Beach Island. The smell of seafood filled our nostrils as we passed sushi restaurants and crab shacks galore; neither of which sat well with every member of our 6 man group so we eventually settled on a quaint pajeon restaurant.
Inside we found hundreds of makeoli bottles hanging from the ceiling so Katya, Masha & I decided to give it a try while Blaine & Nina stuck with the Cass. We ordered 3 different pajeon, one with squid and green onions, another which turned out to be more like vegetable & tofu tempura and a third with mushrooms and other vegetables.
As the alcohol begun flowing our crude jokes and international humors overpowered the restaurant. We attracted some laughing attention from the Korean businessmen sitting next to us as we struggled to determine if we were supposed to help ourselves to the next bottle of makeoli after being unable to gain the waitress’ attention. We exchanged a few more stories about our home countries and downed another bottle or two before discovering that my hotel was one of the few with vacancies in the area; promptly paid, and helped each other into 2 cabs.
In typical Korean style we stopped at 7-11 to pick up a few more beers and some snacks. In between teasing each other about the difference between a “scuba diver” & “scuba driver” or why Americans were so often two-faced (especially politicians). We have a reputation for pretending to enjoy something we actually dislike. Putting on a façade can get a little tedious especially compared to the Russians preference to be straightforward and resolve conflicts over a few drinks.
Passing on what may have been Sokcho’s only Noraebong we agreed to head to bed and meet in the morning for some breakfast and a full day of hiking in Seoraksan.