Saryangdo with Seoul Hiking Group 2.0 (with Panoramas!)

Our ferry departed for Saryangdo at 7:30am which meant another midnight bus out of Seoul.  This misty inslet was full of fishermen in the cool morning air as we embarked on the final leg of the journey to revisit my first Seoul Hiking Group excursion.  We dropped our bags off at the pension and got on the trail shortly after arriving.

Waiting for the ferry to Saryangdo

Waiting for the ferry to Saryangdo

Saryangdo is a small island to the South of the Korean peninsula.  A short ferry ride from Tongyeong its likely that we were the only foreigners on the whole island so it was no wonder that any time we ran into Koreans they were excited to see us.  There’s a single road that loops around the mountain forming this gorgeous sanctuary.  That series of peaks was our goal for today and after a 45 minute climb we were rewarded with a stunning view of the surrounding seas at 281 meters above.

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Leaving the first peak the trail switched between stairs and rocks with an awesome rope climb in the distance!  Just beyond we would encounter a suspension bridge (the cables of which I decided to climb for an even higher vantage point).  Seoul Hiking Group continued its tradition of making fast friends as our group mixed and mingled among the mountains.

Saryangdo Cable Climb

Martin you’re my favorite photographer!

 

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I’ve really started to enjoy leading the trips and always look forward to seeing friends among the regulars but perhaps my favorite thing about Seoul Hiking Group is the acceptance that everyone shows towards new members.  We inevitably have some first time hikers, some with fears of heights or other nature dangers and everyone bands together to become a weekend family!

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We got lucky with the weather on this late fall afternoon.  The morning mist cleared around us for jawdropping views.  One of my favorites were the islands to the south  still shrouded by mist in an optical illusion making us wonder where the sea truly began.

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Pausing for a snack and photo break a few of the group decided to reenact Titanic.  While waiting around another loving aspect of Seoul Hiking Group emerged.  Sharing.  Most of us are teachers and know that sharing is caring but that usually mean you to let everyone else eat your coveted Cheetos (which are super hard to find in Korea) or all that dried fruit & nut mix that you slaved together.

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After enjoying our break the trek grew a bit more trecherous.  The next peak climbed to 400 meters and was the highest on Saryangdo.  The path was interspersed with stairs as usual but there were many times we trekked up loose rocks and around jagged edges.  Okay so there often was an “easier” trail through the woods but I prefer to keep things interesting and enjoyed “spider manning” it up the ledges.

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Nearly there we were stopped by a lovely Korean group who insisted we share some of their Makkeoli and kimchi.  Not wanting to be rude a handful of us chowed down and chatted in broken Korean.  Hikers tend to be good people and look out for one another but no where else have I encountered such generosity among strangers as in Korean mountains.  A few hundred meters later my buddy Martin and I were stopped again and offered a delicious veggie ramen!

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Saryangdo Jump

Martin you’re my favorite photographer!

 

Finally at the peak we dilly dallied with some snacks and photo shoots enjoying our surroundings before crossings the vertigo inducing ridge.  Last time I was here I admittedly went across on my butt.  That was 8 months ago and I’ve been an avid hiker ever since gaining confidence in my legs and balance.  Wait a minute, is there internet service up here?  I took a moment and Skyped my brother, Ben, while shimming accross the half meter wide trail.  To the right a sheer cliff, to the left a sharp decline followed by a sheer drop.

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Luckily its only a short distance before you hurdle a gap and find yourself back among the trees.  Before long a Makkeoli mountain man can be heard banging away with tables full of foreigners enjoying his homemade concoction.  Just after he served us the delicious potion he went back to his drums for Pikachu’s big entrance! (video coming soon)  Martin ran down the trail with Pikachu “ears” and an Austrian flag around his neck flapping like a cape!  We sang happy birthday for 2 of our hikers and most of us even dared to try myeolchi (anchovies like fish).

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I opted to skip the long hike this time and took a slick leave, laden trail straight back to the road and eagerly got back to our pension early enough to relax before dinner and the evening festivities began.

 

Castaway on an island in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam – Day 2

Waking up on Castaway’s boat in Ha Long Bay and walking to the sundeck for a relaxing morning would have been fantastic.  It was cloudy and we had to transfer to a smaller boat soon after breakfast and hustled across the side to the other vessel.  A few hours on these choppy seas caused the worst hangovers to grow exponentially worse.  Luckily that wasn’t me.

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I jumped up and down enjoying the sway of the ocean while dancing to a fellow traveler’s tunes.  Some of my companions huddled inside fearing each swell while the bravest of us enjoyed the salty spray aboard the bow.  Green islands skirted along either side towering over of us when suddenly someone spotted a massive jellyfish off of starboard._DSC9518 _DSC9525 _DSC9531 _DSC9547

Lighthouses and tour boats grew scarcer the further away from the mainland we sailed.  Unfortunately the trail of littler seemed to intensify as each luxury liner was replaced with smaller local fishing & market boats.  Around the next bend we began spotting small floating houses and villages; their nets already hauled in from a morning catch.  It was suddenly clear that no one wanted to haul the trash that these natives generated and we all felt a twinge of guilt for bringing even more garbage to the seas.  At least everything we brought would stay aboard and get shipped back to shore.

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Slowly the waves died down and a happy calm swam across the ship.  Our vessel turned and glided between the green monsters which now protected us from each treacherous wave.  As the waters calmed we began to see more floating houses and islands with tropical beaches.  Most of these lush paradises were devoid of all signs of humanity.  Simply a beautiful beach protected by an overgrown jungle filled mountain.

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Before we knew it our boat slowed and turned towards one such beach.  Castaway Island was clearly inhabited, albiet there were a few shanties, a solitary bar and 2 docks roped off in the waters.  We landed, had a beer and found out that electricity would only be on for a few hours in the evening.  Rock climbing began after lunch as did tubing and some other festivities.

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After eating I tried my luck at rock climbing debuting the cliffs for our trip.  Without too much struggle I reached the peak of the “easy” climb.  It was by no means easy but certainly a ton of fun.  I took my free beer for making it up and waited while plotting my ascent of the “hard” path to secure 2 more cold ones.

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My 1st belayer's awesome tatoo!

My 1st belayer’s awesome tatoo!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile tubing began with a hilarious group of Brits who affectionately referred to me as “dirty Mike” and themselves as “& tha boys.”  Conner an unusually short gentleman was hilariously tossed great distances from the tube; a fate I later found out that it was inevitable as I too flew into the tropical waters.  (no one went nearly as far as Conner in this dwarf tossing experiment)

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After getting a good laugh I took a chance on the tough climb.  Harnessing up, my belayer (who was an expert climber) gave me some last bits of advice.

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“Keep breathing.  Follow the crack on the right.  At one point you’ll need to brace your back legs and use a technique called ‘stemming’.”

Alright, I thought to myself.  I got this!

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Korean Oktoberfest on Namhae Island – Seoul Hiking Group

Namhae, a gorgeous island of the southern coast off South Korea hosts a German Oktoberfest every year.  We arrived in the wee hours of the morning after enjoying Jinju’s lantern festival and I happily awoke to a beautiful harbor with some adorable graffiti painted along the wavebreaks.

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Our pension was a mere kilometer away from the German Village; we enjoyed coastal views and some authentic brews as we walked to the top where a small town center awaited us._DSC3228

Traditional German red rooftops reminded me of my grandmother’s hometown Dahn, a quaint German village tucked into the south-eastern Bavarian hills.  Namhae’s German Village mimicked the German style after an influx of immigrants turned it from touristic to authentic.

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Before the parade began we happily joined some German men for a barbecue in their backyard.  Homemade brats and buns were certainly a highlight of the day, second only to the ongoing party at the top of the hill.

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knickknacks were for sale in every shop and even at a few garage sales. Most of them were German trinkets but I liked these elephants the best 🙂

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Jinju Lantern Festival – Seoul Hiking Group

Jinju’s lantern festival began as a bustling Asian market and finished off with a flashy evening display.  Seoul Hiking Group arrived in Jinju for my first time as trip leader in the late afternoon.  We strolled past booth after booth of locally produced goods and endless stalls filled with Korean street food.

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Jinju is famous for silk production and the festival had a display of silk worms at different stages.  The last tank showed how the bugs munch on leaves that have been sprayed different colors turning each worm into a colored silk weaving machine.

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Wandering through the riverside we snacked from tent to tent before being engrossed by a hand powered coffee press adjacent to a wooden pencil maker.  These experts were just a sampling of the local skills that were showcased before the sun went down.Jinju3Jinju2

Settling in along the river with a hearty plate of roast pig and bottles of makkeoli we eagerly awaited the 8pm fireworks display.  Like clockwork the first rocket soared into the air at precisely 8pm lighting up the sky with a rainbow of colors as the lanterns floated beneath.

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Korean Delicacies

Who doesn’t love food?  Eating is a primary reason for many people to travel and Korean cuisine happens to be incredibly diverse with hundreds of dishes to try!  The best part is that each meal comes with a handful of 반찬 banchan (sides) that accompany whatever you order so you always get to taste a few treats.  Living in South Korea for a year I’ve sampled the lot but still have tons more to try.  Have you tried any of these, which was your favorite?

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Soy Sauce Crab Stew ( 간장게) at Kwangjang Market (광장시장)

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Actually I don’t know what this is. Its an internal organ based on what the vendor was saying and my Korean coworker insists its from a fish. You can find it at Kwangjang Market (광장시장) and let me know!

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Kimchi Baby Crabs ( 김치 아기 게) at Kwangjang Market (광장시장)

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Kimchi Banchan/Sides 김치반찬 ) at Kwangjang Market (광장시장)

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Kimchi (김치) at a North Korean style Restaurant in Sokcho (속초)

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Dried Squid (Ojingo 오징어) in Sokcho (속초)

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Dried & fermented school of jogi (조기/yellow croaker) at Kwangjang Market (광장시장)

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Fresh Crab (게장) at Sokcho’s Fish Market (속초 수산 시장)

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Fresh Crab (게장) at Sokcho’s Fish Market (속초 수산 시장)

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