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Waiting & Wading Through A Cebu City Stopover

Our time on the western coast of Cebu Island had been one of sun, sea and slightly soggily sandy sandals, but it was time for a change – a decision we apparently shared with the ever-indecisive Pacific weather.

When we finally boarded the bus from Badian to Cebu City, the ground was scorched by midday sun. Twenty minutes into the journey, someone apparently annoyed the local gods and the entire sky dropped on our heads. Sheets of horizontal rain pounded the passengers’ faces while the conductor fought with rusted window latches; meanwhile, I endeavoured to take photos with rain filling my eyes, camera and undergarments.

After a few howling hours of misted mountains and tropical downpour, we emerged on the other side of the island into Talisay, a city area latched onto the outskirts of Cebu City itself. Our intention was to spend a few spare days with a base in the city to allow Meg the opportunity to get her rock-climbing fix before heading to our next destination, the climbing haven of Cantabaco – though the weather was already starting to raise concerns about the feasibility of doing so.

Talisay was something of an in-country culture shock for us. After a few weeks of roaming the brilliant beaches and dense jungles of the Philippine countryside, we were left reeling when the bus dropped us at the side of a screaming highway in a densely-packed urban landscape. Unfortunately, we were also left a few kilometres from our hotel with heavy bags and tired bodies – and a misread maps app led me to believe it was too close to bother getting a (presumably overpriced) taxi. Thirty minutes later we both agreed that 200 pesos was perfectly adequate for such a journey, but we’d already walked two-thirds of it and were too stubborn to give in.

Having survived enthusiastic motorcyclists, bloody-minded jeepneys and a number of spontaneously non-existent pavements, we finally dropped our luggage at the hotel and gave in to the allure of a Korean restaurant in a nearby mall. We were dusty, bedraggled, missing the cerulean beauty of Badian and ready to fall over on the bed in preparation of Meg’s climbing expedition the following day. This was the plan.

As we left the mall, we came up against a wall of people looking out at some pretty nasty-looking rain. We were convinced in our stubborn Englishness that a little drizzle wasn’t going to keep us from getting back to our hotel just across the street, and strode into the road – into two solid feet of flowing water that hadn’t been there an hour before.

The road was a black river, knee-deep at points and full of standstill, vaguely bored traffic. Meanwhile, the two palest people on the street were overjoyed to find purpose in the pack-a-macs they’d brought with them and waded happily onto the scene, taking photos and giving ironic thumbs-up to slightly-amused jeepney passengers. We had a great time until something unidentifiable brushed past my leg, after which point we stuck to high ground.

One of the additional effects of this torrent, however, is that it almost certainly meant that the climbing trip wasn’t going to happen. Despite my occasionally simian behaviour, I’m not yet much of a climber – but the gecko-like Meg was mortified. As such, we allowed ourself a lie-in with the promise that we’d find an indoor climbing gym elsewhere in the city; when we woke up to glorious sunshine and a bone-dry city, it became apparent that we should never make assumptions about weather in the Philippines.

Before: Cebu under water, 10pm.

After: Cebu, the driest city I’ve ever seen, 10am.

The next few days were devoted to attacking the climbing wall (for Meg) or wandering vaguely around Cebu City trying to write this blog. The daily downchucks of torrential rain made any ambitious adventures unlikely, and we were whiling away the time before flying to our last destination in the country: the lauded beach paradise of Boracay.

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Korea’s ‘Smallest’ National Park, And How It Lies

IMG_2976The nature of blogging means that I have the appearance of a hectic and action-packed life. If I were to post in a fashion similar to denizens of the Twitter Abyss, you’d be treated to close-ups of me vaguely picking my nose while playing Far Cry 4, or to us dancing wildly around a very confused dog when the ‘ooga chaka’ bit comes on during Blue Swede’s Hooked On A Feeling; as it stands, this site’s feed seems to miss out all the boring bits, eg. the full-time job which actually brings us to Korea.

That being said, the last month or so has provided a bounty of blogworthy distractions and, except for the abovementioned nosepickings and workgoings, pretty much has been a constant stream of Doing Stuff. I can tell because my thighs feel like two angry pigs fighting over a truffle after we dominated Korea’s smallest national park, Wolchulsan, along with recurring partners in crime Nate and Alysha.

If you squint, you can see the Cloud Bridge roughly dead centre.

If you squint, you can see the Cloud Bridge roughly dead centre.

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When I say ‘smallest’ national park, I’d like to reiterate the standards by which national parks tend to be measured. Admittedly, the park is surrounded fairly closely by a busy highway, and you can see distant civilisation from every angle – however, what Wolchulsan lacks in square kilometres (a mere 41km²) it makes up for in violent, perpendicular angles. Within minutes of setting off, we’re sticky and panting in the late Spring afternoon, even under a constant awning of foliage; deceptively sturdy iron walkways have been hammered into the mountain at often improbable angles, occasionally starting to resemble ladders more than paths.IMG_2732

LIES

LIES

Yours shiny truly.

Your shininess truly.

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Optimistic signposts along the way reassure lucky hikers that (for example) the scenic Cloud Bridge(Gureumdari, 구름다리) is a mere 0.3km away from that spot. The bridge does indeed come into view promptly – as a thin shadow across your face as you look directly up, precisely 0.3km above your head. The steep climb to the bridge provides an ample workout for one’s legs, arms, core and silent hysteria (note: the writer’s own fitness may affect his personal standpoint on some matters of physical exertion).IMG_2771

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It’s when you flop onto the ledge hugging one end of the 55-metre suspension bridge that you first see how far you’ve come, and it’s usually then that you work out who amongst you suffers vertigo. The monumental backdrop of Cheonhwabong, the park’s mountainous peak, sweeps into the forest below, eventually diminishing in the distance into farmlands and lonely-looking shrubs. On this particular day, the fieldworkers had apparently taken to incinerating stretches of their land, lending a dramatic if faintly alarming tone to the already impressive view.IMG_2798

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If travelling with a mixture of acrophobes and sadists (honestly a terrible combination when at great heights in the middle of nowhere), be warned that the wholly-secure suspension bridge will…shake, slightly, if one is overly enthusiastic bounding across the several-hundred-metre drop. While amusing to some, the mountain’s acoustics are remarkably effective should anybody shriek involuntarily on a creaking platform above the treetops.IMG_2871

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Putting into context how laughably easy the arduous uphill scuttle has apparently been so far, it’s from this side of the bridge that the park landscapers apparently started to get a sense of humour. Iron steps and railings are knocked deep into the stone of the mountain at the sort of angle which could only accommodate a suicidal Slinky. While never actually worried for my safety, I marvelled at the views I had while climbing of the very tops or very bottoms of my fellow hikers as we ascended (all of whom had lovely scalps and bottoms, so no harm done).IMG_2879

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The panorama from the actual peak (at least our actual peak, as we had no intention of getting to the actual actual peaks on this occasion, or possibly lifetime) is staggering. It’s the sort of view Peter Jackson would drop hobbits and dwarves on to do a helicopter fly-by of. By this point in our journey we hadn’t seen or heard any other climbers for a long while; our last encounter had been blaring hymns out of his phone at an incredible volume, but there wasn’t a sign of even his musical presence anywhere in the valley. Feeling like The Only People In The World, at that altitude, with a can of Sour Cream Pringles, was entirely blissful, albeit a touch windy for some of the more sadly airborne Pringles.IMG_2908

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The moment we realised this was the wrong bloody way.

The moment we realised this was the wrong bloody way.

After an infuriating failed attempt at a round trip – discovering after a very steep descent that our route took us further into the mountains rather than, as was preferred, out of them – we climbed back up the knotted rope-ladder and prepared our knees and ankles for the jellifying return journey down the mountain. A much shorter trip later, we’ve lost the normal use of our legs and we’ve seriously pissed off a peacefully dozing toad in a rock-pool.IMG_2939

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I take comfort knowing that, at least for a week or so, I don’t have to do anything horrible like adventuring or seeing more beautiful scenery. I suspect my 25-year-old knees couldn’t take it.

 

 

The Road to Sangju

Since my last post, Spring sprung over the course of three days and then descended violently into Summer. To summarise: I’m no longer wearing coats as a mortal necessity, I actually spurn full-length trousers until I need to hide my sexy-yet-hirsute shins for professional purposes, and I’ve been sunburnt. Twice.

Genuinely beaming because the tiny dog just belched like an old man.

Genuinely beaming because the tiny dog just belched like an old man.

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Porta-dog actually prefers her shopping bag to a dog-carrier.

Porta-dog actually prefers her shopping bag to a dog-carrier.

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In the gap since January, a few changes have occurred: due to one of our colleagues having to leave his position, Meg and I now work at separate campuses (somewhat lonely but conducive to my nesting habits in my new bachelor-pad at work), and we’ve successfully embarked on and returned from an expedition to the Philippines. Why is this blog post not *that* blog post, I hear you cry ? I’m writing a travel piece for an Australian magazine and don’t have the faintest bloody clue if I’m allowed to put it on here first. I could re-write the thing more personably for blogging purposes, but that sounds like a lot of work.

In place of that particular adventure, I think I’ll re-enter the foray of public diary-writing via a more recent and local story; our first (mostly) successful Korean campout of the year (and, indeed, our first Korean campout. Actually, our first campout together, full stop).

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While looking for suitable campgrounds, we were split between two choices, in the anagrammatic quandary of Namhae versus Haenam. Haenam is closer, but less beach-y whereas Namhae is a rolling, mountainous archipelago of beaches and forests, but is a hefty 6-hour total bus journey from Gwangju. Given that we were exploiting a precious three-day weekend for Buddha’s Birthday, it seemed prudent to get as far away from home as possible, so Namhae and the nearby Sangju ‘Silver Sands’ beach won.IMG_1583

Being the environmentally-conscious (/incapable) people we are, driving is not an option. We rely wholly on the mostly-fantastic Korean public transport to get us everywhere; unfortunately, due to the three buses required for us to get from Gwangju to Sangju Beach it actually took us roughly as long to get there as the same journey would from Seoul. Regardless, we’re pretty bloody-minded when it comes to these things and did it anyway. A quick breakdown of the journey from Gwangju to Sangju Beach:

– From Gwangju’s Gwangcheon Bus Terminal, take an express bus to Jinju (₩10,250, about 2hrs)

– At Jinju, make sure to wait until the bus stops at the Intercity Bus Terminal, not the Express Bus Terminal: we got off too early (at the Express Terminal, the stop before our destination) and had to get a short taxi to the Intercity station. Not a great tragedy, but a pain in the backside when carrying a big ol’ bag. When at the *correct* terminal, get a bus to Namhae from Gates 15-17 (₩5,700, 1.5 hrs)

– Once in Namhae, just go back into the station and get a bus ticket to Sangju (₩2,500, 30 mins)

– From Sangju, head towards the big wet sandy thing you can probably see on your right and you’ll find the beach.

Bus times from Jinju for Gwangju and Seoul, if you were interested.

Bus times from Jinju for Gwangju and Seoul, if that sort of thing interests you.

Word of warning: if your bags are under the bus, be as theatrical as possible to the driver in getting them out; we dragged ours from the bus and got the doors almost-shut with seconds to spare before it sped away, apparently oblivious to the still-slightly-open side panel.

Sangju is a tiny, coastal town with one convenience store, one chicken takeaway and a handful of Korean seafood restaurants with obligatory tanks of live cephalopod victims. The beach is surprisingly pristine – while our experience gave us the impression that it was regularly crammed with waders, volleyballers and daydrinkers, we were reassured by a local Canadian teacher that it’s usually peacefully deserted. For the campers among you: there is a dictated camping area, which is apparently emptier on a regular basis; due to the holiday weekend, the campsite we saw was turned into an impromptu shanty-town of claustrophobic tents and canopies, so we chose instead to camp slightly illegally on the beach and, later, in the nearby woods edging the beach.

Namhae is known for its garlic, and is locally known as the kissing county

Namhae is famous for its garlic, and is locally known as the ‘kissing county’ (half of this information is true)

Good points: the beach is spectacular, and was our very portable pup’s first introduction to both sand and the sea. Millie, for all her wonderful traits, has never quite got the hang of swimming or, in fact, anything to do with water – as such, her first introduction to the beach involved a lot of barking at waves and sprinting away from the approaching tide, followed by eating and promptly vomiting a large quantity of sand. She quickly learned the undrinkable qualities of seawater, which did nothing to either her regurgitating or the state of our tent as she took shelter shortly afterwards.

what is this place

what is this place

what the hells this

what the hells this

what smells funny

what smells funny

gonna taste this

gonna taste this

what the bloody hell is this

what the bloody hell is this

why is this wet

why is this wet

where are you going

where are you going

seriously, screw this

seriously, screw this

True to Korea, you’re never far from convenient facilities; clean bathrooms and food stalls dot the coastline, and judging by the displays throughout the night it must be fairly convenient to purchase fireworks from somewhere nearby. While we foraged for food on our newly-second-hand-bought camping stove, bonfires and hand-held fireworks displays illuminated the night – and continued to do so throughout much of the early morning.

Ham and udon noodles for dinner, because cultural

Ham and udon noodles for dinner, because cultural

Camping breakfast: five minutes to cook sausages, four minutes to cook beans and for some reason thirty five bloody minutes to scramble an egg

Camping breakfast: five minutes to cook sausages, four minutes to cook beans and for some reason thirty five bloody minutes to scramble an egg

well I for one am inspired

well I for one am inspired and feel like I’m possible

Less good points: in the eventuality of Shanty Town campsite conditions, a particularly keen professional jobsworth may come and jab at your tent in the early morning/evening if it’s a few inches off ‘correct’ placement. By our sociophobic British nature, we tried to avoid any other humans while camping, but this resulted in our tent being placed in an unauthorised spot under the treeline. Word of advice for fellow renegade campers: keep your tent packed up until after about 8pm, then go rogue and camp wherever the hell you like, keeping in mind that your breakfast may be interrupted by an accusing pointed finger aimed at your tent.

Shanty Town in its tentish glory

Shanty Town in its tentish glory

For some reason, a very appealing rock.

For some reason, a very appealing rock.

Nothing on our grey, near-fatal beaches back home.

Nothing on our grey, near-fatal beaches back home.

Less of a comment on the beach, more on our preparedness: our professional predecessors generously left the tent we brought with us, which I had set up at home to confirm its usefulness. In practice, however, it turned out that the size of it meant that I’m actually incapable of lying down horizontally: non-conducive to overnight camping, in hindsight. Gmarket will surely help us with replacement future camping equipment.IMG_1603

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Nothing like sandy Moscato in a plastic cup

 

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The lifelong loyalty of a dog who just heard the word ‘treat’

 

Sandy dog-vomit and crack-of-dawn social fireworks aside, this was a profoundly successful first attempt at Korea Camping. Future blogs – if ever they come – will surely tell tales of our upcoming rogue-adventures-to-be.IMG_1677

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Jeju (1): Visiting the Island of the Gods

Cheonjiyeon FallsBlowing the dust off the blog…

It’s been [INSERT QUANTITY OF MONTHS] since the last update, for which I blame (if not my own mutant ability to procrastinate) the unbelievable cooking-temperature summer which Koreans deal with so casually – while I spend most of my day peeling myself off chairs and pavements.Seogwipo Bridge

I am the unconventional proud owner of a coveted smartphone courtesy of the stupefyingly generous Hailey, which means that I can join the masses in zombified silence in public spaces. I’ve already unlocked the secret characters in Temple Run – don’t pretend you’re not jealous.

An upside of having such an unnecessarily advance device is that now I can surprise myself on a daily basis with my Big Day countdown app, which currently reads 28 days. That makes exactly three weeks before I’m back in the greenish-grey sanity of England, and ‘conflicted’ is the word of the day. I would be lying to say that I’m anything less than hyperactive at the thought of going home – but I’m starting to notice the things which won’t actually be there when I leave Korea. But sadness can wait for a later blog! It’s taken me long enough to post this bugger.

Woven HorsesFor the majority of Koreans, holidays are often spent within Korea itself; when you’re surrounded by either ocean or possibly-psychotic Communists your options are, alas, limited. Either families visit each other in Busan/Seoul/Gwangju/Gyeongju etc. etc., or visit the beaches in the neighbouring province of Gangwon-do – but the sought-after holiday spot (and, according to my classes, ‘abroad’ destination) is Jeju Island, a small-ish dot on the Korean map stranded in the southern sea.

Grandfather StonesHistorically a traditional honeymoon spot, ‘the Hawaii of the Orients’ (so I have been told) is chocka with exciting geography, history, exhibits, weather and food. Unfortunately our holiday coincided with the single most popular time of year to visit, so much of this was seen between shoulderblades.

You know what? I retract that last passive-aggressive statement: what we expected was to only see sights over the tops of crowds. In fact, we (mostly) had ample room to travel.

Jeju CoastJeju Island (roughly translated as ‘Island of the Gods’) is predominately divided between two places-to-be: Jeju City, next door to the airport and bustling with hustle and shops and nightclubs and other familiar things – the alternative being Seogwipo, a substantially smaller harbour-town with more countryside than cityscape to offer. We chose the latter in an optimistic attempt to minimise forced human interaction for a few days.Seogwipo Market

Seogwipo was a good bet. The city is thriving with markets, vegetation and a staggering number of restaurants of all different flavours. Typically, we managed to repeat-visit two places in the five days we had, but hell – it was a holiday.

Part of our reasoning for picking Seogwipo lay in the options to explore the area – while Jeju City has plenty of museums and hilarious sculpture parks (which I shall address momentarily), we wanted to see the actual, breathing volcanicity of the island itself. Our choices were:

(Days 1/2)

Meggit & BeanCheonjiyeon Waterfall – a very pretty spot, but ill-chosen for the first visit; the peak season was particularly self-evident as coaches spilled multitudes into the small canyon hiding the waterfall itself. Never have I wished to join ducks swimming so much; Jeju is even more equilateral than Seoul or even Daegu and the heat can be awesome. As in, the actual definition.

Seogwipo Bridge ThingSeogwipo – the city itself, although built on a bastard hill, has something to see at each level. On top of the hill (ie. our hotel) you can gorge yourself on any kind of conceivable food (we had the best Dak Galbi thus far tasted in Korea. Twice.) Further down, you can find arts & crafts, music venues, and street sellers such as a fantastically bohemian Nepalese couple we met at a street-stall; I am now the thoroughly proud owner of a hand-made bansuri flute which, while distinctly un-Korean, is possibly my favourite souvenir thus far purchased here.

Dak Galbi Mashita!

Meg Eats     Ben Drinks

Mr. KimOn our very first night there, we encountered a lovely, if initially odd, gentleman by the name of Mr. Kim. We went on a merry adventure about the city with him as our guide, clambering over coastal rocks in the dying light and drinking into merriment; apparently just having friends for the evening made him ‘very, very happy’, which was only a little heartbreaking for us when we couldn’t find him afterwards…Bright Trees

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