Sunday, 30 August 2009

Day 829 - Jeongdongjin

Oh dear, aren't you the lucky ones, another post just two days after the last one. Don't worry, it's only a shortie.

With Christine's bike as fixed as it is ever going to be on this trip we set off north stopping just a few kilometres later at the town of Donghae. Looking at the map all the roads and the railway hugged the coast, I felt pretty certain that it was going to be flat....wrong, and how stupid of me to think that anything is going to be flat in this country. Despite the fact we had only been going a short while we were glad of the break, we had been on route 7, busy and horrible. The reason for our stop was another cave. The intriguing thing about this one is that it is slap bang in the centre of town, and what is more, it was only discovered in 1991. I had rather expected it to be very similar to the last cave we had visited, but I was wrong again. At the entrance to this one we were issued with hard hats and it soon became very apparent that we were going to need them. The paths were very narrow and in some places very low, so low you had to crouch right down to get through. It was pretty busy being a Saturday yet despite the low paths women still took of the hard hats, I guess they didn't want to spoil their hair does, I felt a bit the same about mine! The differences did not end there. The cave was full of stalactites, stalagmites, columns and all sort of other cave formations, all very impressive and only spoilt by the disco effect lighting (photo) that changed colours every few seconds turning a first class tourist attraction into typical Korean tourist sight tackiness. Heading out we were back on the 7 but it passed through urban areas and was nowhere near as bad. The road ran along the sea front and through the town of Mangdang, a raw fish town where in fact the fish were so raw they were swimming around on the streets, well, not literally, but the rows of restaurants had large tanks out the front with every kind of seafood swimming around. We continued to Jeongdongjin where just outside there was a large advertisement board with a building in the shape of a ship on it, I looked to my right and there it was (photo), a very unusual sight. As Christine pulled up she said "I wonder where that is?" I pointed to the right "Fuck me!" was all she could say. We checked out all the motels, a tiny seaside place packed with tacky motels. Despite the holiday season just being over every motel seemed to be empty, I was even able to haggle for a reduction, something that is normally impossible on a weekend. As we wandered around deciding where to eat and being astounded at the price of the fish menus, we spotted a couple of cycle tourists, the first we have met in South Korea. We had a brief chat, they were South Korean and Taiwanese, they had only met today and to be honest the South Korean didn't seem to happy about the fact, I rather had the impression he was wondering how he was going to get out of the situation.

So what else can I tell you about Jeongdongjin? It's a quirky little place and has a claim to fame listed in the Guinness Book of Records for having the station that is the closest to the sea, in fact one of the platforms was more like a promenade. It also has a bit a recent history attached to it. Back in 1996 a North Korean submarine was in the area doing a bit of spying and preparing to drop off 12 soldiers and agents on to land when they completely cocked it all up and ran aground in heavy weather. The Captain thinking he might have a bit of a problem talking his way out of the situation took drastic measures, at least they seem drastic measures to me but they may not be for North Korea. He set fire to all the documents on board, then felt he wouldn't entirely be able to trust all the crew, so shot the lot. The soldiers and agents were released on to land but the stricken submarine was a little bit of a give away and was spotted. It took the South Koreans 49 days to kill 12 of them and capture one. The South Koreans also lost 11 soldiers and 6 civilians. According to the blurb at the site the North Korean were "Red Army Bandits" whereas the 11 South Korean soldiers that were lost 'died a glorious death'. The same spot also happens to be the place where North Korea invaded in 1950 starting the Korean War. Needless to say the South Korean are still a bit twitchy about all this and so the whole coast is lined with a tall fence topped in barbed wire and there are still armed lookouts along the coast. We visited the submarine at the spot where it ran aground, now a Unification Park. Also there was a warship, though the only story behind that was that it was given to the South Koreans by the Americans, a cheap ploy to get rid of their knackered old ship.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Day 827 - Samcheok

It was my turn to delay our departure for a day. I wasn't feeling as bad as the previous couple of days but I really couldn't face the prospect of a day on the road. We cut our loses and stayed in Andong another day but took a bus out on the 23km run to Hahoe Folk village, a similar sort of set up like the Yangdong village that we had already visited. I hadn't been on a bus for months, it felt a strange experience. The bus was packed, we had to stand, my stomach felt rough, I really wanted to sit, then a young guy kindly gave up his seat for me, I thanked him after trying to refuse, his gesture made me feel very good. As the bus trundled along I realised it was full of young people armed with cameras, all heading for Hahoe, but at various stops other people got on, older people. I was amazed to see that each time an older person got on somebody would instantly give up there set for them, I suddenly realised why I had got my seat, it made me feel very old! The bus ride reminded me of my backpacking days, yet this time I felt strangely detached from my surroundings, almost as though I wasn't really there, it felt like a film was running before my eyes. There weren't the sounds, the smells, the wind rushing through my hair (ok, so that hasn't happened for a few years now), I couldn't stop and take photos, I couldn't even slow down for a closer look. There were advantages too, I couldn't feel the gradients as we went up the hills, it might as well have all been flat. But it was just what I needed, it as a hot day and the ride out there and back would have taken its toll, it was enough just to walk around the village. We both felt we were seeing more of the same having so recently visited Yangdong, we were a little disappointed. We had also visited a mask museum, it had made the journey worthwhile. One the way back we were the only ones to get off at the paper museum. I think I soon realised why, there seemed to be little here, though just around the corner lay the highlight of the day. Indeed there was a paper factory, a very small affair, all made by hand, it was fascinating to watch, we just wandered around, nobody seemed to be bothered by us watching. The mulberry bark is mashed down until it creates fine fibres almost like linen, this is then mixed in water and filtered out on a bed of rush, drained to create a very thin layer that is basically the paper and then placed on a pile. Overnight the remaining water is pressed out, then the individual pieces are pressed onto a sheet metal to dry, rather like a large iron, then peeled off as the finished paper. There was even a small area where you could make your own piece of paper and take it away with you. We were the only visitors there, it was fascinating, much better than the village that had so many visitors. In the museum cum shop there were all sorts of things made from the paper including dresses that are entered into fashion parades in Seoul each year, though apparently not the thing to be worn during the rainy season. I also utilised the time by doing the bike repair of changing the bearing of my front wheel. They looked fine on one side and manky on the other so I only changed the bearing on one side, but now there is no wobble and no strange clicking noises. The wheel spins so smoothly, as good a new. I guess the rim will go now!

So we were back on the road and looking for a nice easy day, but this is South Korea, easy days and cycling just don't go together. We were climbing out of Andong, we weren't even going to get an easy start. After a few kilometres we turned on to the quieter 933, it didn't look too hilly on the map but it was! After just 18km we stopped for a break, I was already really tired so lay on a bench for a nap. Christine went off on her bike to get some ice cream but soon returned saying that everything had sized up, she could no longer pedal. Her gears and bottom bracket could both do with attention, so she assumed one of them had died completely, but it was only a bit of something stuck in the chain, nothing to worry about, at least we didn't think so at the time. We carried on along the roller coaster in the heat of the day before dropping into a valley. It was flattish for a while, it made such a difference, we were making progress at last. We were passing water melons, fields of them, I have never seen so many in such a short space of time. With the heat of the day it made us desperate for one though unlike the apples we decided not to fall to temptation and pick one. The only way out of the valley was up another climb, another pass. I waited for Christine at the pass, more water melons making me feel so thirsty (photo). We dropped down into the some town of Hyeondong where we looked to refill the water bottles at a church. Using the tap at the time was the priest, he very kindly offered us ice water and before we knew it we were in his house, his wife preparing something. A few minutes later we had a large plate of water melon put in front of us. Was this our reward for resisting temptation? With the aid of maps we did our best to tell them about our journey through Korea, but it was hard work. Back on the bike again we were faced with another climb, but as it was getting late we looked for a campsite. That is hardly ever easy, if the land is flat it is either lived on or cultivated, if not then it is steep hillsides leaving few options for us to camp. Christine found a spot, but it was a hell of an effort to get the bikes up to the spot, but we were rewarded with the best view whilst camping in Korea as we looked back down the valley. We could hear voices, they sounded very close, but we never saw anybody, I think it was just that sound carried through the valley incredibly well. It was only a while later that we discovered that we hadn't camped on an old terrace as we had thought, we were camped on an old burial mound. It didnŽ≠™ put me off my nights sleep, I slept very well.

The climb was completed the following morning, before long we were back on main roads, roads that we would remain on for the rest of the day. We stopped in a small town and checked the map, there seemed to be little ahead on the road, so despite it being only 10:30 we stopped for lunch. It turned out to be a good move, we were straight into a long climb, the longest for a long time taking us up to 892m. Now I don't mind hilly routes, sometimes I even enjoy a good climb, but here it is beginning to wear a bit thin. You can be pretty damned sure that at the top of every hill, no matter how long it is, there is a descent awaiting. That's all well and good, but you can be pretty damned sure that at the bottom of every descent there is another climb lurking around the corner. We both yearn for a day or two on the flat, but we also both know that it just isn't going to happen, consequently every day is a tough day, distances are well down, even from Japan, it just hard, hard work. We dropped down to a river, then all of a sudden, despite the lack of joining roads or towns the road became very busy. We could see nothing on the map to tell us it would be urban, but urban it most certainly was, though we were heading for Taebaek, a mining region. By later afternoon we knew we would have trouble finding somewhere to camp. We turned onto the road to Taebaeksan Provincial Park, we were climbing again when at the far side of a large empty car park I spotted a tent, we went for a closer look. To our surprise we had found the first campsite we have seen in Korea, though it was shut. There we 3 tents, 2 were not in use, so we decided to camp there, despite it being right next to the road. During the evening the road quietened down but around midnight a couple of cars arrived and 3 guys set up a tent, thankfully a fair way from us, but they were noisy, very noisy. The noise was fuelled by alcohol, they got louder and louder. At 4am I decided I wouldn't be going to sleep again, our alarm goes off at 5:30. This is part of the reason we both dislike campsites, the chances of a nights sleep are pretty slim.

We were glad to leave the campsite, we climbed just a little further to the Coal Museum, and very interesting it was too, though for me the best bit was the display of rocks, stones and crystals at the start, followed by a room full of fossils. It all ended with a mock mine complete with a roof collapse simulation, though it wasn't very effective, I never felt in danger. We dropped down into Taebaek where we stopped for lunch and discovered that the school holidays are over, there were mums with kids everywhere. We descended on the 38, a horrible road, probably the worst we have been on here. It wasn't even overly busy, but it twisted and turned the whole time, a lot of black spots were signposted. To make the road safer they have put posts along the centre line to stop drivers staying to the other side of the road, but it doesn't make it any safer for us, for us it the worst possible thing, it is truly horrible. Vehicles still want to pass, some want to pass without slowing down, and most of those vehicles are the coal lorries that are heading down from the Taebaek mines, there is very little room left to play with, it was no fun at all. Christine was complaining that her gears were getting worse, we stopped in a bus shelter for a closer look. She doesn't use shimano derailleur gears, like so many other German cyclists she has opted for the Rohloff Speedhub, something I know nothing about, though would soon become an expert. We took the back wheel off only to find that a tooth had broken of her sprocket (the Rohloff only has the one), there was nothing we could do about that, but it hardly made her feel any better. To make matter worse to open the gear changing box to get to the end of the cables we needed a star screwdriver, something I don't tarry as I don't have any on my bike, Christine wasn't carrying one either, there was nothing we could do. Christine wasn't a happy bunny that night, she wanted to give up on the cycling and get a train to Seoul, but we decided to carry on to the next town, see if we can get the tools and find a bike shop and just see how we get on. We camped right next to a track, that didn't make Christine any happier, but it turned out to be a very good campsite complete with a nice little stream to have a good wash down in, we even found a bar of soap on one of the rocks.

The following morning we were heading for Samcheok when we arrived at the turnoff for Hwanseongul caves, an 18km detour up a valley. To my surprise Christine wanted to take the detour, we had a steady climb the whole way. Christine flew up the thing, I could hardly keep up with her. On arrival she was all grins and smiles, a reaction to my talk to her the previous evening about trying to be more positive, the perfect reaction. It was a well worthwhile detour too. From the ticket office it was a steep 1.3km walk up the steep valley, about half of which was steps. The caves were massive, probably the largest cave system I have been in. You could walk around on your own along the metal walkways which passed over the underground water system (photo). It was all very impressive, apart from the coloured LED lights in some places which rather spoilt the cave atmosphere, though it did improve the Christmas tree effect! The ride back down was bliss, freewheeling all the way. The main road improved too as it turned into dual carriageway. On the way into town we spotted one of the many tool shops that line the roads of some towns and to my complete surprise they even had the tools we needed. I removed the gear cable box, everything looked fine, but having replaced it the gears locked up completely. I was able to select a single middle gear for her, we then continued into town and checked into a motel, brought the bike up to the room and set to work on it. One of the cables had completely frayed at the changer on the handlebars, but the tiny headless screw in the changer box that holds the cable in place was locked solid. Forcing it only made matters worse, I only succeeded in rounding the head, the thing was totally knackered. Rather than going into more details, I have included Christine's description from the entry on her blog. Needless to say we were both somewhat glum during the evening as we looked into all the possibilities we had, none of which looked very favourable unless we could get that bloody screw out.
Christine writes:
At the very end of my trip with less than 2 weeks left to cycle I ended up with bike trouble - and big time as well!

It all started quite innocently with my bike stand. John does not have a bike stand and had parked his bike leaning against a wall. My bike was parked in front of it. All of a sudden his bike with 40 kg of crap (sorry, valuable equipment) on it fell and crashed into my bike. Result: My bike stand broke off and John and me were yelling at each other.

Next the bottom bracket started making some very weird noises again. It has not come loose (yet), but going uphill it sounds worse than an old steam engine.

And then the real trouble started: Slowly but gradually the gear shifter stopped working. First it was just hard going, then I could not reach the lower gears any more and in the end it would not move at all.

But things got even worse: When we took the back wheel off to investigate the gear shift problem we discovered that a tooth had broken off the back sprocket!

That night I did not like cycling at all any more. All this cannot happen when you are hiking. When hiking gear breaks, I can usually sew it or tape it, but bike trouble is a little bit more complicated. I started contemplating finishing my trip on a train. We decided to cycle to the next bigger town and try to repair the whole affair. And we just made it there in time before the gear shifter become totally stuck.
Part of the problem was the lack of tools. In order to open the cable box on my fabulous Rohloff speedhub you need a star key. Of course any reasonable person would have tested every nut and bolt on her bike before setting of on a major trip to have the right tool, but I had never thought about it. And to make matters worse I did not even have a spare shifter cable. So there we were not being able to open the cable box because we did not have the right tool and even if we had had the right it would not do us any good because we did not have a spare part?

Luckily the first tool shop in Samcheok did have star keys! We opened the cable box and saw what we had expected. The shifter cable had frayed and become stuck. Luckily I had posted the problem on a German internet bike forum and received loads of very good replies from which I had learnt that you can use any thin shifter cable as replacement. Life seemed good: We had the right tool and a spare part. But then it happened: The screw that fixes the shifter cable in the cable box did not budge at all - and then the screw's head wore out, the tool did not get any grip and all seemed lost. I saw myself on a train again and did not sleep very well that night.
Next morning we did a Grand Tour of Samcheok's tool shops. I must say that some things are easier in less developed countries. The people in the tool shops really knew how to deal with the problem. The first guy just took a bigger Allen key than needed and filed it to the right size to get some grip - it worked but the screw would still not budge. We were sent to another tool shop where we eventually hit the jack pot. The owner knew his stuff and drilled the screw out. I expected that he would ruin the thread doing that but no - everything was fine. And when we found spare shifter cables and a M4 headless screw in a bike shop nothing could stop us any more. Two hours and two fucked up shifter cables (cut off too short) later the gear shift was working better than ever before. I was very proud of John, because he had done all the repair?

But when we tried to fix the sprocket problem we were in for a bad surprise. We thought that you can use just any replacement sprocket - and that was very wrong! The sprocket was a special Rohloff part and of course not available in Korea. Even the only shop in whole Korea that deals with Rohloff does not have it. I could still ride the bike with the broken off tooth but should we risk it? I decided to do some internet research and the same German bike forum came to my rescue. I discovered an old thread discussing this exact problem and including an answer from Mr. Rohloff himself. Content: Teeth do not break out of Rohloff sprockets and if they do it is a quality problem and Rohloff will send out a spare part to wherever you are. I emailed Rohloff immediately and got an answer within 2 hours. This is what I call German efficiency. The answer was even better: Continue with the broken sprocket (it will not deteriorate) and we will replace it once you are back in Germany.
So now I will continue cycling with a functioning gear shift, a broken sprocket and a bottom bracket that squeaks like hell. Wish me luck for the rest of my trip!

Me again.

Once we could do no more we decided to take our mind off things by doing a bit of sight seeing. Samcheok proudly calls itself the `Cave Capital`, so we went to a cave museum...where else. So what does a cave museum have? Well it had a bunch of rocks, a load of screens showing films, pictures of caves from around the world and a whole load of mock cave settings, all mildly interesting, but nothing compared to the real thing. So having never even known there was such a thing in the world as a cave museum, how do you follow that up? That's a tough one isn't it? Actually no, here in Samcheok it is very easy, you get on you bike, cycle 200m and go to another cave museum. The second one was a hoot, I thought the first one had enough cave mock ups, but this completely outshone it with complete mock caves that you could find your way through, even including sections that you climbed up with the aid of a rope, all very dodgy from a safety point of view. From here it went down hill and focused on things such as `cave treasure` and `cave dragons`, but at least it succeeded in taking our minds off the bikes.

But there are other weird and wonderful things around the area, so today we visited another, a small fishing village of Sinnam, nothing special in itself, but it does have a rather unusual little folklore story attached to it. A girl used to go out to sea and collect seaweed. One morning her boyfriend dropped her off on a rock and returned to shore, but later a storm blew up stopping the boy from returning to collect the girl. A huge wave covered the rock, dragged the girl into the sea and she drowned. Shortly after her death the local fisherman noticed that their catches were dwindling rapidly and believed the fishing grounds had been cursed by the 'unfulfilled' girl. Everything seemed lost until a fisherman having a pee did so facing the sea and noticed that his catch the next day increased. Soon the village started erecting phallic symbols, though they tend to leave little to the imagination, until the catches returned to normal. Now there is a `willy park' and each year there is a festival and new carvings are erected (excuse the pun). It made for a rather alternative type of sight seeing but one phrase kept returning to my head....'Never in the UK!'

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Day 819 - Andong

We left a day late from Gyeongju, not that we are in any sort of rush whilst we are here in South Korea, it was just that Christine was not feeling well, she qas running a slight fever. I appreciated a day of complete rest, it is just a shame that it was at Christine's expense. I suspected another day would have done her good but she wasn't going to have any of it, she insisted on leaving, so leave we did. On the way out we stopped at several places to try and get some CR2032 batteries, you could get them everywhere in Japan, but here they are more like gold dust. We eventually found some, where else in Korea would you expect to find them, it was obvious really?.Tesco. We made our way out of town on the busy route 7, then turned off onto the also busy route 28. This was a cyclist's nightmare, you enter a busy dual carriageway in the fast lane, fast irritable drivers from the side, fast irritable drivers from behind, hands or horns, but what did they expect us to do? We eventually got across safely, of course we did otherwise I wouldn't be here writing this. We were soon off onto a little side road heading for the folk village of Yangdong. We parked the bikes and started walking and were immediately confronted by a television crew that wanted to interview us, "Can we ask you a few questions about the village?" they asked us, "We haven't even seen it yet?" we replied and told them they could ask us questions later. I suspect they homed in on us as we were the only foreigners around. The village was established in the 15th Century and consisted of about 150 houses from mansions to traditional wooden houses (photo). It is still lived apart from the houses of historical importance and all can be visited, so long as you pay a little respect to those living there. Every effort has been made to leave it as it was, so there are no restaurants, just a couple of traditional cafes. It was fairly spread out, it was taking its toll on Christine, so we ended up finding a nearby little store and sitting outside of a long rest. After a bit more walking we went in search of a campsite, and easily found a nice spot near a reservoir, though it was a bit of haul up with the bikes, it just about finished Christine off for the day. Things got worse, as I adjusted the tent there was a horrible crack, it could only have been a pole breaking. Thankfully a carry an emergency repair kit that contains a short sleeve which thankfully seems to be working.

I think we were both suffering a bit, we didn't get up until 10am the following morning, I slept pretty well the whole way through, even then getting up was a struggle. The plan was to just take it gently and see how far we got, no rush to get anywhere. We were entering apple land, gone was the rice, here it was orchards everywhere. By early afternoon we hadn't got far, though we had been over a small pass. We decided to find somewhere to camp and finish early, but when you plan that, it never happens. We covered another 20km before we found somewhere, it took an age checking out various spots which turned out to be unsuitable. In the end we chose the least bad spot, but it certainly wasn't a good spot. As we cooked we still didn't realise just how bad a place it was, then at 7pm there was a very loud bang, a gas gun that was about 150m away but still incredibly loud. It was going off every minute, each time it made Christine jump so much that she spilt soup over her. She doesn't like the slightest noise, so this wasn't going down well at all. The interval increased between the blasts, but in the dark we went in search of another place to camp. We located a site by another apple orchard, the gun was still loud but much better. As we packed away to move the blasts continued, each time Christine exclaiming a loud "Arrgghhhh!!!!!", "Have you been hit?" I called out, but sometimes my sense of humour just isn't appreciated. She also refused to believe that I could possibly sleep through it, but I slept though it all in our new spot.

We were away early the following morning, but not before people were already out and working in the orchard where we camped. We started with a climb, though Christine was feeling stronger and coped well. I had felt lethargic the previous day but felt back to normal, it felt great to be cycling. We turned off the main roads onto small roads that followed a river the whole time (photo), it was cycling at its best. Every now and then we were passing orchards, the apples looked great, a couple even found their way into one of my bags, they had been so close to the road that I didnŽ≠™ even have to get off the bike. Now doesn't that sound better than just saying I stole them? We stopped in a village for lunch. We didn't bother with a restaurant, it fact we haven't used one for a few days now, Christine had completely lost her appetite, sure evidence that she had not been well. In almost every village there is an open sided pavilion where the locals gather and chat, so we ate a snack there. Whilst we did so the guy across the road brought some iced coffee over, very welcome. Thankfully we had an afternoon on the flat, we were running as normal and made good progress, though for the second night running we had a lot of trouble finding a suitable spot to camp. We eventually went for a spot beside an orchard and a stream, the stream was great for a shower, the orchard was pretty useful too. We decided to sleep out in the open but gave up at around 10pm due to the flies and mosquitos, we slept in the tent inner only to keep them at bay. I woke up at around midnight, I felt absolutely terrible, I was sure I would throw up, though thankfully I didn't. It made for a long night, I had no idea how I would be able to cycle in the morning, I assumed I would have to try and get a lift to Andong which wasn't far away.

By morning I was feeling a lot better, I could at least cycle the 20 odd kilometres to town. It was hard work and slow going despite being on the flat. Once there I sat outside a motel while Christine searched out a suitable place for us to stay. Once unloaded I got into bed and stayed there the rest of the day.

Today I have been much better and I am up and about again. I suspect I just had the same as Christine, but I am a bloke, I had it much worse than her, or at least assumed it must have been.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Day 813 - Gyeongju

We opted to take the easy route out of Busan?by ferry. It retrospect it wasn't that easy, we had to carry the bikes down a flight of steps to the hydrofoil making it just in time for the departure. We didn't even know where the ferry was actually going, only that it was going somewhere on the island of Geoje. To make matters even more difficult we still didn't know exactly where we were when we got off the thing, the place name of where we thought we were wasn't in English on our map. What was on the map though was a Prisoner of War Camp which we were soon seeing signposts for, at last we had our bearings. We decided to stop there if it was close enough for us, it would be interesting and surely there wouldn't be anybody else there. Well it just shows how wrong you can be, there was a traffic jam before we even arrived, there were queues for tickets, the place was heaving. The reason for this is that is the very start of the holiday period, we had been warned that everybody would be on holiday, we had even seen photos in the paper of a 10 lane road in Seoul that was devoid of any traffic. But this place wasn't what we expected either, it was more of a POW theme park than a museum, its tackiness showing right from the start as we rode an escalator through a giant tank passing rows of Goodies on the right, and the Baddies on the left in the shape of North Korean and Chinese leaders as the place focused on the Korean war. It was all interesting giving further insight to the war and showing the living conditions of those contained there complete with model soldiers going to the loo that you could be photographed next too if you so wished. We continued out of the unknown town spotting a bike shop on the way. We stopped to try and get Christine's bottom bracket looked at, it's making horrible noises again already, they couldn't help her, but I did come away with a new pair of shorts, they were desperately needed, mine will soon be very indecent. They guy asked us where we were heading and was speechless when Christine told him I was cycling around the world, out came the camera and note paper as he asked questions so that he could put something about us on his website. It wasn't too long before we were heading up a climb, we had been warned that the roads were steep in South Korea and our first climb was confirming that. Once at the top we could see the descent down to the busy coastal resort so we made our way up a track into the woods and found a place to camp. It was tough work getting the bikes up the hill, but made for a lovely little campsite, well away from anybody else.

The following morning we dropped to the coast, the rode around the edge of the holiday island, it meant the roads were busy, they were also roller coasters, tough going. We aimed to hug the coastline, we were looking for a minor road, it was on our map, it was on a roadside map, but it didn't exist, the road came to an abrupt halt at a river estuary. Looking across clearly showed there had never even been a road going that way, it didn't inspire confidence in our maps. We took an alternative route up to a pass, by heck it was steep, very steep, it makes it bloody hard work on a heavily laden touring bike, no fun at all. I stopped and waited for Christine. When she arrived she wasn't happy 'We have made a terrible mistake, we should never have come to South Korea. If it is like this the whole time it will be no fun at all?' Thankfully it got easier, we coasted back down to sea level, then around the bays to a small town where we stopped for dinner. We chose a little restaurant and ordered some food, we had no idea what. It turned out to be some sort of stew with about 8 side dishes and a couple of barbecued fish which were replaced with another couple once we had eaten them. This also signalled the start of new eating habits whilst we are cycling. Eating out is probably cheaper than buying food in the supermarkets, so what we do now is stop at a restaurant at lunchtime and have a decent meal, normally sat on the floor at the low tables, emptying every side dish that they put in front of us, usually with a top up on the rice. We then buy some really simple food to cook in the evening such as noodle soup or milk rice. It makes a nice change from all the cooking we had to do in Japan. Once filled we were on our way again, the afternoon remained easy which lifted our spirits, at last we were making a little progress. We were heading for the bridge that would take us off the island but we could see that it was built up on the other side, so cutting our losses we took a track that led us beyond a reservoir and a nice secluded little camping spot. So far so good, 2 nights camping and 2 easy spots to find, much better than we had expected.

There had been a funny clicking noise coming from my front wheel, I had checked all the spokes and none of them seemed to be loose, but I at last discovered the problem, it wasn't good news. The bearings seem to be going, the wheel wobbles slightly from side to side, I guess it is going to be a bit of a problem to get it sorted out here, I will just have to monitor it and see how it goes. If the worst comes to the worst I can get a new wheel here that should see me through the next few weeks. We crossed the bridge and were back on mainland, keeping off the main highways and hugging the coastline again. We passed a van pull of cyclists, their bikes on the roof. As they passed us a few minutes later they waved and took photos of us. Before long we had no choice but to get on to a dual carriageway. After a few kilometres we stopped for a break by some traffic lights, it gave us a chance to observe traffic behaviour. The most important thing we noticed was that it seems to be only optional to stop at a red light, but if you choose not to stop you have to go across fast. This rule doesn't apply to buses, they never stop at red lights, they whiz pass everything on the inside and straight through the red light without even so much as slowing down, they probably don't have any brakes! It was an eye opener and a good reminder to take extra care when crossing traffic lights. That said, I have to say that it is a lot safer cycling here than I expected. We had heard nothing but bad reports about the place, how dangerous it is, but other than the traffic lights and the occasional vehicle coming too close there are no problems at all. Oh, I suppose right turns are a bit iffy. Stuff coming from the right just seems to ignore us and pull right out in front of us, something else to be a bit careful of, but it may be that traffic from the right has priority, they certainly drive as though they have. Once off the main road we were back to grunting up the hills and flying down at break neck speed. We stopped at a town on the map that was a red spot, these seem to always have a restaurant, though we couldn't find one in this one. There is always somebody around that can speak a few words of English, so I just asked the checkout girl in a supermarket. I couldn't understand a word of the reply, but I could see that she seemed to be giving us definite instructions, so sure enough a few minutes later we were ordering food, though goodness knows what. To prove the point that I had no idea what I had ordered a minute later a beer arrived. We tried again with success. As I ate from the many side dishes the waitress walked past and saw that I was putting too much spicy stuff on "No, no, no?" she said, took one of my chopsticks and took some of the paste off for me. At least they keep an eye out for you. Once we were finished we were given some wonderful water melon, we hadn,t asked for it, at least not knowingly, and nobody else seemed to be getting any, but we didn,t complain, it went down very well. I also made an important discovery, coffee is free, you just help yourself. Christine doesn't drink the stuff, so I always get one for her and drink them both. An afternoon of more grunting up hills followed, but at least we had full stomachs. When it came to camping we were horribly close to an expressway, so we ended up in a small orchard near the rice fields, far from ideal, especially as a group of men appeared nearby and hung around ages chatting, but it all worked out well in the end. Drinking water here is a bit of a problem. In Japan it was so easy, there were taps everywhere on the sides of houses, many right on the roadside, but that is not the case here, besides, the tap water is not safe o drink, so we have to be a little more cunning. Drinking water normally comes in dispensers, so we fill up all the bottles at lunchtime at the restaurants, but water for the evening is a bit more of challenge. We found a very useful source in an unlikely place, a church. There are lots of churches here and generally open and they all seem to have drinking water dispensers, so this is our most reliable supply. Ask and the Lord giveths.

The following morning didn't dawn bright, but it did dawn a little wet. Thankfully we were packed and on our way before the drizzle really set in. The riding was a nice change, it was flat, flat, flat, we were making really good progress for a change, though sadly the cycling itself was pretty grim, busy roads heading for the city of Jinju. As we arrived it seemed to be getting darker. We were heading for the fortress, we could see it across the river. As we crossed the bridge it started to rain, so I thought we might as well sit it out in a caf?until it passed over, then just as I was about to suggest this idea to Christine there was a big flash and an enormous clap of thunder, she didn't take much convincing. We looked around for a bakery, typically you can never find one when you really need it. At last we spotted one, the good old local chain that we see in every city....Paris Baguette. We reached it just in time, the heavens opened. The door opened too, we were soon in the dry spending rather more than we had bargained for but it was far better than being out in the rain. After 30 minutes we thought it had stopped, it hadn't, we sat tight, it rained harder, we sat tight, it carried on raining, we refilled on the drinks and were tempted to pinch the food from the next table that had been left by others. After an hour and a half we decided we had to make a move, the rain had eased a little, we quickly cycled to the fortress and parked the bikes, but the rain was getting harder again. The fortress is a large park within the old city walls, we decided to dash to the museum in the middle of it, but we were soaked by the time we reached it. As we went around the museum we kept an eye on the weather, it wasn't getting any better. By the time we were ready to leave it was still raining, so we made a dash to the restaurant and had more food. At long last it seemed to have eased, though it still threatened. We walked around the temples and shrines within the fortress walls, then with the memory of Japanese rain still in our minds we decided to find a motel to stay in. We checked out a couple, too noisy, too expensive, before heading down a side street to a couple more. They were cheap and tacky, but at least they were quiet and didn't let the rain it. Once unloaded we didn't bother to shower but went in search of the local onchean (local bath house). We found it on the fourth floor of a tall building, then went in for a scrub down, sauna, dips in the different thermal pools before meeting up in our provided uniforms in the common area, all very civilised and far better than looking for somewhere to camp that wasn't waterlogged. After dinner we went in search of the very colourful water fountain that did displays to music. All very impressive and attractive, but it bore no relation to the music at all. On the way back to our motel we passed a building that advertised 'Room?' I was surprised to see images of naked women in the windows, hardly a salubrious place I thought, then we passed another, and another, but these had scantily dressed women sat around in the foyer, it seems that when you take a room around here you are paying for a bit more than just the room. It was 10pm on a Friday evening, there wasn't a bloke around, the woman all looked totally bored as they slurped on their noodles. With 'Love Motels' and 'Rooms' finding a night's accommodation here is potentially full of little pitfalls for the unsuspecting tourist.

By morning the weather was looking a little better, we were on the road again, heading out of town on the busy route 3. We missed our turning off, we had to stay on it a lot longer than expected. Most of the roads we use are numbered, but every now and again they are not numbered on the signposts. If they aren't numbered that creates a bit of a problem. Firstly if there is no number on the signpost there is not anything else on it in English, and secondly most of the time we don't know where the road is going, the signposts rarely match what we have marked on the map. To make matters even worse there are far more roads than there are on the map, so if there is no decent signposting how do we know which road is going to be ours. On this occasion we just carried on and took a slightly longer route, though it was probably much quicker as I suspect it was much flatter than our desired route. After a lunch stop we were on much quieter roads, we were really enjoying it until the road took an alarming turn upwards. We missed another turning. The smaller roads are marked as green on the map, they are rarely numbered and signposted, sometimes they just aren't there or they are such small roads that we don't even notice them. We carried along the roller coaster in the heat, sweating buckets on the climbs before descending to a large reservoir. I called in at a motel with a great view over the water and mountains only to discover on my return that my bike had fallen and taken Christines with it in the process breaking her stand. She wasn't best pleased, added to that my reaction to hers wasn't a good one either meaning that we both set off in a thoroughly bad mood. We eventually found a good camp area with a view over the lake, then sat done and had a clear the air chat. Things were looking much brighter, even if the bike stand wasn't.

The following morning we had a very steep climb just to get back to the road from the campsite, the bikes were pushed the whole way, the heart was pounding, the body sweating and we hadn't even got on the bikes yet. The next few hills seemed tame in comparison, but such exertion takes its toll. Steeper climbs soon followed, at the top of the second and with just 16km covered I sat down for a rest, knackered! Christine arrived a little later "There is no way we are going to make it to Haeinsa today" she said. "Yes we will, it won't be all as bad as that" I told her, "Yes, it will, this is South Korea" came the instant reply. She set off on the descent before me, I stopped again to take a photo, then was called to from the people of a nearby parked car. I went over and couldn't refuse the coffee they were offering me. The descent continued followed by a nice flat section, suddenly we were getting somewhere again, life was looking a little better, we would make it to Haeinsa after all. The next town brought us to the dead end route to Haeinsa. At Haeinsa is a revered Buddhist Temple, it was a Sunday and the roads were busy, clearly we weren't going to be he only ones there. The road started to climb again, we climbed for the next 7 kilometres. We entered the National Park, stopped at the gate to pay our entrance fee, told it would be 4000 Won, then waved through without having to pay. To our surprise it was a 1.2km walk from the road to the temple, strangely enough up another steep hill, but it was no deterrent for South Koreans on their holidays, they were arriving by the bus load. We managed to get a shop keeper to allow us to leave our bikes outside of his shop, then bought some snacks from him and sat down to eat them. A couple sat next to us and offered us some of their food, we accepted and gave them biscuits in return, then were force fed with more of their food. We walked up to the temple with a constant flow of people in both directions, though once we were there the place didn't feel overwhelmed with people. Temples here are generally made up of a number of small buildings, so people are soon spread out. Some of them were under restoration, but also some of them had obviously been recently completed, the colours of the decorations inside and out were just amazing. The unusual feature here is the library of wooden printing block texts that are stored in partially opened buildings. They are hundreds of years old. The government in the 1970s invested money in housing the blocks in closed, temperature controlled buildings, but they soon had mildew on them so the exercise was abandoned and they are now stored in the same way as they have been for hundreds of years. We needed somewhere to camp, there were 3 campsites marked on the Park map so we went to see if they were being used, I suspected they would be empty. It's not often I am right and I was wrong again, they were packed. We returned through the village were the touts were out for the motels, so we decided to check one out. It was reasonable at 30,000 won (15 pounds), so we decided to stop there the night. Despite this being the holiday period most of the motels seemed to be empty, is it due to the world recession or do most people stay on the coast for their summer holidays?

Our next port of call was to be Gyeongju, getting to it was going to be a problem. We could either head straight to it passing through the massive city of Daegu, or head south around it. The problem with the southern route was that there was very few roads going east/west so I guessed it would be very hilly and very busy. We changed our minds a few times before settling for the Daegu route, then at the last minute we opted for the southern route. The best thing about the southern route was that it meant we would retrace the first 15km, all downhill. We then needed to cross a pass on the 1036, easy to find as it was just after an interchange on the expressway. It wasn't signposted. We gave it a lot of thought before deciding which road to take, we only had a choice of two. The 1036 went through the hills, the other one which was not on the map went along the river. We set off, but right from the start I had a bad feeling about the road, the bad feeling only getting worse as it got steeper, narrower and still not a car in either direction. After 250m of lung busting climbing the bad feeling couldn't get any worse, the road came to an end at some sort of resort complex. To say I was pissed off in an understatement. No matter how much I looked at the map and back at the road, it just didn't seem to change anything. The only thing to do was head back down with hard braking all the way. We followed the main road around instead which as it turned out would have been a much flatter and quicker option despite it being much longer. We stopped for lunch and had a nice barbecue to lift the spirits. Things got even better in the afternoon as we used a road not marked on the map to cut a long corner off, the even managed to find the 'green' road we needed to take. Judging by the lorries coming the other way this road was actually going to lead somewhere. The whole of the afternoon the route was flat, still picturesque and a joy to be riding again. When the roads are hilly we seem to move across the map so slowly, but on the flat sections I can hardly believe we are progressing so quickly, it makes a huge difference. We wanted to camp before we reached the main road 20. We were getting desperate, we only had about 500m to go before we reached it, to I made my way across an unused field, went through the undergrowth, over a pile of rocks and was surprised to find a tiny little spot amongst some bamboo, just enough room to put the tent up, a perfect spot where nobody would ever see us.

The morning started the same as every other morning seems to, with a climb. It was an easy pass to get over, no more than 3.5km of steady climbing, then a similar sort of descent followed by a whole load of flat to our surprise. We also passed a large town for which the road turned into dual carriageway, but there was hardly anything on it. As we started on another climb we were passing a whole group of fruit stalls, I stopped to take a photo of one of them. Having asked if it was ok to photograph them we were rewarded with 4 large peaches. The Koreans are generous and outgoing, always very friendly. We supplemented the peaches by picking roadside plums. There are also loads of little green things growing on trees, they look like green acorns, our guess is that they are almonds, but we can't be sure. We also pass cattle, though they don't grow on trees and they are never outside, always in sheds. I doubt if they ever see the outside world, the land around them is normally rice fields. It started to rain, jackets went on at the top of the climb but we were still pretty wet after a swift bit of downhill. The restaurants were we stopped weren't much good, one even turned us away for some reason, it happened the previous day as well, may be we smelling bad. We camped in a small wood near a village, just in time for it to start raining, it was to rain for most of the night, though thankfully everything stayed dry apart from the tent.

We had a short easy run into Gyeongju. We found an area with lots of motel, the glitzy variety, otherwise known as Love motels. They are very similar to hotels really, though they have a very discreet reception so that you don't have to even face anybody if you don't want to. They are good value with all the mod cons, including 2 PCs, one each side of the bed. Now why would you want 2 PCs if you really want a love motel? But why do they have them in the first place? Our guess is that in such a densely populated country it gives couples the opportunity to be discreet. Most people here, certainly in the towns, seem to live in high rise flats that are grouped together (photo), there are literally hundreds of them. Gyeongju is the number one tourist attraction in South Korea, described as an outdoor museum, where there are ancient tumuli, tombs, temples (photo), rock carvings, pagodas, the whole works, spread over a good few kilometres. The tumuli are impressive, large perfectly shaped earth mounds, a sort of small scale equivalent to the pyramids. Also like the pyramids, one had been opened up showing the burial chamber of one of the kings. We spent the last couple of days cycling around several of the main sights, calling in to a restaurant at lunchtime. We ate the local speciality, sasambap. We ordered one each which resulted in over 30 dishes being placed on the table. It is basically what everybody else was eating too, though we did notice that we were about the only ones to finish everything. With the aid of our massive television we have seen the weather forecast. Thankfully it would seem the rain has moved on, we are now blessed with sunshine, a bit too much of the stuff, it's getting a bit hot!

Monday, 3 August 2009

Day 802 - Busan (South Korea)

Ok, so I had no intention of coming to South Korea, but Christine and I decided a few weeks back that as we were in this neck of the woods it was too good and opportunity to miss, so here we are.

I don’t have a lot to report yet, we haven’t even stepped out of Busan. We caught the ferry over from Fukuoka and hardly having seen a touring cyclist the whole time we were in Japan we met two from South Koreans at the ferry terminal, Park and Li. By pure coincidence we even ended up in the same room as them, we had the luxury of somewhere to lay our heads even on a day time crossing. Poor old Christine has been getting stressed out about the cycling here, she had heard it was dangerous due to the standard of driving here. When we asked Park how much cycling they do at home they replied “None, it’s too dangerous”. “Oh shit” I thought, that was the last reply I needed, I have been trying to build her confidence up but this just knocked all my efforts for six. We had a nice smooth crossing, but not so smooth that Christine didn’t at least get a little sea sick. We arrived in Busan at 18:30 and after border formalities including a swine flu test, we were reunited with our bikes and making the short trip to a hotel. This first bit of cycling meant that I am back on main and off islands for the first time since I crossed from Malaysia to Singapore, though I don’t really know why I am telling you that anyway as I live on a bloody island! Also, it is the first time since Cambodia that I have cycled on the right, in the hectic traffic it took full concentration.

Since then the bikes have been parked up, we have been heading around the large city, South Korea’s 2nd largest and main port, population 3 million, purely by subway, and jolly cheap it is too. Things immediately feel very different to Japan. It a developed country, but after the efficiency of Japan everything here feels somewhat chaotic. Pavements are rough with plenty of obstacles, there are street stalls and little restaurants everywhere, this is more like mainstream Asia than Japan. But for the humble pound stricken traveller it certainly has it’s advantages, everything is so much cheaper. Hotels are much cheaper, we can even afford to eat food in restaurants, it’s dirt cheap, £2 - £3 will buy you a filling meal with as many side dishes as they seem to be able to fit on the table. The food is also very different to Japan, much spicier, much tastier. Bibimbap has already become a favourite, very cheap for a huge pile of food covering a bed of rice. The first time we ordered it and all the side dishes arrived I was convinced it would cost at least twice the price we had been told, but it didn’t. The national favourite though seems to be Bulgogi. You sit at a low table with a barbecue in the middle, then you chosen raw meat is placed on for you and you do the rest of the cooking yourself (photo). The table is again filled with side dishes and of you go, tuck in….yum yum. I think we are going to enjoy the food here, I suspect we will be doing less cooking on the camp stove.

We paid a visit to the UNMCK (UN Memorial Cemetery in Korea). This was very educational, a short film giving an enlightening look at the recent history leading up to, and through the Korean War from 1950-1953. Typically it was heavily influenced from outsiders, Russia and America, though the largest number of buried there were British with around 560 men. The sights we have visited have been pretty diverse, Haeundae Beach was one of them, the most popular beach in the country. We went there on Sunday, thankfully late afternoon, the streets were heaving, the beach packed with umbrellas amongst the rubbish. We saw aerial pictures in the paper the following day, it was extremely popular being the start of the summer holidays, some 500,000 had visited. Nearby was the largest department store in the world, complete with 4th floor ice rink, 9th floor Sky Garden and 14th floor golf range. It was impressive stuff, but I am not sure when the world’s largest department store becomes not quite the world’s largest shopping mall, there seems to be pretty fine line. We also made it up into the hills to Beomeosa Temple, a Buddhist temple where people actually seemed to be worshiping. It was pretty old but beautifully decorated (photo). Last stop was a spa, the largest in Asia with a whole bunch of pools to choose from, saunas, then a mixed rest area with oxygen rooms at different temperature. A nice way to finish off our introduction to South Korea. The tough bit start tomorrow.