I didn’t get started quite as early as I would have liked to this morning. Instead of being on a bus by 7:00, I didn’t get on one until about 9:30. I left Ursula’s around 8:00 and hopped on the subway to the Dongbu Express Bus Terminal. From there I took a W22,000 (~$22), 4h bus ride to Sokcho. My stomach still seems to be recovering from that chili, but luckily I was able to sleep most of the way on the bus. The bus, by the way, was really nice. I’ve never ridden on a bus so nice. There was room enough in front of me to comfortably stow my bag and enough space between seats to lean the chair all the way back without bothering the person behind me. On the bus, the scenery was much the same as it is in Japan – lots of mountains and rice fields – but somehow I felt that Korea was more desolate some how. Less green, less inhabited. Maybe it was just a reflection of my current state of solitude.
It was 1:30 by the time I got into Sokcho, and I knew I only had until sunset to hike around Seoraksan National Park, so I decided to check my bag at the park and look for lodging later. This turned out to be a bad idea since the baggage check place closed at 5:00, which left me with about 2.5 h to hike once I finally got there (bus rides from the Sokcho Express Bus Terminal to Seoraksan are W1,000. Seoraksan entrance fee: W2,500. Bag check fee: W2,000). Since I had so little time, I decided to skip the waterfalls and head to Heundeulbawi, a really famous 16-ton boulder that’s supposed to have writing and drawings all over it. I think its name might mean “Tottering Rock,” and people are always trying to push it over the edge, but as of yet nobody’s succeeded. Or have they? I hiked all over the area that this rock was supposed to be in and couldn’t find it anywhere. Maybe there was a sign in Korean and I missed it, but that would be some poor advertising if you ask me. So I just started taking pictures of every large boulder I saw in the hopes that when I post them, somebody will say, “Oh, that’s it right there.” Unfortunately I had to head back down the trail to get my bag, so I left without seeing it. The trail was pretty rocky and steep, so it was difficult to get down, but on the plus side, I did visit every temple and hermitage on the way back.
When I got back into Sokcho, I found myself a room at the Samsung Motel (W40,000), which looks like a castle from the outside. The room was pretty nice – toiletries and towels, a TV, fridge, fan and AC. After I dropped my stuff off I went exploring a little. First I went to the beach and sat around thinking about how weird it was to be facing the water and having the sun set behind me. The sand is also browner and coarser than the sand in Tanegashima. I didn’t test the water, but it didn’t look as clear and warm. I walked along the boardwalk and saw all sorts of Korean sushi restaurants, with live fish in tanks outside the shops. I wanted to take pictures, but if I slowed down even for a second, I was immediately harassed by women trying to get me to sleep at their hotel. I’m sure it was a lovely and reputable hotel, but the way they were going about advertising was kind of sketching me out.
After the beach, I took a walk around town. Oddly enough I didn’t see many houses. Or maybe the houses were above or behind all the shops. Still, even in the absence of houses, I could tell I’d entered into an area where the “normal” people lived.
For dinner I had squid sundae (pronounced “soon-day”; W8000). Sundae is sausage in Korean and ojingeo (squid) sundae is seriously delicious. It’s squid, stuffed with meat and vegetables fried up and served with kimchi and vegetables. It’s also kind of spicy and I ended up downing a liter of water with it, but even so, this turned out to the be the straw that broke the camel’s back. My stomach was so unhappy that I couldn’t sleep and ended up watching CSI and Law & Order all night.