Korea, Day 5

Due to my night of suffering, I vetoed getting up early to watch the sunrise in Naksan. Instead I had some Gatorade and caught the 10:16 bus (W6,600; 3h10) to Samcheok, but not before being horrendously ripped off by a cabbie, who is now #1 on my list of people to send negative voodoo to. From the beginning, this guy kind of sketched me out, but seeing as how I didn’t have much in the way of options, I managed to communicate to him that I would need to go to the bank first, and then the Sokcho Intercity Bus Terminal. When I got to the bank I took my small bag with my passport, insurance, etc in it and prayed that he wouldn’t drive off with my clothes and toiletries. When I exited the bank, the cab was nowhere in sight. After the blood returned to my head and my vision cleared, I spotted the cab about half a block up the road. Flustered, I hopped back in. When we got to the terminal, I made the mistake that I knew I would eventually make: I’m used to Japan, where things are expensive and $1 = 100 and had already confused this with Korea, where things are relatively cheap and $1 = W1,000. I saw on the meter that I owed him W4,350, which I then translated back into my head as $43.50 (In Japan, this would have been expensive, but not completely unreasonable, considering I had just gotten a ride across town and made the guy wait at the bank while I tried to figure out how to use my American ATM). So I gave him W50,000 and at first he didn’t seem like he was going to give me change, so I held out my hand and he put W650 in it. In my already confused and flustered brain, I registered it as $6.50, the appropriate change. I got out of the cab, grateful to have all my stuff with me. It wasn’t until I got to the ticket window and made the same mistake, and the woman at the counter freaked out and handed me back a wad of cash that I realized what had happened. After kicking myself and shaking a fork around in pickle jar for a while, I decided to let myself off the hook. After all, it is one of the hazards of traveling.

After an uneventful bus ride to Samcheok, I stopped in at the tourist information center outside the Express Bus Terminal (right next to the Intercity Bus Terminal) to get my bearings. The woman at the desk didn’t speak English, but it turned out that she was from Japan, so I was still able to get information without gesturing or drawing pictures. Because I had gotten such a late start, I wasn’t able to see the Penis Park, but I did have plenty of time to see Hwanseongul, the giant limestone cave that Samcheok is famous for (I don’t know what I was thinking when I planned my trip. I should have done my traveling in the evening so I would have the whole next day to see stuff, instead of foolishly thinking that I would be able to get up early and hit the road with enough time to get some place and then sightsee. I mean, I struggle daily to roll out of bed at 7:30 for work, and even then, I’m not really awake until 9:00). I dropped my stuff off at the Crown Motel (W30,000) and took the bus from the Intercity Terminal to Hwanseongul (W2,700, 50 min; entrance fee: W4,000). The guidebook had warned me that the walk to the cave was a 35 minute steep uphill climb, but I didn’t really appreciate what “steep” meant, until I was practically crawling up a vertical cliff face. Okay, it was a paved road, but still. There were no terraces or switch backs or anything that would offer a respite, and on top of all that, there were about a million stairs to climb right before you got to the cave entrance.

Cave Formations

The climb was totally worth it though, as the cave was really awesome. It took me about an hour to go through the whole thing, following the steel walkway that guides you around the cave. The way the walkway was set up, combined with a lot of the names for things in the cave (Palace of Dreams, Summit of Hope, Valley of the Galaxy, etc) kind of made me feel like a pirate (before going in, I had tied a bandana around my head to keep the sweat out of my eyes), but more than that, I realized my true motive for wanting to be a scientist: I want to touch cool things. And scientists are really the only people who are allowed to do that. There were all kinds of cool formations in the cave – flowstone, rock popcorn, rock coral, rimstone pools – all made from the steady dripping of water or movements in the rock itself. At one point during my walk, I saw this really bad-ass looking bridge that I was kind of excited about crossing (it was a suspension bridge over a who-knows-how-deep crevasse, with ropes and everything). There was a sign pointing in its general direction that said “Bridge of Love” and I headed toward it. ::massages temples:: Go figure – it turns out that what I thought was the Bridge of Love was actually the Bridge of Hell, followed by the Bridge of Confessions and instead of the hearts made of glittery lights that I was promised by the “Bridge of Love” sign, I got skeletons and ominous prophecies.

After the cave, I returned to Samcheok, collapsed in the Motel and watched Mr. & Mrs. Smith. I had some crackers and tea for dinner, since that was all I could really stomach.

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