Last weekend, myself, six of my coworkers and 85 (!) other foreigners hopped on a couple of buses and trekked down south for the renowned Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival.
We departed from Seoul at 7am, reaching our destination, Geojedo (Geoje Island) shortly after 1pm. The large island is second in size only to the epic Jejudo. We hopped off the bus and headed to Daegeum Mountain in search of hundreds of thousands of blooming azealas.
At 437.5 meters, the hike to the peak was as refreshing and painless as a hike can be. The view from the top was breathtaking. A sea of rolling mountains receded into the distance as far as the eye could see. The view into the East China Sea was dotted with small, mountainous islands. The Geoga Grand Bridge stretched from Geojedo to Busan, the second largest city in Korea.
So, what about those azaleas, eh? Not a-one in bloom. The mountainside was brown and defunct, attempting to defrost from a colder-than-normal “spring.” Nevertheless, it was beautiful.
We were back on the bus, headed to our beach-side pension, an accommodation similar to a hostel. Typically housing 5-10 people on a heated wooden floor, they are a pretty decent and cost effective way to spend a few hours catching some z’s. On our way to the pension, I was dropped off with Warren, the all-knowing father of Seoul Hiking Group, and nine other hikers for a longer hike along the coast.
This three hour hike should have been a mild challenge. It should have made my heart race, my lungs burn and my legs catch fire. However, with sunset encroaching faster than we could beat it, it was a painfully fast-paced hike. We shot up the mountain and traversed an impressive four peaks before finding a way down.
This was both an exhilirating experience and a terrifying one. At one point, our fearless leader proclaimed that we would be going around the next peak, that it would only be a gentle an incline. He proceeded to lead us directly over the rocky peak, scampering so far in front of us that we had no hope of catching him. The support railing at the peak was broken off and I’m fairly certain I have never been so terrified in my life. Had it not been for the company of some amazing women, there is absolutely no way I would have shimmied across this bare stone slab. Unfortunately, we were in such a hurry to beat the darkness, we seldomly had the opportunity to slow down and take photographs. The photos below do not do our experience justice, but I suppose they never do.
Prior to beginning our descent, Warren waited for everyone to catch up and regroup. Fifteen minutes later, two girls were nowhere to be seen. As the sun fell beneath the horizon, fear began to creep up in every one of us. There was no where they could have turned. No fork in the road. Nada.
Warren and Eva, a fellow hiker, headed to backtrack along the ridge to try and find our two missing hikers. The remaining group continued, albeit a bit more cautiously, on the trail down the mountain. We reached to the bottom of the mountain, five of us standing on a desolate sea-side road at dusk, two hikers missing and two on the search party.
It had all the makings of a cheesy, predictable horror film.
It would take us more than thirty minutes to reach the bus by foot from where we were. The bus was scheduled to leave any minute. The bus could not come to our rescue because it would have no way to turn around on the winding, coastal road. Should we wait to hear word from our lost ones? Should we wait to hear from our search party hunting the now pitch-black mountain?
Or, we could hitch hike.
Why not? Seems like the next logical step in this lethal plot.
Tiptoeing mere inches from speeding cars, wearing nothing reflective, bearing no light sources, we trekked cautiously along each sharp bend in the road. Suddenly, I grew some cajones and began stepping into the road, waving my arms wildly and attempting to beckon oncoming vehicles. The lack of shoulder, the low frequency of passing cars and the suspicious nature of a group of odd-looking foreigners trying to get someone to pull over left us all feeling a bit hopeless.
And then… a plot twist.
A beige Hyundai Santa Fe (let’s not forget we are in Korea) slowed down as he passed us, flipped on his flashers and waited for us to reach his car, presumably we were never to be heard of again.
A true Geojedo miracle, a single man traveling in an SUV with no other passengers allowed five foreigners, one of which is closer to 7-feet tall than 6, to cram their sweaty, stinking, bodies into his vehicle and take us to our destination. A celebratory beer and a bus ride later, we were safely back at our pension.
What about the other hikers? Not able to find us, or a designated trail, they had (shockingly) made their own way down the mountain. Reconnecting with Warren at the bottom, they too were able to make their way safely back to the bus.
The following day we headed to the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival, dubbed one of the fifty most beautiful things to do in Korea by CNN. As you may have guessed from the azealas, sadly, the cherry blossoms were also nowhere near ready to bloom. However, Jinhae was still popping with food stands, ajumas and, surprisingly, transexual performers. Unfortunately, my DSLR camera was out of commission, but the Holga got a few good ones. Enjoy!
As always, thank you for taking the time to check out my adventures! I’m headed to Jindo Sea-Parting Festival this weekend, I’m sure I will have much debauchery to share!
Till next time…