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Donghae Trip

Last weekend, Habiba and Jessica and I went on a trip to the eastern coast of Korea. We got on a coach at 11:30 on Friday night along with a bunch of other foreigners and were driven through the night across the country. When we arrived at three or four in the morning, the guy organising the trip didn’t let us know we’d arrived, so there was a bit of confusion. We were in a car park at the base of some mountains in Mureung Valley: the first part of the trip was to be a hike up said mountains.

It was pitch black and by the time the three of us were ready the organiser had already left with everybody else. We were escorted by a Korean woman who seemed to be assisting on the trip into the beginning of the trail near some waterfalls. Dawn light slowly illuminated the trail.

We met the organiser, who then said he’d accompany a group of us up to one of the peaks. He took us the wrong way then disappeared while we backtracked. Idiot.

Anyway, the hike was pretty tough. Habiba wanted to rest a lot, so we got separated from the group we’d been with. Soon there were just four of us – the three of us and another weekend tripper called Rosalia. As we neared the head of the valley the girls decided to turn back. I continued by myself. I was surprised to pass some of the others on my way up – I thought we’d been left way behind. Once at the top I rested for a bit with some more people on the trip and then I headed left to the highest peak – Cheongoksan. Wikipedia says,

Cheongoksan is a mountain in the province of Gangwon-do, South Korea. Its area extends across the cites of Donghae and Samcheok. Cheongoksan has an elevation of 1,403.7 m (4,605 ft).

It was a disappointment – the peak, while open to the sky, was completely enclosed by trees and bushes, so it wasn’t possible to look out over the surrounding country. I asked some Koreans in my faltering Korean what was the quickest way down and tagged along behind – until I overtook them. By the end, I was feeling a little sick from exhaustion and dehydration. I’m a bit out of hiking practice and I think last weekend was a tough one.

Once I’d returned to my party and we’d had some lunch, we were ferried to Mangsang Beach near the city of Donghae. Habiba and Jess got some swimming in; I rested. In the evening, there were cheeseburgers for dinner. Afterwards, our little group went to a fun fair (‘carnival’ in Americanese, apparently) a short walk along the coast road. It was closed, but there was no perimeter fence closing it off, so you could easily go and sit on the carousel horses or what have you. The girls got sparklers and we took photos of each other waving them around.

The first thing on the itinerary for the next day was a penis park. Haesindang Park is full of phallic sculptures. Some resemble African art, some are totem pole-like structures. The prospect didn’t excite me much, but Habiba seemed very up for it (so to speak). This led to a little conflict between us, so I left Habiba and Jess for a while and went round by myself for a bit, taking photos in the pouring rain (it’s rainy season in Korea). I would guess that there’s some tradition of phallic art here that leads to the existence of a place like Haesindang Park, but there was no evidence of information about that (there was a fishing museum, but we barely went in there – not enough time). Without the context of knowledge of such a tradition, it seemed like nothing more than an excuse for puerile photo opportunities.

Once done with all that, we were taken to another scenic mountain valley, this one the site of several caves, including Hwanseongul, which Wikipedia describes thus:

Hwanseon Cave (환선굴) is a cave located in Gangwon province, South Korea. It is one of the largest limestone caves in Asia, and the biggest in Korea, with 6.2 km of known passages and a total suspected length of 8 km, 1.6 km of which are visited by over 1 million people per year. In 1966 the South Korea government designated this cave and a neighboring cave not open to the public, Gwaneum cave (관음굴), National Monument 178. Hwanseongul was opened to the public in 1997.

It was a bit of a hike up the mountain, but once inside it was definitely worth it. The cave is massive, cathedral-like, with as much to explore as a large mall like COEX. The inside is lined with functional metal walkways – many of which are lit up with coloured lights (very Korean). The place was pretty busy – there were probably several hundred people in there. It was dark, of course, but many of the features were spot lit.

Some of the highlights were a massive slick column of brown and white flowstone that looked lik partially melted coffee and vanilla ice cream; there was a little structure from the roof of the cave that looked like a big, protruding anus, with a constant stream of water squirting out; there was a short waterfall coming out of a fissure in a wall and emptying into a wide pool; there were a couple of flexible bridge than jounced most amusingly when we walked on them. The operators had sexed everything up with silly names for each section of the cave: things like The Valley of Love or The Bridge of Confessions.

Then it was time to head home. We stopped at a service station on the way, where we saw a fantastic rainbow. It had one very bright arc, then another fainter one a little further out; the bright arc even showed signs of being a double arc itself. We ate potatoes. Then we got back on the bus for the crawl back to Seoul through the late weekend traffic.

Photos of the trip are here.

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