Saturday, September 22, 2012

Mt. Achasan

Earlier this week, Erin Teacher invited me to a hike on Saturday. She invited everyone, but only a few people said they would definitely go. More accurately, myself, Erin, and one other person. Well, this morning I got a Facebook message from Erin notifying us that she was up all night sick, and wasn't feeling up to a hike. I decided that I would go regardless. It would be nice to be able to make my own decisions regarding where to go and when to do things.

I got up late and spent the morning leisurely cleaning and relaxing about the apartment. I got ready and headed out for my first hiking adventure in Korea around 1:45pm. The mountain that Erin had picked was only 2 subway stops away, so I just stuck to that mountain. I also looked it up and the Official Site of Korea Tourism had this to say:
At 287 meters high, Mt. Achasan is an easy 30-minute hike, which is perfect for beginners. In fact, many people walk up the mountain wearing casual clothing. It offers hikers a bird’s-eye-view of the Hangang River and the downtown area.
Well, sounds good to me! I headed to the subway station with my camera bag (holding only my large camera and my point-and-shoot in the small compartment), a bottle of water, my phone (for directions), and a FiberOne bar (snack, of course!). It's really pretty inconvenient to walk around holding the last 3 things in my hands, but I didn't have a backpack, nor the desire to trek all over Seoul to find one at a good price. So, I just went with my hands full and wearing tennis shoes (rather than hiking shoes like every good Korean owns...). I was also sporting my "I love Korea" shirt!

When I got off at the correct subway stop, I followed the directions I had gotten online as best I could, but also followed the crowds of Koreans in hiking gear with poles and backpacks. (These Koreans get into their hiking!! They all look like professionals.) I walked for about 20-25 minutes trying to locate the base of the mountain, and on the way passed many shops selling hiking gear. One place that looked pretty trendy had a small 20L backpack for 43,000W and I thought about getting it, but something held me back.

A little further on, a small shop had a display of brightly colored backpacks, so I wandered in and asked to see one. It had about 5 compartments, with an additional 5 secret small compartments. It was way better than the other one! I asked the price and he said 25,000W. Uh, heck ya!! I asked if he took card, but he said cash only. Bummer... I tried all my stuff in the backpack and sure enough, it fit the camera bag well and had little pockets for all my other doodads, plus room to spare. The shop keeper brought a calculator to me and said "if card..." and punched in 25,000 on the calculator, then + 3,000W. I thought about it for a sec, then agreed. It was a great bag, and less than I expected to spend (my goal was 30,000 or less).

All kitted out in my fancy new backpack (the shopkeeper graciously cut the tag off so I could use it immediately), I followed his directions up a pretty steep hill. I saw tons of people heading towards an entrance, so I followed suit. Of course there was a sign, but it was in Korean so I just assumed I was in the right spot.

I passed a troop of girls passing out papers and one started to say something to me, then got a look at me and giggled instead. I smiled and laughed. It was so cute. I saw another girl doing the same thing, and asked what they were doing. She explained in not terrible English they were doing a campaign for environmental awareness. I asked if they were asking for donations, and she said "No money!" and was about to hand me a flyer when the same little girl from earlier ran up and held out a paper and a pen in a tube and said "For you!" I laughed and took the paper and pen.

The first interesting thing I passed was a station where it looked like you could have free water. I assume it was actually clean (most water in Seoul is not), since people were flocking to it and refilling like 15 bottles. There were actually old ajummas with carts full of bottles and refilling them all. If I had known I probably would have done that too! Beats buying a Brita. Haha!

I don't think I've mentioned this before, but there are workout machines all over Seoul. On the side of the road, in the park, next to buildings, everywhere, there are these machines that people can just, well, use! And, of course, in case you don't get a good enough workout on the mountain, those thoughtful Koreans installed a whole little section for the workout machines both at the bottom and the top of the mountain! So nice...

I started to just head in the direction most people were going, and although there were signs and arrows, I couldn't read them. Even if I could, being such a noob, I wouldn't have known which way to go regardless! So, I just kept on the main trail. At one point, many people veered off to the left and started going up these extremely steep rocks (the trail I was on was dirt with slats to walk on). I decided to just stick to the safe path rather than risk my neck on the rocks. I started huffing and puffing about halfway up, took a breather and drank some water, then kept on. At many points there were arrows pointing in different directions; I either followed the crowds, or the signs that said "top." Eventually I had to take to the rock path since the dirt one ran out. My first glimpse of the view was amazing. And it only got better!

Reading more about the mountain now that I am home, I'm not sure if I actually even made it to the top, but I'm going to claim that I did. I got pretty high and I didn't want to accidentally wander onto the neighboring mountain that claims more difficult trails, so I took some photos at the point that I felt was pretty high and had the best views.

My new friends
At one lookout point, I asked two old men who had just sat down on the bench next to me to take a photo. And that's when things got interesting. I think they may have been slightly intoxicated, and 98% of what they said I had no idea what they were talking about. They spoke about a dozen words of English, but after about 5 minutes I figured out they were inviting me to walk down the mountain with them and get a coffee. I agreed because, why not! I didn't have any friends with me, and they were such cute little old men. They asked me to take a photo of them, so here you guys can see them. They told me one was 79, the other 71 years old. Wow! And they were hiking this mountain like it was nothing. I think this is the key to Korean health (well, and kimchi of course!).

A picnic?
We headed back down, and came to a "pavilion" that looked to me like an Asian style pagoda, and the guys stopped and motioned for me to take off my shoes. I went along with it, and one of them took out a mat-type thing that was made out of the metallic shiny material that sunshades are made out of. He sat down, and motioned for me to do the same. He proceeded to take out a little picnic. Um, okay! I felt like I should bring something to the party, so I produced my FiberOne bar and added it to the monstrous apple and bag of something that looked like grapes (but were NOT grapes upon trying one). The guy cut up the apple, and I ate some. I felt like I should keep eating, because I kind of wanted to leave and I didn't think they would let me go if we didn't finish it all. When I motioned I was full, they laughed. They laughed at everything... Mr. Kim (the main guy, and the younger of the two) ate the FiberOne bar, and I think he liked it. It was kind of weird. I pointed that I wanted to up the pagoda, and we headed up.

Mr. Kim and the other one arguing
There was more good views from there, and Mr. Kim started pointing out the landmarks. I knew Namsam, where Seoul Tower is. I nodded and he started listing off some other places I had no idea what were, and pointing. Then the other guy came over and they started arguing where things were... Weird. Then they wanted to take photos with me. Mr. Kim wanted to hold my hand in the photos and I couldn't really politely refuse, so ... I held hands with a 71 year old Korean man. He was so sweet and excited to meet me I couldn't be rude, but it was starting to get a little weird at this point.

I let go as soon as possible; I mean, for all I knew I had agreed to marry him rather than have coffee like I thought. We started to walk down and I saw a photo op for a pic with the pagoda, so asked them to take a photo (I had no one else), and they did but also wanted another photo with me. I let them, but accidentally made an awkward face when he took the photo so it's not getting uploaded!

The way down was much easier than the way up as far as time and length. It was a little treacherous since we walked down the steep rocks that I had avoided on the way up. It was a pretty good shortcut. At one point, Mr. Kim wanted to hold my hand again. So weird... I kept telling myself "Koreans hold hands, it's not a big deal..." which is true, I see lots of Koreans holding hands that are obviously not bf/gf. But, still, I'm American and it's weird.

Korean Traditional Tea
Korean Pizza
They wanted to stop at the coffee shop near the bottom of the mountain, and of course pulled me along. I told them I don't like coffee, so they ordered me some kind of traditional Korean tea. It looked to have mushrooms in it as well as a few other things, but smelled good. It was piping hot, so I waited for it to cool before trying it. When I did get a sip, it was quite nice! By that time, they had decided to get a bottle of makgeolli, or sweet rice wine. They poured me a generous cupful, and I felt obliged to drink. It is pretty good, but drinking that I could not drink my tea. I felt so rude, but I couldn't help it! Next thing I knew, they had seen a friend, invited him to join us, got another bottle of makgeolli, and I assume were showing me off to the friend. I was a bit relieved at the addition of another man, since he diverted the conversation away from me, and I got a bit of a reprieve. The men were so nice, it's hard to say anything negative, but it was exhausting to be with them. I was confused and unsure what to do, plus I felt awkward that they were so touchy. Suddenly, there was a Korean pizza in front of us. Again, feeling obliged, I had a bite of that and a bite of kimchi, to their delight and amusement. I showed them my watch and said I had to go soon, after my glass of makgeolli. They understood and I gulped down the rest of my glass. Unfortunately I made the mistake of using my phone to provide translation, so they insisted on getting my phone number. I mean, they don't even speak a lick of English, why are they going to call me?! They asked if I was coming back to Achasan, and I said no, not soon. I gave them a nice low bow, as befit their age, and headed off with many goodbyes and hugs.

Relieved to be back on my own, I leisurely made my way back to the subway. After the large cup of makgeolli, I was feeling pretty good. But when I got home I realized that my bed had not been replaced, and I had stripped it for no reason. I had to completely put it back together before I could sit down. I was exhausted, and slightly annoyed at the bed situation. Oh well. A sandwich for dinner and now watching old school Batman. So far, a good weekend with some surprising new friends(?). Here are some extra photos that didn't fit in the main body of the blog, but deserve to be shared.


  1. What a beautiful view! Kinda weird of the holding hands, though? lol As I already mentioned to you before, I love your blog!


    1. Thanks Eloy!!!!! Yeah, it was very strange... attributing it to cultural differences LOL awwwkwardddd....

  2. Hahaha he wanted to hold your hand! He's probably showing that pic to all of his friends now. Sounds like a good time.

  3. Its beautiful!!!! Wow, i need to find a way to visit you.

  4. Nice post. "It was so exhausting being with them" -- I know that feeling.


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