I just posted a BAZILLION pictures from my weekend. You can find them below, mingled with stories of my time away.
You will be reading them in backwards order, 3-2-1. Sorry. I guess I could change that, but it doesn't really matter.


Hiking in Mt. Seoraksan National Park------Vacation Part 3

After sunrise on Sunday, I hiked for the rest of the day. Mount Seoraksan National Park is supposedly one of the most beautiful areas in South Korea. If I had to compare with places I've been, I'd say it was a mixture of the Pacific Northwest and the Swiss Alps.

In the center of the park there is a gigantic (I mean HUGE) statue of the Buddha. You can pay your respects/worship/etc. I have to say I was filled with curiosity and fascination but mostly I felt disturbed. It's one thing to study other religions, but watching people bow down before a giant statue was awkward. It's hard to explain...

This woman was adding a candle to the shrine.

And then she spent some time bowing.

Another shrine garden.
There was another shrine nearby. In the entrace were statues of The Four Heavenly Kings. Each of the kings is a guardian god watching over the 4 cardinal directions of the world. They are quite comical looking. People bowed to these 4 gods as they walked through the entrance.
And inside the garden was this other shrine of the Buddha. More offerings were made, more bowing, more worshipping.

So then I decided to hike. As a warm up, I took a short 2 km hike to what's called Biryong Falls. It was an easy hike and the morning air was crisp.

Not the most impressive waterfall, but still it was nice.

So then I decided to hike the Ulsanbawi Rock trail. It said 4 km and I figured that would be a nice hike. Besides, the scenery was just gorgeous and I had no other plans than to spend the day in the mountains.

I think it was one of the (if not THE) hardest hike I've ever done. The last 2 km's were stairs--stairs that went straight up! I got pretty far up before I realized I hadn't taken any pictures. So here's one of me at the 2 km mark. I'm just getting ready to take the stairs. I'm already pretty wiped out.

And so I began again.

Looking down. But I'm still not even close to the top yet.

But I made it. This hike was a great achievement. I really wanted to give up.

But here's the view from the top.

I found a nice spot to sit and rest and I pulled out my PB&J sandwich and banana. And then I made some friends.

This man wanted to take his picture with me.

And then I became famous on the mountain. It was a chain reaction. People lined up to take pictures with me. I was like a celebrity. I am not joking, I took pictures with about 50 Koreans. One after another they just lined up and had pictures with me.
After the picture session was finished, these kind folks insisted that I sit and share in their picnic. They were a fun bunch of people but none of them spoke English so we used a lot of motions and then just laughed at each other. I drank about 3 different kinds of whiskey and ate some food that was really gross but I pretended that I liked it.

A friend recently told me about a Korean saying that says "No one is a stranger on the mountain". That has really proven true for me, nearly every time I've gone hiking.
Picnic food.

Picnic people.

And then we started hiking down.
Down was really hard too!

But beautiful.

My new friends couldn't speak any English. And they didn't ever ask me my name. I managed to tell them that I was from Chicago. And that...became my name.
When we were hiking down, I was at the front of the group. At one point they all wanted to rest for a minute but I didn't realize it. Suddently I heard people shouting "CHICAGO STOP!!!! HEY CHICAGO!!!! STOP!!!!!" And I turned around and laughed at them.

Here they are catching up to me.

And here's another picture with some of the ladies.
So I finished the hike and my body was quivering. It was 4:30pm. I had been hiking since 9:30am. I caught the bus back to the hostel and I melted into my bed and slept for 4 hours. I didn't move at all. And even now I'm still in pain. But it feels so good.

Sunrise In Sokcho. Morning Moments At The Sea With A Fellow Traveler----------Seoraksan/Sokcho Part 2

When I got back to the hostel that first night, the guy at the front desk nervously asked me if I would be okay with a male roommate. Usually I prefer being in girls-only rooms. And that's pretty standard for hostels. But for some reason I felt okay about it. (I can see all of my "mothers" at home gasping and getting ready to write me scolding emails about safety...I know...I know...)

So I said "fine."

And that's when I met Daniel. He was a very lovely guy from Germany. We started talking right away, sharing details, sharing stories. He's here in Korea on a forestry internship. He was a wonderful roommate and it was so nice to have some good English conversation. We made plans to wake up early the next morning and share a cab to the sea to watch the sunrise.

I don't rememer the last time I watched the sunrise. I don't fare well with mornings ya know. But being there on the beach, in a beautiful place, with good company... it was pure joy.

I took about 50 pictures. The light changed every few minutes and it just kept getting better and better!

My camera fights hard to work in the dark.

It was a very gentle sunrise. Not the most awe-inspiring, but it was calm and good for the soul.DSC02369

But wait...

It continued to change, transforming into more glory. It was like a song for the eyes. It was beautiful.

There was a small group of people having mass on the beach. It was Sunday morning after all.
I didn't modify these pictures at all. Isn't it cool how the light is streaming from the priest to the heavens?

And here's a picture of me with Daniel. Yup, great picture huh? I kind of cherish it though. He was in and out of my life in less than 24 hours. I'll easily forget his face, but it's hard to forget special moments with fellow travelers. I guess that's one of the coolest things about traveling alone.

A friend Jon Troast recently recorded a song called "Joy". I sang the song all morning.

Joy. Joy helps me to sing.
When it feels like I'm all alone. Somewhere in the night, joy picks up the song.

And my voice my rings out, singing "hallelujah for the morning".
And my voice rings out singing "hallelujah".
Well I don't know when this night will end,
but when it does I'm going to be singing.

It's a constant choice to say "I will rejoice". Even when the tears are falling.