4 Rivers and Jeju video

I’ll blog about my last river, the Yeongsangang, soon, but here’s a compilation video I created at work today. It’s meant to have “Rivers and Roads” as soundtrack but YouTube won’t let me so I’ve gone for a little Deadmau5 type free tune instead. If you want the real experience, listen to it while playing the video.

I hope you like it 🙂

101 List and 4 Rivers update

Just over a year ago, I wrote my “101” list:  the 101 things I’d like to do in the next 3 years. So far, I’ve been able to scratch 33 tasks from my list and this weekend I’ll complete #34. This is a biggy for me: completing the 4 Rivers Trail.

I completed the Geumgang on the first day of November, setting myself a new PB:  189km  in just over 12 hours.

I started in Gunsan, ended in Daejeon and I found the signage to be a bit crap in places so I’d suggest doing it the other way around (like the book advises). It was a one-day affair for me: mostly flat and easy but long.

I bussed into Gunsan from Pohang late on a Friday night, slept very soundly in  a motel behind the station (the bed was doubly inviting thanks to the electric blanket). I paid 50,000 won for the room, but I knew that the next day would be a long one so I allowed myself this little extravagance. After all, it had a bath tub and I scored 2 new toothbrushes for my bike cleaning kit! I was going to wake up at 6AM but it was so dark and snugly that I slept in until 8.

Riding along an estuary during autumn is pretty spectacular, with all the ducks practicing their winter flight formations. I saw hundreds of birds that morning. I met a Korean rider along the way who was finishing his last river. After we reached his final stamp booth, we posed for some photos and commemorated the occasion with a quick CU coffee and some Oreos.

He asked me if I wasn’t afraid of cycling alone. Lots of people have asked me this and yeah, if I were in another country, I wouldn’t cycle solo. I feel so safe in Korea. I feel extremely comfortable riding as a solo female in the dark, in the middle of nowhere and being lost. I have always found the Koreans I’ve met on my travels to be trustworthy, honest and helpful, despite my basic Hangul-skillz.

Soon after leaving the cyclist behind (at Iksanseongdangpogu Certification Center) I got horribly lost. I was following mile markers along the river when the path just stopped. I guess I crossed the river too early… I made a low-sugar decision to go by road until I found the next stamp booth… this lead to a stressful ride on a narrow road full of traffic and roadworks. There’s nothing more frustrating than watching the day fall away around you as you try to find your bearings. I was pretty relieved when I finally made it to Gongju-si. If I had more time I would have stopped for a look round, since there’s loads of cool history here.

As light gave way to dark I put my head down and the rest of my ride was pretty uneventful if misty. I had to cycle past  a slew of restaurants on the way to Daecheong Dam: torture to a cold, tired, hungry cyclist and at the same time, the promise of rest and warm, soothing Korean food makes you peddle just that little bit faster. I swear there’s nothing better than any jigae, rice and beer after a long ride.

Tomorrow’s ride will be on a tight budget: it’s the weekend before pay day. I’m pretty psyched to know that I am so close to achieving my goal. Cycling Korea has been one of the best things I’ve ever done.

What’s next? SNOWBOARDING SEASON!!!

P.S: My MP3 speaker is great- it lasted the whole way!

Cycling from Pohang to Gyeongju (40km/ 2 hours)

On Hangeul Day, a public holiday in Korea, I finally made time to cycle from Pohang to Gyeongju. The bus journey between the 2 cities takes 30-40 minutes and the straightest line (on highway 7) makes it just over 30km. But I’m not looking for straight lines. I’m looking for curves that will swoop around beautiful stretches of farm land, small villages, rivers and streams.

The first time I did the ride I had the good fortune to be stopped by a farmer who was having a barbeque with his family and friends. I met his family, horses, dogs and cows and sampled some really tender beef! It was a random but great encounter, just another example of the extreme generosity and kindness you will come across in this country.

The route back was slightly less auspicious as I left Gyeongju a bit late and got horribly lost on the small country roads. It took me 4 hours to get home, double the time it should have taken! It was a beautiful night ride though, the night after the lunar eclipse: huge moon, clear skies… you could even see some stars. The silence of the sleepy countryside was intermittently interrupted by the sound of a stream or river nearby. It would have been true bliss had I not been so lost.

I was determined to try the route again since it’s a nice easy ride that’s easy on the eye. I made a pig’s ear of  the route on the way there so I’m only going to post my return route (Gyeongju-Pohang).

Most of the route will be on quiet concrete country roads/ nice bike paths, maybe 55%, about 5% on road, 15% gravel and 15% side walk/ shitty bike paths. I did the ride on my road bike, which handled the gravel sections fine but beware of uneven surfaces just before leaving Pohang and when you’re cycling in Gyeongju (next to the main road – there are some truly awful bits that can give you a snakebite if you’re not on the look-out). Obviously it’s common sense to take a spare tube, patching kit and a pump with you.

Some cool restaurants  near the Express Bus Terminal in Gyeongju include:

– Hawa Dhaba 하와다바 (Indian food) – google 하와다바 HawaDhaba 경상북도 경주시황오동 108-2

– Kong Story  꽁스토리 (Falafels)- opposite the Express Bus Terminal. OMG so good.

– NeCoZzang 네코짱 (Japanese Ramen)- also very near the Express Bus Terminal.

Here’s my route on Strava: http://www.strava.com/activities/209040367/embed/dbbd52f4072d70d513c188145f42f5158175d1b1

My Pohang start/ end point is Posco bridge, since it’s a well-known landmark. My Gyeongju start/ end point is very near the Express Bus Terminal. Where you can see loops it signifies going off-route so just go straight (none of the detours are huge though, should they occur). If you are starting from Pohang, you will need to cross the road when you see the huge retail park between Pohang and Gyeongju, otherwise you’ll be cycling against highway  traffic coming around a corner. Do-able but not safe at all.

Busan Film Festival

I’m a pretty big fan of indie cinema and foreign film. In terms of English movies, only the big Hollywood blockbusters make it out this way. One of the great ironies of living in Korea is that I can’t even watch local films because they don’t come with English subtitles. It’s easier for me to watch Korean film in London than it is in the very country the films are made. Crazy. You CAN watch these movies with subs in DVD bangs a few weeks after they’ve been released, but it’s not really the same, is it?

I was so glad to get tickets to this year’s Busan Film Festival– finally time to get my foreign film fix on! Ticket sales open 3-4 weeks before the festival. It’s worth having a couple of mates on computers at the same time as servers tend to crash and English web versions mysteriously turn into Korean ones! Have a native speaker on hand to help you out should the process become tricky, as the tickets sell out in no time. Please remember to add your email address and/or mobile phone number to each booking screen so that you can receive your booking confirmation! (I know this sounds obvious, but my mate rushed past this step and it took the lovely patient folk at Megabox 20 minutes to find his booking…not cool.)

We rushed to Busan after school on Friday to see The President by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, an intense and complex look inside a coup, dealing with themes of revenge, forgiveness, war crimes, innocence and innocence lost. I highly recommend this film. It’s worth noting that you will not be allowed to take food or drinks into the cinema so don’t bother buying popcorn.

Le Meraviglie (The Wonders) by Alice Rohrwacher is a coming of age film, and also deals with the decline of the rural way of life and the romantic idea of Etruscan civilization. This was my favourite- beautifully shot in 3 languages: German, French and Italian.

We saw The Homesman but I didn’t rate it at all. Out of the 4 films we saw this was my least favourite.

The final film we saw was My Man by Kumakiri Kazuyoshi, based on Sakuraba Kazuki’s controversial novel. It deals with loss and the fine line between relationships and incest. It is quite an intense, disturbing film but intriguing nonetheless.

It would have been great to have the whole week off and just geek out on films 24-7. Get yourself to Busan next year for an unmissable feast of international film.

Seoul Independent Film Festival will run from November 28th to December 6th. May I also add that Tenacious D will be in Seoul December 5th-6th which means it’s totally going to be a wicked weekend!

Tunes!

I bumped into one of my high school co-workers last night while she was taking her new MTB for a tame Pohang spin. Nice bike but what really caught my eye was the cool speaker/ light combo she had attached to her handle bar.

She bought one off gmarket for 19,000 won but so far, on the global version I’ve only been able to find ones around the 40,000 won mark.

Check it out. Or stick to one headphone on medium volume 😉

You can also buy a mobile phone bracket online but the price range varies quite a lot with cheap models retailing for just under 9,000 won. This number looks like a sensible price middle ground. Personally, I’m a bit wary of having my phone on my handle bars- I feel it’s slighty safer in your rear pocket in case of an accident. Let me know how it works out for you if you get one!

Adventures in Korean cuisine

When I dived Ishigaki (Japan) in January, the shop owner let us sample some 10 year old liqueur, stored in huge 5l plastic jars. The content looked pretty vile: rotten fruit and brown juice but boy oh boy, was it tasty!

During the hot summer months you can see large bags of green plums being sold everywhere in Korea. Curious, I asked my co-teacher about it and she explained that this plum variety, maesil, is used to make liqueur, maesil ju! Home made booze??! It was a challenge that simply had to be accepted.

I found a good recipe online for short-cut maesil ju- use equal amounts of plums and sugar and add 1 or 2 bottles of soju (I left out the honey). I filled 5 sterilized jars back in June, popped them in the back of my food cupboard and forgot about it until last week. You should let the concoction brew for at least 3 months.

Maesil has a few health benefits: it fights fatigue and aids digestion (good for a dickey tummy). It’s not just used to make booze though! You can also leave out the soju and just use sugar and plums, layered alternately and left for 1-3 months- maesil cheong.

On a recent cycling trip to Gyeongju I stopped off for lunch at a quaint Indian restaurant, Hawa Dhaba. The owner, ayoung Korean woman who spent some time in India, made me an amazing side salad, simple but punchy: shredded cabbage mixed with sunflower and pumpkin seeds, with a drizzle of citron syrup. It blew my mind. The next weekend, this citron syrup came my way again, this time in Busan. Our host made us citron tea in the morning and it was a sign that couldn’t be ignored any longer. I had to make citron syrup myself.

It’s the same idea: equal amounts of sugar and chopped lemon alternately layered in a jar and leave it for at least a month. You can also add honey to this mix. And hell, if you don’t like cooking and shit, just go to any supermarket in Korea and buy a jar, pre-made.

With winter soon approaching, this tea is a really tasty, hearty way of making sure you get a vitamin C boost your immune system.

I made my batch today so it will be ready just before winter really starts biting.

And since my inner ajumma took over today I also made ginger beer, because, why not?! 😉

I love these autumn days, getting everything ready for winter! I love the Korean traditions I’ve learnt about that I have been able to incorporate into my own life. Heck, I might even make good kimchi one day!

Cycling Jeju

My friend Pieter and I are trying to complete all the routes in our KTO cross country passport before winter kicks in and before we leave Korea next year. We have a few small river routes to complete but we just added Jeju to our list of DONE. Once we’ve completed all our rides we’ll qualify for the “Grand Slam” certificate and medal. Put that way it sounds a bit lame. We’re not doing it for the medals 😉  Using the cycle passport is hands down the best, most organized way to see Korea during your time here. It has only enriched the Korean experience for me and I feel I have gained a deeper understanding and love for the country as a result.

Getting to Jeju

You can fly or take a ferry. If you fly you should box up your bike (get one from your local bike shop). Since we were planning this ride for Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) flights and ferry spaces were thin on the ground and expensive. Enter “Enjoy Korea” and their super affordable Chuseok 4 day weekender. Stacey Kim is American- Korean and she runs Enjoy Korea with the perfect blend of professionalism and partying. She is the missing link between Western and Korean culture and she makes tour planning seem effortless. I’ve used all 4 of the main Tour Groups for foreigners in Korea (Adventure Korea, Waegook Travel, WiNK and Enjoy Korea) and Stacey wins hands down.

You can take a ferry from Busan or Mokpo but the Busan ferry takes 12 hours (overnight) whereas Mokpo can take from 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours (depending on the company you use).Our journey started from Mokpo and took around 4 hours. Load your bike into the cargo hold before joining the queue to board the ferry. If you’re not piggy-backing onto a pre-existing package tour it’s worth thinking about your way back since buses and trains tend to be booked out on public holidays like Chuseok.

The Cycle route

Once you’re on the island the cycling route is pretty straightforward. The terrain is mostly flat and most of the roads have a separate lane for cyclists. It was only in Jeju City  lacked a decent cycle lane/ sidewalk option for road bikes. I definitely felt uncomfortable and I’d say I’m a fairly experienced cyclist. We cycled anti-clockwise but usually most people go clockwise due to the winds (we didn’t know this). We were cycling into headwind most of the time but luckily it wasn’t strong.

The route is 234km long and has 9 stops for stamps. Heads up: there are no red stamp booths like the rest of the 4 Rivers Trail. This is still a work in progress for the KTO at the time of writing so you have to take photos in front of the stops as proof instead. You can easily circumnavigate Jeju in 2 days and see some extra sights along the way. We started both days at 07:30 and finished at 18:30 with a few stops and 1 hour lunch breaks.

We added two stops to our route: Jusangjeollidae (lava column-shaped cliffs) and the Haenyeo Museum (traditional Korean female freedivers). If you have time you can also add Cheonjiyeon and Jeongbang waterfalls to your list. Jusangjeollidae and the waterfalls are all in the Seogwipo area. The Haenyeo Museum is located in Gujwa, between Seongsan (the lava crater) and Gimnyeong.

The best

Gimnyeon. Make time to stop and swim here. I’ve seen many beaches in my life but  this ranks as one of my top 3 with its white sands and azure waters.

Jusangjeollidae: not on the map but it should be.

Seongsan:  Try to start day 2 here because the sunrise is definitely worth it.

The worst

Sarabong, Yong Du Am and Turtle Lighthouse

– Sarabong is great for sunset apparently but it’s not good for much else. It’s awkward to find and I didn’t enjoy riding there.If you want a beach sunset, go to Hyeopjae beach instead.

– Yong Du Am. Korean for Tourist Trap. Cue 100 buses and 10000 tourists vying to take photos of a rock. Local government needs to make the cycle route to this destination safer.

– Turtle Lighthouse. Ahhh, Turtle Lighthouse the bain of my life. The mysterious landmark that not even Tourist Information in Seogwipo could tell us the location of. So mysterious that not even the people in the surrounding area knew its name. Not located by googling No sign boards.  So you’re thinking “How hard can it be? It’s a lighthouse for  fuck’s sake!!” but actually there are many faux lighthouses and harbours along this part of the coast. From Jeju City,  with the sea on your right, keep to the coastal road, ride past a UFO shaped cafe and a harbour with entrance lights shaped like llamas/ dragons/ horse (one red and 1 white llama shaped building). Apparently they are called the Iho Hang Breakwaters. Anyway, it’s soon after that – keep your eyes out because you won’t be right next to the coast, but you can see it from the main road so just turn off and go through some tiny village roads until you hit the small harbour. The dark turtle is sandwiched between the base of the white building and tower. It would have been cute if it hadn’t been such a pain in the ass to find. After 2 hours of internet searching, I found that “Cheon nyeon hak” was filmed here and on this version of the Jeju map (which is not the same as the one in most Jeju Tourist Info centres) it shows the location as “Turtle Lighthouse (filming spot Cheonnyeon Hak)”- B2.

Roadworks

At the time of writing there was some major roadworks between Jocheon and the Jeju Folklore Museum. We rode a closed, half-built, empty, beautiful 4 lane highway as far as we could but then had to go back onto the 1132 which was also down to 1 lane being shared between cyclists and cars. Be very careful in this section, especially the part because it’s very messy. There is a very cool temple in this area called the Buddha Sharira Stupa for World Peace and Unification (평화통일불사리탑) and you can see the 1132 and the new road under construction (and where it stops).

Notes

– If you have time, try to cycle on the coastal “shore” road instead of the 1132. The 1132 is very efficient but mostly pretty dull and ugly.

– All tourist attractions have a minimal entry fee so take cash with you.

– Make sure you don’t over-pack and definitely take time sink your teeth into some juicy Jeju tangerines along the way.

– Signage for the Haenyeo Museum is pretty sparse so when you see the sign get ready to turn!

– There are plenty accommodation options. We paid 50,000 won to stay at a minbak opposite the beach with a great view of Seongsan.

– Great cheesy pizza and calzone to be found in Sinyang-ri.

– You have to eat black pig while you’re in Jeju. Unless you’re a vegetarian, in which case you must visit The Loving Hut in Jeju City or Jungmun area.

Other things to do in Jeju other than cycle

– Scuba dive: you can dive the lava tubes around Seonsan. Big Blue is one of the dive shops operated by English speakers, based in Seogwipo.

– SUP, windsurf and kiteboard. Zooty Club near Seongsan.

– Drink and play like a kid going down slides, climbing up poles, drinking buckets containing generous shots. A night you’ll remember because of the craziness at Monkey Beach in Seogwipo.

Loveland: strange if you’ve never been to a sex museum, mediocre if you’ve been to the one in Gyeongju.

– Jeju Museum of Art: located next to Loveland, 1000 won entry, highly recommended. I saw a great exhibition of works by Park Woo-sung, Victor Cho and Wee Young-il.

 

 

Freediving in the Philippines

I recently came back from spending two weeks with Freedive HQ on Mactan,Cebu, the Philippines.

Freedive HQ is owned by Mike Wells, who basically shaped the SSI freediving programme along with Lotta Erikson, Linda Paganelli (from Freedive Dahab/ Freedive International) and a few other big names in the industry. There are currently 2 female instructors who are the deepest un-official record holders for their respective countries: China and Korea. Miya hails from Korea and is currently training to reach 58m+. Sura Dai, from China, has dived to 54m and no doubt she’ll be breaking that soon enough… when she takes a break from teaching all of us newbies!

I started off with some in-water training- call it a refresher if you like. I was worried that I’d forgotten loads during my 4 year hiatus.  I did forget some things: I had to re-learn Frenzel and my freefall was a bit rubbish to begin with.On my first day I found myself thinking “This is crazy. What are you doing?” as I did my free immersion to 10m. Luckily it didn’t take long for my inner dolphin to wake up! FIM is so zen- I love hanging at the 15m bottom plate looking at the jellyfish pulsating by.

It was so good to be back in the water and I got back to 29m after 1 week. Now the hard work started.

Learning mouth fill, FRC and Frenzel is challenging. But I like challenges so it’s OK. The hardest thing with mouthfill/ Frenzel is to master glottis control and NOT swallow your air. We got loads on on-land exercises to do but underwater it’s just a case of trial and error until your body and mind get to the same understanding.

Our instructor, Sura Dai, is Chinese but her English is perfect. She is such an awesome instructor: funny, calm, patient. She also has an amazing collection of toys! We tested our lung capacity as well as our oxygen usage/ heart rate during dry apnea. I couldn’t believe that in 1:40 minutes I’d only used 21% of my body’s O2 and that my heart rate could drop to 39BPM so easily. That’s the mammalian dive reflex for you! One of the guys in my group managed to get down to 50% O2 before he inhaled. Amazing- he counted around 20 contractions. I didn’t push myself as hard as I should have because I don’t enjoy dry contractions. Underwater they feel like hiccups to me but on land I still struggle with them. This will be a major focus to the next part of my training.

I had 3 other guys in my group and we had such a great dynamic- we really motivated each other and you could see that in our results. I also witnessed a couple of LMCs and BOs for the first time ever- a lot less dramatic than I imagined them to be but it’s still weird to see someone go blank. Especially before you have to do a PB attempt. It’s SO important to control your thoughts, emotions and reactions and stay on the positive side of things. I saw that Robin Williams had died, but refused to let the idea swirl inside my head. Nothing bad was allowed to stay in there. Only good memories, good vibes and good tunes. It’s also vital for you to take the right amount of time for your breathe-up and increase your performance slowly. If you do 3 30m+ dives in a session you’re probably pushing yourself a bit too much, although it’s all up to the individual. What you don’t want is to keep on getting LMC/ BO and your body to get used to that as an acceptable response to breath-hold.

I ended up diving to 33.3m and if I had more time I think I would have gone deeper.

Sadly, we all have to go up to the surface, dry off and go home at some point. I surpassed my goal depth of 30m, completed SSI Level 3 and am ready to go back next year for a month for the next step. Meanwhile, I have to find a training pool in Pohang that will let me do dynamic and static…

Freediving in Korea:

There are clubs scattered across Korea, with my nearest one being in Daegu. Busan Scuba is currently gearing up to launch AFIA training (AFIA= Korea’s freediving association). Kevin Mitchell is based in Seoul and runs 1upfreediving. Most Koreans spearfish and don’t just purely freedive. Also, sea restrictions are a bit OTT here so expect most of your freediving to be pool based (great for pre-trip training). At the moment freediving is not hugely accessible to foreigners here but let’s see if I can change that a little bit before I leave! The terminology has mostly been borrowed from English so once you get a foot in the door the rest should come easy.

Links:

AIFA

AIDA

SSI

Freedive HQ’s blog

Sura’s blog (Chinese)

Miya’s blog (Korean)

One Breath (Korea)

Korea Freediving Team (Korea- NOT the national team or anything, that’s just their name)

Kevin Mitchell’s (AIDA instructor/ judge) blog on freediving in Korea

Annelie Pompe’s blog

***Featured image’s rights belong to Freedive HQ***

 

Wanna be a mermaid?

The world is a random place and the internet often brings special people and experiences our way.

Were it not for Couchsurfing, I would never have met Kanghee and learnt about his company wa-ve.me. Kanghee is a crazy cool guy who used to live in Seoul and has a background in photography and media. He took his imagination to Cebu where he runs snorkeling trips with a twist.

Let’s face it, most girls have a mermaid fantasy. I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t get excited at the thought of getting their Ariel on. The trip is mostly aimed at Korean and Japanese tourists. Yes, mermen are also welcome to dress up for the photo op of a lifetime!

I had such a fun day with the Korean and Japanese guests on the boat. It was reassuring to see that despite all the WW2 issues still cropping up between these two great nations that their citizens really enjoy hanging out with each other.  I also found it  a great opportunity to practice my Korean listening and speaking skills as well perfecting my mermaid swim technique. And you know, when there are Koreans on the boat there will be free beer,  snacks and a party atmosphere!

The day will run along these lines: pick up from your hotel, a bit of waiting around for the boat to arrive, boat briefing, snorkelling/ scuba diving at Nalusuan Island (I’d recommend scuba diving over snorkelling because the snorkel area is tiny and absolutely rammed with people). After the dive/ snorkelling you’ll go onto Nalusuan Island for lunch: tasty BBQ and fresh fruit. The photo session took place while we waited for lunch which is good! Empty stomach= photogenic stomach! You’ll do some more diving/ snorkelling/ jet skiing after you leave the island.

Kanghee will email you a bunch of photo and video footage after the experience for you to wow your family and friends with. I highly recommend this as a day trip the next time you visit Cebu.

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Korean mermaids getting ready to strike a pose