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This weekend was outstanding and one of my favorite so far in Seoul because it featured me partaking in two of my favorite pasttimes: hiking and shows. I’ll get to the show in my next post but I want to use this one just to detail the sheer epicness that is Bukhansan.

Standing over 200m above sea level at its highest peak and spanning a vast area of 78.45 sq km this is no measly park. With over 100 different routes going to a multitude of different peaks and connecting traverses, I can definitely see myself investing quite a bit of time here from now into the months leading up to Winter.

That morning I woke up and treated myself to a homemade breakfast of baked beans, eggs over easy, toast and caramelized garlic, onion, red peppers. As I finished this hearty meal I realized I was full but not really satisfied. Sometimes my hankering to do a certain activity sneaks up on me and it takes me a minute to recognize what it is I’m jonesing to do. As I washed the dishes it struck me, the weather was great outside, I had been here three months…and I had yet to do any hiking (trampoling is the term I learned in New Zealand and the most charming term for this activity in my opinion).

From my subway station in Youngdeungpo-gu the trip only had one transfer at Hapjeong and took  less than half an hour to arrive at my destination, Dokbawi station (line 6, stop #613). Just one of the wondrous things about this country is how you have this gigantic wilderness areas with hiking and camping just off the subway line. As I got closer and closer to my stop more and more people sporting North Face (or the local Red Face brand) backpacks and boots, Patagonia outdoor apparel and hiking poles file into the subway. I had forgotten my directions from the subway station to the trail-head but this did not present too much of a problem as I just followed the steady stream of hikers making their way towards the mountain.

I’m a fairly adept hiker but the first 45 minutes are always the hardest, unless you are doing a real grueling trek of like ten plus miles (adept for an amateur…). You seem to be sweating the hardest and finding your rhythm during this stage. I haven’t gone on a good hike for about 4 months and was definitely feeling rusty that first hour. Heart was beating, breath was a heavy pant and I definitely drew some amused chuckles from the ajumma and ajeossi (old women and men) sharing the trail with me.

I reached the summit (one of dozens of peaks within Bukhansan) within an hour of starting. The view justified the original hiccups finding my pace and then some. I chatted for a while with a 3M business men about good hikes, what brought me to Korea and the benefits of travel. So many people I encounter here seem to really enjoy a good conversation and are eager to utilize what English they know.

After bidding him goodbye I walked over to a different vantage within a cloud of dragonfly/butterfly swarms and took the occasion to sit down and hydrate. Within five minutes I noticed a late middle-aged Korean man walking around the summit picking up any bits of trash with a long pair of tongs. As he drew near me he inquired “You are a foreigner and hiking alone?”, I laughed and responded in the positive. He seem quite impressed when I informed him I had only been in the country for three months and this was my first hiking excursion. He then chided me “You should not hike by yourself! I hike by myself but live at the base of this mountain and hike it every weekend.” He sat down next to me and we sat in silence reflecting on the view for a solemn few minutes.

I broke the silence by offering some of the peanuts I had brought with me for a light lunch break. He thanked me and offered some tea. Asking him what type it was brought a perplexed countenance to his face but after a minute on his smartphone he proclaimed that it was Buckwheat jelly tea. With some trepidation I politely accepted and was pleasantly surprised. Green in color with a complex and hearty taste it was quite good. With this exchange of sustenance done he offered to show me around the nearby peaks and valleys.

Sung was self-taught in English via books and the local EBT (English Broadcast Channel) learning programs. He was in great shape and engaged in the perfect amount of conversation. I don’t consider myself anti-social but I love those reflective moments during a good hike when you are just focused on the movement of your limbs and savoring the scenery around you. During our 2-3 hours of hiking I watched as he picked up about 3 pounds in litter. He showed me some of the rock-climbing spots and a grand little creekside rest stop to soak our feet and splash some cool, fast-flowing alpine water on our faces and arms.

I was truly fortunate to have him as a guide and he is another great example of the hospitality and cheerful good-will I have experienced from complete strangers here in Korea. Our hike ended with showing me a small Buddhist temple at the end of the hike and escorting me to the subway stop with was no small act of kindness since I did not see a winding line of hikers going back to the subway at this point. All in all a most satisfying and productive day and the

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