Saturday, December 18, 2010

Hiking Geumgang Park to the South Gate

Two steps off the cable car that brought us halfway up the mountain in Geumgang park in Busan, we realize this sprawling city is even more sprawling than previously suspected. Looking down, we see tiny buildings and bridges and metro tracks. Looking around ourselves, it's hard to remember we're in the middle of the city at all. 

Multitudinous paths meander off in opposite directions from the upper loading dock. Ahead, high schoolers sit on boulders, killing their digestive systems with ramyeon and Mountain Dew. Old men sit at plastic tables, their drink of choice makgeolli-- a traditional rice wine. A steeply descending trail lined with battered and faded lanterns guides hikers to one of the many temples tucked in the park. 

We choose yet another path off to the right. Fifteen minutes of walking delivers us to a modern looking temple.  We see buddhas carved into the rocks behind the building, staring serenely at nothing and everything. Huge kimchi pots flank side patio. A man removes his shoes and goes inside. Shane can see a prayer session and an altar. Amidst these traditional elements, an air conditioner, a satellite dish, and a Range Rover remind us that few things remained untouched by modernity. 

We return to the main platform area, and start up the trail toward the South Gate. Sometimes, we feel like we've lost the right way to get there, but then we see families on the trail and are reassured. We pass tiny kitchens serving hot food at plastic tent covered tables. I stop at the worst smelling outhouse I have ever experienced and try to balance over the squatter style toilet. This is easily the worst moment of the day. 

We hike further past a rambunctious group of men playing volley-sock, a game that combines volleyball and soccer on what looks like a small tennis court. More restaurants, even this high up. We're baffled as to how they bring in their inventory each day. A few more feet up our question is partially answered as we pass a couple of cabbage gardens, still thriving this late into November this high up the mountain. 

Finally, we arrive at the South Gate of Geumjeong Sanseong Fortress, built to help protect the city in 1703. All that effort went into such a beautiful structure for not a lot of payoff-- a sign tells us that the fortress fell into disuse because it was too large to maintain. Besides that, by the time the Fortress was finished, the Japanese and Mongol invasions had ended (until the 20th century anyway). The roof of the gate is painted beautifully in vibrant greens, reds, and pale yellows. The walls run seventeen kilometers around, so the East, West, and North gates will wait for another day. We begin our descent, this time taking the paved path. When the path starts to incline, we sit and rest for a few minutes, enjoying the fall solitude before returning to the squeeze of the city.                        

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