Zooming through the air we were glad to be seeing the last of airports and third-world conditions for a while, although our 10 hour delay in the Almaty airport wasn't exactly the send off we'd hoped for. First-world problems aside, the flight was good and quick and we arrived at Incheon airport with the comforting idea of riding to our Warmshowers host only hours away.
We utilised something not many Aussies use in everyday life: a pay phone(!) to notify our host SungJong of our lateness due to flying, and an attempt to ride to his home. He strongly advised against riding from the airport but Alleykat was, as usual, rather pig-headed and decided we'd just do what we had planned.
So, we got on the bike and within the first one hundred and twenty three metres were stopped. Argh! This wasn't in the plan! We explained to the barrier guards that we needed to catch the last ferry which was leaving in twenty minutes and we still had ten kilometres to reach the port! They held on to us, glued to the rules and regulations, time a ticking by. They wouldn't let us ride on the freeway for a mere tongue's length, to satisfy our thirst to get across it and on to the lesser road towards the ferry. Thwarted, we headed down many narrow escalators into the belly of the metro beast, purchased in Korean the first tickets that came up on the automaton's screen and hopped on an express train to Seoul Station.
A shoe-shiner on the corner of Seoul Station was most helpful as we'd come up, around and through the intestine spaghetti of stairs and escalators. We were rather confused as to where exactly we'd been excreted.
The ride ahead was to be in neon-lit semi-darkness, twenty-five kilometres through the moist streets of inner-city Seoul and out towards the 'green belt', hoping to happen across a station whose name we could remember because it sounded like the Korean brand Samsung. Once there, we scanned the quiet streets hoping a Korean somebody would pop out and say 'hi Alleykat'… but as we were already two hours behind schedule and had organised only a loose 'we'll call you when we get there plan', we weren't actually expecting anyone to be there.
We borrowed a third phone for the evening (owning a phone ourselves would be useful, perhaps?) and were soon collected by SungJong and his wife Ji Hyun. TanNayNay followed them on-scooter, over some hills and far away to their delightful little faux-greenhouse home. Delicious dinner was already cooked for us by the lovely bubbly Ji Hyun, presented on their kitchen table along with about 47 little condiment-filled ceramic bowls (kimchi, pickled radish, chilli garlic shoots and pickled potato were among the best). Our bedroom for the next little while was shown to us (it also happened to be the bike room, which suited us down to a cleat) and we gladly fell into bed and slept soundly after our dedicated practise of airport-based sleep deprivation over the past twenty-four hours.
Recharging the Seoul
We did a profound amount of nothing for the first day but then the next warm, attractive morning changed our slothful ways, and we went hiking with SungJong and Ji Hyun up Gangdeng Mountain. Kimbap was ordered for us by Ji Hyun – a food much like a sushi hand-roll with sticky rice and veggies rolled into a dark algae-black sheet of nori. The mountain was awash with colour, not robed in the autumnal red as one would assume in the fall season, but instead with brightly decorated Koreans wearing the loud colours of heavily branded outdoor equipment stores. The summit was beautiful, cloudy for a moment and then as if father sky knew we'd passed through his wreath of opaque water vapour, the mist swept to the side and Seoul unfolded in front of us. Our way down was punctuated by strangely raunchy noises of Korean hikers using their voices to navigate the steep, perhaps orgasmic, paths. The road back to the base of the mountain was plastered with outdoor shops and we decided to investigate in search of rain ponchos – the name of which the shop assistants didn't understand until we anunciated it in the right way: “pancho!”
While staying in Seoul, we'd heard that world-famous bike tourers Amaya and Eric of World Biking were in the same place as us in the world; finally! We introduced SungJong and Ji Hyun to them as well as ourselves and enjoyed a night in chatting about world bike riding (of the six we were the newbies of the group even at a year and a half of travel!).
SungJong was on a week's holiday, which worked in Alleykat's supreme favour as he generously donated his time to helping us explore the city, purchase an iPhone (our first phone this trip!), find outdoor shop -central and order and eat exceptional street food. We thoroughly enjoyed our first taste of dogk böki, and many other Korean firsts: cold noodles, dumplings, red bean-filled pancakes, cinnamon sugar-packed doughnuts and almost every Korean delight we imbibed.
As is the way when exploring a city, we did some normal things and some not-so-normal things: we ate out at restaurants (Korean and Chinese), Kat got a haircut, we visited the Westerner epicentre of Seoul, Itaiwan, where we were thoroughly put off being 'normal' westerners after we hunted for some western food – we found a $10.50 jar of Vegemite – and felt haunted by the non-Korean-ness of this little pocket. We used the public transport system like pros, we even bought metro cards! After we had become firm friends with our hosts, had made an overdue movie (you can view the Kyrgyzstan video HERE) and had written an overdue Kyrgyz blog (read it HERE).
Now it was high time to get back on the bike! After house sitting while everyone (SungJong, Ji Hyun and their family, along with pretty much the whole population of Korea) was out celebrating for two days Korean Luna New Year, we left late in the afternoon for the famous Seoul to Busan bike path.
The Seoul to Busan Bike Path (650km)
Day Zero: An unofficial beginning on late late Saturday afternoon, we rode from the Green Belt of Seoul to outskirts of… Seoul, it's a big city ok?! We continued into the darkness, the surrounding chiaroscuro lit by a blood moon and settled to camp on a dock next to an unused bridge.
Day One: A sunny day and also a Sunday; the bike path was heavily populated, we tingled with enthusiasm. We met Lee who was decked out in light blue and pink Lycra and didn't believe we could haul our bike up hills – being as heavily laden as she is – without a motor!! He was so impressed, he took us out to lunch and rode with us to the next town where we bought food at the supermarket he found for us. He was casually riding 80+km to his special lunch spot next to the bridge he helped build (as one of his three jobs). He took lots of photos of us and lamented that we didn't spend the night before at his home in the outskirts of Seoul. Despite the small fact we'd not met yet.
We rode further along the bike path, along the river, noodling about and easily avoiding main roads, delighting in the little villages and friendly people we met. As is normal, we rode up some hills; however, most of the other bike riders pushed, a very strange practice as it didn't seem to matter whether the hill was 3% or 15% hopping off the bike was apparently necessary!
Along with a whole host of camp-happy Koreans, the night was spent at a free camping ground complete with a hammock, showers and hundreds upon hundreds of web-bound arachnids watching us do the dishes.
Day Two: Lots of flat, wide river riding, straight into a head wind most of the day. Luckily there was not much climbing so the hours trundled past without too much sweat being broken. There was boardwalk riding, smooth-pavement enjoyment and crossing dam-crowning bridges with a gloriously out-of-place 7Elevens at either side. We reached the large-ish city of Chungdu and aimed to camp by the river. On the ride beside the water Alex suddenly slammed on the brakes; we skidded to a stop – 'a kangaroo, I'm sure saw a kangaroo!' Sadly but not surprisingly, our “kangaroo” turned out to be a little deer who looked confusingly like our native fauna, but we were still pretty chuffed to have watched its little white bottom bound into the scrub! A little further afield our “perfect spot” was complicated with a resident family picnic – we thought we'd better ask to stay so ventured, 'tentu cho du teoh?' and received a nod, 'tentu cho du teoh'. Later that evening as our picnicking friends were leaving, a flask of orange juice and sausages (which probably cost about $24 altogether) were thrust upon us with gestures of 'take it! take it!'. Such generosity!
Day three: An absolute pearler. We'd organised a Couchsurf for this night with Jonno, a man who had an incredibly inviting 'electronic' personality and seemed as excited about life as we were. We were pumped to meet him later that evening after his school day (and night) finished. The riding was beautiful and truly 'nature galore': we stopped about fifty times in the first fifty minutes to film and photograph spiders, cats and pumpkins growing through fences. The smooth bike path lead us on ups and downs, on mostly quiet roads with huge bike-designated lanes and beauty fit to be painted around us at all times.
Half way through our day we stopped to put our feet in a shallow hot spring – perfect. We wanted to get in entirely but decided lunch time in the middle of a densely populated rural town was probably not the best place to get naked. Sigh.
The path lead us to climb the biggest peak of the bike path – 550m of up, along a spectacle of a road. At the top we paused to get watered, caffeinated and beanified on ice coffees and bean milk, and of course to use the Internet, as is custom in even the highest hard-to-reach cupboards of Korea.
Popped down the hill towards Mungyeong, rode more and cooked dinner in a rotunda that looked like a temple which meant our dinnertime was complete with an old book smell emainating from the seat beneath our bike-worn bums and green speckled frogs jumping about. We'd seemingly placed ourselves in the epicentre of the evening's activity: hundreds of Koreans getting out for their evening constitutionals with the customary blaring of music bumping up and down from a bumbag at groin level. Jonno's school greeted us with a classy-looking outer wall and upon contacting the friendly teacher, were given directions to his house (gosh having a phone is useful, thanks SungJong!). Moments later we met the delightful and even-more-electric-in-real-life Jonno himself and got clean after a full three nights without showers, yum. The evening was filled fuller as we went out to meet Jonno's friends Lucas and Marize for a musical interlude, occasional lewdness and much loving, learning and invigorating of the soul. We felt somehow at home. Marize, Lucas and Jonno are all made from musical bones and made Kat feel inspired to pull a skeleton out of her misplaced musical closet. We made a brunch date with Lucas and settled in for the night with Jonno where the rest of the night was talked away, no topic left unexplored and within mere hours of meeting, we were firm friends, doing as friends do.
It was suddenly early morning and Jonno had school in the morning, so we bade oneanother goodnight and slept deeply on his unbelievably comfortable floor mattress (it's the way of the future!). The morning was filled with bowls of breakfast and mouthfuls of chatter, it was sad to part ways! We packed up and left, noting his note on the door – “whether or not you can never become great at something, you can always become better at it”. I'm not sure if it was for us, or himself, or for his students; but anyone who is lucky enough to be connected to Jonno is extremely lucky indeed. We met up with the excellent and devilishly-quick-witted Lucas (he knows the author means outrageously handsome!) who went on to buy us brunch and coffee and we managed somehow to fit four hours into one (or so it seemed). It was then time for a quick stop at Home Plus, the mammoth department store, and out on the open road.
Day four: With a second English teacher-as-couchsurfing host in a row organised for the evening, the rain which doused us all day wasn't such a downer.
Crunchy Speccaloos for an under-rotunda lunch was accompanied on all six sides by enormous beautiful spiders, luminous in their neon viridity, including one who pooed right in front of us onto a surprisingly bountiful poo-pile below her. Who knew spiders defecate?! Her monotone male suitors were infantestimal, hanging around in her home, most likely headed for an early, post-coitus grave.
We somehow got lost and after attempting to retrace our distinctive wheel tracks and rejoin the true path, we gave up and took roads instead. We had been riding along as we do when we realised we hadn't seen the usually well-signed four rivers symbol on any of the signposts for a good long while which is always a bad sign! However, the roads were not only an adequate option but were quiet and perhaps, a more direct, if mountainous route.
Devastatingly, we had to push TanNayNay at one stage up the path – OUR FIRST PUSH OF THE TRIP! The road was a 30% gradient at least for a good half a kilometre. Pffft, an utterly ridiculous piece of bike path.
We arrived on the freeway-frilled outskirts of Gumi and organised to meet our host Pete at the main train station. We discovered that Korean drivers are much more cautious in the rain than those drivers who must not be named *cough, the multiple Lord Voldemort vehicle operators of Kyrgyzstan, cough* and thus enjoyed smacking it along the highways for the last 20 kilometres without fearing for our lives.
Pete had not wanted to bother us with the further 10 kilometre journey to his house (in a very small offshoot town of Gumi) and so instead had PAID FOR A HOTEL ROOM FOR US!! Wow, talk about above and beyond, I'm sure we wouldn't have minded staying anywhere, but we were quite frankly chuffed (and a bit puffed) and so took his incredibly kind gift and enjoyed all the “Love Motel” had to offer: an enormous bathroom and free soap and toothbrushes. Pete's generosity didn't end there though, he took us out to Lemon Tree, the latest and greatest Western Style restaurant in Gumi where we enjoyed the culinary delights and came away with a brand new tshirt each courtesy of the owner. At Pete's local watering hole we had a drink, stuck our names on the 'world wall' and watched the two waitresses beat the absolute pants off everybody at darts (try three bulls-eyes in a row, multiple times).
Unfortunately, the only downside of having a hotel room rented for us was not being able to spend longer with Pete as we weren't in his space in his home and he needed to get to bed because it was a school night, fair enough (Kat knows about school nights!)
Day five: Despite the dire weather forecast, there was no rain to dilute the enjoyment of our day. Almost forever getting out of the industrial area to get to the path where we used toilets shaped like a bike (that had the cleanest insides known to bathroomdom). Along the route we were given a $5 pear by a kind truck driver and listend to the mournful three-note wailing of a saxophonist playing to himself in privacy under a bridge. We lost the bike path momentarily, it was running parallel to us about 100 metres from our accidentally-on-road route, there were saturated rice fields and carefully planted farms and paths suddenly ending in muddy meters deep scrub hindering our access to it! We met a douchbag American walker who was totally uninterested in anything but his 'epic' walking journey from South to North Korea.
Close to the end of the day we finally met up a mountain bike riding couple who we'd spent the last twenty kilometres overtaking and riding with after sharing some head nodding and bowing we spoke through a wonderful app which translated Korean into English and back again (with varying and humorous rates of success) and enjoyed the dogk (bean-filled glutinous rice cake) they donated to our hungry world cyclist cause. The sun was setting and we intended to spend the night camped below a bridge, however our plans were foiled twice: by a law against bridge burrowing and by a missing camping ground marked on the map a kilometre or so up the road. We did see our second deer though, a big tawny spotted fellow who dashed up behind us without realising we weren't part of the scenery before thundering off into the dense undergrowth like a overgrown hoofed squirrel). Instead we ended up riding for another twenty kilometres into the dark and camping atop a pointy hill in a rotunda.
Day Six: After being awoken by the 5am mountain joggers, we whisked down the hill and out into the day. We encountered two steep nasty climbs: the first was short and sharp: a 15 percenter that came from nowhere (and was not marked on the route profile) like BANG! Our route parted the mountains and we happened upon Daegu a suddenly enormous city, walls of white, high-rise apartments like teeth in the otherwise green mouth of the valley we were riding. The rain rode up on us, drenching us for a short time and daring us to leave the less direct bike path in favour for hillier potentially drier roads. We discovered that our panchos, although magical, were less exciting to ride in when wind was also a player; poor Kat has Alex's blue winged material flapping in her face, moistening even the best protected patch of skin.
We tried to avoid what looked to be the mountain bike trail by taking the seemingly innocuous paved road only for it to lead us straight up a hiking track that had simply been concreted over and labelled 'bike path' . The gradient meant for the second time on our entire trip we had to get off and push TanNayNay and all her tandem bulk up the 35% plus gradient for a few hundred metres! There were a few unlikely turns and slightly difficult bridge crossings before we landed artfully in Miryang in a free camping ground with free showers, free water and free wifi! Perfect for technology-addicted-Alleykats…
Day Seven: It was to be our last day on the bike path and as it turned out, we spent the vast majority of the one hundred and forty kilometres off the path than on it. The road was kind to us, as were the drivers; both in typical form for Korea. We took two tunnels, the second of which was four and a half kilometres long, down hill, and super fun! We may have set off a set of tunnel alarms accidentally, but all was well out the other side and no police cars were chasing us down. Inner city Ulsan was in peak hour traffic after we finished riding next to the river, replete with flying fish. Our route to Alex's fourth cousin Neil's home was a little around-about but we made it in time for a delicious home-cooked meal thanks to Michelle and a door-load's worth of excitement thanks to Eileen, Neil and Michelle's eight-year-old-chicken… no, just kidding, she's magic, but definitely a human child through and through! Our next week was spent in Ulsan: relaxing (and doing loads of washing!) walking all around the place including being ordained into the Hash Harriers' hamlet, a less-beery-than-was-rumoured walking club, and generally being taken exceptional care of thanks to Neil et al.
Back to School
We spoke at two schools in one day: first at Eileen's school Hyundai International School where the kids were pretty jazzed about bikes and riding and are seasoned travellers themselves! Afterwards at Mrs Ann's language school where we met two poms Diana and her partner Chris who seemed to have a real bond with the smart-phone-entrenched bunch of kids. The students did really well to concentrate without much English – us chatting away in our mother tongue and they listening to the translation may not have been the most easy-to-understand afternoon, but Mrs Ann told us afterwards that a number of the kids told her how excited they were by the prospect of bike travel and world adventures. Job done! Mrs Ann was a character, having been disallowed to travel by her husband when they were younger, she instead set up a language school and employed foreigners by way of her own international adventure. She has travelled since starting the school (accompanied by her husband who obviously took a liking for the teaching/learning life too!) and has friends all over the world who she's excited to put us in contact with. She also donated $100 to Oxfam on our behalf. What a champion.
We spoke at Eileen's school again later in the week, meeting the year sevens, eights and nines who were pretty rad and extremely engaged considering they're teenagers attending a school and being toted about by their ex-pat families. They seemed really well adjusted and as though the travel-heavy lifestyle was doing them favours (it seems life-altering world travel is not just for bike-riders, who knew?!)
Back to Seoul
As is tradition, Alleykat had broken our back wheel at a rather opportune moment and so headed back to Seoul to get it sorted. We of course stayed with the ever excellent SungJong and Ji Hyun who were awesome to see again! Our wheel was expertly fixed by Jin Bong Kim of 'Bike Spoke' who had Alex happier than he had been in bike terms for a long time.
While in Seoul this second time, we were lucky enough to catch up with Kat's uni teschery friends, Anthony and Megan who were on professional development away from their new home in Beijing – living the lucky life of ex-pat teachers. We cracked some beers and then headed to a market where the food was said to be delicious and the prices just so; however, after enjoying a good meal, the bill of $63 dollars didn't really fit the food and we all felt thoroughly ripped off by this street vender who charged us four lots of everything even though the serves were for one! We left $50 and walked away, glad to be done with the incredibly awkward situation she'd put us in. We four said goodbye after too short a time and returned to our respective homes away from homes.
KTO sponsored guided bike tour
Back in Ulsan, thanks to a speedy, well-priced bus trip we got ready for our imminent departure at 8am the following day. Max from MaxAdventure burst into our story like he'd been waiting to do it all his life; full of energy and excitement. Max (whose Korean name is Minook) took us away for three action-packed days of bike adventure. Thanks to the Korean Tourism Organisation and Max we got to know a lot more about Korea's slightly-hidden rider-friendly places.
Please click HERE to read what happened… did we all make it through in one piece?
Cruising to Jeju
We spent two more nights with “Team Anderchen” – and witnessed the spectacular pool-closing ceremony that is Pirate's Day. Eileen was clearly the best pirate of them all, although some of the mums and kids gave her a run for her money! Kat received a much-needed massage from a Thai women who was stronger than she looked! We left Neil, Michelle and Eileen in Ulsan (refusing to take the banana bread we'd made them) and rode out of the city.
Met up again with Chris and Diana just by chance, we rode into an industrial zone saturated with pipes and pipes and pipes, oozing smells and hissing sounds until we popped out the other side and were suddenly on the beach! The perfect camping spot sprung itself on us.
The family camping on one side offered us some 'Korean pizza' (like a veggie pancake) which we nibbled on as we cooked dinner and enjoyed listening to the drunken antics of the group of Koreans next door.
After a sleep curated by the ocean's beauty, we rode into Busan which was by far the worst city to ride in – lots of spaghetti to navigate around but we made it to the ferry terminal in good time. As we were boarding the Jeju-bound craft we complimented two other bike tourers on their remarkably rectangular panniers (they must have serious Tetris skills) and were pretty much joined at the hip with Germans Nadine and Philipp from there.
We four set our stuff down in the group room, realising after boarding late due to loading our bikes on down below, we had only the space in the middle of the room to set up our mattresses (all the wall space was taken) but, before we could get settled the captain beckoned me outside. Upgraded! All four of us “friends” got a bed in the bunks section and felt a bit bad about the preferential treatment but incredibly thankful for the sleep-enhancing location. We spoke in the restaurant until late and felt like old friends.
Next morning breakfast was prepared in the most anti-peaceful spot on the island where in order to sit, we'd disturbed teens necking alcoholic shots before school… worrying.
The group couldn't decide which direction to take as neither seemed advantageous because the wind was a northerly and therefore it seemed wouldn't be ridden into until the last day either way we rode. To solve our indecision, we mentioned our hearsay that the west side was better so we headed off and greatly appreciated the direction choice while we watched people getting buffeted by the wind heading the other direction.
Although we rode and rode, we didn't feel like we were getting anywhere until quite suddenly we decided we'd ridden far enough and momentously we were more than eighty kilometres around the coast! Our group tried to find a place to sleep: a nearby church with people clearly in it (car out the front, doors and windows open) but no one was obviously around perhaps they were hiding from us? Then a Buddhist temple a few kilometres away offered us the same empty story. We decide to camp with the monk's cows in a little paddock around the corner.
That night the wind tried to blow down our tents and unfortunately hadn't blown itself out by morning. Regardless, we rode around to the island's half way point where we stopped at a tourist photograph destination whee we met Hong Kong woman with two Phillipino nannies. Further afield we looked at the dastardly US navy base as best we could, felt sad, felt angry and rode on. That night it was agreed upon to stay in a hostel and have a shower. We went to a restaurant and ate cold noodles that were delicious and fresh and amazing, drank hot beany drinks and retired for a good sleep in a comfy bed.
As was our goal for the third day, we made it to the island off the island – a little rocky bump called Udo via the car ferry across the water. It was a little fresh so we went to a cafe and drank amazing hot drinks and then made it only a little way around the coast before settling in for the night. Kat woke up after garish, confusing dreams not remembering Philipp's identity – late night red wine does to you, right?
It seemed only proper to make a round of the lop-sided island, quickly completed pausing only for photos and wondering how the island people feel about having so many tourists coming to their homes, wondering why we were born to be world bike riders and they to be farmers and mermaids… wonder, wonder, wonder.
We took the ferry back and climbed many steps to the top of a dormant volcano. We had our plan for steamed buns for lunch thwarted by a man who came in and bought the shop completely dry of these delicious moist red bean filled buns so we found an awesome place to imbibe bibimbap instead… perfect. We rode back to the Jeju Si port, struggling as was accurately predicted: a bloody fierce wind blustering in our faces and by five o'clock and getting lost only once, we made it just in time for Nadine and Philipp to make it onto the ferry up to Incheon overnight.
Back to just Alleykat
That evening Alleykat got a phone call from Jini – the friends of Gangwan middle-of-nowhere dwellers, Jungsun and Seonhwa. We'd been invited to come and stay with them the next day. Perfect!
It was cold and getting late by the minute, we tried to find a place to camp – but realised the inappropriateness of the only place where there was a camping ground – it was under the flight path of the strangely busy airport (where a plane came in or took off every two to three minutes, from sun up to about eleven PM, who the heck was coming in and out?!) So we abandoned that idea and instead camped in a park next to some exercise equipment (which was in use until about 10:30pm!) and little cabbage farms. The music stopped at 11 at around the same time the planes stopped zooming over our heads (despite moving a few kilometres it seemed as though there was nowhere far enough to escape the noise!)
The next day Kat was feeling very much like a rest but we needed to get over the hill to our new hosts Jini and Young's place in Buseong-ri (which was over other side of the island!) so Alex rode the hilly 40kms and Kat hopped on a $2.50 bus and saw Alex on the way over for one fleeting moment.
Jini and Young
We ended up finding Jini and Young and met their cats Jjinyangi and Gonyangi, drank their delicious homemade mandarin juice and ate their amazing mother-made kimchi. We knew immediately that these world cyclists were our close relatives, we loved them unconditionally from minute one – after which they truly sealed the deal by taking us to a specialty coffee cafe. That night we celebrated one of their friend's birthdays with shabu-shabu (Korean hotpot) with loads of magkeolli (Korean milky rice wine), beer and festive merriment. Alex got close with Tae Min (an art teacher at the local Jeju highschool) and the night was a great success. We planned to stay just one night – and ride up the very large mountain in the centre of the island – however, our close new-but-old friendship with Jini and Young kept us together for four nights and there was only one and a half smaller mountains climbed as a result (which mattered not!). We ate and drank and talked, and spent time with the cats and the sunshine in equal measures.
We had to leave (although we feel we could've stayed forever) and on the way back to the ferry port we met up with Tae Min, who took us out for lunch and coffee and showed us a little glimpse of the magic he worked with his high school students.
The overnight ferry took us straight up to Incheon and our foreigner good luck allowed us another upgrade – this time an entire room to ourselves. The boat rolled us gently up the west coast and the ferry terminal became the site for breakfast and Internet surfing before riding through 40km of nigh-on-impenetrable industry. But, with steamed buns (and free steamed sweet bread from the delightful shop owner who appeared to us like a vision from the mists of his steamers) to bolster us, we made it to Gimpo where the KTO had put us up for the night in a love hotel – plush as.
The evening was spent with our old friends SungJong and Ji Hyun who by now were totally used to us breezing into Seoul whenever we damned well please! We ate shabu shabu to our heart's content and then supped on sweet potato bubble tea before bidding them farewell… until tomorrow! We met our favourite Seoul sister and brother at Ji Hyun's cafe for a final Korean farewell – we'll see them in the world again we're sure of it.
Meeting the Chief of Tourism in Korea
That evening we met Charm Lee, the Chief of Tourism and received lovely (if heavy) gifts including the full set of Seoul to Busan bike path books if only we'd had the meeting before our ride! We were then taken out to Mexican dinner with Tim (Han River Riders head honcho and general dogsbody – all round champion), the ever suffering Winston (who rose to the occasion dealing with organising six crazy cycle tourers to appear at a bike festival like a boss) and his young 2.I.C who was really cool spite being extremely busy!
It was nice to meet up again with World Biking's Amaya and Eric and to meet the very wonderful Iranian Mohammed Tajeran who's program 'We Need Trees' is a global phenomenon and is only getting bigger. Mohammad made us homesick for Iran and its beautiful people and their cacophony of kindness – you can watch why HERE.
Guest Speakers at the Ara Lock Bike Festival
There was a lot of milling around and wondering where to succinctly secret five heavily-laden bikes belonging to us, Eric and Amaya, Mohammed and Victor – a Swede bike tourer who'd just completed a lap or three of Korea on his own world bike journey. We set off with the six- or seven-hundred other bike riders for the commemorative bike ride. A yearly event, its objective is to raise funds for sex traffic victims in Korea and to support orphans making their own way in the world. We rode the 40km course with the largest group, preferring to leave the heavy-lifting 80km circuit to riders Jared Mitchell and Steve Sessions. We met some super-dooper cool people while riding and after, Cara and Grace and their performer friends who gave the hundreds-strong crowd a wonderful Disney-themed show during dinner. And then it was time…
First up was Amaya who is quite the orator, inspiring the chilly crowds to ride and adventure and explore all Korea (and the world) has to offer using two wheels. Then Mohammed wowed the audience with moving videos, pictures and words – changing the lives of the people watching and the people featuring as he did so. Then it was our turn, Kat was much more nervous than she'd anticipated but with tall, calm Alex beside her, it was all goal kicking in our short presentation.
After we bike tourers had collectively talked away what seemed like hours, there were two performances by the Joshua March Band (the very talented dudes) and a K-Pop star named (wait for it) Brian. Despite his rather innocuous, unassuming name, Brian made a splash with his three songs and the young crowd went equally as wild for both acts.
We camped the night at the Ara Lock with a few other audience members who'd survived the cold – it was cold enough for the organisers to hand out hand warming packs and unfortunately for about three quarters of the original six- or seven-hundred festival-goers to leave prematurely. Later Alleykat were lucky to speak with the amazing Mohammed, who challenged us and intrigued us and with his warm heart and made the cold seem like mere small fish nibbling at our toes and fingers.
One more night in Seoul
In the morning we three breakfasted together before parting ways – we headed to Jared's house along the opposite side of the Han for about seventy kilometres. We “knew” Jared and Katie through our online ponderings, where they as our first South Korean contacts were serendipitously thrust upon us in the form of cyclingabout subscribers. Jared is our fellow intrepid bike tourer and Australasian; a New Zealander who was already suggesting routes we'd enjoy; way back when, before we'd even crossed the border! The delightful Katie, who has kept an eye on us since D-Day almost a year and a half ago, is a ultra-eventer (just casually running marathons and doing iron mans) so they're a pretty phenomenal pair. Incidentally they're just months away from beginning their own world tour (read about them HERE). We immediately set upon their apartment, eating all their bread and world famous hummus (no, really) and accidentally using up as much of their hot water as was humanly possible. They took us out for a drool-worthy shabu-shabu experience in a third-floor-need-to-know-where-it-is-to-find-it restaurant and later we three trilled with hearty Aussie/Kiwi/Yank laughter when watching Chris Lilley's latest series, 'Ja'mie, Private School Girl'.
We lamented being due back in Busan the next day, but needed to hurry things along, lest Japan be completely snowed over by the time we'd birthed forth onto her shores. Once in Busan, we navigated our way to Tae Min's family home, a gorgeous 14th floor apartment in the centre of the city, where we quickly discovered the kindness of Ji Young (Tae Min's sister) and his parents: upon our arrival their father went out and bought patisserie goods, yoghurt and milk because that's what Westerners eat, right? It was so cute and we felt so thankful to be there with them. Kat surprised the family by also eating leftover rice we'd brought with us…who knew Westerners eat rice?!
We found out the ferry wasn't leaving until the next evening and so booked one of the last places. On our way back 'home' (TaeMin's family's place) we stopped for a bibimbap lunch at a market where a street festival was in full swing. Middle-aged pop stars were thrilling the middle-aged crowd into a tizz and the performances were loud and lovely. There was so much ecstatic dancing and unbridled passion in the air! We enjoyed cinnamon-spiced pancakes (made only in winter) whose molten insides burn blisters on the roof of one's mouth but are totally worth the pain for their unbelievable taste. That evening we met one of Tae Min's good friends, YuJin (said Eugene) who took us out for an amazing bean sprout-based dinner and an evening constitutional where we wandered around inner Busan and along the very nice riverside pedestrian/bicycle path network. A perfect last evening.
Our last day was spent before we knew it and after receiving a whole four kilograms worth of persimmons from Tae Min's mother and her friend, we were lining up for the ferry to Fukuoka. In line, as happens, we were happened upon by Alexandra and Miguel, two backpacking adventurers from Spain who had somehow done the lucky westerner ferry ride 'thing' and had been upgraded to a first class private room without paying a cent more, they clearly had the best negotiation skills! We were meant to sleep in separate rooms (we had two of the last available tickets!) but there was space in Kat's room so Alleykat weren't separated. Early morning brought a fruit swap with Mr.Yoo and a hasty breakfast of extremely expensive persimmons with our Spanish friends (it's not allowed to bring fresh fruit into Japan, a fact we discovered almost too late!).
And there was Japan.
Don’t forget to catch our film, Alleykat
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More of our Asia LP
⇒ Track 1: South Korea
⇒ Track 2: Japan
⇒ Track 3: The Philippines
⇒ Track 4: Cambodia
⇒ Track 5: Vietnam
⇒ Track 6: Laos
⇒ Track 7: Thailand
⇒ Track 8: Malaysia and Singapore
⇒ Check out our Central Asian series HERE
⇒ Try out our European series HERE