Our first weeks of independent exploring took place in the southern parts of Korea, a combination of sprinting to a few places famous for their cherry blossom (find the blog post here) and slow traveling along the coast. We found it hard to get away from the highway and are still wondering if our GPS and paper road map simply don’t mention the interior roads, or if there aren’t many in this region (or in Korea?).
We are in awe with the first temples we’ve seen, set in tranquil and forested mountainous landscapes. The temples are an amazing display of tasteful and rustic architecture with colorful paintings, golden Buddha statues, and towering gates, guards, bells and drums.
Another aspect we love in this country is food. I’m always happy in rice-eating countries and we find it easy to find a variety of vegetarian foods although at times we add fish to the menu. Kimbab, bibimbap, ssambap… Bring them on!
While our Land Cruiser may arguably the oldest and weirdest in this country, not many Koreans bat an eye when seeing it. They stay focused on their driving when overtaking us, and don’t surround us by the dozens as soon as we turn off the engine – quite a difference from some of the countries we previously visited.
We have been humbled by the Koreans’ hospitality and friendship. We met Rachel in a parking lot and she not only invited us to stay at her home but prepared us an elaborate dinner and breakfast. We felt privileged. Thanks, Rachel!
We camped at a campsite with many Koreans – who love outdoor activities and we find them hiking and camping everywhere. While not approaching us in big numbers, we came to understand this has mostly to do with language, as later was explained to us to English-speaking Koreans who did come over for a chat. They came with beer and wine, and as we left in the morning our non-English speaking neighbors came over to give us a handful of tomatoes.
While sitting somewhere along the side of the road writing my diary, a food stall vendor walked over to hand me a cup of coffee, and on parting a fresh coconut. We have experienced this often on our journey, and here it has been confirmed once more: we don’t need to share a language to communicate the most important matters in life. The vendor’s smile and gestures of welcome warmed me. Let your not speaking a foreign language never be a barrier to visit a country!
As I am writing this we are on a campsite in the mountains. Each day the caretaker comes over for a chat. He served in the Marine Corps, was a monk for many years, and now works here. He daily brings fruits, beer, or other gifts. Yesterday he asked our favorite colors upon which we returned with another gift: tiny, thin-paper balloons. “Make memory,” he said. We had to write our wish on the balloon, he lit the fuel container attached to it and when all three were lit we said our prayers to the universe and let go of the balloons that quickly rose into the black-pitch sky.
A wonderful memory indeed. Thank you, Ha Sang Heui.