Day 67 and 68: Gurye and Jirisan national park

I’ll admit I’ve been pretty worried about the feasibility this trip. Wheel explosions and navigation aside, I have suffered a pretty horrid few days of riding – nothing but busy highways, expressways and tightly packed city roads all cast against a background of beige apartment buildings huddling together like depressed English teens from the 1920s.

Fears be gone! Wednesday was bliss – the first really enjoyable ride of my Korean trip. The road was barren, the hills were soft and undulating and trucks were came about one an hour – and all that to the backdrop of this.

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I was relaxed and joyous, I laughed and I sung. I now feel completely reassured about the rest of my trip and I’m excited to get back on my bike.

I’m in Gruye, a small town cut in the middle of a mountain range by a sandy-banked river. It produces beef and hiking tourism support, I’m predominantly here for the later. Nicole, the smiling Malaysian, met me in Gurye this afternoon. We want to do a two or three day hike in Jirisan, one of Korea’s most beautiful national parks. We don’t have much of plan other than just waltzing up there like an energetic disney montage but our enthusiasm has taken a hit by reports of freezing cold temperatures and 90degree vertical hikes. I’ve always found hiking dangers to be exaggerated.

Eating alone is very difficult in Korea. Most dishes are traditionally eaten in pairs or groups – so things like Korean BBQ, hot pots and fried chicken (all things I’ve exhausted copious amounts of drool over) are too expensive and too massive for the solo traveller. The dishes which are appropriately sized for a single guy aren’t traditionally eaten alone either. They all come with a seemingly never ending conveyor belt of side dishes and accompaniments. Some side dishes are even bigger than the main course. None of these things are displayed on the menu – they just appear. Surprise, you’ve got gatecrahses at your intimate garden dinner party, oh look they’re all supermodels a nobel prize winners, ahhh guess I better let them in.

Last night Nicole and I ordered BBQ pork belly to share. This is what our table looked like after we finished.

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Today for dinner we ordered a dolsot bibimbap* and a shallot pancake. We got:
A gigantic shallot pancake fit for two people
Dolsot bibimbap
Kimchi
Marinated kelp
Garlic bitter melon and raw chilli
Fish cakes
Soy braised quail eggs
Chilli tossed herbs
Bitter greens steamed
Somekind of turnip like yam basted in a sweet chilli and sesame sauce
AND a miso soup with crab, clams, tofu and melon that was bigger than the bibimbap itself.

The amount of food is actually insane. Almost every table of locals I’ve eaten with or near to has been abandoned with half the food remaining on the table. I can’t control what people eat or not but I’m feeling pretty agitated at seeing delicious mounds of food waiting to be unceremoniously scrapped into the bin. I would like to steal their leftovers (I’ve done so on some occasions) but usually I’ve already become comatose by my own uncontrollable eating frenzy. I have only two options for the rest of my trip. Either I keep eating everything on my table (and others) and, literally, become fat – this is not a joke, I will get fat. Or I ignore the food waste and accept that I don’t have to finish everything delivered to my table.

Tomorrow we leave for our trek. This is what the entrance to the national park looks like.

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We leave for our mountain trek tomorrow. This is what we have supplied our overfed stomachs for the next two days:

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When we return we have a date with Scott, our excitable and selfless guesthouse owner. He helped us plan the trip. He used to be in the special forces and he loves Pantera and Seattle summer (the Winter drove him home to Korea). Our plan is to eat Chimaek (fried chicken and beer) and watch his favourite Led Zeppelin DVD.

I’m pretty excited about my life right now.

*dolsot bibimbap is a mixed rice dish served in a hot stone pot. The rice sits at the base of the pot becoming crispy. A number of ingredients (varying from meat and vegetables to just mushrooms depending on the region) and usually a raw egg sits on top. When the rice is crispy enough you pour gochujang in and mix all the ingredients together. Delicious.

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