How can I even begin to describe my day? Should I write chronologically and tell you about the dramas of getting my bike out of the airport? Or should I jump in with my first impressions of Korean people? Or tell you about how I unwittingly drank half a bottle of rocket fuel alcohol within my first couple of hours in the country? I think I’ll just start by telling you today was amazing!
The day started like so many adventure races do. Instead of following my instinct and going with the flow getting my gear out of Incheon airport, I asked around and listened to others who told me I couldn’t put my bike on the train unless it was boxed. This led to me carrying 45kg of gear as a backpack, dufffle and bike box through Incheon airport to the train station where I was told that I could just unpack the bike, load everything and catch the first carriage of the train. Lesson learned: have confidence in my abilities and intuition. I caught the train to Geomam, some 25 minutes in the general directon of Seoul. Once there I had my first taste of Korean donuts and I can report they are goo-ood.
The Han River cycle path stretched out before me from Geomam, promising an easily navigable 40km ride into the city. I don’t know how I managed to get a photo of the route without people on it because there were cyclists everywhere. But I managed to click the camera at the one moment when I was alone. All down the path there were cyclists riding, sitting at shops drinking soju (a potent alcoholic beverage) or standing around talking with friends. And I don’t mean Australian standards of lots of cyclists. I mean thousands of cyclists taking a spin in the sunshine. Most had full length cycling kit, face masks for the sun (I asked someone what they were for) and hard tail mountain bikes with knobbly tyres. The face masks in particular are a sight to see. Though I do see the point and am going to buy myself one while I am here.
So let’s get the story of the soju out of the way. The green bottle in the image above is not lemonade. While you can’t tell from the innocuous bottle, it is 20% alcohol. I made the mistake of sitting down with some gentlemen when I bought a bottle. I thought it strange that they would pour my drink into a bowl and then I saw that the drink was white not clear and that the label said something like http://www.koreawine.co.kr but it was too late to back and I thought it was probably just beer. Well, can I just say that when all you’ve had in the previous 30 hours is 3 hours broken airplane sleep, a small serve of rice with chicken on the plane and a couple of donuts, and the sun is beating down on a hot day then soju goes straight to your head. I drank the bowl still thinking I was drinking about 300ml of beer. The cheerful feeling I had as I rode along after that and the headache I had by day’s end said otherwise. It’s a memory I will always cherish as my introduction to Korea.
The river here is vast and muddy. I still don’t know why I turned away from it to follow a small creek for 5km in the wrong direction given the size of the Han.
In this picture I am pointing at where I was. I should have been on the big blue Han. Not wanting to exascerbate my sense of being lost I opted to backtrack rather than cut across the busy streets.
Back out on the Han I saw first hand what I have read in others’ accounts of Korea: the locals’ daytime camping escapades. It looks like a camp ground but the tents were starting to be packed away as I rode past. People were fully set up with meals and cookers and fishing rods. And they weren’t just singles; all were socialising in groups. In fact, that is probably my initial impression of Korean people: that they are incredibly social. Everytime I’d stop to take a photo someone would ride or walk over offering to take one of me and lots of people tried to ask me questions but I can’t yet make myself understood … I’ll need another couple of days for that.
While following the Han was easy; finding my hostel wasn’t. I found Itaewon with the help of my map and some triangulation to work out where I was on said map. But I didn’t have a street name for my hostel (they don’t use street names in Seoul), only directions. Fortunately, a young lady and her male companion helped me out by using the GPS on their phone. I doubt I would have found the place otherwise in my fatigued state. The hostel (G. Guesthouse in Itaewon) is amazing. It’s quiet, comfortable, the dorms are spacious and I am allowed my bike in the room, Shrek the guy who runs it is a true hotelier, there’s free wifi, a free laundry with detergent, soap and shampoo in the showers, and free breakfast. All for the princely sum of $AU16 a night. I’ll be here for 1 week to allow myself time to get a feel for Korea and to see the many sights in and around Seoul. It will also give me a good chance to do some work and start my next university assignments.
Tonight, despite my fatigue, I went out to explore the streets of Itaewon. This is an expat area so you can get any sort of cuisine you desire. I settled for a Korean dumpling house and ordered mussel soup with dumplings. At 7,000KRW it was good value and tasty.
The map shows the train lines not my route. I can’t seem to get it to show my route. But it gives you an idea of where I went today.