The sun rise over industrial Donghae is stunning. Construction sites and factories form intriguing shapes against the red horizon. I’ve slept well, eaten a good breakfast and am on the road fairly early (by my standards).
Nearby women and men prepare their stalls at the Donghae Five Day Traditional Market. All manner of vehicle is used to bring the goods to market. Little blue trucks litter the street as older marketeers unload bundles of vegetables that seem heavier than the people lifting them. Wheelbarrows are pushed down the road as though the trucks and cars bustling about don’t exist. Pumpkins, shallots, Korean radishes and dried chillies are just some of the items you can buy here.
I follow the signs towards a nearby beach. Before I can reach my first destination of the day I come across what will become a familiar sight over the coming days: rice being dried in the middle of the road. I’m guessing that the road is perfect for drying rice because it is dry, relatively clean and heats up during the day. So why not just put out some witches’ hats, lay down a tarp and rake the rice down. Besides, it’s right next to the paddy so that saves on transport costs.
I come to a rocky beach. It’s tucked away in a cove just after the industrial zone ends. If I had arrived from the south and stopped here I wouldn’t even guess that Donghae is an industrial hub. The golden sun creates silhouettes of the rocks and I walk a short path around the headland to properly enjoy it.
An old building stands sentry at the head of the beach. It’s yet another example of the way the traditional and modern blend almost effortlessly together here.
Navigation becomes easier as I follow the coast. Whenever the road deviates I can look for one or both the new east coast cycleway or the Romantic Road of Korea. The cycleway is well-signed where it exists (I believe it is under construction and not yet complete, which is why I keep finding places where it disappears) and the Romantic Road of Korea is clearly signed in most places (it sometimes disappears in towns, which might also be because I deviate from its course). The road is actually quite romantic with plenty of places to stop and take in ocean views and see cool tourist attractions.
If you do come to the east coast of Korea to cycle, this is an example of the blue line that has been painted on the road for you to follow. In other places there are pictures of bicycles followed by two chevrons indicating the direction you should travel and often there are also signs that are similar to those on the four river cycleways. Unlike the river paths, much of this cycleway follows quiet coastal roads rather than being on dedicated cycleway but don’t let that put you off because the roads have little traffic and are away from the main highways.
There’s no shortage of fishing villages today either. Drying seems to be a popular method of preserving seafood here. I can’t help but wonder whether the drying of vegetables and seafood is a response to Korea having four distinct seasons (or so I am told by Koreans). Winter is approaching and perhaps drying is how food is stored for that season.
Despite being on the coast the ride is no doddle. The mountains here drop right down into the sea. And no concrete has been wasted when building the roads. I discover that a 13% grade is too steep for me to ride with a fully loaded bike and clip pedals that no longer release reliably. After about 50m I get off to push the bike.
The climbs are rewarded with stunning ocean views of water so clear that you can see the changes in depth.
At one tiny village I can resist no longer and, seeing no signs forbidding swimming, I unpack my raft, blow it up and push off into the sea.
I say that like I actually went somewhere but I didn’t. Rather, I bobbed around on the water just a few metres off the beach enjoying the crystal clear view of the ocean floor and surrounding rocks. Small waves rocked me gently as I watched an old lady watching me from the shore. For about half an hour I just bob there not going anywhere or doing anything. It’s a magical feeling.
Paddle over I dry my raft in the sun, pack and set off up yet another seaside mountain climb. At the top I find Haesindang Park with it’s famous phallic statues. That’s right … a whole park dedicated to the male member. Most of the other guests of the park (entry 3,000 won) are small groups of women giggling with each other. I even spot a nun wearing a habit amoung one of the groups. I spot two young couples holding hands with lovestruck grins on their faces and a couple of men looking embarrassed being led around by their wives. There is a large fishing village museum in the middle of the park but I don’t see anyone entering it.
While some of the statues are rather erotic and suggestive, others are more creative. They have been placed here to appease the spirit of a young lady who drowned when a wave swamped a nearby island. She was a seaweed collector and loved a local fisherman. He took her to a small island to collect seaweed and said he would return after his day fishing. When the time came for him to collect the lady a storm broke out and made it impossible for him to reach the island. During the storm the island was swamped by a wave and the lady drowned. Thereafter, the village suffered poor catches until someone made an offering of a phallic statue in the shrine. After that statue was offered, the village again had successful catches so more statues were added to continue to appease the lady. The entire walking route is about 1.5km (1 mile) return and there are many statues to be seen.
In the village itself rows and rows of squid hang out to dry as women sell all manner of dried seafood. A lady gives me a couple of small cooked fish from her lunch barbecue and asks nothing in return. I have already indicated that I am not buying any of the big piles of squid and fish that have been bundled for sale. I would if there was just one squid but I really do have no need for the family sized bulk pack.
I reach Hasan-ri where I see a big sign advertising a motel. It’s a tempting sight and it’s after 3pm but I decide to push on to find a place to camp. A closed camping ground across the river looks tempting but, again, Hasan-ri is an industrial place and something doesn’t feel right about camping here. Perhaps it’s my desire not to freeload or the signs with red letters and barrier across the entrance to the park. Whatever it is, I can’t relax here and I need a good night sleep.
There are two options from here: a coast road or a mountian route. What I don’t realise is that the coast road will connect with the mountain route by the most direct path. After pushing my bike about 200m up yet another unrideable climb and seeing that it will continue for about 1km, I turn around and ride back to Hasan-ri to stay in the motel. It turns out to be a very strangely decorated love motel with huge posters of scantily clad women on the walls, a massive mirror above the bed, and a condom and packet of lube on the dresser. What is nice though is the upmarket aftershave and moisturiser that is also on the bedstand. Oh how glorious it feels to smell human again after having been Mr Stinky the past few days.