I have heard a lot about the Four River Rides and the passport that you get stamped at certification centers. So one of the draw cards of my visit to Andong was it’s location at the start of the Nakdonggang bicycle path. This path forms part of the Seoul to Busan ride that I was originally going to do here in Korea before I got side tracked. I was pleasantly surprised that the certification center at Andong Dam had passports for sale so I bought one as a souvenir.
The moonlight bridge near the dam is the longest wooden bridge in Korea. Even on an overcast day it is beautiful. I walked across the bridge to stand under the autumn coloured trees on the other side. A woman came over and asked me where I was from. She then called over her 10 year old daughter who had to do a school assignment in which she interviewed someone in English. The girl was small and shy. At first she didn’t even want to look at me because she was so embarrassed. So I knelt down to her height and tapped on her shoulder. “Anyonghaseyo” I said smiling. “I only know two Korean words: anyonghaseyo and komapsumnida” I said, nodding at her mother to translate. The little girl giggled a little and turned halfway around to see who this strange person was who couldn’t even speak Korean. “My name is Andrew. What is your name?” I said slowly to her. And there it was … the ice was broken and she was curious now. With her mother filming the interaction on her mobile phone (a Samsung of course) the little girl asked me some questions including what my favourite place in Korea is (the answer was Yangyang and Andong), where I am from (Australia) and what my favourite Korean food is (my response of fried chicken brought a big smile). The girl was from Gumi and went to an English language institute there. She introduced me to her father who works in a company (that is how she described he works in an office) but is a mountain rescue instructor too. Her father is clearly where the girl gets her shyness from so the mother explained that he was going to travel to Australia soon to teach a mountain rescue course. It’s spontaneous situations like this that make me wonder why so many people are xenophobic. After-all, we are all just people who happen to speak different languages or have different customs. And it confirmed to me that children all over the world are going to be our global future in tomorrow’s connected world.
Back in Andong I came to the mask park. Andong is famous for it’s traditional masks and the annual mask festival (which I missed by only a week). I had a lot of fun posing with the various masks and like the way they are specifically set up for photos.
After weeks of riding through Korea’s countryside on local roads the cycleway came as a bit of a shock. In some ways it was a pleasant change: there was no traffic and navigation was simply a matter of following the path and signs. But in other ways it was disappointing in the same way that a motorway is disappointing after traveling country roads. The cyclepath skirts around cities and towns, never actually entering them. This means there are limited on-track opportunities for spontaneous stops at little shops or historic sites. It also reduces you to an observor of Korean life rather than a part of it because you race past people working rather than interacting with them in villages and local tourist attractions. You also don’t get the same feel for the land because the cycleway takes the path of least resistance (except in a few places where there are ridiculous 13-18% climbs to get you off the river). Just as motorways are not bad, neither is the cycleway. But I definitely prefer to ride out on the road amongst the traffic, villages and mountain passes.
That’s not to say that the path didn’t go through and past some beautiful spots. I rode through this picturesque rice paddy.
Past these stunning riverside cliffs.
And across the vast expanse that is Korea’s inland rivers.
Everywhere Korean farmers were working on the harvest.
These cute little tractors cut rice while couples of men and women worked together to collect and bundle it by hand. I find the rice cutting machines rather cute and think perhaps they could be the subject of a Pixar movie (they would have to be the goodies).
In another field a digger with two big prongs on the end dug into the dirt while women pulled sweet potatoes out of the ground. It was rather disconcerting for me being someone who comes from a country where health and safety has become so silly that almost nothing seems to be allowed anymore. But I like the ingenuity and am intrigued by the way rural life seems to be modernising here in Korea and the practices that have developed as a result.
Korean tourist practices also intrigue me. All over the country I have watched as grown men and women pose formally for photos only to break the formality with peace signs and riotous laughter. I like the playfullness and joy of it.
The cultural difference flows both ways because it seems the Koreans cannot understand why I am taking photos of places without being in it. So sometimes I hand over my camera and allow someone to take a photo with me in it. It makes them happy and perhaps I will look back and wish I had some photos of myself that weren’t selfies.
In Sangju I notice a man fishing in a blow up boat. I figure it’s a sign that paddling is allowed in this place on the Nakdonggang (river) so I park my bike, whip out the packraft and get some air into it. It’s already 4.30pm so I don’t have long to get myself out on the water before dark.
Again I don’t paddle far. I just drift a bit so that I can keep an eye on my bike. Besides, after cycling about 85km since my late start in Andong (I didn’t leave until 11am) I just want to enjoy sensation of being on the water. I enjoy about 40 minutes of paddling pleasure before it’s time to find a place to camp.
And what a place I manage to find. There is an island in the middle of the river near Sangju with lots of little pagodas on it. I go to one on the far side of the river where I enjoy a pleasang night listening to fish jumping in the water and wake to hear a flautist’s music eminating from somewhere in the woods opposite.