I am a little sad to be leaving Daegu after five lovely days at the Empathy Guesthouse. The people there made me feel welcome and Daegu felt a little like a home away from home. But I have to keep moving towards Busan so I pack my gear, say my goodbyes and set off into Daegu’s Saturday morning traffic.
At the river I see a large group of people all wearing the same jackets. Many are wearing what look like race numbers: the kind you wear for a marathon or something. I stop to see what’s happening. A lady is singing on stage and there is a blow up arc like a race start line. Ray and Lisa, a Korean couple who have been living in the US for 40 years come to talk with me. They tell me this is a gathering of over 300 Koreans who live abroad. They are taking part in a big tour of Korea together and today they will be going on a walk; I guess like a fun walk. We talk some and I give Ray my contact details so they can look me up when they visit their friends in Sydney over the Australian summer.
It’s a beautiful Saturday morning. The sun is shining, a light breeze is blowing and there are lots of people out enjoying the day. I pass a “lesports park” where a group of men are playing foot volleyball. I’ve never heard of this game before, let alone seen it in action. It looks like a lot of fun. And, of course, in true Korean style there are lots of marquees set up with families eating and drinking lots of good food.
Nearby my eye is caught by something more familiar: a group of Indian men playing cricket. It’s summer at home and I just know this same scene is being played out all over Australia on a Saturday morning. It’s funny what symbols we find of home.
Sports are being played everywhere along the river at parks and grounds. The most common that I see is soccer. It makes me think of my sister and her husband who are big fans of the game.
As I ride I look back down the river towards the city from which I came. It sits shimmering on the water like a mirage. Travel can be like that … once I move on from a place it becomes part of a distant past almost immediately as I move towards the next stage of my adventures.
For most of the day the river path makes for easy riding. I don’t have to think too much to know which way to go, there is little traffic and the path is relatively flat. I say relatively because there are some sections along the path that are just ridiculous with gradients over 20%. But other than these sections the path just rolls along.
Many cyclists are out enjoying the path. Husbands and wives wear matching jerseys. Many cyclists play music out loud without earphones. It is amusing when matching pairs of riders are playing different music while riding together. Young solo male riders seem threatened when I overtake them with my loaded bike so sprint away competitively only to walk up the next incline while I ride past. Young couples ride along on matching bicycles. When there is a climb the girl generally gets off with a resigned look on her face while the guy pushes her bicycle up the hill and waits. I see no solo female riders along the path. Perhaps they have better things to do with their Saturdays.
I stop at a popular pagoda and learn that I have been doing pagodas all wrong here in Korea: I should have been taking my shoes off. Oh well, live and learn. People try to talk with me but I cannot understand them. Some questions are familiar, like where are you from, where have you been and where are you going. Some comments are familiar also like that looks heavy and well done. But I know I am the subject of conversation that I can’t understand because they look at me, fiddle with my bike and laugh. I love how they try to talk more slowly to help me understand but still I cannot. Sign language isn’t such a big thing here; they just talk more loudly or slowly. It makes me think of how Australians sometimes try to communicate with foreigners at home … I can attest that louder and slower does not mean more understandable if the person cannot understand the words in the first place.
I cross bridge after bridge along the river as the sun sparkles off her waters. This southern section of the cycle path is much more picturesque than the sections from Andong to Daegu. Or perhaps I am rested and enjoying it more.
I reach an old Joseon era Confucian School. It’s a pretty group of buildings that harp back to another era. The paint work has been carefully restored in colours I will now always associate with Korea. Many local tourists are here taking photos and looking around. Like so many historic places, it is free to enter and take in the country’s history.
The landscape here is deeply rooted in an agrarian culture. Tractors move slowly, rice is dried on the roads and couples work the fields. Nothing seems rushed. It is as though the farmers know that the seasons will keep changing, the work will always be demanding and not much is likely to change for them. There are no young people here in the fields and I still wonder what will happen to Korea’s food supply as the older people pass one. Will young people bring technological advancements to farming? Will backpackers be relied upon for manual labour in exchange for the experience of working on a farm? It’s a conundrum being played out all over the developed world and Korea appears to be no exception.
Every climb reveals yet more rice, vegetables and poly tunnels stretching out to the horizon in every gap between the mountains.
I see some fishermen in a boat hauling nets. It is late in the afternoon and they are moving slowly with the Nakdonggang’s flow.
I hear music and Buddhist prayer chants echoing from a hillside. My map says the path here splits with the riverside route being challenging and steep. But still I am drawn to the chanting sound; it intrigues me and is the first Buddhist chanting I have heard in some time. The two guards at the base of the hillside path should have served as warnings for what was to come but still I pushed on.
A sign and some idols mark the start of the temple area.
Nearby there is a stone pagoda. The chanting sound is coming from some nearby speakers. There doesn’t appear to be anyone here but perhaps I am wrong. It’s a very small temple that is not marked on any of my maps. The location is beautiful and I learn later from a passing cyclist that you can stay there for free.
I reach the top of the climb as the sun is starting to set over a pretty pagoda. It’s quiet up here away from the houses with only the cycle path for passing traffic. I sit in the last of the sunshine relaxing. A few cyclists stop by and we talk before they move on. As darkness descends I pitch my tent, cook some food and watch the lights of the towns along the river through the trees.