I set off from my hostel around 11:30am with the intention of buying ice cream and coming back home. My university assignment isn’t writing itself but I get distracted while wandering around and find myself following the roads towards a nearby headland. Along the way I pass some 3D artworks and ‘photo spot’ signs.
As I continue my meanderings I pass a huge apartment complex. This is the way people seem to live here in Busan: in apartment complexes. The complexes have shops and cafes on the ground floors of many buildings. The buildings are so tall that there must be thousands of people living in each one. These complexes are dotted all along the coastal and mountain areas of Busan. I have been told that they are all rentals. Residents pay a large deposit upwards of $50,000 to secure an apartment but then don’t pay any rent because the landlord takes rent from the interest earned on the deposit.
Shortly after the last apartments back into a mountain, I pass a small fishing harbour and round a corner to see the Igidae Coastal Path stretch out in front of me. Wooden bridges jut out of the cliffs and suspension bridges cross inlets.
The winds are strong so the sea is roaring. I stand on a gently swaying suspension bridge and watch as waves crash over the rocks below. Water washes into the narrow rocky inlet. As it rushes out it makes the sound of grating like sandpaper running over timber. It’s an eerie sound and, at first, takes me by surprise.
Where the path is low along the waterline the waves come close to drenching me. There are many signs warning hikers that this is a dangerous area for natural disasters. Loud speakers are mounted all over the headland and I imagine their purpose is to warn hikers if there is danger approaching. Not that any of the hikers seem concerned; this is normal on the Korean coastal areas I have traveled where tsunami evacuation routes are well-signed.
The trail periodically leaves the coastal bridges to track through the mud under the pine trees. I guess it’s not always muddy but this week we’ve had a few wet weather days. There are many Koreans hiking today in their full Korean hiking uniforms. Most are older; the young people are probably at work. I see no other westerners on the trail; actually, I have rarely come across westerners outside of youth hostels in Korea. It is a surprise given the number of people I know who have spent a year or more teaching English in Korea. I had anticipated more ex pats or foreign tourists here. But outside Seoul’s Itaewon and the hostels I’ve stayed in I’ve seen almost no blue-eyed wanderers.
I keep following the coastal path around cliffs and past crashing waves. The hustle and bustle of Busan could be a hundred miles away rather than just one mile. The sound of the ocean fills my ears and becomes my entire world for the duration of this 5km hike.
Small creeks cascade through the forest and into the sea.
The hike includes many short steep climbs up flights of stairs. As I walk I realise that the climate here in Busan is totally different to that further north. The leaves here are only just starting to turn yellow while in the northern mountains they are already colouring the mountainsides red.
I reach the path’s end overlooking the Oryukdo Islands. There are many people here taking selfies and group photos in front of the view. Container ships cruise in and out of the port. I imagine all the Samsung, LG, Hyundai and Kia products being exported to the four corners of the world. How interrelated we all are now in this global economy.
I leave the coastal path and follow a road back towards my hostel. It’s another 5km away. The streets here in Busan all either go uphill or downhill as they wind between the cities many mountains. High rise apartments might dominate but nestled between there are still many shack-like neighbourhoods of blue-roofed homes. I haven’t yet explored the alleyways of these old neighbourhoods but will do so now that I’ve oriented myself a bit better in this sprawling metropolis.