Autumn Trekking and Pine Mushroom Festival

Autumn Trekking and Pine Mushroom Festival

29-30 September 2007

Seokjin and the team did it again with yet another fantastic adventure. I'm always asked 'Have you been on many tours with these guys?' Usually I just smile and reply "Hmmm, quite a few" Actually it's nearly 20 so far in less than 18 months, and I haven't been disappointed yet.

Outside of Seoul there is so much to see and do. AK makes it so easy to go. Choose a tour, send your money and turn up on time, the rest is taken care of. Don't worry about anything: transport, maps or accommodation, even clean rest stops are found regularly enough to keep the long bus rides enjoyable.

On this trip we were off to an early start, leaving a dull gray Seoul to visit the beautiful east coast countryside and once again breathe fresh air. We stopped a couple of times, the second time at a rest stop, overlooking the East Sea. The beach there was so inviting, but we had a schedule to keep and knowing Seokjin we were already expected at the festival. So we piled back on the bus to head to our first activity.

We arrived at the Pine Mushroom Festival and like good little lambs, followed Seokjin right past it. Our photographers were already there, snapping every move we made. We lined up in front of two huge flower people for what was to become the first of many group shots of the weekend. After the photo we scattered, all aiming for whatever had caught our attention on our quick fly-by.

There were quite a few things to check out. I started with some traditional paintings and beautiful photos of the area but we were only given a few hours to check it all out so we had to move. There was a small museum with lots of hands on exhibits to try. There was a huge plastic tree made up of fruits and vegetables sitting near the museum, great for photos. Also a lovely glasshouse, with exotic cacti and flowers, from all over the world.

On the outside there was a Songi (Pine mushroom) auction, pottery making and some traditional crafts as well as Korean games, swings and food.

After the auction Seokjin and Sydney herded us back together, where we enjoyed the sweet sounds of the locals singing on stage as if they were in a Noraebang. They'd got us together for a reason, six of us had been chosen to participate in arm wrestling. Me included! After waiting a while we watched as a table was brought up on stage and the MC announced what was going to happen. The 6 of us made our way on stage, not really knowing what we were in for. This is the countryside and the 2 other gals and I were picturing strong hardy farm type locals to compete against, not like the petite city folk we are used to seeing in Seoul. The guys went first. They looked imposing, young and fit, or at least strong, but unbelievably the first local to come up, an average sized, older, Korean man who beat all three of them to win a huge 10kg bag of rice. Not at all what we were expecting and the crowd loved it. One of them can take on all the waeguks and come out champion. Next it was us gals. None of us wanted to go first because we wanted to check out the competition. Luckily Sarah Pickle finally offered, but after brief introductions she LOST! These people are machines!!!

Shakily I stepped up to the table. Sydney translated for me and gave me a few hints about arm wrestling, and then we started. Then finished pretty quickly, one for the foreigners! I was happy to win one for the team. The defeated woman left and another took her place, again, she was introduced, and even pointed out her family cheering her on. But this match only lasted a few seconds, in my favour. Then three women wanted to arm wrestle with me. Sydney told me I could choose one, but I opted for gawi, bawi, bo instead. The winner seemed pretty tough. From the moment she grabbed my hand she put on the pressure, the introductions took a bit longer than for anyone else. Then a bag of rice was brought up to the table. One of the judges put some money in an envelope too, which was added to the prize. Hey, more incentive to win. I felt like I needed it, this woman was trying to push me down and we hadn’t even started. When the MC counted us in, after a short match I brought her arm down to win the massive bag of rice, (that I didn't know what do to with) and the money. The MC asked if I would consider giving the rice to the Korean woman, but I shrugged, and so she left. Well, she didn't win and the other losers didn't get anything either, right?

After the show, we had another group picture, then I lugged my rice back to the bus, as a few people congratulated me on my win. Now we were off to go pine mushroom hunting. Our bus stopped at the side of a hill and we jumped off and grouped together to get instructions. We were each given a sharpened stick, which came in handy to get us up the hill as well as its intended purpose of digging up the mushrooms. After a fast, tough climb we were split into small groups and shown how to dig up the mushrooms. We were then shown where to dig and photographed at every turn as we uprooted and pulled them free. We were only allowed to dig one each, due the expense of these rare mushrooms. They can be priced at anywhere between 10,000 and 250,000 won. Hard to believe the dirty fungi we were now carrying was worth that much. At the bottom we were treated to some piping hot, fresh mushroom soup, before getting back on the bus and going off to our final destination for the day.  At the hotel, we were assigned rooms and had half an hour to settle in before our samgyupsal dinner, along with our mushrooms.  We ripped up the mushrooms and added them to our BBQ.  Not being a big fan of even the cheap ones, I thought I'd at least give them a go. They tasted just like I expected them to, so it's hard to believe the price now. Still I’m glad I got the chance to try them.

After dinner we were free to do whatever we wanted. There was a sauna in the hotel, and the small town had a selection of bars, and noraebangs within walking distance. So most people headed out for a late night painting the town red.

The spa was open again at 5am; so I headed down to have a morning soak as soon as I woke up. I'm such a freak getting up early like that but I can't help it. However I'm glad I did. It wasn’t so busy then, even though the natives thought I was crazy when I was comfortable cooling off in the cold pool. Around 7am most of the AK folk had managed to pull themselves off the floor to join the early birds for breakfast.

We then packed up and went to Bulyeong valley. It was a good way to see the wonderful valley scenery. We stopped at a small rest area and got ready for the hike. Seokjin led the way to the river, and we had another group photo. We had been given an option of going part way then turning back later if we thought it was too tough. So our group shot was early in case some people turned back later on.

It started off easily enough, but I knew there's no way that Seokjin would lead us on an easy walk. After all it is Adventure Korea, not Take it easy Korea. And sure enough we turn a corner and then have to climb up a few rocks to continue up the river. This continues; rock climbing and climbing over small stones, all the while trying not to have to cross the river and get wet. That was until we saw the best diving pool, deep and really close to a high rock. Several people jumped off. So the group came to a halt for playtime.

My friend and I took a few pics than carried on our way. All we knew was to keep heading up the river. How we did it was up to us, but we decided to do our best not to get wet. It's harder than you might think. We were moving pretty slowly so everyone eventually caught up with us, but then they crossed the river, while we clambered over ever growing rocks and gripping on to the side of small cliffs so we wouldn’t have to go in the water. By the time almost everyone had passed easily on the other side, we were at a rock face that only Spiderman should have attempted. However we did give it a go, and slowly and steadily made it. It was such a relief to be on horizontal ground again, but then we realised that we would have to go in the river no matter what.

Luckily by this time no one was around as I gingerly took my first few steps. But on the first slippery rock I fell right on my ass, into water that was now up to my waist. I haven't moved so fast in years. My camera was in a bag on my belt and my phone and I-pod were in my pocket. Luckily I got them out of the water, and I'm happy to say they are all still working. But now I was drenched. I gave up climbing from then on and trudged through the river, to catch up with everyone else. At one point we all had to walk through water that was up to our armpits, carrying our bags and stuff above our heads. Looking back at the people behind me I imagined us as P.O.W.'s being forced to continue up the river at gun point. Damn funny to see. I am impressed with the cameramen and their expensive equipment, they didn't seem at all worried about slipping and getting wet.

We still had several more rocks to climb over before we reached the 4km mark. It’s hard to believe that it took us 4 hours to walk such a short distance.

At the end, most people rinsed off sandy shoes and some got changed in a makeshift lava lava changing room on the side of the road. Then we were off to lunch. It was late, and we were all starving, so a big bowl of Bibimbap was exactly what we needed.

The trip back to Seoul was a little long, but we got to watch a movie for most of the ride back, and my friends and I played lots of games too.

On the whole it was another awesome trip, I am still recovering from the rock-climbing workout, but I'd do it again, once my muscles are back to normal. Actually, I'm already signed up for the next trip.