Well, it’s taken me a while to write this, but Saturday, September 13, I went on my inaugural Korean hike! We headed to Mt. Palgongsan, one of the larger mountains in Daegu, with some (new to me) friends. First of all, you need to know that hiking is a big deal in Korea. It’s right up there with taekwondo, which is the official national pastime. And people dress the part. I’m talking full-on color-coordinated pants, shirts, and jackets. And! Walking poles! I’m telling you, it’s legit. There’s generally no doubt about who’s going hiking. We got to Mt. Palgongsan around 11:15, and the weather was lovely. We wondered about for a bit in the hopes that we were headed toward the “big Buddha.” Everything along the way was decorated with beautiful lanterns, which I think were left over from Buddha’s Birthday celebrations. It made everything feel so festive and wonderfully Asian! The architecture was beautiful and I couldn’t stop taking pictures of everything. It’s hard to choose what to include in here!
We finally made our way to the big Buddha at Donghwasa Temple, and I found it so serene. This was my first experience of a Buddhist temple–or an Asian temple in general–and it was impressive. I didn’t enter any of the shrine areas; it would feel disrespectful. But I didn’t need to in order to get the effect. It was powerful just to see a holy place in the midst of nature. It made me want to go to church on top of a mountain. Let’s get on that, ATX. Shouldn’t be a problem, right? Post-Buddha we made a few wrong turns and somehow missed pretty much every trail opportunity. We ended up walking on the road all the way back down to the beginning. But not just to the entrance of the park–all the way to the foot of the winding uphill road that leads to the entrance of the park. As in, the road the bus had driven us up before. It was quite the hike just back to square 1. After some revitalizing ice cream, we decided to make the actual hike up to the hermitage. It started with an intense set of stairs, as if to tell me, “Oh, so you think you can hike? Well, welcome to Korea.” But it was beautiful anyway–the weather was perfect; we were in the shade; and at various points we were accompanied by the sound of running water. About 2.6 km later, we made it to the hermitage.
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t an exhausting hike for Neil and me–maybe not so much for everyone else. But it mainly pumped me up for all the other hikes we’re planning to go on while I’m here! The weather keeps cooling off bit by bit and the leaves are starting to change colors. I can’t tell y’all how excited I am to experience a true fall. And in the mountains(ish), no less!