Last Tuesday was a day of rest and relaxation and Wednesday was fun day filled with spontaneous adventure. Around 10am I set out to meet my friend Zoe in Gwangju where we both headed to Damyang to visit the Bamboo forest. We were unsure how to get there exactly, but our plan was to make it to the bus terminal and find someone that can point us in the right direction. Thankfully, the morning was off to a good start and we were able to find the right bus (311 if anyone is interested) no problem. We rode the bus from the Gwangju terminal for about an hour, but the time quickly slipped away as we talked about homestay stresses, the simple pleasure of alone time, and what it really means to be a part of the family. Eventually, we got off the bus and wandered around for a little until we found the forest entrance. The bamboo forest was beautiful. The tall green beams of wood sprawled between the paths and rebounded the bright rays of light. Despite the natural beauty there was a lingering feeling of tourism that was evident in the forest. We saw plastic smiling panda statues which stood in front of photo opp signs and rest stops with message chairs located in front of the bathrooms. We talked about how are pictures don’t show these artifacts, how we cut and paste what we want people to see of our world. This was my first experience of strong tourism since being in Korea, but it was not my first experience in thinking about the ethics of photography.
Nonetheless, I was still enjoying the walk and was hoping that I could find some magnets. It was close to 2pm now and both Zoe and I were hungry. We decided to make our way out of the forest and begin looking for food and our next stop the Gumsungansung Fortress. Unfortunately, we had no clue where anything was, we had a map in hand, but still that wasn’t much. We saw a label on the map that read noodle street so we walked in that direction and shared a bowl of noodles and mangdong (dumplings). After lunch I had some ice cream to top off the meal and then we resumed the hunt for the fortress. We decided it would be best to just flag down a taxi. As we walked we didn’t find any taxis and when we did the driver looked at us confused and was taking us in what we thought was the wrong direction. The driver pulled over when he saw another driver and we finally understood he wanted us to get another taxi going the other way. He was nice enough not to charge us. When we got into the taxi he looked at us kinda strangely (similar to the previous driver) when we said the fortress. We began driving and as we got closer he pointed. We thought the fortress was a walking trail, but when his finger rose high we saw that the fortress sat on one of Korea’s many rolling mountains. Zoe was in flats and a flowly skirt and I was wearing jeans, but we couldn’t turn back now and we figured we would at least check it out. After getting dropped off by the trail entrance we began walking. Despite the weird looks we received for hiking in inappropriate dress we loved the fortress. It was our favorite part of the day. The landscape reminded us of a mini great wall of China (definitely not as intense, but very cool all the same). It was beautiful and sprawled the lengthen of the mountain sides.
We enjoyed walking around and wanted to keep walking when we realized that it was beginning to get late. So just as we came up, we went down. Reaching the starting point we were left with the conundrum of how to get back. There weren’t any cars or buildings around so we just decided to begin walking. We knew eventually there would be a bus stop and hopefully that bus stop would take us to Damyang bus terminal and there we would take another bus to Gwangju bus terminal. Both of us didn’t mind the walk and we were laughing our spontaneity, when I said “What if we try to hitch-hike?” Zoe laughed because at the time my words were a joke. Continuing the joke I raised my thumb and wondered if that was a universal sign. I was still not seriously thinking of hitch-hiking until I was about to lower my hand when Zoe said “keep it up.” I looked back at her and we gave a silent agreement that we would try. A few minutes later we a car saw us and pulled over to give us a ride. We asked the stranger to drop us off at the Damyang bus terminal if possible. He said no problem and we began the drive. The driver was a middle age man in his forties heading back home after a work retreat. We learned that he lived in Gwangju and he offered to take us all the way to the Gwangju terminal if we wanted. Zoe and I looked at each other again and decided he wasn’t a creep and accepted the offer. The driver spoke broken English and when speaking in Korean, spoke slowly so Zoe could understand and for me to follow along every so often. 40 minutes later we arrived at the bus terminal and said our goodbyes. I had bought two packs of bamboo tea in Damyang to give my principal and host family, but I decided to offer one pack to him as a thank you. He was really appreciative and exchanged phone numbers in case our paths would cross again. Now at the terminal Zoe and I were about to split when she invited me back to Mokpo. I knew if I was to head to Mokpo I would end up staying the night and I had no change of clothes, tooth brush, or place to sleep, but I said yes anyway and let the adventure continue.