Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Adventure is out there! (Weekend pt. 3)

After a brief five-hour nap, I woke up in the early morning, got down off the bunk bed at the hostel, and checked the time. 6am. Still a bit early to actually be awake. Torn between wanting to catch a few more minutes of sleep and being unwilling to get back up onto the bunk bed, I resumed my nap on the floor of the hostel until 6:15.

Half an hour later, I was up, chatting with Jason and Katelyn outside and eating free toast and jam provided by the Pencil Guesthouse. Soon, our adventure group was all ready to go, and we made our way to the meet-up point by 7am.

Our day trip was organized by Adventure Korea, a wonderful company that organizes events and outings for expats all throughout the year. Korena, a fellow Fulbright ETA, got wind of their last whitewater rafting trip of the year and encouraged as many Fulbrighters as possible to sign up. As a result, a Fulbright cohort of about eighteen joined two other groups of expats (a few teachers and a bunch of guys somehow connected to the military) for a trip to the Hantan River (한탄강) in Gangwon Province.
Fulbrighters before our big rafting adventure! Note the mountains and the perfect weather. :)
Some of the best areas in South Korea for "extreme" outdoorsy stuff is in Gangwon Province, which is one of the most rural and wild regions of the country. It shares a border with the DMZ and North Korea, has almost no large cities, and also has the coldest weather come wintertime. But the countryside is spectacular come early autumn: intricately shaped mountain ranges in the distance are preceded by endless expanses of wildflowers (which is like, what? since when does Asia look like Switzerland?) and crystal-clear rivers snake their way around the green fields of the many farms. There were also plenty of pretty vacation homes in the city that we were in specifically, Cheorwon (철원).
So there's Jason and me. And then there's Katelyn, trying so hard. So hard. ;)
When we arrived at the rafting place, I was totally psyched. I'd never been rafting (래프팅) before, and here I now had the opportunity to not only raft with my friends, but also to raft in such a beautiful location. As we learned on the trip, the particular stretch of the river where we started was the old crater of an extinct volcano that had split in two. I'm not even a good enough writer to describe how amazing it was during slower portions of the river just to lean back in the raft and take in the surroundings. 아름다운 경치, indeed...
A shot of me rafting on the Hantan River! (taken by Jason)
Happy and on a boat! (taken by Jason)
We were ten to a boat in five boats, including a guide for each one. Our guide was named Yedeok (if I remember correctly), and he was a nice guy with a quiet sense of humor -- which is to say, he would quietly push unsuspecting people out of the raft when the current was slower. Because his English was basically nonexistent and my Korean was the least nonexistent of my group, however, I found myself having to translate some of what he told us in terms of instructions, which was an unexpected and mildly alarming experience.

As soon as we found our rhythm (literally), though, it was fantastic and nothing but fun. Of course, I didn't catch any of the actual rafting on film (or on memory card?), but fortunately, Jason had a waterproof digital camera and took excellent photos. I'm posting some of them here, courtesy his Facebook.

Overall, the "whitewater" part of the rafting trip was not as exciting as I'd hoped. It was fun, of course, but each patch of whitewater was separated by long (relaxing, peaceful, beautiful) stretches of calm water. I didn't mind, really. I sang "Down to the River to Pray" and watched dragonflies (잠자리) fly around and played the splash-the-other-rafts-when-they-get-close game, along with everyone else. All too soon, it was over, and we bused back to the starting point to shower and have lunch.
At several points during the trip, we all got out of the rafts and had a bit of fun. Here, the guides turned the rafts into a makeshift water slide into the river. Ammy (above) did some kind of cool corkscrew jump. Awesome! (taken by Jason)
All of the Fulbrighters at the halfway point of our river adventure. We look good in life jackets and red helmets. (courtesy Jason)
And then... AND THEN! It was time to go BUNGEE JUMPING! 번지점프!

BUNGEE JUMPING! Off of a 50-meter (170-ish feet) bridge! In Korea! On a beautiful, sunny day! And with members of a Korean motorcycle gang watching and cheering! Do I even need to say any more? The location of the bungee jumping was called 백마레저 (Baekma Lejeo, or... "White Horse Recreation"?), or maybe that's the name of the company, anyway, we drove onto a bridge, walked into a small building constructed in the middle of the bridge, suited up, and jumped.

Well, it wasn't as quick as that. There was a lot of time spent getting everyone suited up, and each jump, while brief in and of itself, took up to five minutes total due to the wait time in collecting the jumper after the fact and clearing the way for the next person. I was eighth to go, which was enough time to become sufficiently nervous. Especially since I was looking at this the whole time:
What a view! On the right is the jumping platform. I waited on it for quite some time.
Anyone who knows me well is aware that I absolutely love thrill-seeking in the form of rollercoasters. Ever since I was little, I've loved the feeling of free-fall and the gut-twisting adrenaline rush from inversions and G-forces. But I'd never done anything quite like bungee jumping before now (perhaps the Big Swing at Chapter Camp comes close), and yes, I was nervous. I had sweaty palms.
Jason, Katelyn, and I are smiling on the outside and going crazy on the inside. (taken by Ammy)
But my turn came soon enough. Right before I jumped, I wasn't thinking anything. I took a running start, and then... "WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING AAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!"

Except that was all in my head; I didn't actually say anything as I leapt off the platform. I just felt free-fall and my body froze up for three long, long seconds. Then, the cord went taut, stretched, and bungee'd me back up to the bridge, and it was AWESOME!

And it was beautiful (have I said that enough times yet?), and it felt just a little bit like flying. It was also a tad uncomfortable because of the harness and certain delicate body parts that it constricted, but thanks to adrenaline, I felt nothing but the rush of having done something crazy that I've always wanted to do. Bucket list item: CHECK!
A photo from ground level. I'm that black speck in the white sky. (taken by Ben W.)
Here is a video of my jump from ground level, taken on Ammy's camera. You can view it if you are friends with Ammy or me on Facebook. And here is a video taken from the bridge, courtesy Lauren. You can view it if you are friends with Lauren or me on Facebook. (Start watching from 0:30.) This was the video I showed my students this week, in conjunction with an explanation of how items on a Bucket List are actually meant to be completed! Follow your dreams, kids!
After my jump, I watched the rest of the Fulbrighters do their thing, and I also took some neat photos from the bridge. I'm grateful for high-speed continuous shooting. If I have time, I'll make a gif/stop motion thing of some peoples' jumps. For now, here's just a few photos.
Dan in mid-free-fall.
Ben, right after his jump.
He was anchored at the ankles... ouch!
So that's that. Adventure is out there, and I look forward to doing many other crazy things in Korea! Maybe I'll try ice-fishing in January, sea kayaking off the coast of Jeju Island, caving, or a 10k run. Any suggestions?

After the two-hour bus ride back to Seoul, I bought a cheap dinner and a ticket for the 7:40 bus back to Changwon. After a little under four hours (the evening return trip, having no traffic, was much faster than the first trip), I arrived home. Fortunately, the bus stopped at the train station before heading farther south to the actual bus terminal, and because the train station is only a fifteen minute walk away from my apartment, I hurried off there and arrived home before midnight. Thus ends the second Seoul weekend. It was a blast. And for my own future reference, here is what I spent:

My 2nd Seoul Weekend, price-wise!
Transportation: 2 one-way express bus tickets, Changwon-Seoul; a little under 30,000₩ each
Transportation: random taxis and total metro fare; ~20,000₩ (but taxi fare was split among friends)
Food: 2 full meals on Saturday, 2 cheap meals on Sunday; 15,000₩ (I'm serious.)
Adventure Korea: rafting fee, transportation, and lunch; 49,000₩
Adventure Korea: bungee jumping; 35,000₩

Yeah, I brought about 150,000₩ with me for the weekend and spent all of it. What really blew a whole in my wallet was the unexpected high price of transportation. Oh well. It was still all completely worth it!

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