- Travel Topics
With Japan behind us Vicky and I took some time to reevaluate how we want to spend our days. All in all, we felt very satisfied with the way Japan went, however, there were a few changes I think both of us agreed would serve as improvements.
The first is more authentic experiences. Among travelers, there’s often this underlying quest to get “off the beaten path”. It’s a phrase that people love to throw around, and in many ways, epitomizes the difference between the traveler and the tourist. The traveler strives to go off the beaten path. The tourist, I suppose, beats the path.
However, in my short stint as a “traveler”, I have two observations. The first is that few people ever really go off the beaten path. Most other blogs I follow are a lot of people going to the same places. If people go to Paris, they go to the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, two paths which have been beaten to death. When Vicky and I went to Shirakawago in Japan, we probably thought this was a little, undiscovered town nestled in the Japanese Alps. In reality, we got off the bus with about a dozen other tourists and headed straight for the tourist information office like everyone else.
My second observation is that I’m not terribly sure there’s anything wrong with this.
When Vicky and I go to Paris, we’re going to go to the Eiffel tower – it’s something I want to see, and I’m not going to avoid it just because the path is so beaten it’s probably marked with large, neon lights. We are traveling around the globe and I want to do it our way.
So where do authentic experiences fit in?
Right now, they’re what it really means to be “off the beaten path”. At least, they’re what I’m talking about when I say I want to go off the beaten path. So for Japan, I think of the time that Shutaro took us to the Japanese Onsen. That’s something that few people do and it’s an experience I’ll never forget, despite the fact that it happened right in downtown Kyoto. Or, when instead of going to Tsukiji Market to get our sushi, we went to a sushi restaurant with our Japanese host and truly had the best sushi of our lives. It was hands down the best meal we had in Japan, a great value, and a place that only locals really knew of. Also in Japan, I would have liked to go to a sumo wrestling match, but it wasn’t in season.
So, where does this leave us?
Well, after this long tirade, we’re on the hunt for more authentic experiences, but along the way, we still plan to do all the cute, touristy things like the great wall of China, because, well, how can you not?
The other change to mention, which, luckily, involves much less of a tirade, is simply more things involving nature. I like cities. I like all the things you can do in cities. But too many times, Japan felt like we were in city after city after city, and therefore, we’re going to look to incorporate more hiking and outdoorsy stuff in our days, even if it means we don’t make it to the museum.
This is our current mindset, and it starts with Korea.
Busan is a bustling port city on the southern tip of Korea. We arrived via ferry from Japan, which, in and of itself is a story, but I’ll leave it for another time. We were in Busan for three days, but instead of trying to hit all the sites, Vicky and I went straight for the nature, starting with Beomeosa Temple and a hike up to Godangbong peak.
Despite being in a new country, there is no shortage of Buddhist temples. In fact, Japanese Buddhism really comes from Korea. The temples are very different though. While you may remember the Japanese temples as being “simple”, usually consisting of 3 or 4 colors (black, white, and orange mostly), Korean temples are extremely ornate. The designs and intricate patterns are almost overwhelming and it was refreshing to see a different approach to something I’d seen dozens of times.
Before long, Vicky and I headed off to our hike. The peak is about 800 meters high (but we weren’t sure how far above sea level we were starting). We decided, somewhat arbitrarily, to take the back route. Unlike Japan, Korea is pretty lacking in English signs. It’s the type of place that will tell you, you reached the top but won’t give any indication where you’re going on your way.
Shortly after starting, Vicky and I were lucky enough to stumble upon a young Korean girl in her twenties who was hiking the same peak we were. We eagerly followed behind. This meant keeping up with her the entire way, for fear of getting separated. I think she was going for a personal best that day because she didn’t take a single break.
There isn’t much to say about the ascent. We simply went up, and up, and up. It was arduous and I’m slightly embarrassed to say that at the ripe old age of 24 I feel somewhat over the hill. It was incredibly steep and the kind of hike that you do in silence for lack of extra energy to talk. I did make it though.
I couldn’t wait to make it to the top. We had some snacks waiting and I was sure I was going to park myself on the peak for about 20 minutes while I caught my breath. We had successfully followed our Korean guide, who, by the way, spoke literally zero English.
I could see the peak ahead, but something wasn’t right. Our guide looked perplexed. As fate would have it, there were a group of Korean men enjoying a picnic out by a nearby tree. Some words were exchanged. My Korean is pretty shabby but the message was utterly clear.
We had hiked up the wrong peak.
The furious pointing confirmed this. At some point we had veered right when we should have gone left, which situated us about 2 km from the peak. If you can imagine the way mountains look, this meant we were going to have to descend about halfway, and then go back up.
So we did.
And it was terrible, but in the end, as promised, the view was sweet.