|Tacky bus shelters|
The trees in the orchards were heavy with ripe red apples and huge peaches.The abundance of fruit was surprising, given how expensive it is to buy fruit here: apples 1 pound each, peaches nearly 2 pounds. Above these the steep hillsides were covered with broadleaved forest.
|Bark Roofed Mountain Houses|
At about 400m above sea level the climb steepened but it was only another 100m climb to the col and a long descent to Jimbo, stopping on the way to view a 'Mountain Village' reconstruction.
|Traditional fermenting pots|
We had planned to overnight in Jimbo but it was only 2.30pm and Andong was just 35km further so we carried on. At this point Karen discovered that she had lost her bike computer somewhere in the previous 10km. Damn.
A passing motorist stopped and handed us a much appreciated bottle of cold water through his car window. From Jimbo the road was a roller coaster along Highway 34. The traffic was light and there was a broad hard shoulder most of the time. The road dropped down to, and crossed, the reservoir formed by the Imha Dam and from there it was fast and flat all the way to Andong with the last 5km on a cycle lane.
Andong to Sangju - 83km
It was a late start this morning following breakfast at Dunkin Donuts ( not very nice donuts!). We planned to leave Andong on the cycle path which runs along the banks of the Nakdong River. There was just a four lane highway and a railway to get over to reach it.
|Sculpture on Cycle Bridge|
Running along the wide river banks, well away from any roads, the cycle path was peaceful and the sun was shining again . There was no-one around and not any other cyclists.
When we returned to the bikes, Karen's tyre was flat. It had punctured over a spoke hole. Steve repaired it but it punctured again in exactly the same place as he inflated it. After re-doing the patch he blew it up again and it punctured in a different place. Time for a new inner tube.
The ethnic village was 1km further along the road so we left bikes at the ticket office under the watchful eyes of the two guys selling tickets and caught the free shuttle bus down to the village. Actually it would have been better to go down on the bikes and ride around the village.
|Thatched village houses|
We were a bit disappointed with the village. Lonely Planet waxed lyrical about how authentic it was with its dusty roads and lively village life but we found all the roads have now been concreted so that visitors can hire electric carts to ride around in. All the buildings have been rebuilt, nobody seemed to be living there. It all seemed too scrubbed up and perfect.
Because of the puncture delay we didn't set off again until 4pm and still had more than 50km to ride to our planned destination. We rode like demons along the cycle path. In the late afternoon there were a few more cyclists about. A couple of young men on mountain bikes had no idea of why and when to change gear. At an uphill ramp both of them ground to a halt because they were in a high gear. We nearly crashed into them as we changed down and powered up the ramp.
|Dusk views approaching Sangju|
With daylight starting to run out we checked the map and saw that it would be better to leave the river and go cross country on NR 914. This took us through cattle country but all of the beasts were in sheds, not grazing green fields. There were a few low hills to climb but some fast descents as well.
A man in a car tried to have a conversation with Karen while she was hurtling down a hill at 30kmh and he was driving on the wrong side of the road with traffic having to swerve past him. The sun set impressively behind the hills and we had to put the lights on to get into Sangju, through the rush hour traffic, and find a hotel.
Sangju to Yeongdong - 59km
After our hard day yesterday we had no appetite to get up early. As we went to put bags on bikes we remembered that Karen's Rohloff hub had an oil leak which was dripping onto her wheel rim and making the brakes squeal. The next 90mins was spent in a cafe drinking coffee while Steve made some phone calls to determine whether there was a Rohloff supplier in South Korea who could do a repair.
While he was busy with this Karen was entertained watching a big military parade which was going past the cafe window. There were a couple of military bands, lots of marching soldiers and vehicles towing field guns. It went on for quite some time and all the traffic was backed up down the street. A little old lady came along. She was tiny anyway but also had a badly bent back.
She was determined to cross the street and was probably old enough to remember the war. A soldier on traffic duty asked her to wait but she wouldn't listen and set off in front of a huge lorry. Another two soldiers joined in the restraint and managed to hold her back for a minute or two but she ignored all three of them and crossed the road.
|We love the spelling problems in Korea|
We set off on a different route from the original plan. The Korea Tourist Map showed a bicycle museum about 5km down the NR25 so we went this way in hope of finding something interesting. It was no great surprise when no bicycle museum materialised. The villages along the way were smelly with intensive cattle sheds.
|Grapes ripening in bags|
For our picnic lunch we stopped at a shady little rest house in a village. It was a busy place with villagers coming and going to the field on tractors and on foot.They were all happy to see two foreigners, waving and smiling at us.
Walking out to find some food that evening we came across the most adorable puppy in a pen at the roadside. Had he not been quite so big we might have stolen him.
Yeongdong to Jinan - 80km
It was raining again when we woke. Steve's tyre was flat and he had a problem with his gears. With those problems sorted we set off in search of breakfast but once again everywhere offering coffee was closed at 9am. Koreans only seem to drink coffee in the evenings and the shops don't seem to open till around lunchtime. so we brought cakes at a bakery then went into a 7/11 and got coffee.
The rain continued steadily for the rest of the day as we gradually gained altitude riding up a river valley on highway 68. This area is famous for its ginseng. The valley is beautiful with some high water cut cliffs and attractive waterfalls but it is also the site of yet another motorway building project.
Arriving at the outskirts of Geumsan we found ourselves in a busy road junction between the new expressway and the highway, a six lane road which we had to cross to escape onto a local lane. Today was ginseng market day and there were long queues of cars and buses and lots of security.
|Rest House Lunch|
The low mood continued when we arrived in Jinan with very few accommodation options. The first one was dirty and only had ondon (i.e. mats on the floor) rooms. Over the road was a slightly better option, at least it had beds, but the pillows were gross, filled with something which felt and sounded like hula-hoops.
Jinan to Jeonju - 39km
It set off climbing an old tarmac road, now closed to traffic which took us about half way up the mountain.
From there we continued on foot up a fixed stairway together with a large party of Korean hikers. The peaks are only 685 m high and the access is by stairs, but every one of these hikers was dressed and equipped for an Everest attempt, with sticks, boots, gaiters, rucksacks, probably gloves and thermals as well. The conglomerate rock which forms the mountain looked like magnified concrete with huge boulders bonded together.
Returning to Jinan we took Highway 26, a four lane dual carriageway towards Jinan. Having accessed it up a slip road we realised that there was a separate cycle path on the other carriageway but even if the traffic had been light enough for us to cross, the continuous central crash barrier prevented us accessing it.
|Sculpture made from old ceramic pots|
Closer to Jeonju we took another minor road along the river and into the city centre. It was Saturday and the pedestrianised city streets were thronged with shoppers. We had booked in advance, at the Jeonju Benikea (Best in Korea chain) which lived up to its name and was right in the centre of town.
Opposite the hotel was a large church and that evening they were hosting a free open air opera concert which we enjoyed.
Jeonju - day off
Jeonju to Jeongeup - 53km
|Expensive sculptures, no coffee|
It is slowly dawning on us that the reason why we find Korea so difficult is because greetings here, even between close friends, are very formal with bowed heads. Smiling, waving and eye contact are not things that they are comfortable with. So very few waves or 'hi's' as you travel around.
The whole day we rode on old roads at the side of the new highways so the traffic was light. Coming into Jeongeup we passed groups of school children walking home from school. In most other countries they would have giggled and maybe waved or shouted, but here they completely ignored us.
Jeongeup to Gwanju - 83km
|Farmers Rebellion Memorial|
We thought we might enjoy the challenge but having ridden up there we found the cable car only runs in high season. On the way we passed the memorial to the Donghak farmers rebellion of 1895.
So we had to content ourselves with a walk around the Naejang Temple and the beautiful valley which was peaceful and quiet on a Tuesday morning.
|Naejang Gateway Figures|
As we rode back into the tourist village at the park entrance we could see our route on the NR 49, skirting the hillside way above us.
|View of Naejang from the road|
It was actually an easy and enjoyable climb along the valley opposite the temple, giving us views back to the national park. The roadside has been planted on both sides with maple trees and their leaves were just starting to change colour. In four weeks time they would all be deep red and orange.
Once over the col we dropped to a high plateau of more rice paddies with harvesting in full swing. It seemed strange to see small combine harvesters doing the work, unlike the hard labour of hand cutting in the poorer Asian countries. The rice mills were churning out clouds of bran dust which blocked our noses and gave us sneezing fits.
On the outskirts of Damgang we picked up a cycle path along the river bank. This meant we could get all the way into the centre of Gwangju city without having to negotiate the roads. The downside was that it was a very long way round. It did give us a good tour of this massive urbanisation. All around the outskirts there were groups of new tower blocks of flats under construction. In between these were little pockets of agriculture; greenhouses and rice paddies.
Nearing the city centre it was the usual problem with the cycle path along the river idea. There is usually a path on both banks of the river, one designated for walking and one for cycling. But we always seem to manage to end up on the wrong side and then can't find any way to get across to the right side. Also, once on the riverside, which is always well below street level, there are very few exits.
We booked a motel near the river and that evening treated ourselves to an Indian meal. The vindaloo and mango lassi were divine.
Gwanju to Yeongam - 74k
|Unju Sa Buddhaand Pagoda|
|Unju Sa Carvings|
There are rocky outcrops with Buddha images carved on them and ancient old gnarled pine trees clinging to the towering cliffs. With the rain gone and the clouds lifted the camera was kept very busy.
|Unju Sa Buddhas|
Then we spotted a minor road which ran up a valley and appeared to stop at the top. The sat nav showed a track going over the top of the valley and then dropping into the next one, saving about 25km.
The first section was a tarmac road which climbed gently up a rice paddy valley. It ended at a small village and it wasn't easy to find the rough track which wound through a couple of farms and barns and started to climb up the hill. After another kilometre it became a narrow concreted lane with overhanging high grass and trees. There was a thick layer of algae growing on it and with the shade of the trees and high humidity it was very slippery meaning the bikes had to be pushed up the steepest sections.
This was the hardest climb we had done since Taiwan.The valley was completely deserted and no vehicles passed us. The gradient improved further up but continued relentlessly upward. Drenched with sweat we reached the top and started the equally steep downhill into another little village and a proper surfaced road. There were still a couple of climbs to endure with tired legs before arriving at Yeongam about 5.30pm.
Yeongam to Haenam - 42km
|(Half) the 1,000 Chracter Chinese Alphabet|
The morning was spent on the old 13 road, lovely and quiet now most of the traffic uses the new 'improved, widened and straightened' version. It was fine until we approached the intersection of the 13 with the expressway. Suddenly there was no remnants of old road and it looked like we would have to go through the intersection. But we turned left onto a narrow concrete village road, through rice and vegetable fields, using the sat nav to navigate the frequent confusing junctions.
We arrived in Haenam by 2.30pm and although the motel offerings didn't look too good, we found one with a lovely, helpful and generous owner who communicated with us via his phone translator app. The icing on the cake was the wonderful 'western' style three course evening meal at a local eatery. We felt full for the first time for days.
Haenam to Wando - 55km
Our route now was on Highway 77 which in the future is going to be a major southern arterial road, joining the many offshore islands of the south coast by long bridges. Only a few of them have been completed so far but several more are under construction. From the mainland we crossed the first bridge onto a small island and then continued to the next, longer one connecting to Wando island. As we approached the bridge there was a warning sign of a motorway 700m ahead. Our map didn't show the 77 as a motorway and we weren't sure if there was an exit after the bridge before the motorway began.
|Yi Sun Sin Statue at Wando|
We had a vague idea that we could get a ferry to the island of Jeju and then get a ferry back from there to Yeosu, further east towards Busan. But according to the lady at the ferry ticket office there was no boat back to Yeosu, so we would continue riding east along the coast.
Wando to Jangheung -66km
By 8am there was thunder, lightening and heavy rain so we snuggled back under the covers hoping for improvement, knowing we couldn't bear to spend another day there. Lie-in, late breakfast and proof that the 'rain before seven, fine before eleven' is a load of rubbish saw us setting off in ponchos.
Gogeumdo island is really beautiful with traditional style villages, peaceful, traffic free roads and forested hills. What a shame they plan to put a big highway across here once the bridge is completed. Around its coast are several big fish farms, each producing different species: flounders, prawns, cockles and oysters.
|Anuone for Spam?|
Not long after lunch Karen had a puncture from a big shard of broken glass lodged in her back tyre. At Jangheung we again had problems finding an ATM that would give cash on an international cash card.
In the evening we walked to the market to find a meal. this area is a big beef producer and the market was primarily dozens of butchers, all selling beef. A lot of them had barbecue type restaurants attached. The beef was very good, finely veined and tender with a great flavour but considering the shop cost of the meat was less than two pounds, served with rice, a few small servings of veg and pickles, the cost of nearly 40 pounds for a meal we cooked ourselves seemed a bit steep.
Jangheung to Beolgyo - 72km
|Digging for clams|
At lunchtime we found a picnic table in the shade of a large tree by the beach. On the next table was an elderly local couple who appeared to completely ignore us. But once we got back onto our bikes they waved and wished us good luck.
At Hoecheon Myeon there was a wide golden beach and crowds of people digging, we think for cockles. Further along a group demonstrated good co-operation, unloading an immense boat full of bamboo.
That evening we set off from our motel to find some food. As we walked along the road a young man greeted us in English. His name was Sinkim and he had learnt to speak English while doing his military service at an American air base in Korea. He took us to a local restaurant serving the local cockles, helped us to order and then stayed to show us how to use the special pliers to open the cockle shells.
Beolgyo to Suncheon - 42km
This was one of those 'at last' days when, after three and a half weeks, everything came together for a perfect day and a discovery of the real Korea. The sun shone from a clear blue sky with just a gentle breeze to tickle the legs.
We only had a short ride along the beautiful, flat, peaceful and deserted coastline. Along the way were little fishing villages where life seemed to be little changed over the years.
The tide was out and the locals were out collecting shellfish. For transport they have a 'mud boat', akin to a small sledge,to get around at low tide. Using their feet as propellers they scoot across the sloppy mud.
Groups of women packed the shellfish in net sacks and washed them in water tubs on the shore. Their clothes were covered in mud up to their armpits. The shore was alive with tiny crabs and mud-hoppers that scrambled for cover as we rode by.
|Best coffee break in Korea|
To complete the perfect morning there was a little cafe with views over the bay serving coffee and cake as well as complimentary local grapes.
|The mild looking lady|
Just after this Steve stopped to take a photo of a little old lady, nearly bent double with spinal problems, limping along the road with a bamboo walking pole. Just as he lifted the camera she saw a flock of sparrows feasting on the ripe rice in a field. In an instant she transformed to a screaming banshee, shouting and waving her pole to get rid of the birds scaring him so much he jumped on his bike and rode off quickly.
All too soon we were heading back onto main roads towards Suncheon. A smart new cycle path headed for the river bank but stopped suddenly at a new railway construction and we had to ride along a muddy lane to get back to the route.
Suncheon to Yeosu - 41km
|View back to Suncheon|
Rolling up to the entry gate the security guard came running up waving his arms and insisted we must leave the bikes at the cycle stand in a quiet, unobserved area about 200m back down the road.
|Tiles on the 'Bridge of Dreams'|
The best exhibit was the 'Bridge of Dreams' over the river with a display of thousands of small tiles, each depicting the 'dreams' of Korean schoolchildren.
|Dressing up in traditional costume|
Heading down the west coast of the peninsula towards Yeosu the minor roads were very quiet, little traffic but even so there was a newly completed cycle track next to the empty road.
|View from our hotel room, Yeosu|
Yeosu to Busan - Bus
We had run out of time and it would have taken at least three more days to cycle to Busan along the coast. So we packed the bikes in their bags and got the hotel to give us a lift in their minibus up to the little bus station. Our destination was Busan Central Bus Station. Throughout Asia the bus stations are always at the furthest outskirts of the cities but this one really took the biscuit. Central it certainly was not.
Without the bikes we could have used the metro but lugging panniers and bikes up and down an escalator and onto the train was out of the question. So we set to to assemble them and ride into town. We attracted quite an audience of interested passengers but we performed well and had everything ready in about 20 minutes. It was a seriously long way into Busan and at one point we climbed up a 15% gradient hill through a golf course! After more than 20km we finally arrived at our accommodation.
|Dried fish variety|
Now we had two days to do the sights of Busan and find out about the ferry to Japan.The first morning we caught the metro down to the International Ferry terminal.
|Why would you need a bunch of dried lizards?|
At 11am everything was closed up, the ticket offices not opening until 2pm, so we spent a couple of hours wandering round the vibrant Jagalchi fish market and exploring the unusual merchandise in the Chinese shops.
|Busan from the harbour|
In the afternoon we returned to the ferry terminal and asked for the help of the volunteer translator to buy our tickets, but the lady employee spoke better English than the translator.
After a long discussion about the bikes we still weren't clear whether they would accept them for carriage assembled or not. So we decided to pack them in the bags and get a taxi down to the ferry.
|UN Korean War cemetery|