Five months ago when I arrived in Korea, I knew very little of the culture and landscape. I knew very little about the country at all. In these six months, I’ve barely scratched the surface; I’m learning everyday. There are so many customs that I’d read about, niceties and norms. There were even more that I hadn’t read about, ways of dealing with people of different ages and standing in society, the working culture. It’s so different to any place I have ever lived, which is perfect because it’s exactly what I was looking for when I moved here.
Something I was excited to learn about Korea is that nearly 70% of the landscape is mountains. That’s a lot of hiking trails, a lot of climbing, a lot of 360 degree views. I’ve done my best to get out and see as much as I can on the weekends and longer holidays, but the more I see the more insatiable my desire is to get out even more.
I got my first real taste for it when visiting Busan during my summer vacation. I’d heard a lot about the different trails and had one in particular that really piqued my interest. The hike was in the middle of Geumjeong Mountain and at the top a very steep climb stands Seokbulsa, a temple that has been carved into the rock face.
We started the hike with a leisurely ride up the cable car in Geumgang Park. It’s the easiest way to get up to the mountain (and back down again). I had taken a lot of notes about how to get there. It seemed kind of confusing and I knew we were probably going to take a wrong turn. We followed all of the signs towards the South Gate Village (남대문) and once we got there we wandered around in small circle trying to figure out which path to take. None seemed to point towards anything I’d written down. Eventually we found a map and figured out which steep path to go down.
That’s all we seemed to do for quite a while, go down. Down stone steps, down wooden steps, down, down, down. I had read that this was a difficult hike with a big uphill climb to the temple, so I was getting worried. I was either going the wrong way or I still had a long way to go. It was the latter. After getting to a little park I stood at the base of a very long, very steep driveway.
“Seokbulsa?” I said to a Korean woman and pointed up the scary looking hill.
She nodded knowingly.
Up I went. A few cars drove past staring at this strange girl who was crazy enough to walk up this ridiculously steep hill.
When I finally made it to the top after about ten minutes of hoofing, I was confused. I couldn’t see anything carved into rock. All I saw was a normal Buddhist temple. It was a stunning view, don’t get me wrong. The temple faced out towards the mountains. The bell had the best view. It was perched on the edge staring straight out over the surrounding area.
After a little bit of wandering I found a set of steps that led me to what I’d come all that way to see. All around me were perfectly carved walls of stone. The details so intricate, the people so life-like. I was silenced for the first time all day, even my heavy breathing had finally abated.