The day starts out like any typical Saturday, I watch my hockey team lose a terrible game to the Toronto Maple Leafs, chat with some friends on Skype and finally decided I should get out and enjoy the beautiful weather while there is still beautiful weather to enjoy.
It has crossed my mind to get a membership to the nearby gym several times, but I am still weighted down (ha!) by my laziness and lack of conversational Korean. I decide, in the idea of embracing nature, to hike the mountain near my apartment. It seems like the logical decision since I know how to get there, it’s more exercise than just wandering the neighbourhood and it’s an easy way to enjoy the sunshine.
Or so I thought.
I realise how out of shape I am for the umpteenth time on these mountains, and also that it is much more difficult to push yourself to keep going when you’re alone. It takes a few rest/water breaks but eventually I reach my goal of the halfway point of the mountain (I know, I know). I am disappointed when I ask the vendor there (yes, there are vendors located at strategic locations on the mountain) for an ice cream and he points to a row of beer cans. Koreans drink everywhere.
After a cheeky beer (hey, when in Rome!), I am getting my second wind but I don’t really want to hike up the rest of the mountain. The latter part of the hike although shorter, it is significantly steeper. Right then, I notice a sign inviting me to take a “Soul Cleansing Barefoot Walk” around the edge of the mountain. Looking at the trail, and considering the inviting sign, I decide my soul could use a good cleanse. I elect to skip the barefoot part and in good spirits, I unwittingly set off on an adventure I had not bargained for.
The trail is very pretty and quiet. I rarely pass another person, although, I do find it a little strange when I see the same couple twice. They are quite amused by me, and the woman presses a chestnut into my hands which is sweet if odd behaviour.
After about an hour, I see a sign that says 6km and based on the map I figure the trail is about 12km so I may as well finish the circle rather than doubling back. This is not the first (nor the last) time I have been foiled by maps being not to scale.
By the 11km mark, I’m exhausted and cold. I envy the people passing me who are more appropriately dressed and, even more importantly, seem to know where they’re going!
As I reach the 12km mark, I can just make out a clearing in the distance, much to my relief. Walking for two hours with just your thoughts for company is enlightening at first, but rapidly devolves into internal incoherent rambling.
Imagine my alarm, however, upon realising that this clearing is not at all the one I started at. Starting to panic a little, but determined to hold on to my wits, I press on. Alarm sets in when I reach this sign:
13.7km? What?? Now I’m starting to panic. Besides being baffled at the fact that I managed to get lost going in a giant circle, it’s 6.30pm and I do not want to be on this trail after it gets dark.
Soon after this sign, there is a fork in the trail, with one path winding down the mountain, and the other snaking upwards. I decide I would rather get back to the ground level, and start trying to make my way home from there. Wherever ‘there’ ends up being. I know that I am likely on the wrong side of the mountain at this point, but this is Korea, I tell myself reassuringly. I’ll jump in the first cab I see and be back at my apartment in no time.
I get to the bottom of the trail about fifteen minutes later and looked around in disbelief. Not only are there no cabs around, even though I’m on a paved road, I’m still within the foothills of the mountain. I notice a bus stop down the road and trek towards it miserably. Of course, all the bus shelters in Daejeon are only in Korean and they don’t even have proper maps.
After a few minutes of debating what to do next, I notice a man walking down the street a few hundred meters away from me. In desperation, I run after him and after explaining my problem he tells me to follow him. I can just imagine my mother cringing as I am getting into his car.
His level of English is fairly advanced compared to other encounters I’ve had, but low considering he tells me that he owns a cosmetics company that has a branch in Toronto. His wife is already in the car and clearly confused as to why her husband is being trailed by sweaty, exhausted foreigner.
A rapid discussion ensues and he informs me that his wife knows the bus to get to my neighbourhood, so they will drive me to the bus stop at the bottom of the mountain. The woman writes out some directions on a piece of paper for me but also insists on waiting for the bus with me. I can’t help but feel embarrassed by my obvious incompetence and relieved at the same time. The bus arrives and the woman gravely imparts something that sounds like motherly advice before I jump on the bus.
I show the driver my piece of paper, thank him somewhat profusely (it’s the only Korean word I can say with any level of confidence) and sit down in the seat behind the driver. The bus driver informs me at the appropriate stop, and even though I can’t find the bus stop the woman mentioned, there is another bus route that will bring me home.
The electronic sign shows that the bus is coming in five minutes (why don’t we have these in Ottawa??), so I count out some coins and lean against the stop to wait. Five minutes later, I see my bus, step into the road to wave it down and watch in shock as it drives right by me and stops down the road. It’s about 500m away, and since I am not an Olympic sprinter, I just look at it dejectedly.
Thankfully by this point, I’m on a busy road and I quickly hail a cab. Finally, I am on my way home. As it turns out, I wasn’t even that far from my neighbourhood! I get the driver to let me off in front of Nanta 5000 Pizza. After my epic trek, I have earned a giant $5 pizza.
Have you even been in a similar situation of being completely lost in what should be a familiar setting?? Let me know in the comments.