I have ranted and raved about Korean generosity while hiking before and I could easily do it again because it is true. Yet this tale is a little different. A solo trip to Juwangsan National Park in Eastern Gyeongbuk landed me ‘volunteering’ with a group of Korean university students from Seoul. After a frightfully long bus journey to the park with multiple changes I was over the moon t0 collect a map from the information office and begin my hike. And hike I did. I was on a one woman mission to reach the peak, see the abundant waterfalls the park boasts and get away from it all.
I was lucky enough to meet several groups of hikers who invited me to share their snacks along the main path through the park. I shared a view of a waterfall with a lovely group of female kindergarten teachers who couldn’t have made me feel more welcome if they tried.
Just when I was about to head off the main trail and take a more remote, less travelled route a group of twenty or more university students filled the path in front of me. They were taking a group photograph so I patiently waited for them to finish and before you can say ‘volunteer’ I was planting trees with the group. I don’t recall volunteering as such, if anything my arm was grabbed and a trowel was placed in my hand. My fleece came off and I was sweating as I lifted rocks and dug holes. They chattered away to me in broken English and I couldn’t have been happier doing my bit to maintain the park.
After an hour or so the group stopped for lunch and I took this opportunity to break away and start the second phase of my hike. For the next three hours up to the peak and back down I didn’t see a soul. I had the solilitude that I had so craved when I arrived but I found myself wanting to be covered in mud working with my new friends.