Day 69. Seoul, South Korea Part I

I enjoy stories.  I believe every good story has a great beginning.  The origin of how Yun-Jin and I met has an interesting start.  We met in Spain on the Camino de Santiago.  The first time I met her was in an albergue in Pendueles, Spain. We had just finished dinner and the table started singing songs from the different countries they were from.  There was Germany, Colombia, Poland, and three old Spanish pilgrims recited a dirty song in Spanish.  Then when it was her turn, she beautiful sung a Korean song and won the prize of another carafe of vino tinto.  She, of course, shared the prize with rest of the table.

 

Yun-Jin and I in cool looking ponchos.

We ran into each other the next day on the Camino.  We walked together that day from Pendules to Po, I think.  It was a long day.  But it was full of adventure and learning from each others story and history.  There was scattered rain along the path.  At the end of the day we walked close to 8 hours.  An ice cream truck pulled up to the albergue and we bought ice cream. We enjoyed the fact that the day was finally over, while enjoying our ice cream.  I have heard shared adversity and overcoming it brings people together.  I think that its true because we both recall that day vividly.

 

We ran into each several times, obviously, because we were going to the same place.  I took different paths some days and walked at my own pace.  During the last part of Asturias and all the way to Santiago, we walked together with Thomas, from Germany.  It was mostly just of the three of us.  It was an interesting crew.  Rasmus, a pilgrim from Denmark, said we reminded him of the Harry Potter Crew.  I’ll take that reference.

 

A Korean picnic on top of a mountain.

Fast Forward to seven months later.  I’m on a Jiu Jitsu/ travel world tour.  I choose to stop in Seoul to visit Yun-Jin.  Food, hiking, and adventure were on the itinerary.  It was an amazing experience.  After getting over the initial language barrier and metro system I was able to really take it in the culture.  Especially when you have a guide. It was a busy week of activities and trying new food.

 

Some where in Yeoeuido-Dong.

 

We did many activities while I was there.  I have to summarize a lot of it. We walked around Myeoung-Dong and had ramen at a very old restaurant.  We hiked up a mountain to a Buddhist temple where they fed us lunch for free.  We took a bike ride to Yangsae-Myeon and stopped by a strawberry farm.  There was a night where we just ate chicken, drank beer, soju, and rice wine.  We saw Guardians of the Galaxy 2 in a really fancy theater.  Afterwards we ran into a music festival in Yeouido-Dong.  There were many food trucks and we sat by the river eating poutine and steak while drinking Mojitos. It was a great week. I’m very thankful I had a local guide to take me through the city.

The wall near Dongdaemon.

Currently I’m in Guam.  I will go back to Seoul for three days to finish my time in Asia.  I will reunite with Yun-Jin again and my long time friend Carolina. More to come.

How to get to Seoul:

Incheon International Airport (ICN) Bus 6002 can take you to Hapjeong station for $10,000 KRW.

A “Korean” picture for the memory.

 

Camino de Santiago IV

My last post about the Camino. I’m currently in Lima, Peru. I had to finish this subject before I continue my travels.

As I write this I’m in Lima, Peru. Traveling around from place to place is different from walking the Camino.  I don’t have to pick up and leave every morning which is a good feeling, but there’s a sense of urgency when you have a goal while you’re traveling. A sense of mission is common with all the other pilgrims. To continue walking whether your goal is Santiago or not.  In a normal hostel, it is a motley crew of backpackers, travelers, and tourists with different motives. Lima is no exception. It makes me miss the Camino and Spain. It will be something I will wrestle with but I digress.

I walked with Thomas and Maria for more than half of the way.  Thomas is from North Germany, near Bremen.  He is studying wood engineering.  He is a good person to walk with.  I appreciated his honesty and company when we conversed.  He has very good travel stories and dreams to travel more.  I will see him again in Dresden.

 

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They were a  few days where it rained constantly. We just went with the flow. Eventually we got past the rain and the weather was beautiful.  Seeing the coast is an amazing feeling when you have been walking inland for many kilometers.  Through rain, mud and drinking Sidra. It was some of the best parts of the Camino.
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last 100 KM

These two German ladies had stopped us and gave us all beers to celebrate the last 100 kilometers of Camino Norte.  It was a good feeling to celebrate with beers at 830am.  The last few days were just too fast to remember. Before I knew it we were one day until Santiago. It’s an amazing feeling to get to the end.

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Mark(Me), Parti, Thomas, Soren, and Maria in front of the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.

By the last 4 days or so, I walked with a core group of people. Parti, who was from Switzerland, Thomas, from Germany, Soren, from Denmark, and Maria, from South Korea. We had dinner in Santiago then Maria took a bus to Finisterre.  Parti took a bus a few days later with his girl friend to Muxia. Thomas took a bus to Bilbao for a flight back to Bremen. Soren, Thomas and I had a few going away beers his last night.

Soren and I walked to Finisterre in two days from Santiago.  It was a beautiful walk with spectacular views.  It was exhausting though. Why did I walk it in two days? Off a bet and because I wanted to push myself.  It was a hell of a last day. Soren walked with me the entire way even though he won the bet.  He said he would stop at the town before Finestera. I’ll always remember that. The fact he kept going even though he didn’t have to. That’s a friend. We parted ways the next day. The next morning I walked to the end of the world and had some long thoughts.

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It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting – The Alchemist

Originally when I finished my obligation with the Navy I was going to move to Spain.  After finishing the Camino, I changed my mind.  I want to travel to more countries before I want to settle on one place again.  I really haven’t seen the world on the terms I wish to see it. So I decided afterwards I will take a year and travel the world. I will see all the countries of most of the people I’ve met on the Camino.  So far its going well. In fact most of the contacts around the world are either through the Camino or Jiu Jitsu.

El Fin. A part of me wants to walk it again.  For the friendship and camaraderie in walking.  Maybe a piece of the Basque country, that was my favorite.

Camino de Santiago III

 

Fast forward to a year later.

It is September 4th, 2016 and I’m in Bilbao.

I returned to Europe on a military place because I was active duty at the time, cheap flight. I traveled from Palm Springs, Ca – Baltimore Washington International- Rammstein Air Force Base- Frankfurt, Germany- Madrid, Spain-Bilbao, Spain.  It amazing to experience  travel in such a quick time frame.  I had to make a quick connection when I had a connecting flight in Madrid.  My bag was lost.  I stayed in Bilbao for a few days waiting for my bag.

I saw it as a omen to see and experience Bilbao for the three more days. The airline eventually found my pack and brought it to me on the first day.  I had two more nights at the hostel. It was the same hostel, Bilbao Central Hostel, that I walked two Austrian girls at the end of a night the year before.  I spent all night charming one of them and the Danish dude does a quarterback sneak and he makes out with her at the end of the night. (Sigh)

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Bilbao to Santander. Regma Ice Cream.

 

 

 

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La Isla 

The freshness is gone when you continue the Camino.  It did for me when I continued that day in Santander.  I knew what to expect already. Follow the arrows.  If I’m lost. I know enough Spanish to ask for directions.¿ Por aquí o por allí? ¿ Dónde está el camino? ¿Puede ayudarme, por favor? Estoy perdido. Soy Peregrino.  The locals were so helpful even if you didn’t speak Castellano/Spanish. Walk into town and find an Albergue shower, eat, mend you injuries, meet people, wash your clothes, sleep, wake up, walk, repeat. The magic of being a novice to walking the camino is gone vs those who walk it and finish it in one go.

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Looking back after sunrise. I met Sebastian, Kristiana, and Søren soon after this photo. 

At first I was just walking.  I didn’t talk to anybody the first two days because I was racing some Hungarian dude.  It was exhausting because I never stopped to enjoy the scenery.  As soon as I let it go and just let my journey run its course I started to have fun.  I met two Germans, Sebastian and Kristiana with a Dane, Søren. That group made me laugh and reminded me what the camino was about.  I forgot about walking when I started conversing and laughing with them.  We parted ways several hours later.

Pendules.  I came upon an Javier’s Albergue, which was recommended by my guide book. That Albergue was one of the best.  All of the pilgrims broke bread and shared a vegetarian meal that Javier made.  We sat along a long wooden table and shared songs of our native countries in the respective languages. German, Polish, South Korean, Spanish except American. I really can’t sing. It’s really embarrassing how bad I am. Javier was asked” Why do you do this? (hosting pilgrims in his home and treats them like family) Amongst the laughing, singing and drinking vino tinto with people from all over the world. Javier answered” porque los moments como este.” I smiled because its a feeling that can’t be described without experiencing it.

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Maria and I looking super cool in our ponchos. 

The next day  I met Maria.  Here’s where I think everything happens for a reason. Our paths intertwined many times on the Camino.   I enjoyed her company more than anybody on the camino.   I enjoyed our conversations and her company.  I spent the most time with than anyone else.  We met up in Madrid after we completed it. It felt reminiscent of Before Sunrise.  I said I would visit her in South Korea when I get out of the Navy.

Next is Camino De Santiago IV.

 

Camino De Santiago II

Camino De Santiago Part II

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San Sebastian. Donostia in Euskara.

I set my goal.  I left for Spain in July 2015.  I arrived in Rota, Spain.  Then I went to Seville. Then to Madrid. I spent three days there if I remember correctly. It was an interesting experience with tours and wondering around. It’s difficult to remember when I look back.  I lot has happened in those memories.

I was able to speak with a beautiful Madrileña on the train to Irún, the starting point of Camino del Norte.  I was so proud of myself for having short conversations with her in Spanish.  She was very patient with my Spanish.

I remember I arrived in Irún late and I didn’t have lodging.  I spent an hour walking around looking for a place to sleep. I finally settled on  a pension.  I thought to myself. “Tomorrow I will begin my journey.” I remember that I was very timid with my Spanish.  Now when I think about it. I feel more comfortable to be in a situation where I need Spanish to help me.

It’s unfortunate that I’m writing this part of the journey more than a year ago.  Many of the details are lost in my mind.  It was an amazing experience because the journey was so new and refreshing. The views were so beautiful.

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Zarautz, la madrugada

I met some wonderful people on that Camino.  I met French, Swiss, Spanish, Catalan, Danish, Belgian, Austrian, Italian, and of course, German.  Everybody had their own reasons for walking the Camino.  Some were newly graduated college students, established adults with a career who saw the Camino as a convenient holiday, or other people who were looking for answer to a life decision.  The last reason was my own. img_2204

My first impression of French people came when I visited Paris as a 21 year old.  It was not a great experience.  It was a strange unwelcoming feeling for an American.  I saw the landmarks but the language barrier and the inherent unfriendliness towards tourists left a dent with me. That impression was shattered when I met a very friendly French man on the Camino. His name was Olivier, from a city north of Paris.  I stopped for a break and he joined me for his break.  I shared some of my orange with him.  We decided to walk to the next town together. Olivier had a wonderful idea of eating sashimi for lunch.  We went to the grocery store and bought our picnic food. We ate on top of green cow pasture above Zumaia looking at the Atlantic Ocean.  We communicated in English, which he spoke very well, and he told me his story.  He was mid 40’s, divorced, two kids. It seemed he was on the camino like most, searching for an answer through meditative walking.  I don’t remember much else from the encounter except that he has upgraded my impression of French people.  There are unpleasant people everywhere from every country, but there are good people everywhere as well.

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Isabel, una madrileña(izquierda) , yo (medio)  y Charlie, una Americana (derecha).

I left 13 days into it.  I stopped in Santander.  It was a one of the best days on the Camino.  We left Güemes and there was a light rain. I remember the day being rainy and miserable but I didn’t care because I knew that was my last day. So I just enjoyed every second of it. Especially the misery. My favorite memory of that day was when we stopped around 11am at a beach bar before Santander. I changed my socks and we ate some food.  I bought some “chupitos” for my group. Then we walked to Santander with a nice buzz.  We took a small commuter boat to Santander.  We had Regma ice cream, Santander ice cream, right after the boat ride.  We parted ways soon after.  It was the best day of Camino because of company I was with.  The most important part about the Camino for me was meeting wonderful people.

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It was said that this was the best Albergue on the Camino, Güemes.

I returned home when I got to Santander. I finally continued my journey in September 4, 2016.  See Part III

Camino De Santiago

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My family visited my in SFO airport during a layover before I go to the East Coast. 

Camino de Santiago Part I

I recently completed the Camino de Santiago in the north of Spain.  It’s a religious pilgrimage in Spain that has starting points from all over Europe.  All of the routes end in the city of Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The English translation is “The way of St. James.”  James was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, his tomb is underneath the  cathedral in Santiago.  People come from all over the world to walk the Camino.  Pilgrims, anyone who walks the camino, come from all over the world to walk the camino.  The reasons why one walks the Camino are as many as people in the world. This is my story.

There two popular routes of the Camino de Santiago, Camino Frances and Camino Del Norte, the latter being physically harder and less pilgrims because of the numerous elevation changes but more scenic. I choose the road less traveled for several reasons.  The scenic views of the coast, my affinity to water, and the cities of the Basque Country, Bilbao and San Sebastian.  The challenge of choosing a path the majority do not attempt enticed me.

The origin of the idea of walking the Camino was when I watched “The Way” with Martin sheen.  Without spoiling it, is about a man who walks the Camino with his son.  The story was so powerful, it affected me with the goal as soon as I finished the movie.  I messaged my close friends to see if they would be interested.  Nobody showed interest in the endeavor.  At the time I started to teach myself Spanish and I visited Spain once already.  It was a good goal for myself.

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Una Playa Después Tapa de Casariego. 

So I set my goal.  See Part II.