21 May, 2006

Rail-biking and The Cave

Yesterday Esther took me, Liz, and our oldest student Olivia on a field trip into the nether regions of Gangwon province. We met a little after nine, and after driving for over an hour on a winding road through amazing mountains (I'm realizing that not much of Korea isn't mountainous) and small villages and rice fields and stopping once for Liz to get sick, we ended up at place where we were to ride rail bikes. If I'm right about what city we were nearest, we were somewhere southwest of Gangneung. Anyway,when Esther was trying to explain her plans to me and Liz, we didn't quite understand what she was talking about. But when we got there, it all came clear. The bikes were like paddleboats with wheels on railroad tracks. The bikes we chose sat two each with padded seats and pedals out in front. Once a row of carts filled up, we were able to take off, and we each let the cart ahead of us gain a little distance before taking off ourselves. It was a gorgeous day, warm and breezy with a little haze. The course took us through mountains, rice fields, several tunnels, and over a couple of bridges. Liz and I had a blast zipping through the countryside. It wasn't a full circle course, so when we got to the final station, we took a shuttle back to the station of origin. Liz got off the shuttle and promptly went to the bathroom to get sick again. Thankfully I don't get motion sick, but with the winding roads and stuffy vehicles, I have no trouble seeing why Liz does. Olivia's mother had made us gimbap--seaweed and rice rolls filled with ham and vegetables--so we had a nice little lunch under a tree at the station. After a quick debate whether to see the cave or go home, we piled into the car and set out for the cave. Liz took the front seat to try to avert sickness, and Olivia and I fell asleep in the back.

At the cave, we took a tram up the side of the mountain to the entrance, and over the next hour, we walked down through the cave/mine--I think the sign said it was 1,803m total. It started as a paved passage showing the history of the mine that used to operate in the mountain. Eventually we came to a series of long metal stairways descending steeply through large caverns. Liz complained about the sharp grade of the stairs, and I complained about not being able to crawl into any holes or passageways or climb stuff. After the metal stairs, there was another long paved passage, this time filled with bizzare displays of weird creatures mining. Liz and I didn't get it. The last cavern before the exit was the best part--a vast open space punctuated with weird and beautiful rock formations and natural pillars and statues. And suddenly we were back out in the bright sunlight, brushing the chill from our clothes. And then I woke up. It was five-thirty, and we were in front of the school--our field trip was over.

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