Saturday, June 23, 2007

Up and Out

I felt like a pony tail, which is unusual, I hate pony tails on me. I felt off, the whole morning off. Maybe it was the drinking the night before. Maybe it was the waking too early on Saturday, always too early. My friend Sam bought a car. “Let’s go on a trip,” he says to me.

Sure, why not.

He meets me with the car at my place and we head out. The plan was Dan-young and the caves. It’s been a long time since the last trip, at least three years, and it seemed like a good idea.

I found myself nodding off in the car though I did not want to. Too much sleeping and not enough waking, too much waking not enough sleeping. Korea is beautiful and wet, mountains rising into grey skies and the heavy wet waiting airs of the monsoon swirling around me. Korea is beautiful and peaceful as we drive. It takes about three hours to get to the caves. The plan was to go to Go-sung cave, but as we drove behind a bus of kindergarten students, as we pulled into the parking lot behind the bus of kindergarten students, and as the kindergarten students made a mad dash for the cave entrance it was decided that a change was in order. There is nothing more upsetting then trying to connect with nature while several dozen kids shout as loud as they can to listen to the echoes on the wall. While I enjoy working with children, sometimes I need a quiet moment.

We went to No-dong cave instead, and we arrived to an empty parking lot and a miffed attendant who checked the clock and took our money and gave us tickets. We had about a half hour before closing. We were not quite sure what closing time meant, but there was some speculation that the lights might go off at closing and so we did our best not to dally too overmuch under the rock ceiling.

The entrance was cold and clinging. Humid and the body chills immediately. You can listen in the quiet to the water dripping down and it falls on my head and down into my t-shirt making my skin prickle with the cold and the wet. You penetrate into the cool icy waiting and walk deeper into the cave and the quiet and the walls press and oppress. It feels like freedom and escape and safety underground.

In this cave we walk down about two hundred meters before the turn and ascent. There are stairs and railings and many signs naming rocks the names that others have given them. The lights are a Technicolor dream designed to make the darkness beautiful, but it is already beautiful painted with a natural patina of carved without help. It will be here when I am gone. And it will remain. And it will change, and live and grow. Stalagmites rise up from the floor and poke in the darkness, building under constant drip. Stalactites point down from the ceiling but do not look ominous.

It is quiet and wet. There is the sound of running water.


And darkness.

We giggle in the quiet to ease our discomfort. We climb up, and up and up, and my body races blood and breath and the cold pours in and out of me and I cover in a clammy sweat and it is good. There are dirt streaks on my face from wiping away beads to keep my eyes free to see. My hands are dry, dried on my jeans so I can keep a tight grip on the slippery railing.

We came to late. In this cave there is a mile long back end that can be hiked into, but the time is a pressing thing, the extra mile needs at least another half hour, and we have only ten minutes left before the cave will be closed. Whatever closed means. We get closer to the top of the cave and stand over the fossilizing bones of a forlorn fire bear that had the misfortune to fall in this cave and get stuck in the rocks. I hear the sound of shuffle and a high flutter and squeak. I look up in time to see a bat fly about the ceiling and I know there are bats overhead. Stop listen, squeak shuffle.

I climb up and stand directly below the sounds. I look up into tiny eyes, glowing in the darkness. Waking up and getting ready for a night on the mountain and the mosquito fest that waits beyond the walls. They will fly out soon. I snap a picture and hope I didn’t piss them off to much, and walk towards the hot, warm, air and the sunlight up ahead.

It was only ten minutes past the closing time. They didn’t turn off the lights. The cave comes out at the top of the mountain. When walking you head up about a mile from the base, climbing up all the way through the mountain. Steep, wet, cold, clammy climb, but fun.

Along the mountain I walk down slapping away mosquitoes. Looking at the flowers that have sprung up like a wall in the way. Go in, go down, hit bottom, climb up, climb out, and part the flowers.

The air was hot, I was tired and dirty, but it was good.


Anonymous said...

I notice that there wasn't a bar in the caves. I'm assuming that you either demanded a refund or took your own booze with you ...

Saradevil said...

There may have been a bar in the back end. Maybe that is what happens at closing time. Now I'm kicking myself for not finding out.

Anonymous said...

Tsk! SaraDevil! So amateur (but all is forgiven).

HFD said...

I wandered here on some long Net-path now forgotten and enjoyed your blog -- wonderful design -- and was fascinated to hear Shimer had still been going until last year. I look forward to reading more.

Saradevil said...

Actually, Shimer is still going. It's just moved. While I am not pleased about the move myself, at least the college, in yet another incarnation, is still in fact kicking.

Pleased to meet you.

Roger said...

Sara nice writing! I feel like I was there with you :D Good picts to!

esofthub said...


How far are these caves from Pyongtaek?


Saradevil said...

It's about a three, or three and a half hour bus ride from up north. They have to go around a lot of mountains to get down to Donyang so if you are taking the bus you are in for a ride. If you have a car it's probably only about three hours tops.

It's an hour north of Andong, which is where we ended up driving for dinner before heading back to Daegu. Good times.

My recommendation if you decided to take the trip and are planning to spend the night, is to get a room as soon as you get off the bus. The first time I went was on the bus. The busses stop running at around 7 p.m. and since Donyang is a tourist attraction (it's the Vermont of Korea, painfully beautiful and secluded) it is tough to get a room if you don't do it early.

Hope that helps. For more info email me.