We left our apartment at about 1030 A.M. and hopped in a cab. The cab driver was a rather talkative person (in Korean) and from what I could understand and Chris later filled in was that he has been a world traveler his whole life. He went to places like Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Phillipines, heck, he's even been to Europe. His one regret he said was that he never made it to America or Canada once (the plane ticket was too expensive for a cab driver). He was also nice enough to drop us off at the uphill end of Yudalsan (so an easy ascent and a long downhill off it). We thanked him and started our hike. Well, I guess it's called a hike... mostly paved with stairs and stores and restaurants at either end...
First thing we passed was the enormous statue of General Lee Sun-Sin, watching over Korea's naval academy and the port of Mokpo, one of Korea's most venerated heroes. His naval accomplishments earned him honor in all of Asia, and most of the western world, as one of the greatest naval commanders of all time. During his entire career he remained undefeated during 23 naval campaigns, one of which included a victory against a Japanese Armada in which he was outnumbered 133 ships to his own 13.
We then passed concession stands (I bought an overpriced bandanna with the map of the mountain printed on it) and then headed up the historical path. Passing beautiful pagodas and shrines established to the Japanese invasion as well as the North Korean invasion (both of which occurred in Mokpo), we finally made it to the top area. From up there, the view was startling. In three directions the ocean spanned forever, only interrupted by the hundreds of tropical islands poking through the low clouds and marine layer. And behind, thousands of small, green peaks and valleys as far as the landscape would allow sight. There were also large numbers of Japanese maple trees planted at the top, I will be sure to return in fall when the crest of Yudalsan is said to burst into shades of red and yellow.
As we walked we noticed a few bolted routes along the more featured rock faces and in our search we stumbled upon two rather large carvings of the Buddha. They were at least 10 feet tall and carved rather high up on large cliff faces. One of them was even painted. On our descent (which I lead, as I had been all day, wandering on every non-paved and deserted-looking path I could find) Chris and I stumbled into an amazing sight. A Buddhist temple amidst the trees. It was quite small, only having three buildings, but it was exquisitely built. All three buildings were hand carved with intricate weaving patterns. The three tiered roof was built in interlocking patterns of large logs connected at their ends and carved in the shape of dragons. Every inch of the building painted in detail with flowers, dragons, prayers, and depictions of the Buddha. We had just walked around the main entrance when a tiny figure appeared from within a small side building. She walked out of her door and immediately it was obvious that she was a nun in charge of living in and caring for the facility. She was incredibly nice, forcing us into her tiny stools on the porch of the temple (we weren't allowed inside) while she sat on the dirty steps. Chris talked to her for a bit and then she disappeared into her house to bring us back cold instant coffee. As we sat and sipped our coffee while chatting with her, she asked if either of us were Buddhist. Chris replied that he was so she disappeared inside her house again and returned with a string of prayer beads. She blessed the beads and put them around Chris's neck and then gave us large handfuls of candy (yes, in Korea it's ok to take candy from strangers). After what seemed a short while (actually closer to an hour) of us sitting and enjoying the massive tree in the middle of the courtyard (which is one of the biggest trees around, meaning that it survived the bombings by both the Japanese and the North Koreans which is NOT common at all around here) we decided that we would be on our way. We thanked the kind lady and donated money to the temple on our way out. This wasn't expected of us in any way, but it is the only way that beautiful pieces of art like this temple remain in the care of Buddhists.
On our way off the hill we quickly walked through a sculpture garden. The pieces there ranged from "yeah that's neat" to "dafuq is that?!?" eventually we wandered into Old Mokpo and made our way to the avenue of lights (not too great in broad daylight) to do some window shopping and explore what the city bustle is really like (since we live on the outskirts in New Mokpo). After a bit of wandering around we made it to a taxi and headed home.
Oh, and here's a picture of my Korean roommate Seung-Man who was shy of my camera as he was getting ready for a date. He is by far the coolest person I have met in Korea so far and I'm glad he helps Chris and I out