I woke up in the motel room before anyone else. Waking up first is hardly anything new for me, but waking up at 5:30 in the morning is.
I hobbled into the shower, knowing it would be a while until Lindsey and Kellie woke up. I let the shower last longer than usual, the sounds of a small town slowly coming back to life creeping in through the open window above me.
After getting dressed a little prematurely, Lindsey and Kellie woke up. It was only 6:30, nowhere near the alarm set for 10. Slowly but surely they got dressed and we walked out on this tiny town to find something to eat. Most everything hadn’t opened yet…except for a Paris Baguette. All I got was a doughnut because I knew we’d be making it back to Busan and it was my sole mission to devour as much street food as humanly possible.
We made our way over to the bus station and inquired when the next bus to Goseong to “see the dinosaur footprints” was leaving. The man behind the glass was having a difficult time understanding the mixture of Korean and English Kellie spoke, but luckily, out from the line next to us, in this tiny town, stepped a girl no older than I and hesitantly said, “Do you want me to help?”
She was a saint and I won’t soon forget her. Incredibly helpful and she spoke English perfectly. She told us how she had visited the United States for the first time last year and how excited she was to see us. It made me smile and it still does thinking about it now. We’re often guilty of giving our fellow human beings a bad rap, casting an entire species in a negative light, making it seem as if this world is populated solely by vile, evil people. But that simply isn’t true. There are so many wonderful and kind people all over the world, in numbers most of us would like to ignore so we can portray ourselves as the shining white knight in a sea of filth.
I wish I could have caught this girl’s name. But her help was great enough. We learned there were two buses: one that left at 8 AM and would take you directly to the area with the dinosaur footprints and another that left at 8:25 AM and would drop you off about ten minutes away. Both the young woman and the man behind the glass recommended the 8:00 bus. With about 20 minutes to spare, we rushed back to the motel, gathered our things, returned our key to the old couple sleeping behind the front desk and rushed back to the bus station.
The familiar man behind the glass nodded upon seeing us, instantly knowing what we wanted and where we wanted to go. As the tickets printed, he jumped from his seat and ran outside to the bus terminal, yelling all the way.
This time we didn’t need a translation to know what happened. We didn’t make it in time. The bus had already left.
He printed us tickets for the 8:25 bus, which wasn’t a bad thing. This gave us time to wander the empty bus terminal, looking out at the traditional Korean housing and rice fields stretching out towards the mountains surrounding us from each angle.
I stayed awake on the bus ride. Wide awake. It was impossible not to. This bus ride rivaled any rollercoaster I’ve ever been on. Flying up a mountain, sharp turn after sharp turn, gunning it downhill and then back up again, throttling past pastoral scenery as each bump nearly sent me through the roof and each turn nearly spilled me out onto the floorboard. I’ve never held on so tight in a bus before. The senior citizens sitting around me hardly flinched a muscle. The three of us must have seemed like a bunch of big babies to them.
When the thrill ride was over we were dropped off on the side of a mountain road and pointed in the right direction by the bus driver. Down below was an archway in the shape of two brontosauruses. If that wasn’t the spot, we were doomed.
Tiny droplets of water fell down on us as we eased ourselves downhill. The area around us was mostly long stretches of rice fields, speckled with the occasional house, one of which, positioned perfectly on a raised point on the mountain, was absolutely beautiful. It had a traditional Chinese design with a backyard decorated in flowers.
Another five minutes of downhill walking and we reached the sign welcoming us to the park. Below the Korean characters was an English translation that hardly made any sense. I love terrible translations. I’ve spotted countless Korean teens wearing shirts adorned only in bland text that always spells out a horribly translated English “phrase.” My favorite has definitely been "A Youngster Stays Forever." I really hope I can find that same shirt somewhere. I want it so bad.
After a light laugh at the sign we proceeded even further downhill, towards the park. My eyes were fixed on the ocean ahead, slowly washing in and out across layers of smooth stone. Suddenly, I heard a thud next to me. I looked over and Lindsey was pushing herself up from the pavement.
"Whoa! Are you all right?" I said, slightly concerned. In reality, I knew she wasn’t seriously injured. For lack of a better word, Lindsey is a Grade-A klutz. Falling down is hardly foreign to her.
"Yeah, I’m fine," she said as she inspected the patch of tendered, blood-speckled flesh on her knee. "It didn’t really hurt."
"That looks really bad," Kellie said. "You want to go and clean it out?"
"No," Lindsey answered. "I’m fine."
But as we moved farther down the mountain, thin streams of blood began to trickle down her leg.
"Hey, you’re kind of bleeding all over yourself," I said. "Are you sure you just don’t want to wash it out?"
Lindsey looked down at her knee. “Oh, whoa. Yeah, I guess.”
We made our way across the park where a number of campers mingled about to a fountain where people were washing out beach toys and bottles. Lindsey wet a napkin and began dabbing the blood from her knee when our attention was diverted to an old man waving and calling out to us. He shouted some things we didn’t understand before flashing us one raised finger—the universal symbol for “hold on a second.”
He ran inside a little building and when he came back out he was carrying some Q-tips and a tube of antiseptic. He motioned us over to a picnic table and sat Lindsey down, quickly squirting one of the cotton ends of the Q-tip with the antiseptic and applying it across the cut.
Instantly, people began to flock over to us. A middle-aged woman sat down at the table across from us and asked us what happened. We explained the fall and she immediately began helping the old man apply gauze and band-aids to Lindsey’s knee. All the people that gathered didn’t come to smile at Lindsey’s minor misfortune or anything of the sort—they came out of genuine concern. They came to see if they could help—if everyone was all right. And even though it wasn’t anything serious, they stuck around until the end just to make sure.
I wrote earlier in this entry of kind human beings and how they’re everywhere, we just often choose to ignore it. This day was a healthy dose in reassurance of that belief. It was incredible to encounter so much kindness in the short span of a single day.
We gorge ourselves on selfish bitterness so often that it skews our view of the world. We let the bad things in life harden us until we can only see the ugliness of the world, ignorantly disregarding its beauty. The girl back at the bus station, these people crowded around us, concerned only of Lindsey’s well-being are proof of this beauty. Underneath all the bad things—the wars, the famine, the blind hatred and prejudices, the inequalities—the world is a place rich with beauty and part of that beauty is its people.
When I was a teenager I overdosed myself on apathy. I convinced myself people were poison. And while at times we can be, if we apply ourselves positively to the world and the others around us, the outcome could be magnificent.
Once Lindsey’s knee was patched up, many of the people that had gathered around didn’t immediately vacate. They asked where we were from, why we decided to visit Korea, where we were staying, how we were enjoying it, how we found out about this spot all the way out in the country.
The lady across from us was a Korean native that relocated to Hawaii years ago. Now she was a visitor just like us. They were all incredibly nice, one lady even sharing her experience in Orlando from several years prior.
We finally bid them farewell and set off down the wooden path built over the slick rocks that high tide was beginning to swallow. As we moved along, we began to notice depressions in the stone. They were dinosaur footprints, long secured in the sediment.
At first glance they could have just been holes in rock, but if you stand there and take it in—really think about it—it’s incredible. Dinosaurs walked there millions of years ago. And now there you are, all those years later, taking those same steps. We regard the past as such a distant memory, but we are tethered to it in one way or another, constantly echoing and mimicking those before us.
When we reached the end of the wooden path we crawled over some wet rocks and came upon a long stretch of stone that led out to the whistling ocean. Sitting silently on a set of stone steps, watching the tiny ocean waves cascade upon the rocky floor, was an old man. Positioned next to him were a line of photos propped against a rock wall that led inside a cave.
We walked over to him, asked him if we could go in. He smiled, nodded, and motioned with his hand for us to enter.
The inside of the cave was astonishing. We were sealed away in shadows generated by the broad stone ceiling above. The narrow walkways lead out onto a vast view of the ocean as it washed inside the cave, catching itself in the depressions in the floor and the cracks in the walls.
I took a seat on a stone slab jutting out from one of the rock walls. I leaned forward. Set between two slender stone pillars was a spider web. Caught in the web was the exoskeleton of a shrimp, probably displaced during a more chaotic high tide—crawling and scratching for safety only to end up in greater danger.
The cave was a monument to the natural order of the planet—a sanctuary to Earth’s physical beauty.
We left the cave, climbed back up the rocks, and took an alternate path on the wooden walkway, taking us to the dinosaur museum, which only cost 3,000 won. (3 bucks.)
The climb to the museum was filled with some fun photo opportunities with some cartoony dinosaur statues and a stop at a snack stand where I bought a cheap ice cream snack that was delicious. Vanilla soft serve drizzled in strawberry syrup with a layer of strawberry sorbet beneath.
The museum was pretty fascinating. There were a few actual dinosaur skeletons there which is always something remarkable to look at. However, all the info cards were in Korean, so after looking at everything there wasn’t much else to do.
We headed back downhill where, had we known it wasn’t exclusive to children, we could have taken a slide down to the bottom where we had a cab called to take us back to town.
Before catching a bus back to Busan, we stopped at a food stand. Alas, my first taste of Korean street food. I got a fried pepper stuffed with sticky rice. As I ate it on the bus I instantly regretted not getting three of them.
Just as quickly as I ate the pepper the bus started moving. It was easy for me to nod off to sleep. When I woke up I was in Busan.