Tuesday, September 29. Gangjeong Goryeongbo to Jaesong, Busan. About 200 kms.
The bike path is lit by green lights for a few kilometers. Sometimes I pass bikers going the other way. Then is just me, my bike, the moon, the river and the eerie Korean countryside. Hours later I reach Yangsan and buy water at the first vending machine I find. The city looks abandoned except for predatory taxis. I leave the river path and head towards Nopo at the northern end of Busan. Near PNU I get on the Oncheoncheon creek bike path. Elly meets me in Dongrae with a cupcake and candles to celebrate. I keep biking southeast to Suyong and cross the river at Gwajeong gyo. I arrive in Jaesong at 2 or 2:30am the night of my fourth day.
Monday, September 28. Sangjubo to Gangjeong Goryeongbo. ~100km.
Unfinished bridge pillar or brutalist Jangseung.
The breakfast of songpyeon that Elly packed for me.
Remote control cars in Gumi.
The Nakdong from Gangjeong Goryeongbo.
Saturday, September 26. Seoul to Chunju along the Namhangang bike path.
I take the night Mugunghwa train to Seoul. I arrive at 4:30 am and begin biking south towards the Han. I pass the high walls of the American military base, and the Dragon Hill neighborhood.
A Haetae 獬豸near Hangang Bridge.
As I cross the bridge, I hear a siren and look back. A small convoy of emergency vehicles enter the bridge behind me. They drive slowly. I dismount my bike and walk to the edge of the bridge. The water below is an empty field of darkness framed by a constellation of hovering window lights kept on by an army of hardworking Koreans.
From around an island, an emergency response speedboat floats quickly in my direction. It scans the water with a searchlight. They seem to be looking for someone.
I travel east. The sun begins to uncover the city.
Twenty seven bridges cross the Han in Seoul.
Up ahead the unfinished Lotte World Tower rises in the morning haze.
Kilometers beyond the capital, camouflaged creatures meet me at the banks of the Han.
A city on the Han.
Gun emplacements guarding the waterway against possible northern aggression.
Lunch time. A cat and bikers outside a cafe near Paldang Bridge 八堂大橋.
Plenty of small roadkill along the path.
Railroad tunnels turned into bike tunnels.
Camels in the Korean wilderness.
Trees with tiny purple pumpkins.
Jangseung 長承 and Sotdae at Ipobo weir.
The day ends at Chungju Tangeumdae, about 120 km from Paldang Bridge.
we visit todai-ji 東大寺, a buddhist temple built in 752 AD.
i wake up not particularly in the mood for a long bike ride. the only bike available had a diy basket attached to the handlebar. i shut up and get on the bike and leave my dad’s house. i head west on arturo prat.
i bike up the cuesta de chacabuco.
the old marker stands forgotten. grapevines cover the old battleground. my mom would later look at the picture and remember seeing the marker as a young girl on her way to the mountains. most people skip the cuesta and take the tunnel, passing by a newer, more he-man marker erected in the 80s.
i continue biking south on the autopista de los libertadores but i worry that i will be pulled over by carabineros. i decide to cut to another, less traveled highway. i get off the autopista before reaching colina.
i smell burning rubber. a dump truck appears screeching from around the corner, white-bluish smoke billowing from one of its tires. it comes to a stop near a vulcanizadora. its blinkers on.
i travel west down quilapilun road shaded by alamos. behind the alamos, the idyllic fields and dusty hills lies el tranque de las tortolas, an embalse relave of toxic, azure waters only seen by birds, descending planes and google. i reach the western highway and realize it’s perhaps even more dangerous and narrower than the one i just avoided. up ahead i see the hill of polpaico near a big cement factory.
i merge into ruta cinco and bike up the hill. the road is lined with dessicated, mummified dogs and general roadkill. at the top of the hill i expect to see santiago or at least the cerro de renca but when i get there the land stretches far into the distance, disappearing behind a curtain of murky, ominous smog.
i enter the industrial parks in the environs of santiago. long distance transantiago buses appear.
i stop by the first quiosco in conchali and drink a bottle of soda and eat a super 8 chocolate bar. the tv is on and the german team is about to play against brazil for the semifinals of the fifa 2014 world cup.
i get to an avenue called baron de juras reales- the kind of name that made santiago a magical and mythical city to me as a kid. santiago is full of sweet, strange names drawn from ancient spanish treasure maps.
i bike up avenida dorsal. i cut towards cerro san crisbal, which looks tiny and enveloped by the brownish, sticky smog of the late afternoon.
i arrive in recoleta. i travel up old streets, ‘dangerous’ streets. i walk and bike. my ass hurts. there’s a fat man with a mustache smiling outside a corner store. he’s got a funny secret to tell the world.
escuchaste lo de brasil weon? cuatro goles. cuatro a cero. lo estan cagando rico estos alemanes.
he’s got glee in his eyes. ten days ago brazil kicked chile out of the world cup. i doubt anybody can contain their joy as brazil is annihilated on its own soil.
recoleta is old and charming. i notice a few mansions built with a french flair long ago in some golden age. most buildings here have been left in disrepair for decades. graffiti crawls up the walls like ivy. i pass el cementerio general. then at cerro blanco i look through a gate and see a bullet. i may indeed be entering the rough side of town.
the neighborhood turns into patronato. i pass arab shops and start seeing the hangul and the bbq restaurants of the korean immigrants. the sun is about to set as i enter the bohemian barrio bellavista. as a kid i would imagine myself in my early 20s coming here and carreteando with art students.
i cross the mapocho again. i pass my grandpa’s house. i meet a highway and i’m forced to backtrack and cross the river for the last time. i enter a neighborhood with a sweet mapudungun name- tabancura. i keep pushing on until finally reaching avenida las condes. i walk up, following the silent mapocho to lo barnechea and home. by the time i park my bike is 8 or 9 and brazil has had a couple hours to sulk over their defeat.