It was Saturday morning when we left Seoraksan National Park and the road to the park was filled with cars driving bumper to bumper, coming to hike and hoping to score a parking place.
I had heard that hiking is a national obsession in Korea, but I could not have imagined the amount of people that have come to hike Seoraksan on this weekend.
I was pleased that without giving it much prior thought, we happened to have hiked on a Friday, and thus encountered many less hikers on our path.
It was still busy on our hike, but not insanely busy as it looks to be on weekends.
My legs, however, are not very pleased with me.
For some strange reason, my legs who have carried me so well on difficult hikes, do not do well on climbing up and down steps.
We climbed up and down thousands of high steps yesterday, and my muscles are stiff and achy.
I hope they will loosen up soon, because I have scheduled another hike in two days, and I need to be in relatively good shape.
We drove south to the beaches of Naksan.
On the shores of the East Sea is an old Buddhist temple that was built in 671 AD.
It features a large temple complex surrounded with an impressive garden park with walking paths that meander to the shores of the sea.
At the entrance to the park stood two art project of sculptures, commemorating a recent forest fire that destroyed 17 of the temple’s buildings.
It was all rebuilt by now, and the sculptures feature tiles from the old roofs and a sculpture commemorating the ancient bronze bell which melted in the fire.
This temple was originally built by an ascetic monk named Uisang Daesa, who followed a blue bird which led him to a cave in the rocks on the shores of the blue sea.
After meditating for seven days in this cave, Uisang Daesa was at awe when Avalokitesvara, the Boodhisattva or Goddess of Mercy and Compassion, manifested in front of him floating in the air, seated on a red lotus.
The goddess of compassion gave him a string of crystal prayer beads.
The monk built his hermitage on the site of this small cave and later more buildings were added.
Today, on the site of this little hermitage which was rebuilt many times through the years, (due to decay and fire damage,) stands a small charming temple on the rocks.
After offering my heart felt respect and prostration in the Korean style, (which is different from a Chinese, Japanese, Bhutanese and Chinese prostration) I gazed through a small glass covered hole in the floor.
If you kneel on your knees and put your eyes to the tiny hole that is covered in glass, you will see the original cave and the strong waves of the sea crashing on it.
A large stone statue of the Goddess of Compassion stands in the middle of the park by the ocean.
It was the weekend and many people had come to the temple to pray and to see this magnificent temple.
After our visit to the temple, we walked through the beach town of Naksan, and saw the rows of shops selling seaweed and dried fish.
There were dozens of shops, and most visitors bought some dried fish or dry seaweed to take home, or ate some quickly grilled fish or octopus from one of those vendors.
The road meandered along the sea, and I noticed that those picturesque sandy beaches were often edged by a tall wire fence hemmed at the top with barbed wire.
I also noticed that there were numerous old army viewing points, from which to spot a possible invasion.
The extra security served as a reminder to me, that despite the serene feeling of those fishing coastal towns, with glorious, almost timeless ancient temples, we were in South Korea after all…