Relaxing in Imgyemyeon

As we ride into the tiny village of Imgyemyeon, just 40kms out of Donghae, I spot a tall motel. It is too soon to get to Donghae, so we pull over and I go back to have a look while Anthony stays with the bikes. For some reason, the place has a good feel, I am shown a lovely room, I quickly check the current availability and rate at the hotel we had booked for 2 days later in Donghae and decision is made, we’ll stay here for 2 nights. A good base to spend the remaining of our time in Korea (locals only refer to their country as ‘Korea’, not ‘South Korea’).

Imgyemyeon is not a quaint, pretty little place, but a thriving farming community. It feels gently alive. Our 2 nights here were spent repacking, washing, walking, blogging, eating, exploring, shopping, eating, using Google translate to communicate and of course sleeping. While we didn’t sleep on the floor this time, the mattress was not only rock hard, but was circular – we had the love room!!!

Enjoy your stay in Imgyemyeon through the photos.
– Anne

Our love bed, with mood lighting above, Imgyemyeon

Sign in the shower, Imgyemyeon

Is it soap, moisturiser, cleanser?!

Dinner of tofu, mushrooms and ground beef, Imgyemyeon

Dinner in Imgyemyeon

Cooked eggs in the local supermarket?

Yes, cooked egg for breakfast but brown!

Dried octopus

Most advertising has a photo of happy woman

Take your pick

Not sure what this completely painted hut was about, Imgyemyeon

So many farming hardware shops in Imgyemyeon

Local police car – choose the appropriate number to call, Imgyemyeon

A walk along the river, we try out the various exercise machines, Imgyemyeon

Cabbages for Kimchi, Imgyemyeon

Most delicious dumplings, Imgyemyeon

Inside a dumpling, Imgyemyeon

Rice field in Imgyemyeon

Bridge over Imgyemyeon river in Imgyemyeon

On the edge of Imgyemyeon

View of Imgyemyeon with our tall motel

Fish ladder on the Imgyemyeon

Walking and cycling track sign, Imgyemyeon

Imgyemyeon is on Korea’s extensive walking/cycling cross countryntrack!

Temple in Imgyemyeon

Imgyemyeon

Imgyemyeon

Enjoying peaceful Imgyemyeon

Seoul

Waiting to board our flight from Vancouver to Seoul, we eagerly watch for any new pallets being driven to our plane to see if we can spot Streak and Storm. At each sight of large brown crates we rush to the window for a closer look, no, still not them… Time to board, we wonder if they’ll be on our flight as planned… 11 hours later, after a smooth flight, practicing writing some Korean words to memorise them when we see them on the road and having well and truly contoured North Korea, we arrive in Seoul.

Crossing over Russia

Staying well away from Pyongyang

Our immediate feeling at the airport is that everything is clean, calm and ordered. It is hard to describe the atmosphere. It is immediately clear that we are not to jay walk and walk on the correct side of the pedestrian crossing as identified with arrows – saves bumping into people walking in the opisite direction.

We get our first taste of hotels in Korea, although this one is clasified as a ‘tourist’ hotel. As you open your hotel room door, you are greeted with slippers in a sort of vestibule, and a little step to the main door. In the room is a tray with all sorts of men’s grooming products, even a hair brush (can you imagine using this hair brush?!) but the funniest is the large spray can which looked like hair spray, except for the picture of a cockroach lying on his back. Anthony reckons it too is a man’s grooming product designed by women who probably consider men to be cockroaches! The bed is super hard which I am looking forward to.

Porch into our hotel room

Free toileteries

Once we connect to wifi and I find yet another frustrating email from our shipping contact here, Wendy: in addition to being asked a few times before our departure if we had arrived yet, despite having given our departure and arrival dates several times and her having our Airway Bills with all the details, and my asking several times where we would meet on Monday 12th, we arrive to find out that our bikes arrived a day early and she wants to meet us at the airport at 19:30 that evening, equivalent to 3.30am for us – sorry, not tonight! Same time tomorrow she suggests. And no word from the shipper… Pretty disappointing to say the least as this means we will be charged additional storage fees for having our bikes there over 24 hours. It is already equivalent to 1am for us but we decide it is in our interest to return to the airport asap and start the customs clearance process to save us time and money tomorrow.

The whole customs clearance process will be detailed in our Visas and Borders section soon, but suffice to say here that the customs staff at the airport terminal were incredibly helpful. The customs officer we were directed to immediately called an interpreter. They had our Airway Bill in their system as we understood our name being mentioned. Within the first half hour, three people were involved and placed 6 phone calls. We then lost count of the number of calls and people involved, I think another 5. At one point the interpreter came over just to chat with us – it was her duty she told us to be with us while the paperwork was being processed. When she had to leave, after the official closing time, another customs officer called us over to her desk. She spoke good English and she too explained that it was her duty to chat to us so that her colleague could continue her work for us and feel less pressured that we were just waiting alone. Such amazing courtesy and consideration. Two hours later, we had all the paperwork we needed to clear the bikes out of the warehouse the next morning. Time for some dinner and some sleep before an early morning for the next stage of getting the bikes out.

Every government office or bank provides these

Delicious dumplings

Breakfast is a funny mixture of western and local food. We try our first kimchi, pickled chilli cabbage, it gives a bit of flavour and a bit of a bite to otherwise bland food. By the end of breakfast, we can see that are growing to enjoy Kimchi already. The next day was another whole process made the more interesting by a series of ‘helpful’ signs – which office are we meant to go to?! Yet again, someone came to our rescue: one of the Korean Air Services staff organised a car to drive us to a building to collect the original Airway Bill. It would have taken us hours to walk there and back. Paid the warehouse charge and after returning to the first office, got more signatures and stamps, we were ready to be taken to the warehouse to receive the crates.

Information sheet


Where to now?!


Crate removed

Time to finish reassembling the bikes

2.5 hours later, we are on our way!!! We are back at the hotel by noon – plenty of time to go into Seoul but not before lunch. We had been told of a great little restaurant around the corner from our hotel and decide to give it a go. What a feast, great dumplings. With Kimchi again of course. We are struck by the assault on the senses, just in our little area alone.

Left then first right to our hotel

Quiet Incheon where our hotel is

Cash machine

Toy arcade?!

We take the airport express subway into Seoul centre, which is 60kms away. Again, we are struck by the efficiency, cleanliness and ordered feel of the subway. It seems that a lot of thought has been put into making travel easy and stress free.

Next train approaching

Reserved for pregnant women, whether showing or not


Subway entrance for kids

I have a little wandering tour planned out to take Anthony on. When time is limited, I prefer ambling the streets rather than visiting important landmarks or museums as I find you get a better sense of the place as it is today, and can still read about the history. I had read of an arty suburb called Gahoe-dong with good views of the city. Getting there would take us past the Gyeongbokgung Palace, the National Palace, where one can watch the changing of the guards, except on Tuesdays, that’s today.

Impressive motorcade near the national palace, Seoul

King Sejong statue in front of the National Palace, Seoul


Seoul

As we meander the streets, we come across two young ladies taking lots of photos of each other. Too photogenic, I ask them if I can take a ohoto of them and ask why they are in traditional dresses. Just because they are spending the day together Vivi tells me as Chong-Ing from Busan on the right is visiting her. There is something special to see people proudly wearing their traditional dress. After them, we came across many more, young and not so young.

Vivi and Chong-Ing

Steps in Gahoe-Dong, Seoul

View from Gahoe-Dong, Seoul

Seoul

They do like cutesy cartoons to give messages

We stumble across an amazing art exhibition

Police barricade to military base – with plastic plants on top!

What a full first day, a sensory feast but we can’t wait to get out into the country side tomorrow and visit some old temples.

– Anne

The Untold Story

When we thought of doing this trip, a northern hemisphere summer round the world trip, we knew that we would be time and weather challenged but we both felt it was something we wanted to attempt.

Weather challenged we have certainly been for the past 2 months. We had hoped we would be late enough to ride up to Alaska but that was not to be. Winter across the USA, as it turns out this year, has been fierce and long and spring unseasonnably cold and wild. Instead we ended up going as far south as Arizona in pursuit of calmer and warmer weather but also to fill the time before our booked ferry trip to Vladivostok.

We certainly have had a great trip, enjoyed reconnecting with friends and family, making new friends, stumbled across gems we knew nothing about and simply letting fate or luck or whatever guide us to our next destination. But because of the freezing conditions, we have not camped as much as we had planned and accommodation has been horrendously expensive. While we have ridden in some pretty bad conditions, at the end of the day, if we want, comfort is never far, so long as we are prepared to use that plastic card… Having no fixed plan is something we have found we both enjoy. And yes, despite the weather, we’ve had a great trip so far.

The 2slowspeeds enjoying travelling despite the cold!


But… yes a big ‘but’ I wanted to share with our faithful readers. There has been a lot of soul searching. The but relates to the next stage of our trip. Due to the constraint we have put on ourselves of completing the trip during a northern summer, and due to visa restrictions (ie being limited to 30 days to cross Siberia, Mongolia and out of Russia before getting to Kazakhstan), we will have to rush this next part, Vladivostok to Ulan-Baatar especially, a mere 4000kms to cover in 10 days. How do we feel about this constraint? At least we’ll have long riding days with late setting summer sun. Do we really want to do this trip? Do we want this pressure? We can always back out at any time anyway. Should we rather just go to Alaska now and spend more time in Canada? And of course there’s the news of our unstable world at the moment – North Korea firing missiles, terrorists anywhere and everywhere. Our thoughts go back and forth… What shall we do?…

Anyway, all this just to let you know that we did question whether we should or whether we wanted to continue with our RTW trip. After much soul searching and checking with each other, we have decided it is something we both would like to complete. We really only finally decided about a week ago. The main aim was to visit friends we had made on the last trip and next on the list now, we really want to return to Uzbekistan and Iran (Turkmenistan willing). And discover Mongolia.

When we handed the keys to Streak and Storm to Justin at BMW-Ducati in Vancouver, I felt my first pang of excitement towards our next stage. This RTW is happening!!! Of course I will have to wait until the plane lands in Seoul before I can get really excited.

– Anne

North Cacades Highway

The joy of travelling with no fixed route or destination or timetable is that you invariably stumble across more unexpected gems. Today was another such day. Another road closure along state route 20, a reputedly scenic route in the area, that would take us from the fruit growing area of Okanogan across the Cascade Mountains is closed in a couple of areas due to a number of landslides – pity as we were really enjoying the gentle scenery of rolling hills after the dramatic snow capped jagged peaks.

Outside Okanogan along US20


Outside Okanogan along US20

Fruit stands line the roads, hundreds of empty wooden boxes waiting for the fruit picking season to begin – the last couple of days have seen temperatures reach 30 degrees centigrade and we get delicious wafts of fermenting fruit as we drive by.

After an 80km detour, we are back on Route 20 entering the Methow Valley and stumble across a sign advertising espresso coffee on the outskirts of Twisp. Oooh, yes, let’s turn off: real coffee is so rare here in the US and it’s time for a stop. The place immediately looks interesting and it is not long before we are chatting with Dan the founder and owner of Blue Star Coffee Roasters and get a tour of the production area. It was fantastic seeing his modified and updated 1963 German Probat 22kg roaster – all those various pulleys, chains, manual levers. The whole process is completely manual, no fancy electronic gauges or monitors. And yes, the coffee was superb. Funnily, a week later, a friend we visited outside Seattle had Blue Star coffee at home!

Dan Donahue of Blue Star and his 1957 Probat coffee roaster

An hour and a half later, we are off again to give the local Smokejumpers a visit. This region, the Methow Valley, is the birthplace of smokejumping where, back in 1939, the first experimental jump was made to prove firefighters could safely and successfully parachute into the rugged timbered terrain and attack wildfires. 58 succesful jumps helped determine how best to land in inaccessible areas and 2 smokejumping bases were created, one here and the other in Missoula. Apart from the bravery of those souls willing to parachute into a burning area, it was interesting to learn that every firefighter suit is made to measure on site. The firefighters, in addition to having to be incredibly fit to carry 70kgs on their backs for up to 3 days, being able to parachute and get themselves out of trees when they inadvertently get tangled in branches on their way down, also need to be proficient with the sewing machine.

Smokejumpers’ suits ready to don

Smokejumper Jeff explaining their suits

Smokejumpers’ sewing machine


A couple of hours later, we’re off again and stumble upon Winthrop with its 1890 old Wild West store fronts and wodden boardwalks. Time for another stop and a sandwich.

Winthrop Town Hall built in 1891

Winthrop, WA

From the gentle rolling hills of the Okanogan and Methow Valley, we now continue along the North Cascades Highway and find out the reason for its name: sheer cliffs and multiple cascades shooting down along the highway. We climb up over Washington Pass, past more snow and impressive Liberty Bell Mountain. Then we see an ominous road sigh: severe winds warning. Shreds of pine branches litter the road. I am sure our training of riding in Cape Town and South America came in handy but it didn’t feel like it. The wind was truly brutal and it was scary but apart from taking shelter in a toilet block overnight and hoping for the wind to die down the next day, we had to soldier on. Pity as it is meant to be a stunning area. Anthony’s calming encouragement on the way down was very helpful. Luckily, the weather gods were kind enough to hold off raining until we got out of the windy area. Time to find a motel and stop for the day. We stop at the first one we come across, it is a querky little old place, we are the only guests but it is perfect for the night!! Amazing what feels good sometimes!! And that US 20 was amazing.

Liberty Bell Mountain, WA on North Cascades Hwy

Riding up Washington Pass on North Cascades Hwy

Diablo Lake, WA

Severe winds above Diablo Lake, WA

We are getting close to our original destination: Vancouver, the place the bikes are to be serviced and where we leave for South Korea from. First a breakfast catch up with Susan from Horizons Unlimited, catch up with one of Anthony’s second nephews, Gareth and his gorgeous girlfriend Mimi and finally dropping off the bikes at BMW-Ducati for their 45,000 miles service and new tyres. We chose Heidenau Scout K60 as they performed so well for us last time. We leave Justin with a list of things to check and fix on the bikes and head south in a hire car to Seattle for a couple of days to see an old friend.

Anthony with Gareth and Mimi

Back in 1985, Anthony and I hitch hiked to Alaska from Edmonton, Canada. A family moving from Seattle to Anchorage eventually picked us up – what fun travelling on top of a double bed in a dump truck for 2 days, watching bears along the road – and invited us to use their home as our Alaskan base. We would disappear for a few days, come back, camp in their front yard, do our washing and head off again. During that month, we formed a strong friendship, but over the years, one move too many and we lost touch. I recently found Elisa again thanks to my decluttering at home: I came across an old address book and found her parents’ address!! A quick search through Facebook and I found her and her son!!! Meeting up again 32 years later and having her kids want to come over to see us again was so special. Just as if we had last caught up a few weeks ago.

Finally together again after 32 years with Karen, Elisa and Anthony

Elisa and Anne

We make the most of a clear day to go up Mt Rainier:

Mt Rainier, WA


Christine Falls, Mt Rainier Nat’l Park, WA


From Mt Rainier, WA

At Paradise, on Mt Rainier, WA

Well, this North America section of this trip is coming to an end. It didn’t turn out as we had originally ‘planned’, hoping to revisit Alaska, but the wild weather has sent us on a windy South West heading before turning north again. Most days, we had no idea where we were going to end up at the end of the day. We have definitely enjoyed this freedom to go where we feel, where locals recommend, stay somewhere longer than expected and where the weather was less bad!!! No wonder many of you had no idea where we were, we didn’t either!!

We leave Vancouver on 11th June for Seoul, with the bikes on the same flight as us, then leave South Korea from Donghae on 18th June for a 24 hour ferry ride to Vladivostok. Wish us luck!!!

– Anne