Upo Wetlands

On Saturday several girls decided to go walking.

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About thirty minutes from our CEV school is the Upo Wetlands, a special preservation zone for wildlife and water. The entrance buildings are above. One girl who has taught in Changnyeong for over a year now suggested we go in early spring, when there are ducks and geese but fewer flies and bugs.

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So the long path around the wetland was probably about 7 or 8 miles long, and if you walk quickly it can be done in about two hours. We strolled slowly so we could take photos and enjoy the weather. It was a chilly day, but the sun was warm on our backs and we warmed up while walking.

This was really the first wildlife I had seen in Korea, and I’ve been here for four months. Ducks squawked in the water and geese honked by overhead. We looked over a causeway and saw three huge bulls tied in a pen beside some fields. These were the first farm animals three of us had seen since arriving in Korea.

I was informed that there are snakes in Korea, little garden ones, so I should probably watch my steps as we tramped through the forest stretch of the trail.

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The path was part walking, part driving, and part cycling. We had to jump off the trail a few times to avoid cars. The trail meanders around the wetland, stopping at small villages along the way (these villages are all about the size of Gyeseong, where we live).

Upo is the largest inland wetlands area in Korea and it has four sections.We walked around most of them. The species of fish and plants in the wetland are very diverse. Koreans put forth Upo as a potential UNESCO site in 2011, but I don’t think anything more has come of it. Fishing and boating can be done in the water, and there are plenty of photo spots.

While summer certainly would be a prettier time to see the area, it would be very muggy and consumed with swarms of flies. We had walked about two hours and gotten roughly two thirds of the way around the wetlands when we came across a problem. We had to cross a rock bridge to get to the rest of the trail, but it was completely submerged in water.

For about thirty minutes the four of us looked around, decided against wading across or following another trail further into the woods. We had to reach the front entrance by a certain time to catch the bus back to Changnyeong, and if we hiked back where we came from it would be another two hours, perhaps hour and a half, and we’d miss the last bus back to town.

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We returned to a branch in the trail, where a road lead to one of the small villages two kilometers away, and decided to call a taxi. However, none of us are very good in Korean. So we searched for a friendly Korean hiker that would be willing to make the call for us and explain NOT to pick us up at the main gate, but at this particular point along the trail.

A nice lady from Seoul who knew a little bit of English offered to help us out. She called the taxi company for us, relayed the information. There was lots of head nodding and Korean. She closed the phone and said, “He come here eight minutes.”

We nodded, bowed, smiled, and thanked her.

But then we exchanged worried looks. “It takes longer than eight minutes to get here. He’s going to the main gate.”

Eight minutes later we got a phone call. Laura, whose phone it was, handed it to the Korean woman. After a moment of conversation she looked at us and said, “he’s at the main gate. No taxis come here.”

We looked at each other. “So what’s plan B?”

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The woman was ready to offer her car to us, to drive us at least to the entrance gate if not all the way back to Changnyeong. Her husband, however, was pretty resistant. he’d just pulled out several lenses for his camera and was eager to take photos.

Another set of hikers, both women in their 30s, came up and offered a ride. They knew no English so the first Korean woman that had been helping us translated.

“Changnyeong,” they repeated with smiles. “Changnyeong.” We crowded in the back seat, one girl in the cargo area with her backpack on her lap. So, nice people that they were, they took us all the way to Changnyeong and dropped us off at the bus terminal! The kindness of strangers, folks.

We didn’t finish the trail, but all in all I walked almost eight miles that day. Perhaps we’ll return in the fall, when the weather is cooling again.

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Morgan S Hazelwood

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