Ride the rapids in Inje county
Inje used to be a popular destination for summer vacations in Korea because of its water sports, bungee jumping and mountain biking. But after torrential rainfall destroyed much of the county in mid-July, taking the lives of dozens of people, the number of visitors to the region dropped dramatically, by as much as 80 percent, compared to a year ago. Furthermore, the county government had to cancel what would have been its fourth “Leports Festival,” which was scheduled to be held for four days from July 20, missing one of the few chances to attract many visitors.
The damage from the heavy rainfall halted the county’s paddling sports businesses for about a month near the Naerin Stream, one of three top destinations for paddling sports in Korea, along with the Dong and Hantan Rivers. Inje, in fact, succeeded in the bidding to host the 2007 World Rafting Championship. Last week, however, the scars of the recent floods remained on the sides of the stream. Broken branches surrounded bridge posts up to the 7-meter (22.96-foot) waterline, showing how high the floods had risen. The slopes of the stream, which were once full of pine, fir and oak trees, were instead littered with rocks and sand washed into the stream by the heavy rain. Broken branches and clothes also hung from nearby bushes.
Beginning early this month, the paddling sports businesses started operating again. The stream is shallower than usual because of the sand build-up on its bed. But it’s cool enough to ease the summer heat, and deep enough to have enjoyable rapids. Moreover, it’s possible to enjoy the rest of summer without crowds of other visitors.
Last Thursday, I drove to Inje to relieve the steamy weather with the county’s cool water. It took about three-and-a-half hours to get there, as there were almost no traffic problems ― I only encountered short delays where destroyed roads were under reconstruction.
At first, I planned to go rafting, but realized that meant bringing at least six more people with me or waiting to find an empty seat with another group of people. Then, I saw small blue boats with sharp prows, each with one or two people aboard overtaking the huge rafts as they slid down the rapids in the Naerin Stream: inflatable kayaks, also known as “duckies” because they resemble duck tails when viewed from the rear. Park Young-seok, headmaster of the Songkang Canoe School, told me, “It was rafting that opened the paddling sports era in Korea in the mid 1980s. But these days, many are moving to kayaking.”
In the scorching sunshine, I and other visitors hired duckies, and headed to Wondae Bridge, our starting point, each accompanied by a guide.
Guide Han Dong-seok started the instruction. “Hold the paddle one hand-span away from each blade,” he said. “To make a stroke, the blade has to be at a right angle with the water surface,” he added. “Always start from the right.”
We practiced rowing in mid-air, as if we were cleaving the water. Once we got used to the action, we were given helmets and life jackets. “If you fall into the water, don’t try to swim, and don’t try to stand up in the water. More importantly, don’t panic! As you’re wearing a life jacket, you won’t drown. Just lie down and let your body float in the water,” he emphasized.
“Also, when overtaking another kayak, you should keep to the right side of the kayak as you pass. In the case of a raft, give way to it instead of trying to outrace it,” he added.
After the brief instruction period, we moved our inflated duckies to the water, which wasn’t as easy as it may sound: The 360-centimeter-long (11.8-foot) kayak weighed 23 kilograms (51 pounds), and the route to the water was very rocky from the recent flood. My guide, Choi Jong-hyun, took the head of the kayak and I got the tail. As he was used to the rocky road, he walked too fast for me and I fell several times on the way.
But once we entered the water, I had nothing to complain about. Even though there were rocks in the water, the flow was fast enough to pick up speed, and Mount Hanseok, on our left side, provided shade over the water.
“Shout loudly, ‘One!’ when using your right blade, and ‘Two!’ when using the left. When I say stop, you should shout out ‘stop’ as well,” said Mr. Choi, before we set off on our 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) journey to Gosari, where the canoe school is located. “It will be hard for you to keep rowing throughout the course, but just think that you can burn about 600 kilocalories by doing that,” he said, laughing.
Kayaking is much faster than rafting and it takes less effort to paddle the craft as it’s narrower than a raft. As one sits on the boat, rather than on its sides as in rafting, it provides a more stable ride. Another difference is that one uses a double-bladed paddle to kayak, while single-blade paddles are used in rafting.
After just a few minutes of still water, we encountered our first rapids: Jangsuteo. Mr. Choi warned me in advance, asking me to paddle, but I couldn’t help turning my head away with a scream when I saw the white foam breaking before my eyes. “Look to the front! Don’t turn your head away!” he shouted. When we got out of the rapids, he explained that I should look where I’m going through the rapids, checking if there were more waiting for me. He then gave me a multiple choice question on the Jangsuteo rapids to help me relax. According to him, it was named so because a number of strong men (jangsu in Korean) were born near the site and the king, who considered them a threat, had them killed here.
When we got to Myeongjuso, a deep pool in the stream (7 meters) where the water was calm, the guide asked me to get into the water to rest as rowing makes a beginner’s arms and wrists ache. As I was already wet from the kayaking, and wearing a swimsuit, I didn’t hesitate to jump into the water. I gave an exclamation of surprise as the water was very cool and moving faster than I had expected. I lay back to float, looking at the clear blue sky, listening to the sound of tree leaves whispering in the wind, the sounds of the water and the giggling of children playing in the stream. After resting there, we got back in the boat and started rowing again, passing Piasi and Teeth rocks, other rapids. It took more than two hours for us to complete the course.
“You can kayak from April to usually October in Naerin Stream,” said Mr. Park. “But you can actually enjoy kayaking throughout the year, as long as the water doesn’t freeze.” Kayaks were originally used for transportation or as hunting boats in cold areas, such as in the Arctic regions of North America and Greenland. It was first taken up as a sport in the late 1800s by the British, he said.
I could understand why more people are choosing kayaking rather than rafting: It’s more personal, faster, smoother and the vessels are easier to steer. It was well worth spending over seven hours on the roads to get to and from the site. But I recommend that you spend at least one night in Inje county, because it’s really hard to drive back to Seoul after two hours of paddling.
by Park Sung-ha
What to take: a swimsuit, a change of clothes, a towel, aqua shoes, a hat, sunblock and sunglasses.
From April to October, an Inflatable Kayak Guide Tour, where one guide escorts a group of people, is available at Songkang Canoe School at 9 a.m., 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. daily. It costs 40,000 won ($41) and takes about three hours to complete the trip. The Inflatable Kayak Express Tour, which provides one guide on each kayak, costs 60,000 won. It takes about one-and-a-half hours to complete that course. There are other courses available for more in-depth training. Anyone 12 years old or older can hire a kayak. For more information, call (033) 461-1659.
How to drive to Inje from Seoul:
Take the Gyeongbu Expressway to Singal, then take the Yeongdong Highway to Manjong. Get on the Jungang Expressway and exit at Hongcheon to take national road no. 44 and keep driving toward the Hapjang intersection.
Region invites volunteer help
For those who feel uncomfortable about holidaying in an area recently damaged by floods, the Inje county government is holding a 3-1-2 campaign: Spend three days in Inje, using one day to help with restoration efforts and the other two days enjoying yourself.
“The number of visitors to Inje dropped dramatically after the news that the county had been seriously damaged by recent floods,” said Son Mi-jeong, an official at the Inje county government. “We found that many felt burdened about playing in a devastated area, and decided to reduce that feeling by holding such a campaign,” she said. The more people who visit the county and the more they spend, the faster the county can recover from the damage.
In order to join the restoration program, call the Inje Volunteer Center, which introduces volunteers to villages that need assistance.
At the moment, the volunteers can help with farmwork that was delayed because of flood damage. “When we tell volunteers to go to a farm and help out, people look surprised, as if they are wondering ‘not restoring work, but farming?’,” said Kang Soon-bok, an official at the center. “But the mud cleaning is nearly done and the roads have been restored, only leaving things for machines to take care of,” she said.
“[Helping farmers] is the most urgent and necessary job at the moment,” she added. Volunteers can harvest potatoes, as the harvest is already late, and pull up weeds in pepper or bean fields.
For more information, call (033) 463-5400.