April 24, Just Korea Things

I finally embarked and set out to hike the mountains in my back yard. After a few hours I had taken pictures and burnt out my quads, but mountains don’t work like sidewalks and I had to continue for another hour to find a descent.

A gang of three retires were catching up to me with the hiking superpowers all Koreans magically gain at 65.

I sped up, jogging down the soft trail covered in pine needles, careful not to trip on the extremely narrow path since the side was a steep decline straight to the bottom.

But I skidded to a comical halt at one particularly narrow spot. There was, even more unexpectedly than the deer earlier, a snake.

I stared at it in complete shock. Korea had snakes after all! The fifth graders weren’t lying!

I’m used to Florida snakes that usually take one look at a person and flee.

This snake was different. It spotted me and started to shake its thin tail like a rattlesnake. Now, I’ve encountered a rattle snake when I used to work at a golf course and the two of us quietly parted ways.

But this was no Florida snake. It wasn’t large but was aggressive— it turned around completely, opened its mouth, and advanced towards me.

I do a lot of dumb things but I was not going to die at the fangs of a potentially venomous snake before I hit thirty. Not today, Satan!

I backed up ten feet and waited. There was nowhere for me to go. The path was too narrow and the drop off too steep.

It stared me down in an exterenely unnerving and almost human way then turned round and slowly started slithering along the trail.

Well crap. What do I do? Follow along ten paces behind?

I remembered the hikers behind me and turned around to find the three of them about fifty feet behind watching in confusion. What is this weird white girl doing just standing still on a mountain?

Absurdly I couldn’t let my reputation suffer so I called out in Korean, “it’s a snake!” Endless thanks to the fifth graders for teaching me that word last week.

“There’s a snake???” They all cried. The man led his two female companions past me to observe.

He threw a rock near the snake but it didn’t move, like it was possessed. He then threw a rock on it and it still didn’t move. He finally picked up his hiking pole, dig under the snake, and flung it off the side of the mountain where it landed about ten feet down. Out of spite or shock, it still didn’t move so the man threw another rock.

I don’t know if it was dead or just angry but it seemed incredibly ominous. The woman I assume was his wife had to pull him away from throwing another rock.

We all got a move in shortly after.

The woman who was not the wife asked if I had planned to wait for one hour or two hours until the snake had left.

I mean, yes? I’m not about to fight a snake with my bare hands.

I’m not a man but I felt like my man card had been revoked in that moment. For the first time in my life I had an idea of what it might feel like to be emasculated.

They warned another couple along the way of the snake and later stopped by a tree.

“Do you want to go ahead of us?” One asked.

I wasn’t about to admit they were fitter than me plus I had my pride to think of. I told them about the snakes in my hometown and how the snake advanced on me.

I ended up following them to the end of the trail, listening as they exclaimed more about the snake. One kept poking at bushes with her hiking pole while the other shouted at her to stop and also “no snake will come out because you smell bad!”.

At the end of the trail they veered to a sitting area to uncap some drinks and eat.

“Thank you!” I called.

“Do you want to drink some?” Asked the wife, holding up a thermos.

I don’t turn down free food!

“Ooh, is it alcohol?” I asked.

The trio laughed. The wife started to explain in English, “rice… drink?”

“Oh, 식혜?”

She nodded in surprise. 식혜 is a sweet beverage made from rice and pine nuts. It’s a bit similar to horchata. I can’t think of an American equivalent. Maybe apple cider?

I complimented the one who made the drink by hand. The man sat in victory drinking his drink and chuckled, telling me that she brews well, she cooks well, and he eats well. Or something like that, I missed a middle sentence so I’m guessing at the meaning. When in doubt just laugh along!

I gave the cup back and finally bid my saviors goodbye.

“Be careful!” They told me.

Well, now that I know venomous snakes are on the table, I’ll certainly have to be!

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