“Where are you from? Malaysia?” said a voice at the back of my ears. My mind was so busy trying to keep up with the hiking trek that it took me a while to answer the question. Besides, I wasn’t sure if that voice was really talking to me. “Ah, Indonesia,” when I had made sure I was the only one around. I took a glimpse of the man asking.
While catching up my breath, the landscape behind him never ceased to amaze me. Bukhansan, the closest mountain to the bustling capital Seoul, was nothing I’d ever seen in my life. Growing up in a tropical country, the autumn combination of green, yellow, orange, and red were foreign to me, yet very comforting.
Stood by himself, a tall Caucasian with rather blonde, curly hair was walking beside me. He was a German, after a bit of chitchat, taking a 6-months break from his job to travel. Hiking that day was his last day in South Korea before going for his next destination.
We conversed for quite some time, until we encountered another solo hiker. A local, with fair skin dressed in a winter attire, took rests quite a lot. As if forgetting that Korean usually can’t speak English well, I asked her enthusiastically, “Do you want to join us to the peak?” Almost instantly, her face brimming with smile as she looked at us, “Yes!” and just like that, our group of three marched our way to Baegundae Peak.
We got more and more friendly with each other on this rocky mountain, but the trek was the exact opposite. Ha-eun, the Korean college girl which turns out to be ditching her class that day, had somehow found her pace quietly, while I had to put my full effort to keep climbing the knee-height rocks all the way up.
It was chilly and windy, but I could feel my face getting hot. If my legs had mind of their own, they would’ve given up on me. As I got fallen behind, Tobi, the German guy, shouted at me, “Putri, you need more stamina!” and all I could think of was that biological process within my muscles I studied back in high school years ago and they’re screaming the lack of oxygen to help me move my legs.
As we got close to the peak, there was no more soil, only piles of huge rocks beneath our feet. Not only the air felt thinner, but also did the tree canopies. The leaves on the higher altitude had already seemed to leave their branches.
We could see the cityscape of Seoul in distance and my mind can’t help but wandered to the flashes of my journey since early that morning. My Indonesian friend was supposed to come with me that day, but she picked another agenda at the downtown by the last minute. I had to brave myself to step on the mountain by myself, despite my close-to-nonexistent experience of traveling alone, much less hiking a mountain.
The views all along were even better than the pictures I only saw on the internet that encouraged me to go in the first place. Stealing a glance at my newly made friends as we shared oranges, crackers, and whatever left in our bags, I felt a sense of relief and a weight off my chest. I was so close to not going, to not experience the journey, the views, and the random encounter. Not only did I conquer The Peak of Bukhansan, but also my own fear and doubts. I couldn’t help but to smile.