Nakong-ri to Gumi (37 km)
The Four Rivers cycle path system is a small part of a massive rivers restoration project began in 2002, to provide « water security, flood control and ecosystem vitality ». We have pedaled many kilometres along extensive flood barriers, past artfully designed weirs, huge tracts of well organized agricultural land, parks and wetlands, underneath motorways and into cities like Gumi, that are home to plants of industrial giants like Samsung and LG and dominated by multiple high rise apartment blocks.
It is hard to imagine that only 65 years ago, this land was devastated. The Korean Peninsula had been under brutal occupation by Japan from 1910 until 1945. Following the Japanese surrender at the end of WWII, Korea was then occupied and divided by the Allied victors, the US and USSR. During the ensuing Korean War, armies representing north and south ( or east and west) battled their way across this land a number of times, destroying much of the existing infrastructure – roads, bridges, government buildings, including 50% of the houses. Civilian casualties were estimated to be 2.7 million. For those who managed to survive, most were destitute. At the end of the 1950’s, South Korea’s GDP per capita was less than $100. Life expectancy was around 54 years. In one generation, by what is referred to as the Miracle on the Han River, the South Korean economy has grown to become the 11th largest in the world, with a GDP per capita of $39,276. Today, South Koreans can expect to live at least 82 years. An emphasis on access to education has been a critical aspect of South Korea’s success story. In 1945, only 5% of Koreans had post-secondary or equivalent qualifications. By the 1990’s, this number was over 90% for South Koreans.
Over the past two days and evenings, the air was filled with the unnerving and deafening roar of fighter jets. We assumed this was a normal exercise, and not, we hoped, an escalation of tensions on the peninsula. We later read on CBC that North Korea had suspended talks with the South over US and South Korean air combat drills described as a “provocative military ruckus”. From the ground it certainly did not seem like a peaceful exercise!
Today, we met some fellow bike tourists, Lynn and Dave, from Bristol. They have been travelling since last year through Europe, Indonesia and Japan, and are now cycling/camping from Busan to Seoul.