The sun was dangerously low when we rolled into Yeoju.
Adding 20 additional kilometres to our ride (in tandem terms, about 1.5-2 more hours) really didn’t help to keep our spirits high, and by the time we reached civilisation, we were so annoyed and tired that we did the bare minimum to find accommodation. That meant stopping in front of the closest motel that looked open, which in this town at this time, meant that there wasn’t many.
As Jess is the designated public speaker for this trip, she ventured through the dark glass doors of Yungung Park Motel, meekly calling “Hello?” before an old lady answered from the second floor. She looked about a hundred years old, sounded like she had the weight of the world on her shoulders, and could not stop laughing at Neil wearing spandex.
It took a bit of back and forth before she got the message that we wanted a room for the night, and you have to wonder what else she thought these two tired, dirty cyclists might want from her. Jess’s toil eventually got us a stark double for 30,000 won which came with a bed, TV, tiny bathroom, and toiletries. The proprietor also offered to keep our bike on the balcony, but as that was another two floors up and our legs felt like jelly, we graciously declined. It wasn’t hard to find a quiet side street nearby to park up for the evening – they’re all quiet side streets here.
So this is our introduction to smalltown Korea, and it’s an odd mixture of deathly quiet and bright lights which we’re unaccustomed to, coming from Germany. In an equivalent small town there, it would be just as sleepy, with only the obligatory Italian restaurant and a döner shop to feed you at the end of a ride. But it also wouldn’t be so… shiny. Here, although the streets are virtually empty, there’s a hint that things get more lively, at least some of the time.
Yeoju is a city within the Gyeonggi Province, and together with the neighbouring city of Icheon, is known as a major centre of contemporary South Korean ceramics, hosting the World Ceramic Exposition every year. Other local products include rice, sweet potatoes, and yellow melons. Yeoju is also the birthplace of Korea's last queen, Empress Myeongseong, who was the first official wife of Gojong (the 26th king of Joseon and the first emperor of the Korean Empire). By all accounts, it’s a lovely day trip from Seoul, with historic temples and museums galore. Unfortunately, at 8 PM on a Sunday night, you’ll be experiencing none of that.
Needless to say we were famished, so we immediately went on the hunt for an ATM. But this turned out to be far from simple. Remember that foreign debit cards only work at certain ATMs? Well, we tried three here without success, and according to the all-knowing Internet, the nearest machine that we could use was several towns away in the wrong direction. By now it was nearing 8:30 PM and restaurants were starting to shut. We decided we would have to resolve this issue tomorrow, but for now, we needed to eat as cheaply as possible. We found what we were looking for in a tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant, where 15,000 won got us chicken curry fried rice, dumplings, and spicy seafood udon. On a whim, we tried to pay the bill with our debit card directly, and it worked! What a relief.
Before heading back to our humble digs, we ventured to a nearby convenience store for the customary cheeky beer. There was a shady looking ATM outside, and with no expectations and nothing to lose, we thought we’d give it a go. By Grabthar’s hammer! The beautiful sound of whirring money filled the still evening air and we gave each other a solid high five. Calculating that 300,000 won more or less covers all costs for 3 days including food and accommodation (like, you won’t starve or freeze to death), we were now all set for whatever the next couple days would throw at us. But we knew that this situation was something that would need to be fixed as soon as possible - scraping by on our last wons while running around frantically trying all the town’s ATMs wasn’t what we had in mind for our evening.
We had planned for another 90km day tomorrow in order to make the day after that through the mountains as short as possible. But we know by now that plans made in the middle of winter on the other side of the world aren’t worth much when the rubber hits the road. So we’ll just have to see how it goes. But one thing’s for sure – there’s nothing in Yeoju to keep us there. We’ll be on our way in the morning.