01-Apr-2012 -- 38th parallel - The famous latitude line which divided Korean peninsula
Line-hunting is a hard concept to explain
I have my eye set for this point before a 2 days trip to Seoul mainly for the geopolitical significance of the 38th parallel which has long divided two countries and the line of contention of a very bloody war. In reality, the divide or the demilitarized zone (DMZ) does not follow the 38N exactly, rather it is a rather general approximation.
Before my brief visit to Seoul, I spoke with Joo Joo about an outing if she can arrange for a car. I had hard time explaining that the purpose was to go near the DMZ to hunt for this particular confluence point. Fortunately, she came through with a friend’s car even though unsure where we supposed to go or to do. Joo Joo picked me up at hotel at 1 pm, and from my hotel room the GPS distance to this point was 51 km.
From concept to practice
Once we started driving north based on a route I have planned out, Joo Joo was rather concerned that the 38th parallel would be too far to reach within half a day. I than realized that, even though she grew up in Seoul, she has never ventured more than half way to the DMZ, and had the impression that it is a far away place. We made good progress and it took a little over one hour to get to the nearest location from the confluence point by car, just about 1000 meters straight line distance, right in front of a army camp. We decided not to proceed from the hill right behind the camp, and found another spot to start. At this point, Joo Joo got the idea of what the hunt is all about, and became excited with the prospect of some hiking in the hills and evading the army sentry.
An sad discovery of dog meat factories
We started hiking into the hill with 850 meters straight line distance. As we walked up the valley, there were several very large sheds with thundering dog barks. Turned out these were dog farms with hundreds of large yellow dogs kept in individual cage, and clearly they were all destined for dinner table. Neither of us ever have seen such operation, and can best described as a strange and unsettling experience (photo 9).
After the dog farm areas, the dirt road went uphill twisted and tuned a few times and we found ourselves in front of an unmanned military check point with confluence point 230 meters off road down the hill. Just as luck has it, we found a footpath leading toward the right direction.
The most maddening confluence dance ever
As we went down the hill on the trail we quickly reached a point about 35 meters from our objective. To get to the all zeros, we had to go down a rather steep slope with very loose dirt and dry leafs compounded with many obstacles. By than Joo Joo already became super excited about this game, and keen to go for the zeros. We started traversing down the slope using the GPS navigation arrow as a guide. When GPS reading told me there were only 5-6 meters left, but when I switched to the direct reading of coordinates, the reading indicated we were a couple digits off from the last two zeros. For over 15 minutes, we slipped and slide on this difficult hill trying to zero in, but having trouble. Eventually, I decided to check my GPS key in for this point, and found it was entered as E127o.00,050, what a maddening mistake. After making the correction, we quickly found the all zero points, and guess what, it was just 3-4 meters off the trail, and this mistake took us to a goose chase all over the hill. By far, the longest confluence dance that I have ever done. One important lesson, when getting near the point, best to use the actual coordinate reading to zero in, instead of using the distance counter.
This confluence point has been officially marked by geological surveyor
One more surprise when we reached the all zeros point was the fact that all trees in the surrounding 10 meters has been cleared. Joo Joo noticed there is a small cement marker with a cross at center exactly where my GPS gave the zero reading. We assume this was done by official surveyors, and I wondered if other confluence points in South Korea have also been duly marked.
A new convert is born
Upon reaching the all zero point, Joo Joo was ecstatic and thought this line hunting game is the coolest, like a treasure hunt. So not only she now knows what this project is all about, she is eager to do more. I have taken many people on the hunt, and Joo Joo is one of the few really enjoyed the exercise. Now, I know I can count on her for more points when I find time to visit South Korea again.
The real divide
After the successful hunt, we drove east and visited an area where there is a rail road bridge cross over to North Korea. This is a close as anyone can get to the 38th parallel division line (photo 10). We concluded the day with a treat at a traditional restaurant serving only children soup in an iron pot in Seoul.
Rating of this Hunt:
Degree of Challenge:
2 – pretty straight forward if GPS is set correctly (1= very easy - drive to the point; to 5= a death march – glad it is over)
2– hilly region not very special this time of the year (Scale: 1= not interesting at all; 5= take your breath away)
4 - The fact it is near the DMZ and the dividing area of two Korea it has great deal of historical or political significance (Scale: 1=dull; 5= most stimulating)