Archangel's blog A pointless waste of time


Day 2

First things first: I've updated the albums with a few more pictures since this morning.

Now the most important part: I have now technically been in North Korea!

So, more details?
Ok, if you insist. I started the day early, too early. Afraid of being late and not knowing exactly how to get to the tour office and how long that would take I started out with lots of time to spare. I arrived almost an hour early... But then I had time to upload some pictures, so no harm.

At 9 the actual tour started, we were a whole bus filled with tourists and one guide. We were more or less bombarded with information the whole day long. So for details about the DMZ, the tour and my reflections on it you'll have to ask about an oral account when I get back home.

On this tour we visited four places, in order: Dora observatory, third infiltration tunnel, JSA and Dora station. Sadly I haven't taken many pictures, and even fewer good ones. There were quite a few restrictions on when, where and how one was allowed to take pictures. So the few times that pictures were allowed there weren't really any good ones to be had and it was also rushed. The whole tour was run on a tight schedule.

Note to anyone who decides to take a DMZ tour if your ever in South Korea (from what I've heard there are actually such tours in the north as well, but very expensive and probably not as good): make sure you go on a tour that includes the JSA! Not all tours do and those that do are more expensive. But trust me, it's worth it, that's the most interesting part (and then one where you're actually inside the DMZ).

First up Dora observatory. As the name implies it's an observatory and thus it's situated on a hill. It's right outside the border of the DMZ with a view of the DMZ and the north. Here we were treated to a small lecture and some interesting tidbits about the area. There was a good view to be had but we were not allowed to photograph it, security, security, something, something...

The next stop on the tour was the third infiltration tunnel. This was discovered in 1976 after a defector from the north told the south about tunnels that were being constructed to aid a possible invasion. The tunnel ran all the way from the north, outside the DMZ to right outside the DMZ on the south side. This is where they found it and could stop it. The tunnel is a long and very small tunnel (luckily I'm not claustrophobic but still felt uncomfortable) that has a small incline so all water drains to the north side. But to (badly) hide that the tunnel was for invasion and infiltration purposes the North Koreans had smeared coal on all walls and claimed it was an old coal mine. Problem is that there aren't any coal deposits anywhere in this area.

To get down to the tunnel, that is about 73 meters under ground, we had to walk down a 350 meters long walkway at an 11 degrees incline. My knees did not like the ride down. Thankfully this part could be walked upright. Then we were allowed to walk 265 meters into the tunnel and see the concrete blocks erected to keep the north out. This part could did not allow for an upright posture! Even most Koreans had to stoop a bit, imagine how I felt... These 265 meters felt like several kilometers! And then back again... My back complained quite a lot at the end.

The third stop is the most interesting and the one that took the most time, the JSA (Joint Security Area). For this we actually ventured into the DMZ and got of the bus at Camp Bonita's where we were greeted by US marines. This area is controlled (as the name implies) by both South. Korean forces and US forces under the command of the UN ("fun" fact: there are two other nations that have a constant presence in the JSA, there is a Swiss-Swedish camp). So per regulations we switched to an on site bus, and left our bags in our bus, (no hidden bombs please!) which was escorted by an American soldier. In the JSA we were first treated to a small lecture of the history of the JSA, including a lovely double ax-murder of American soldiers. Then we were driven out all the way to the MTL (Military Demarcation Line) which is the exact border between the two countries. On this site there are some buildings that actually sit right on the border and this is where negotiations are held. Here soldiers of both side stand guard on their respective sides. Weird place to be! Our presence elicited soldiers from the north to come out and march past on their side to make some sort of point.

We then entered one of these buildings and upon reaching the far end of the building, but not exiting, we were actually on North Korean soil. So, there it is!

Then it was of to the next stop, on of the guard towers. This one is located that it is actually surrounded on three sides by North Korea. It had a good view of the North. On their side of the border all trees are cut down so as to make it harder for defectors to get across.

On the south side but still inside the DMZ there is actually a real village, it's been there since before this whole mess and has been allowed to remain under certain provisions. Don't remember the real name but it's nickname is "Freedom village". So of course the North had to build a village inside the DMZ on their side. The nickname for this village... "Propaganda village" This due to the fact that the village has no inhabitants, most of the doors are painted on the houses, the windows are just holes and at nighttime the light can be seen dimming with each floor (i.e. There are no floors) and many hours of the day propaganda spews forth from speakers. In the middle of the village there is a flagpole with the North Korean flag. When the village in the south got a 100 meter tall flagpole the north erected one that is 160 meters tall and boasts the largest know flag in the world, the long side is 31 meters and it weighs approximately 600 pounds dry! Madness...

On the way back we were shown the site of the mentioned ax-murders. Grizzly...

Then we were on to the next and last stop: Dora station. This is again outside the DMZ, and it's the last train station in the north. It was built when there was still hope of some unification or at least cooperation between the two countries. Now it's a dead end.

Then it was a bus ride back to Seoul. The fascinating and scary part is that Seoul is less than an hour away with bus, and not a speeding bus. The North Koreans' artillery could easily reach Seoul...

Once back I headed to my guesthouse to recuperate a bit before heading out for dinner. Again I walked around quite a bit before settling on a place that looked popular. I had steamed pork with tofu and cooked kimchi. The serving was huge and could have been halved (wouldn't have minded if the price was halved too). This dinner did cost a bit more than previous ones.

I then bought a big beer and some snacks at the nearest shop and headed back to my own personal courtyard where I'm now relaxing.

Tomorrow might bring some bad weather, so haven't decided what that day holds, yet.

Have a good one!

Steps taken: 10556 (8.33 km)

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