Hiking With a Stranger, or Not: It Really Is a Small World — A Travel Tale

Yep, I went hiking with a stranger again… You see, I’ve always said I like talking to old men, and old men love me. They always befriend me, take care of me. In April, I went on a day hike to Gaji Mountain and made a friend on the bus en route there.

Mr. Kim asked me to hike with him, told me he’d show me a way into the park by which we could avoid the entry fee. I thought it would be fun, so I agreed. That I would be hiking with a stranger wasn’t even on my mind.

Well, we got to talking about random stuff like teen pregnancy, the age at which people are getting married these days, divorce rates. He told me about his company, which processes/refines (?) gold and zinc that’s imported from other countries, Canada among them.

The poor old man had a bit of a hard time keeping up with me when the ascent got steep. I told him to take his time; I would wait for him every couple of minutes or so. At one point, on the last stretch going up, I couldn’t find the trail forward. I turned to Mr. Kim and asked him if I was supposed to just go straight up the rock face, which was more like rock climbing than hiking. He shrugged and said yes, so up I scampered.

At the top, I saw where the trail went around the escarpment I’d just scaled and craned my neck to see if Mr. Kim was coming around the bend. I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned. Mr. Kim had come up the same way I had! I couldn’t believe it. Wow…

Hiking with a stranger led to this peak at Gajisan, where a marker indicates the altitude.

On our way down, we resumed our conversation about random things and it turns out that Dan, my parents’ friend in Ulsan, had been Mr. Kim’s English teacher! Talk about a small world. But it’s always when hiking with a stranger that I see just how small it really is.

We expats laugh when Koreans ask us if we know their friend in such and such a city, whether in Korea or our home country.

A prime example is another time I was hiking with a stranger, when an ajuma I was walking along with at Bukhan Mountain in Seoul actually called up her friend who had moved to Calgary with her cellphone so that I could talk to her!

But coincidences do happen. How would we find out about them if the questions aren’t asked?

Neither Mr. Kim or I asked about mutual acquaintances, but our day-long random conversation eventually got us there. It wouldn’t have been so had we said our goodbyes at the bus that morning… And hiking with a stranger quickly became hiking with a friend, anyway.