Wando & Cheongsan islands
Jenni and her father, Brian, came to visit us for a bit in August, and we took them camping on Wando, a small island just an hour or so south east of Mokpo. It was Korean Liberation Day, a 3 day weekend, so we rented a car and took off after work for the event. It seems that everyone else had the same idea, so we arrived late, scrounged up a campsite pretty close to a few other tents, and set up camp in the dark. We woke up to find even more tents had been put up in the night, and were surrounded by a million people who brought their entire house camping. Unfortunately, it rained the whole time but we made the best of it.
We wandered along the coast in the morning, collecting seashells and exploring in a light rain. Wando, like Mokpo, is surrounded by hundreds of islands that create a sound to protect it a bit from the open ocean. The waves are small and the water is calm and blue. People were out collecting seaweed and mollusks from the beach that they took back to their campsite for breakfast (we watched them cooking them in their camp kitchens later). After a good hike along the coast and through a wooded area we decided to go into town and check things out.
We found these awesome smiling statues and took our pictues with them, we went to Wando’s “pebble beach,” but best of all we went to the arboretum.
We pulled into the entrance and were told that the arboretum would be closing in an hour, but we were welcome to go on in. An hour turned out to be nowhere close to enough time to see the place. The arboretum was more like a nature preserve on the side of a mountain. It contained, 2050 hectares or just under 5,000 acres. (That’s about the size of two White Bear Lakes. I think. -Mike)
We saw awesome flowers, plants, trees, and large black hovering butterflies that we lovingly termed “humbutterbats.” It was a good day. On the way home we stopped in town for Abalone stew. Abalone are a technically snail, but they look like a clam with only a top shell. Despite being snails, and hideous, they are quite delicious. Back home they’re also quite expensive, but Wando produces 90% of Korea’s abalone, so on the beachfront, a few hundred yards of where the boats bring them in, it is pretty affordable.
We had ours boiled up in a soup with a few other delicacies from the sea like mussels and shrimp. As they say here, mahshi-soyo! It was served with a million side dishes, as well as some tasty soju. We were confused about how to eat some of it, but the guys at the table next to us were so sweet, they just kept looking over and teaching us stuff. Koreans are very friendly, especially when food and drink are involved. It was super fun.
The next day we went off to Cheongsando island, home of the slow walking festival. “What?” you say, yes a slow walking festival — Korea has it ALL. Cheongsando is a medium sized island whose culture of a slow, traditional life has been celebrated and promoted by the Korean ministry of tourism. It is part of the international cittaslow movement, a pretty cool idea indeed. We spent 4-5 hours wandering this beautiful island, hiking mountains, making crafts, searching for shells while the tide was out, eating yummy panchang and drinking the rustic fermented rice beverage known as makkoli. It rocked.
The only minor regret was my impulse purchase of freshly harvested mung ge sashimi. It looked good, and was next to a mollusk I had already eaten sashimi style, so we went for it.
- Mongae fish – not as tasty as they look.
Ummm… it was bitter and slimy, and had bits of organ in every bite. A group of Korean tourists were watching, wondering how we could possibly not enjoy every bite. We offered it to them and they shared amongst themselves. We agreed in the end that it was an adventure worth having and it was nice to make people happy with free food.
Later that night we got some beer, sweet potato pizza, fried chicken, and fire works and returned to camp. There was a happy drunk guy at the pizza joint who told us that he had played Martina Navratalova and Jimmy Conners in mixed doubles at the 1982 Wimbeldon. Who knows if it is true, happy drunk people say many things. Either way, his autograph is on my wall. We went to camp to have one last happy night of camping before Jenni and Brian set off to Jeju.
In September, Liz came to visit. We took her to Jeju island for our four day Chuseok weekend. It was another wonderful outing. We took the ferry from Mokpo. The 9:30 leaving Mokpo is a huge car carrying ferry that takes around 5 hours, the 9:30 am return is a small hopper that is fast, but super bouncy. If we go again I think we might take a plane.
Jeju is a huge island which takes about one hour to bus/cab from north to south. It has a large, dormant volcanic mountain in the center. It is beautiful. We stayed at the jeju highland pension on the southern side of the island, near the Yeokchansa temple, which is one of the largest temples in Korea. It was stunningly tall, with a five-story atrium with a giant buddha and two dragons clutching white globes coiled around the columns inside. Murals of less major boddhisatvas lined the corridors, each telling its own story of enlightenment, and suffering.
The next day we went up to Loveland, and a more surreal experience and different from a serene buddhist temple you won’t find. Loveland is designed to put newlyweds ‘in the mood’ for their conjugal duties, but it’s mostly a kitschy ode to nudity, phallocentric fantasy, and erotic tastelessness. None of the pictures we took are family-safe, so you’ll need to use your imagination. But we will admit that we were highly amused, in a junior-high sort of way.
We ended our trip to another Korean sauna, this one on the north side of the island. We were surprised to find that the hot-rooms here were equipped with televisions. It wasn’t as relaxing as the Busan saunas. Part of the reason to sit in a sauna, as I see it, is to sit quietly and think about the heat, and televisions kind of ruin the mood. We were able to find a room with no Koreans in it, so we did shut off the TV and enjoy a few minutes of solitude in the rock salt room. This was a hot room whose entire floor was covered in rock salt chunks. We lay down and covered ourselves in the rocks, which created the nice impression of a warm, salty hug. I know that sounds strange, but in the moment, it felt quite nice.
Since these trips Jim, Mike’s dad, has been to visit. I (Mike) went up to Seoul for a father son weekend with him. We loved having him around and took him to Bigeumdo for a day trip. He knows we’d get a bigger apartment if he ever wanted to move here. 😉 We’re both looking forward to more adventures to report back to you.
On a side note, I am happy that South Korea doesn’t have daylight savings time. I don’t have to change my clock. Unfortuntaly, we are now 15 hours ahead of MN. We miss you and will wake up even earlier to Skype with you on the weekends. Smooch, Akasha