Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Okay, so in my last update I mentioned # 3 on the cool Korean invention list – the hydraulic lift truck. Some of you may have been wondering what #1 and #2 are. #1 has got to be the heat sensitive Go/Stop label on Korean beer bottles: when you’re beer is cold, the label is green meaning it’s good to drink – when it’s red the bottle is warm and the beer will taste like crap. Not that it’s much better when it’s cold. # 2 on the list are the courtesy bells in some public washrooms - when you’ve been up all night drinking Soju and eating Korean barbeque and Kimchi and are suffering the consequences the next morning – you can push this button and the sweet sounds of birds chirping or waves crashing will mask any unflattering noises coming from the toilet

But enough digressions, we recently had a long weekend off of work, as the Koreans celebrated Children’s Day. Amy, Megan, Leigh and I seized the opportunity to get out of Ulsan in the search of fresh air, beaches and some tranquility.

Our destination was Mokpo, a midsized city located on the South Western tip of Korea. We had heard from several people that it was a nice city, but more importantly it serves as a launching point for many of the hundreds of small islands that dot the seas that surround the peninsula. Looking at a map and you see a virtual spider web of small ferry routes that depart from the port in Mokpo.

Driving from Ulsan took about four to five hours and we chose to take a southerly route via Busan and we cut right across the lower half of the peninsula. Along the way, we were treated to views of acres of green tea fields, rice paddies and small farms, bays, inlets and small islands. It was a beautiful drive.

We arrived in Mokpo in the early evening to find that we had missed the last ferry to the islands, so we set about finding a decent hotel near the ferry terminal. From Mokpo we can also take a large car ferry to Shanghai in China, but with the recent SARS outbreak, I doubt it was seeing much use.

We took the opportunity of an unexpected layover, to take a walk through the many fish markets that lined the inner harbour. Nearly every kind of seafood was available for sale, from large rays, to squid, eels, octopus to smaller tuna and other fish. Most just lay in big heaps on the sidewalk, which gave me some doubts about the hygiene. Nor did the penetrating smell of dead fish make it any more appetizing.

In any case, we wandered up and down the streets, many restaurant owners stood on the sidewalk shouting and gesturing at us to come and patronize their establishments. We chose what we figured was the cleanest looking place and thankfully, there happened to be a Korean American gentleman there who helped us decipher the menu. That evening, we feasted on a heaping plate of octopus stir-fry and some spicy fish soup.

Early the next morning, we headed down to the ferry terminal to purchase tickets and to get our car into the line-up for the next boat. Let’s just say it what we found made a two-sailing wait at Horseshoe Bay seem orderly. The line-up stretched in all directions with nobody seemingly in charge. Chaos reined and it was a free for all as people nosed their cars into each other trying to board any of the several ferries that were leaving. The ferries themselves looked like a large WWII landing crafts and you actually had to back your car up the ramp in the bow, which only compounded the situation as people tried to execute three-point turns in the crowd.

Once onboard, the trip took about two and a half hours and we wound our way through several small islands, past seaweed farms and fishermen tending their nets in tiny boats. The ferry’s common areas lacked any seating at all and so people just threw themselves down on the floor.

Eventually we reached our destination, a small island called Doch’o-do, where we were told there was a beautiful beach inside a bay. We drove through the rural villages, down winding island roads until we reached a sprawling bay. Unfortunately, by this time, the weather had socked in and it had begun to rain. Our hopes for a sunny day on the beach were considerably dampened. We spent some time clambering over the slick rocks to explore the area and we found in the water in front of us lay hundreds of fishing buoys stretching out to the horizon.

We left the bay and drove to Bigeum-Do, another island joined to Doch’o by a gracefully arcing bridge. We drove aimlessly for a while searching for another beach and ended up traversing the island several times before we actually found it. We drove through tiny villages, over rutted roads and to several dead ends in the process.

The sandy beach stretched for several kilometres and reminded me a lot of the beaches in Tofino. The difference however, was this beach was littered with all kinds of trash. It was kind of depressing really; we found all kinds of garbage buried in the sand from televisions to oilcans and Styrofoam. Nevertheless, we did find some large rope-covered, blown-glass fishing buoys, which we gathered up as a unique souvenir.

By this time, it was really raining, so we abandoned our plans to stay on the islands overnight and decided we would head to another city hoping we could catch up with some decent weather.

As we boarded the ferry back to Mokpo, all of a sudden there was much commotion as one of the Korean ferry workers, came running up to us yelling that we had to get off the ferry. We were confused, as the ferry clearly said it was sailing to Mokpo. Much commotion ensued as they tried to manoeuvre a bus out the way so we could disembark. Then, yet another Korean gentleman came running down the ramp this time yelling at the ferry worker. Turns out we were on the right ferry after all and we could get underway.

We drove through that evening to Yeosu where we checked into another hotel for the evening. In the morning, the weather was considerably better so we set off to explore the area. It was very beautiful, much like what one expects Asia to look like. Palm trees lined the roads along with lush green vegetation and terraced rice paddies were staggered up the hillsides. The coast was indented with little inlets and the water was a brilliant aquamarine blue.

We drove along this brand new highway, until all of a sudden it ended at a sharp drop without any warning. We reversed down the road till we found a picturesque little village tucked into a bay, so we decided to stop and spend some time on the beach. All along the beach, Koreans had laid out strips of seaweed for it to dry in the sun. We lay on the sand and I decided to do a little snorkelling in the cove

Well relaxed after a couple of hours, we decided it was time to head back to Ulsan and face the short week ahead.


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2:25 PM  

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