So, this week I swam in the Pacific
Trip Start Aug 19, 2010
4Trip End Aug 27, 2011
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I hope that everything is wonderful where you are! Last week, South Korea celebrated Chuseok, aka Korean Thanksgiving. This meant that I had a whole 5 days off - WAHOO!!! A couple of friends, Ted and Jamie, and I headed East to the island of Ulleungdo, situated in the Pacific between South Korea and Japan. It was astonishing.
Our trip began somewhat belatedly as I took far too much time packing, and packed far too much. I then worked my way through a series of three different cab drivers before embarking on a 25 minute ride which should have only taken 10. Apparently, pointing at a teeny tiny location on a map when your taxi driver is 50+, near-sighted, and has left his reading glasses at home, is unhelpful...
Anyway, luckily (yes, my horseshoe has remained with me, even in South Korea) the bus and the 90 participants on the trip waited 20 minutes for me and only me. Consequently, I most happily gave the organizers a 2L bottle of soju to share. This also meant that I kept bumping into other folks on the trip who, after conversing with me for a short while, would invariably say, "oh, YOU'RE the one we waited for". Yes, yes, indeed - I am the one.
The bus ride seemed ridiculously long as we kept stopping every 90 minutes for a washroom break. Who, I ask, in the middle of the flipping night, goes to the washroom every hour and a half? Anyway, we finally arrived at Chuam Beach at 5 in the morning. We went for a stroll outside and saw beautiful things: the lights of the beachfront stores reflected in the turquoise water, twin glass boats resting on the glowing sand and an indigo sky above us all.
I returned to the coach for a quick nap before sunrise. The sunrise at Chuam Beach, reportedly the most beautiful in the country, is filmed every morning and then viewed on national Korean television, so we were all pumped to see it with our own eyes. Unfortunately, by 6:15 a.m., it became obvious that all we were going to observe was a whole lot of Korean clouds! Ah well, maybe next time...
For breakfast, we headed off to Dunkin' Donuts. Who wouldn't? I met a bunch of great, chatty people: Lawrence, Jessica and Jamie Sr. Then, it was a short ride to the harbour where we downed a pill with some sort of cordial, the Korean equivalent to Gravol. This made it very easy to sleep on the 2.5 hour ferry ride to Ulleungdo. Excellent.
Upon arrival on the island, we dumped our belongings at the hotel. When we first opened the door, it became apparent that a. the room was small. Very small. and, b. there were no beds. Fortunately, most of us were not shocked for long as we had been reading the Lonely Planet guide to Korea, which mentions the Asian custom of sleeping on the floor. So, we opened the doors to the wardrobe (very Narnia-like) and discovered comforters and pillows galore.
We then started on a walk around the island (you can see pictures of these on Facebook, as well as more of my darling students). This was the kind of experience the phrase "carpe diem" was written for. Everything was so exquisite it seemed surreal and yet I could reach out my hand and touch the volcanic rock of the island and dip my toes in the water of the Pacific. Actually, I did more than just dip my toes - I went bridge jumping!!!
OK, OK, so the bridge was only 5-7 metres above the water, but it seemed a lot higher than the 3 metre diving board at Heights pool back home! Out of the 90 participants on the trip, most of us stripped down into our bathing suits and leaped, dove and twirled into the Pacific. It was crazy to swim in clear, warm, turquoise water, and then to climb over rocks and plants, careful to miss the baby crab, to return to the bridge and do it all over again. Magical.
That night we went for a walk along the harbour and saw hundreds and hundreds of dried squid hanging from what looked like dozens of rows of washing line. We also saw a small group of people fishing for squid. Unbeknownst to me, just as a moth is drawn to a flame, so is a squid drawn to light. So, instead of worms, squid-fishermen place green lights (kinda like those tubes you get at Hallowe'en that need to be snapped and shaken before you see a glow) on the end of their fishing rods.
The next day, I went on a bus tour of Ulleungdo. This highlighted the many different rock formations to behold: lion, dragon, mama turtle, baby turtle, another mama turtle, llama, teddy bear, etc. We also stopped at a Pearl Museum, where artists had sculpted dragons out of jade, and where, on the rooftop, eagles and tigers had been carved out of tree trunks. We also went to a restaurant in the crater of the volcano and ate bibimbap.
That night we learned that a storm would hit the island in a couple of days, so we had to leave a day early. But, not before the cable car ride! This was made in glorious sunny weather which meant that you could see for miles. On our way down, we stopped by a temple and rang the bell. FYI, ringing a bell is done after prayers in Buddhism. Oops...
This week-end I will be attending the Mask Festival, the following one I will head up to the DMZ on the border of North and South Korea, and then to Busan, where I hope to try out my new snorkeling gear!
Love to you all,