Tuesday, May 16, 2006


DoekJoekdo- Seopori beach

Last Friday night I took the subway to Incheon and relaxed the night away at a salt water sauna. Saturday morning I went to the Yeonun Ferry terminal and without checking times beforehand luckily made one of the only two ferries to Deokjeokdo island leaving at 8:45 am. A group of Korean men sitting in front of me were forcing shots of soju on one another the entire length of the trip, which they used to wash down kimbap and dried squid. Ah, the smell (or thought) of soju in the morning. There's nothing quite like it.

The trip took about an hour and as I stepped off the ferry a loud eccentric ajumma directed the only other foreigners and myself to the bus bound for Seopori beach. From our conversation on the bus it was soon made clear that she was wanting our business for her minbak (room rented in her house). From the bus she linked arms with me (the others had escaped) and nearly dragged me the short walk to a minbak despite my protests. She was quite a character, a feisty old country lady who only seemed to know one word of English, "Okay!" Everything I said I received an exuberant, "Okay!" in reply. She asked more than I had or wanted to spend for the room and I had to turn her down much to her disappointment.

I walked along the beach, endlessly fascinated by it in a way only a landlocked girl from Kansas could ever relate to. For lunch I had spicy kimchi jiggae and then went for a nap on the beach to sleep off my lunch in the sun. Some kids playing in the sand on the nearly deserted beach woke me up after I was sufficiently rested.

I decided to take a hike up to the highest peak on the island. On my way towards the trail the crazy lady crossed my path and changed direction to walk with me. Along the way we passed her house, which was different from the other room she offered earlier, and she said I could stay for 20,000 Won plus rice for dinner. Deal. I dropped off some stuff and continued on my hike.

Most trails in Korea are very clearly marked and well-traveled. This one was
uncharacteristically faint and as my mind wandered, so did my feet, straight off the path. My over-active imagination conjured up the path every once in awhile but I'm quite sure it was never really there. It wasn't so bad going up without a path, besides the unforgiving thorn bushes and sticky spiders webs that were attracted to my face.

The peak was a great view of the island with a cool breeze all to myself that I enjoyed by standing on the highest rock, arms spread, and head towards the sky. I stayed up there sitting on the rock for awhile and then looked for the trail back down. I saw a trail going down the opposite side and an arrow pointing towards the side I just came up written in hangul. I thought it must have said "trail this way" but after about 2 minutes down that way I decided it definitely said "NO TRAIL HERE".

The way down was a bitch. It was as if Mother Nature had taken the top layer off the forest floor, shaken it up, threw it down, covered it with a layer of dead leaves, leaving it perfectly unstable for a girl alone in the woods. Plus, every tree I went to grab for support after stepping on one of the wobbly boulders was inevitably dead and of no use for any supporting. I sent more than one boulder thundering down the hill leading me to wonder what would happen if one injured me and left me alone for a(n) night/week/indeterminable amount of time. I went sliding down a couple times, thorn bushes giving me a couple of good cuts.

Eventually, of course, I made it out and back to crazy lady's house. She had dinner ready and waiting for me at the table in her kitchen. We sat on the floor and ate fresh vegetables, mushrooms, kimchi and rice and a pot of some animal that I politely declined. Her cat strolled by and she pointed and said, "Koyangi", telling me the Korean word for "cat". I said, "Yonga, 'CAT'". She points to her pet and excitedly says, "Cata, Cata!" while presumably laughing at the joy of learning a new word. She was a funny old lady who talked to me throughout dinner while I answered at every pause with an "okay".

After dinner she says, "Copi, sauna", and sent me to on my way for... Coffee at a sauna? I have no idea what the hell she was talking about but I went for a walk anyways. I met some other foreigners on the island who all seemed to be eating at the same small restaurant and we decided to gather on the beach for a bonfire after sunset.

No matter the season, beaches in Korea are always full of fireworks and Saturday night was no exception. It got cold once the sun set but the fire was warm and the soju made it warmer. There will certainly be more bonfires on the beach before I leave Korea. Doekjoekdo is a perfect island getaway from Seoul, but some advice for anyone planning the trip: Bring enough money for the ferry ride back, there are no ATM's on the island...

Working in the garden.

Gazebo at the top.

View from the top. Seopori beach and my minbak are below.

Going back down through this. In sandals.