Saturday, July 29, 2006

Heuksando and Hongdo islands

Heuksan-do fisherman

Last Friday I met Hilly at the train station after his adventurous week in Japan and Busan and then we hopped on the earliest KTX to Mokpo. It wasn't a planned trip (as usual); neither of us knew where we were going until we actually bought the ticket. Because of this lack of planning, Hilly went from Busan to Seoul to Mokpo all in one day. (Look at a map and you'll see how ridiculous this travel route is.) Before our train left, we stocked up on picnic supplies for the 3 hour journey. We got in around 11 pm and stayed at a sauna. As we were leaving in the morning a Korean guy started speaking in Spanish to us, which was very weird. My Spanish has gone downhill since I started learning Korean and now whenever I try to speak it, Korean always ends up replacing the Spanish words I can't remember. Finally, I found someone who understands and appreciates my Spanean!

We missed to ferry to our intended destination of Hongdo by 10 minutes so instead we jumped on a ferry to Heuksando, which is about 20 km East of Hongdo (and a 2 hour ferry ride from Mokpo). From Heuksando we were planning on catching a ferry to Hongdo. Once on Heuksando, we had about four hours before the ferry left for Hongdo so our first mission was to find a beach. I asked a fisherman if we were walking towards the beach. We thought he told us that he would take us to the beach on his fishing boat. He stopped and picked up his wife, daughter, a few of their friends around the same age as us, and a couple blocks of small frozen fish (imported from China) and we were off. About 15 minutes later we landed at a (beach-free) floating fishing/oyster farm with a small shack aboard a floating dock. The surrounding view was vibrant green hilly islands to one side and dark, partially fog-covered ones one the other. One of the friends spoke English quite fluently so luckily we didn't have a communication barrier.

The floating fishing farm

After a brief tour around the swaying maze of the fish farm with our new friends everyone began to fish for lunch. It seems a bit like cheating to me-- seriously, they're trapped in cages already. Instead of fishing, I sat on the edge and dangled my feet in the water in hopes of spotting some of the huge sunset-pink jellyfish I saw when I went to Ulleungdo. I was in luck, but unfortunately that meant no swimming after lunch. I'm absolutely fascinated by the jellyfish, I could watch them for hours...

After awhile we all gathered on the dock and lunch was thrown together in a matter of minutes. In one moment, an unfortunate fish flapping in a bucket jumps out the open dock scaring the girls, in the next, he is on the table, chopped up into bite size pieces. Out translater said that a fish like that usually costs around 60,000 won/kilo. Hilly said it tasted pretty average. Along with the fish, there was also rice, kimchi, more kimchi, kim (dried seaweed), soju and raspberry wine, followed with watermelon.

Our new friends

After lunch Hilly and I were craving a swim but the fisherman's daughter so eloquently said, "You swim, you die. Maybe." That settles that, no swimming with the giant jellyfish. During lunch we were convinced to stay on Heuksando island for the night instead of going to Hongdo (there's nothing to do there at night, they said). We agreed and accepted their invitation to stay at their house. We took the boat back to the main island around 4 pm and while they all went to visit Grandfather, Hilly and were dropped off at a sad looking beach for some exploring on our own. We walked on a trail off the road that led to a clearing in the woods that had a couple of the grass mound graves and lots of interesting little things--catterpillars, butterflies, flowers, berries and bugs-- to look at. We walked out the other side of the clearing and past a woman in her garden who gave us very strange looks and said something we didn't understand. The path then led us through the small village where we were announced to the rest of the gardeners by another woman who spotted us and yelled, "Waygook, waygook! (foreigner, foreigner!)".

We met up with our friends later and after a driving tour of the island, we went back to the house for a lovely dinner followed by a birthday party and a midnight ramyeon fest before crashing for the evening. The next morning we all ate breakfast together, promised to meet up sometime in the future (besides the parents, everyone lived in Kwangju), and then walked to the ferry terminal together, where Hilly and I boarded for Hongdo.

Hongdo means "red rock island" and it is supposed to be fairly similar to Ulluengdo island off the West coast. Shortly after arriving, we walked past a young girl and her parents. Her parents then said something to the girl to the effect of, "Go show the strange foreigners around the island. Off you go, hurry up, they're waiting!" We then got a tour of the exciting sights from an eight year old perspective. She was a talker, barely stopping for breath and seemingly unaware that we understood only a fraction of what she was saying. She showed us mostly bugs and plants and spiders but also the local hangout for the stray cats. We bought her ice cream as payment for the impromptu tour.

The only way to fully experience and see the island is to take a boat around to view the rock formations. Koreans, I have noticed, love to find and name rock formations that look like something else. Because the boat tour we took was in Korean, we couldn't tell what formations we were looking at, but they were pointing out countless rocks that looked just like rocks to us. It was fun though.

Hongdo island

Afterwards, we took the 2 hour ferry back to Mokpo and then the 3 hour KTX back up to Seoul.