This past weekend was Chuseok, or Korean Thanksgiving. In order to take full advantage of the rare long weekend, I decided to go to Ulleungdo, an island off the east coast of Korea. I went with Adventure Korea, a fabulous travel company whose trips are always more of an adventure than advertised. 😀 ( http://www.adventurekorea.com/ )
We left from Pohang harbour on Saturday morning. The ferry was PACKED. Apparently the ferry company had decided the maximum capacity signs were merely suggestions…
After travelling for three and a half hours straight out to sea, we arrived on Ulleungdo. The island’s official website claimed that Ulleungdo was an “Island of Mysterious Beauty”. I agreed that it certainly was beautiful, but what made it mysterious?
The website also claimed that Ulleungo had no pollution, snakes or crime (presumably because there was nowhere to go to evade the police). What Ulleungdo did posses apparently was juniper trees, wind, rocks, water and beautiful women. I think the tourist board was trying a bit too hard…
Ulleungdo is an ex-volcano and is surrounded by clear blue-green water rich in sea life, particularly squid. Squid fishing is the industry of choice for most of the island’s ten thousand inhabitants, and their catch is prized all over Korea.
According to a local, drying the squid made it more delicious. And so, squid was drying everywhere. Clothes lines, window ledges, rooftops, strung between tree branches and lamp posts -anywhere space could be found, squid was drying.
The restaurants all had tanks full of swimming squid (and other local sea life) out front, and if this still wasn’t fresh enough for you, you could go down to the harbour and meet the squid boats as they came in. Pick your squid and the lady would chop it up and hand you chopsticks and hot sauce. Doesn’t get much fresher than that!
We spent the first day wandering around the harbour and exploring the town. We even stumbled across some local artwork.
We were told the sunset was not to be missed from the top of the hill. Unfortunately, the only way up was by cable car. Call me crazy but I can think of better ways to spend my time than dangling precariously millions of feet above the ground in a tiny tin box. However, I closed my eyes, held my breath and sat on the floor.
And they were right. The sunset was worth it.
The next day we had a bus tour of the island. Our bus driver decided we needed some local tunes to add to our enjoyment of the island scenery. There were even subtitles and a mic should we decide to sing along. The driver spent his time negotiating hairpin turns and treacherously narrow tunnels, and watching the scantily-clad gyrating back-up singers on the TV screen. I’m sure he knew the roads like the back of his hand but it would have made me feel slightly more comfortable if he’d had both eyes on the road.
Guide: “If you look on your left, you’ll see a rock that looks like a baby turtle. And straight ahead is a rock that looks like a mother turtle with a baby turtle on her back. Around the next corner, you’ll see a rock that looks like turtles mating.”
I don’t know if the ancestors were simply lacking in imagination or if turtles were the only wildlife on Ulleungdo in ancient times.
After a fantastic lunch of locally grown medicinal herbs and rice, we went to Dokdo, another island farther out to sea. But that is another story for another day. 😀
The excitement hadn’t quite ended though. Due to some sort of mix up, I didn’t have a return ticket for the ferry. I could feel myself beginning to panic as I envisioned calling my co-T to tell her I was stuck on an island in the middle of the ocean. Good grief.
Thankfully, a man at the hotel told me in broken English that he would get me on the boat. What choice did I have? When it came time to leave, we went down to the harbour and loitered as inconspicuously as a large foreigner with luggage can.
As the sailors starting packing up the gangplanks, and I started panicking, my companion darted forward to talk to the dock hands. There was a lot of bowing and pointing at me. More bowing and I was hustled on board. The door was slammed shut behind me, and we were off.
I made my way upstairs to where my friends were sitting and pondered the fact that I was now a stowaway. It’s kind of exciting now that I’m home. 😀