Monday, August 06, 2007

Jeolla Province Trip day 1 of 4 (Bogil Island)

Miyoung and I just got back from our four day trip to Jeolla Province. It was a fantastic time, and there are a lot of beutiful things down there that I definitely recommend you see if you get a chance.
A lot of people bag on package tours. I consider this a form of time snobbery. Having enough time to just go and traipse around on your own and 'discover' things is always talked up like some kind of trailblazing heroic thing to do. The fact is that in most places, if you go there to wander around and discover new surprises around every corner you're going to spend a lot of time doing things that aren't that great. Miyoung and I only had two weeks left in Korea, so we didn't have the luxury of time, so Miyoung put together three local tours into one super-tour, and I have to say that it was great.

Left home at 7:00, took a taxi to Bucheon station and caught the rapid train to Yongsan station. The DMB television that Miyoung's sister lent us for the trip was cool, but it repeatedly lost the signal on the subway ride. When we arrived at Yongsan we couldn't turn it off and had to reset it, at which point it mercifully died and we were free of it for the rest of the trip.
Took the 8:30 KTX to Mokpo station (목포역). KTX is Korea's version of the high speed train. It was my first time going to Mokpo but it still seemed to me that 3 and a half hours was on the long side for the trip. At Mokpo station we met up with our bus and went to a big old neighborhood restaurant near the station and had a kimchi jjigae (김치찌개). This was my first taste of Jeolla-do's famous food, which was in this case not that great; the kimchi was extremely salty and everything else was as it would be back at home.
Full of salt, we were ready to move on to Bogil Island (보길도 or Bogildo). That meant going to Land's End (땅끝), the place where South Jeolla Province goes from continuous landmass to archipelago. We had a smooth hour ride until we got to the area around Land's End Town (땅끝마을) which was fairly swarming with tourists. Dirty tourists. For all the talk of love for their country, Koreans by and large have little concept of their actual impact on it. To quote my mother-in-law as she watched a news report about dirty tourists "Koreans are dirty." There, see, I didn't say it, I quoted a Korean who said it. Anyway, the entire landscape of Land's End is encrusted with ice cream wrappers, beer bottles, overturned barbecues, etc. My wife would not have me taking pictures of people's garbage, but I think you get the drift just from my description.
After a 40 minute traffic snarl on the mountain road around Land's End (the retaining wall next to the road is covered with 'Jinuk wuz here'-style graffiti, leading me to believe that such traffic jams are not uncommon) we got to the ferry to Bogil Island. The weather was hot but magically not that hot, and I managed to stay miraculously sweat free even as we waited for the ferry about 20 minutes on te shade-free pier.

This is the view from the back of the ferry of one of the many islands making up Dadohe (다도해 or 多島海, The Sea of Many Islands, to put it somewhat inartfully). The weather remained similarly foggy throughout the entire trip

On our approach to the island I was shocked to see mile after mile of sea farms raising abalone and various forms of seaweed.

Just to give you some perspective, the ferry was flying along at a pretty fast clip, and I took the above and below photos about 10 minutes apart. In other words, the waters around the island are cultivated as far as the eye can see.

This bridge, which is not completed, connects the Bogil Island of leatherneck fisherman with the Bogil Island of pretty beaches, scenic spots, raw fish restaurants, and lily white Seoulites with pink T-shirts and old rural-to-urban transplants trying to reconnect with their roots.

The aforementioned Bogil town, where the restaurants serve kimbab, Chinese food, and spaghetti.

Tourist Bogildo, where the restaurants exclusively serve the frutti of the mare. Except this one Chinese restaurant that Miyoung went to once when she was a poor backpacker and had jajangmyun.

Upon arrival, unloading of our bus, reboarding of said bus we proceeded ten minutes along the shore to Jungri beach. There are other beaches on Bogil Island but this one, our guide says, is the best, and why would he lie?

The consistency of the beach was fantastic. The sand was so fine that the waves picked it up and got clouded with it, but the beach was also covered with seashells of all kinds, smashed to smithereens, presumably by the duel forces of nature and time or perhaps by seagulls. However while scrounging around the beach I found something I had never seen on a beach before: a shell that had somehow managed to not be completely picked clean by scavengers, still containing traces of its former occupants. This place is so laid back even the seagulls half-ass it.

We spent the night in a nice little guest house (민박). I was struck by the children of the owners who were lounging around enjoying their summer vacation. they had all the cards, comic books and other junk that my kids back in Bucheon had, plus super soakers, which they didn't have back in Bucheon, plus the beach and the mountains, plus they didn't seem to go to hagwons all summer, plus they didn't seem to be burdened by countrified accents that would someday serve to hold them back. And this was where they were spending their summer vacation.

The rooms, by the way, were made of red earth (황토). This is believed by many (not me) to be good for you, and I heard more than once the bullshit detector needle burying, correlation and causation confounding statement "Long ago we lived in houses of red earth and we had no atopy (a kind of eczema), so buy this bottle of dirt/shirt dyed in dirt/makeup made of dirt/dirt cake/etc."
Anyway, after getting settled we went out to take some pictures at some scenic spots. The first one was some kind of promontory from which you could actually see Jeju Island on clear day. Of course this was a very very foggy day, so I just took pictures of my wife.
Wife and island

Wife and cliff face

Then we went to Dinosaur Egg Beach, which, despite being burdened with a stupid name, is one of the most interesting places we visited. Essentially a horseshoe-shaped beach with a round island in the middle, the shoreline is made up of large dinosaur egg-shaped rocks that make a satisfying sound when trod upon.

To the right of the beach is a beautiful bald hill.

After taking pictures and having our feet scurried over by giant rock-dwelling bugs, it was time to go down to tourist town for a raw fish dinner. When the bus stopped, the tour guide said in a very off-hand way 'This is a good restaurant' while waving his hand in the general direction of the restaurant that the bus stopped directly in front of. I was shocked to see almost everyone on the bus dutifully file into the restaurant, and, ever the trailblazing package tourist, I insisted to Miyoung that we go to another restaurant. The result: just okay. The restaurant we wound up going to seemed very expensive, and the side dishes were nothing special. The fish, as was to be expected, was excellent, and included fresh raw wriggling octopus, sea cucumber and sea anemone (not wriggling, of course).

Oh, and potatoes. Jeolla Province seems pretty big on small potatoes.

Next Time: Adventure (and napping) on the high seas, grand temples, man-eating fish and more!

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