“He didn’t really like travel, of course. He liked the idea of travel, and the memory of travel, but not travel itself.” ~ Julian Barnes, Flaubert's Parrot
Ok so edit:::: I really did write this (not within a few days but much sooner than this posting) I also wrote it as I was going to bed and clearly in my sleep befuddled state I hit "save as draft" rather than the correct botton "publish" which are perilously close to one another when one is so tired they can barely keep their eyes open. SO I am obviously going to reread through it to make sure I actually made sense and then I shall finally get this posting up.
~~ and here starts the original post~~~
And when I say a few days, clearly I mean over a week... my bad. In my defense we have another open class coming up so work is very hectic right now. Not a very good excuse but that's my story and I'm sticking to it. (So this opening doesn't really work anymore but it is still staying in... so sue me.)
I am still tired from my April excursions. Given the fact that I was travelling or working and not taking breaks for most of April, plus I had (have) this cold/cough thing that just will not quit (oh hey update it seems to have passed finally!! yay), and I am incapable of making smart sleeping decisions and will watch videos online instead of going to bed a decent hour... it is no surprise that I am still tired. I am trying to change that though and will be going to bed as soon as I finish writing up this entry.
So onto the good stuff. The last weekend in April I went on a much anticipated journey to the southern tip of Korea to the Island of 진도 (Jindo). I wonder if technically I would say the Island of Jin since "do" means Island in Korean? Whatever it's Jindo on the map. I have been looking forward to this festival since I first started researching things to do in Korea years ago.
To start my journey we all headed to meet the charter bus at 11 o'clock at night. Now, I may not have the best sleeping hours, but I have been asleep (or at least comfortably settled in my bed) by 10-11 each night, so packing my bags and traveling to the other side of Seoul that late at night already has me regretting my decisions. But, as I said, I have been waiting for this trip for so long I am willing to forgo my comfort for the time being. I get on the bus, settle in, and promptly fall asleep. It was glorious. We reached our destination about 4 in the morning and some of our group got off the bus and went on a hike up a mountain. I am not a hiker. I am definitely not a hiker at 5 in the morning after having spent the night on a bus. But hey, more power to you if you are. I stayed on the bus and slept.
After everyone was back from the hike we drove to a sauna so people could shower and clean up. 진도 is famous for a special breed of dog that they have. The 진도 dog is incredible if trained properly. We were treated to a show from a dog that had been under training for a mere four months. If only some people could follow orders as well as this dog the world would be a better place. It was incredible watching this dog fleet arouand and over and under obstacles, climb up bridges and release banners, raise flags, jump through hoops (and arms), retrieve drinks from the fridge, and dance with his trainer. It was fascinating and makes me realize that I will never be able to have a pet because I would never be able to train it properly. Because if I ever did get a dog I would need it to be able to do some sort of awesome trick too but I am far too lazy to spend the time training an animal. Too bad though, these dogs are seriously cute.
After the show we headed into the downtown area of Jindo for lunch and to stock up on supplies. There are no convenience stores or places to buy any kind of food or drink near the pension we were staying at so everyone stocked up on whatever they may want for the night. I think every person had a bag containing some form of liquid when we returned to the bus. It must have been great for business having 130 tourist attack your convenience stores. I hope they appreciated us.
This afternoon was the first time that it actually felt like spring. I was actually too warm and had to remove my sweater. A wonderful feeling after the very long winter. Another go on the bus and the highlight of the trip was fast approaching.
Once a year, for reasons unknown (we'll go with tides) a 2.8 kilometer "road" opens up between 진도 and a small neighboring island. It has become a very popular festival because you can walk from one island to the other. Most people (as in locals) go to collect abalone, crabs, squid, or any other kind of sea life that can be foraged, others (as in from the rest of Korea or foreigners) come for the festival that surrounds this event and the seas parting. This phenomenon has many names: The Miracle Sea Crossing, The Moses Crossing, The Jindo Miracle Sea Crossing... the list goes on. I'll just call it awesome. We arrived at the festival and walked around a bit. KL and KB were with me on this trip and we stopped for a bit and watched some traditional Korean performances. Fan dancing and pansori music (traditional Korean music) to name a few.
Out on the water boats were circling together and we were not quite sure why but thanks to Koreans and their need to show that they can speak English we found out. This large group of boats looked like they were playing a massive game of following the leader but we were told it was an ancient prayer. They were praying for big fish and a good harvest. The boats even released colorful smoke into the air as they circled. Unfortunately we had no idea what the colors signified and neither did our friendly English-speaking-Korea. It was still pretty cool to watch. There were a good number of boats circling and I am very impressed with their ability to stay in a circle and not fan out to a weird oval shape. Kudos guys, kudos.
The sea was going to start parting at 5 so around 330 we got on a small boat and sailed to the adjacent island to wait to cross back over during the parting. This island was picturesque. I loved everything except the smell. I don't think I could ever get used to the seaweed smell that comes with living by the ocean. But there were cute little houses and boats all around. It was very obvious it thrived on the fishing business due to the amount of nets and various instruments that were stacked near the water. I don't even know what these things are called in English let alone their Korean name but we watched a few men stacking them and I swear I thought I was going to watch someone die. This old man was holding this "thing" that is longer than he was tall and trying to get it up (or down?) a huge stack. I could just see him slipping and tumbling into the jagged rocks below. I don't care how long you've been doing it- it looked crazy!
Once we were at the crossing point you could tell there was a much more festive attitude. There was a group of Korean drummers and they were just pounding away. Once there song ended they herded all of us into their group and started handing out their drums and began teaching us how to play. There were more of us than them though so I didn't get a drum but I did get to watch and that was enough for me. It was a long wait for the water to open up enough and I just sat and admired the view for most of the time.
The crossing was to start with some of the military carrying flags, and then the drummers, and then the people who were just going to cross but again the foreigners joined ranks. There were so many flags a couple of people asked to carry them. At first the Koreans were a little wary but were finally convinced and that just opened the flood gates for many of us foreigners to grab a flag and race to the front. But before the crossing we had to take a group picture. So many people. And our group picture was infiltrated by the drummers who wanted a picture with the foreigners. It turned into a mass of people and I swear at least a hundred pictures had to be taken from how many cameras were going off.
Of course mother nature is on her own time schedule so we didn't start to cross until closer to 530 but that is ok. I had grabbed a flag, a twenty foot high bamboo pole with a ridiculously long flag attached (I might add)- because, really, how many times can you say you participated in a traditional ceremony during a once-a-year (let's face it once-in-a-lifetime) ocean parting? About half way through I deeply regretted that decision, but hey, live and learn. Also, if I ever go again, note to self: buy the funny thigh high rain boots... trust me you'll need them.
The crossing was amazing. It started out pretty dry and the colors of the seaweed and rocks from the bottom of the ocean were amazing. Also the sun was setting we were marching to drums. there were tons of people. It was just fantastic. Watching all the people who were just walking or gathering the sea life and focusing on the ground and trying not to fall, it was an incredible experience. About half way through KL found a small octopus that was beached (and being who she is she couldn't touch it but she wanted it to go back into the water to try and save it) so KB went to try and grab it to put it back into the water. Have you ever tried to grab a live octopus? It is not easy. After a few failed attempts (they are slipper and fast) a small crowd had gathered to try and figure out why this white girl was jumping around and yelping and laughing. An old grandmother came along and was trying to give KB tips. Finally she was able to grab the poor creature and she threw him back in the water. This is not what the old grandmother wanted. Mid toss she yells at KB and dashes for the water and in one fell swoop snatches the poor little octopus out of the water and he disappeared into her bag within seconds. I have never seen something happen so fast. We were a little dumbfounded. And sad that we weren't able to save the poor little creature from death. At least the grandmother was going to enjoy her dinner.
Half way through the waters had not completely parted and I ended up getting soaked up to my knees because my rain boots just did not cover it. It's okay though, I really did want to take part of the ocean with me. not. Once we walked back to the main island I looked back and realized just how far of a walk that was. And just how many people were present. It was crazy insane!
And because it's Korea there is a story that goes along with every event. So to explain the crossing there is an age old tale that goes a little like this:
Once upon a time there was a small island that had terrible creatures. These creatures were tigers and the people on this island were powerless against these fearsome creatures. Now one year the tigers had amassed such great numbers that in a moment of dispare they all decided to gather their belongings, get on their boats, and sail away to another island. All was well, the people believed they had been reprieved, until one family realized they had left their grandmother on the island! Duhn duhn duhn. This old woman too feeble to protect herself kneeled on the beach and began to pray for salvation. Just then the waters parted and she saw a walkway all the way to the island where her family was anxiously awaiting to see her fate. The grandmother, wasting no time, began to cross the ocean, a tiger in hot pursuit. The family seeing what the grandmother was doing also began to cross in order to meet her half way. After the long journey the grandmother was reunited with her family! She was so happy, but so tired, she rejoiced in their reunion and... promptly died in the in the middle of the ocean. The family went back and the waters came together again.
I have no idea what happened to the tiger. Or the family, Or why the heck that is such a sad story. But I do know that there is a statue of the grandmother and tiger on one island and the family and a Jindo dog on the other.
Now... why someone didn't just get on a boat and go back to get her? That is also a mystery. Who needs clarification when legends are involved anyways?
After the crossing we all headed to our pension on the beach for dinner and much needed sleep. It was a fun night, In the morning we all boarded our buses and headed off to the final day of our journey. Half the group headed to a Tulip Festival and the other part (myself included) headed to 대둔산 (Daedunsan). 대둔산 is a mountain that you can take a cable car up to a certain point and then there are a ridiculous, and I mean ridiculous, amount of stairs to lead you to the top. We hopped a cable car, trekked up hundreds of stairs, just to cross a cloud bridge (which, btw, is awesome. Hundreds of feet in the air crossing between peaks? Um. Yeah, I can say I've done that.), then more stairs to get to the vertical staircase. Yes. Vertical staircase. Just another wonderful aspect of this mountain. Heights and I are not friends. We have a mutual understanding. I don't go up and they don't make me fall down. But part of my whole experience here in Korea is to get out of my comfort zone and this mountain did that.
Tea atop the mountain and then we descended, got back on the bus, and headed home. It was an exhausting trip but so worth it. I loved every bit of the weekend and it was definitely a highlight of my time in Korea.
So far May is turning out to be a calm month. I am taking a break from trips (apart from excursions into Seoul). Work is interesting, as I said I have another open class coming up, and we are also in the middle of an English speaking contest.
I will try and get better at posting more.
Until the next time!