28 July 2008

Yeosu and Dolsando

“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been. Travellers don’t know where they are going.”
Paul Thereaux.

I woke, packed, and stared at the clock. My bus didn’t leave until 10:30 and I needed to get on the subway no earlier than 9:30 but I was antsy and ready so I set out on foot. It had rained sometime in the night and Busan had that universal just rained on streets smell and everything was shiny and the air was clear and cool. I had packed only the basics, but after a long inner debate I had decided to take my laptop, which meant the charger and cables and a much heavier pack and fewer clothes but the pack I have is built for the weight and I cinched down the straps snug and it rode nicely. I have only brought the minimum of clothing, planning to wash and wear as I go. We will see how this works.

I arrived in plenty of time at the bus station, which is located above Nopodong subway station. I had bought my ticket the previous day, so I knew where I was headed. I had time for a lackluster fast food lunch at the terminal and then went out to the gates to find my bus. I was waiting around out there and I noticed a Caucasian reading a Lonely Planet just like mine and I asked him if he was coming or going. He said his name was Hans and he was from Holland and he had just arrived in Busan and was backpacking around Korea on the way to Japan. He had been on the road for about a month. I told him about the Beomeosa and recommended he stop there since he was close (which is one stop from Nopodong and therefore on his way into town).

I got on the bus and it left on schedule. I paid a little extra for the express and these busses are very nice. The seats are huge and they recline to about 45 degrees and there is tons of legroom. Only three seats per row, two, then an aisle, then one by itself. It was well worth it. I didn’t sleep very well the night before and I put my feet up and leaned my seat back and tipped my Cardinal hat down and I was out. I woke up and the bus was stopped. It was still on the highway but it was a parking lot. We crawled along for about an hour and then we started going again and after a while we came to a rest stop and everyone got out and went pee and got a snack. I bought a bottle of water for myself and the older lady sitting next to me. She was very nice. I got some little doughnut like things that were stuffed with red bean past and I shared those with her too.

When we got to the station in Yeosu I crossed the street to the city bus stop and started trying to decipher the bus schedule to see which one went downtown. I must have been giving off “I’m lost” signals, because before long a Korean guy came up to me and asked where I was trying to go. The only thing I recognized on the schedule from my book is a place called Jinnamgwan, so I told him that. He looked at the busses coming in and told me which one to get on and showed me where to get off. Nice folks here.

Jinnamgwan is the largest wooden structure in Korea. It is also very old. Yeosu played an important part in one of the most celebrated events in Korean history: the time an outnumbered and outgunned Korean navy whipped the crap out of the Japanese navy in the 1590’s. I took lots of pictures of the English captions in the museum there so you can find out more about it if you want. Admiral Yi Sun-sin used an intimate knowledge of the tides and underwater landscape to trap a superior Japanese force repeatedly. This prevented the Japanese from securing Korea as a stepping stone to conquer China. Unfortunately the Japanese were more successful at this later.

While there I met a nice man who volunteered to help at the pavilion through his senior citizen program. He spoke English very well and wanted to know all about me. He took my picture and showed me around the place. When I went into the pavilion he reminded me to remove my shoes. It really is an impressive place. There were not surprisingly about two hundred fire extinguishers in there. It was a very hot day but under the pavilion it was nice and cool. The 68 huge pillars that support the massive roof were several feet in circumference and made of pine. The view looked out over the entire harbor and far out to sea. It was the perfect vantage point from which to direct a naval defensive.

It had been my plan to walk down to the street where all the hotels were and find a cheap one and check in and get cleaned up before I went out sightseeing some more in Yeosu. But when I asked the man about the two hotels I read about in my guide he suggested that I go to stay at Dolsando Island, which is connected to the mainland by a bridge (the bridge you see in the pictures of the harbor). He told me about the Hyang-iram temple and said that the views from there are spectacular. Well, long story short, that is what I did. I always try to take the advice of the locals. It is rarely a mistake. I am writing now from a small but lovely hotel in the fishing village below the monastery. I ended up paying a little bit more than I intended for lodging (there were hotels in my guide for as little as W20000 in Yeosu proper but a computer room was at least W35000 and I paid W50000 for this one and you can see from the pictures what the view looks like for here and that is cheap for this kind of place. This is a $300 hotel anywhere I have ever been.)

I didn’t get here in time to go up to the temple, which closes at 6PM, so I am going to get up early and watch the sunrise over the ocean and hike the trails to the temple and scenic lookouts in the morning. I think I will catch the bus back to Yeosu (it’s almost an hour down to the Southern tip of Dolsando where I am. The road is very curvy and hilly). I think I will take the ferry out to Geomundo tomorrow and stay overnight there tomorrow night.

Both rural Korea and the coastal region here are amazing. If your favorite color is green like me, you are in for a treat. There are a thousand shades of it here and in abundance. The bright green of the young rice fields and the frilly pale green of the bamboo lining the roads and the deep green of the camellia and pine on the mountains and all of the orchards and gardens that are tended with such care and economy of space everywhere here. It is a visual explosion of chlorophyll. The shoreline here on the southern coast is craggy and recalls for me those classic Asian landscapes with the mountains in the mist. The waves beat on the shore. The ocean was a deep blue today, and the mist made the islands and mountains in the distance look ethereal.

I was sitting out on the deck of the hotel which overlooks the sea writing but the mosquitoes drove me into the bar. The hostess and her husband just invited me to share their dinner, but I ate before I came. They don’t speak any English so I showed her the pictures of the ridiculous spread they gave me for dinner and I think she understood. The one thing that really bothers me about the language barrier is the potential to seem rude. The people here are so heartbreakingly kind that it pains me to think that I might accidentally insult someone.

There are 123 pictures and funny captions in the latest photoblog. I am going to try to get some sleep. Tomorrow is another big day.