19 August 2008

You Are Here: Mt. Mangsan and Bongam Beach

I woke up, if I ever slept at all, about 4AM. I came to the conclusion that night that I could sleep on the floor with AC or in a bed without AC but without either it was a no go. Sorry budget travel buffs...remove me feed from your reader if you must, but I am too old and set in my ways to rough it anymore.

I told Blue Jean I was going outside for a while and she snored "OK" and was back out before I even got out the door. My gods that girl can sleep. And on the floor of a mosquito infested sauna. (She doesn't have AC in her bedroom at home and although she does have a bed she is just as comfortable on the floor.) I brushed my teeth and grabbed my journal, a pen, and my camera and out the door I went. The light sprinkle I encountered soon turned into a downpour. I settled under a small overhang on the building next door next to a dead bonsai tree and waited out the rain. Someone had used the pot of the dead bonsai for an ashtray. I thought to myself that this was an end too ignoble for something which had suffered so much for the sake of beauty.

The rain caused a bit of a stir along the wharf. A few tents were set up along the bay and the rest of the previous evening's revelers were in various states of unconsciousness in cars and around public buildings. Perhaps they had met with the same chilly greeting we had at the guest houses but I suspect that the plan for most was to sleep where they landed. Koreans swell up like the mumps from mosquito bites and I was killing them right and left but there were quite a few people sleeping out in the open or in cars with doors and windows open. It must have been quite a feast. I was amazed by the diversity of the mosquito species. Some of them were rather large and actually had striped abdomen. I would not likely survive malaria due to my liver condition and supposedly it is still found on some of the islands. The room had screens that held that distinction in name only but we were provided with a spiral of mosquito fumigant which had, I am certain, not helped with the atmosphere in the room. Everything we owned stunk like that stuff when we left. I can still smell it.

I got my pen out and wrote a few things down and took some pictures. The fishing fleet had gone before I got up but as the storm passed and light broke I could see the men working the floating fisheries in the bay. Each operation probably covered an acre and held a small hut and a port-a-potty and most had a boat or two. I am not sure what they were raising but we saw a lot of similar things in the inter-tidal zone and at low tide you could see ropes strung with shells which I assume were there to seed oysters. I will have to find out more about the fisheries the next time I go but it is difficult. Of all the people I have encountered in Korea the guys who work the boats are the most surly which is to be expected I suppose. They leave early and come back late and pulling nets is no picnic. I am sure crabby doesn't begin to describe their demeanor. It is a rough life. Although many people in Busan stare at me like a freak of nature people out here on the islands openly gawk. Either that or they refuse to make eye contact. The ladies in our minbak laughed the whole time were in there and I heard their conversation peppered with "miguk" (American) this and "miguk" that. And they really grilled Yoo Jin about the nature of our relationship. I wish I could have understood what she said because I would really like to know. (co co co)

A herd of cats was picking over the debris from the night before. Wherever there are raw fish restaurants there are cats. Cats here, like Zoulie, tend to be cut size. There were gulls flying out to sea and herons, cranes, and egrets flying the opposite way toward land. I couldn't figure that out. The gulls were calling out with their sad laugh. The horizon was still obscured from view by a thick fog but the light of sunrise was striking high pink feathery clouds straight up that were backed by a deep blue sky. Soon the first to recover were breaking out their fishing gear to do it all again. I repaired to the room and stared at Yoo Jin till she opened one eye and smiled at me. We (mostly I) decided to get out of that room ASAP and we got packed and went down to the little store and I bought some Diget crackers and some Pocari Sweat energy drinks and what I thought was orange juice and we headed out to climb the mountain.

Now I know what some of you are going to say: 293 meters is not a mountain. Well, you can kiss my sore butt because it says right there on the map: "Mt. Mangsan." And I almost died. Three times. Once of cardiac arrest and twice of a broken coccyx. And we never even made it to Mt. Mangsan because the trail went over two other mountains on the way there and when we got to the top of the first one I only wanted to go down, not down and up and down and up and down and up and down and up and down, which is what we would have had to do if we went there. But it was an amazing experience. This trail actually goes all the way across the island if you look at that map and I would like to go do that. In November maybe. Because it was hot. About half way up I decided to remove my shirt which was soaked and not really doing much of anything. It is strictly against Korean etiquette for men to be seen in public without a shirt. Even at the beach it is rare. When I took it off Yoo Jin tilted her head at me and said "Nake?", which is her word for naked. I said, "Yep." That gave me the lift I needed and we pressed on up to the summit. It took us about three hours round trip.

When we got back down we headed directly to the island next door, which was connected by a beautiful new bridge. When we got to Bongam Beach town we went and had some grub, a fish soup in a mild clear broth with lemon grass and cilantro and scallions and cabbage and seaweed and lots of garlic. We got one and a half heads and a couple of tails and some of the meaty middle sections. It was really good and felt like wholesome and totally right food for where we were. And we really enjoyed the Air Conditioning. We took our time eating, I'll tell you that. I wrote some and we stared out the windows at the ocean.

After lunch we went to the beach and popped open a parasol. The beach was rocks, smooth rounded ones that started out as big as a softball up by the seawall and gradually diminished to pebble size at the waterline. They were hard to walk on barefoot. I was sceptical about sleeping on them but I put my flip-flops under my butt and my rolled up windbreaker under my head and after adjusting a few of them I was comfortable and promptly fell asleep.

I woke up and went swimming. The water was cool but it was a quick adjustment to being very comfortable. I still can't get over how salty the water is. I can swim with my eyes open under the water but it is so salty that it dried in crystals on my skin and pants and made my lips burn. After a bit I talked Blue Jean into getting in (she can't swim) and I held her in the ocean for about an hour. Bliss.

Across the bay, I have in my notes, at least three other islands are visible (it is hard to tell which ones are separate or connected from sea level). Each island had a small village of maybe twenty buildings which likely supported a small fishing fleet. Some had small terraced fields climbing the mountains above the town. Whitewashed buildings with orange roofs predominate. It is possible to stay on the islands further out if you take one of the other ferries and I would definitely like to do that some time. Tongyeong was only about two hours and 9500W from Busan by express bus.

After dinner we hiked back to Jindo to catch the bus. Bus pulled up to the dock right before the ferry. We camped out on the padded floor of the seating area and Yoo Jin slept. We got into Tongyeong about 4:30PM and set out to find a hotel. I was determined to find someplace nice to sleep and boy did I. The bathroom was bigger than the room we had the night before. And there was a bed. And an AC unit that we turned on high. The windows had inside shutters that turned the room pitch black. After a shower and a nap I went out to find some cigarettes and got a bottle of suju that we mixed with the little bottles of vitamin C drink that I found in the fridge. Clean and rested we went out to find some food. When we got outside I thought I heard thunder but when we got down to the harbor we saw the end of an amazing fireworks display (it was "Independence from Japan" day). You haven't seen fireworks till you have seen these guys do it. The whole thing was like the grand finale at home and the grand finale was unlike anything I have ever seen. It filled the entire eastern horizon.

We tried to catch a cab (I was hankering after sushi for some reason), but they were not to be found so we went to a galbi place that was simply amazing. I counted twelve dishes before they had even brought the meat. We cooked it up slowly and had more soju and laughed and talked with the rest of the table (a family of three) and toasted "kombae!" and ate till we were stuffed. We grilled up the shrimp first, and the garlic and mushrooms, and then threw on the samgyopsal and the galbi (marinated rib meat) that was the best I have ever had. We walked the waterfront back to the hotel happy happy happy.

The next day we got up late and caught a cab to the bus terminal and got back to Busan about 1pm. We went straight to our favorite sushi and there are some pictures to show why we like it. I put my camera on video and set it on the conveyor and it went around and back and everyone got a kick out of it and it was an amazing video but I erased it on accident. I guess I will have to go back there again. Dangit.

Later that evening I took Yoo Jin down to the train station and reluctantly kissed her goodbye. It was a wonderful weekend. Hopefully more to come.

Note: There are pictures for this and the previous travel post here and all of my photo albums are available here for your perusal and/or ridicule.