Friday, November 5, 2010

Ulleungdo, Mysterious Island: Day 1

Harbor at Dodong-ri, Ulleungdo
Dodong Harbor, Ulleungdo

Over Chuseok break (yes, that was over a month ago) I went to Ulleungdo with Adventure Korea. I tried really hard to book this trip to Ulleungdo by myself, but Ulleungdo is a remote island and Chuseok is the most traveled holiday in Korea. I spent a long week in early September frantically trying to juggle bus, train and ferry schedules, but I gave up right around the time I realized that the only ferry from Ulleungdo reached the mainland a mere thirty minutes after the last train back to Seoul departed. Caroline emailed me that afternoon asking if I wanted to go on the Adventure Korea trip to Ulleungdo with her, and I said sign me up.

We left Seoul just after midnight on Sunday morning, September 19th, bound for Donghae City and Chuam Beach. The idea was to sleep on the bus, although I'm not sure how, since a) we were on a bus (other people seemed to have less trouble with this than me) and b) we stopped at a rest spot every hour, effectively waking most people up. We reached Chuam Beach at 4:30 in the morning.

"Good morning," our guide chirped over the loudspeaker, waking us up again. "We're at the beach, but sunrise isn't for another few hours, so you can keep napping.

The engined turned off, the AC stopped and the bus started to get stuffy. A few rows ahead of me, a man started to snore. Caroline looked over at me and asked, "Sleep on the beach?"

"Oh yeah!" I said. We walked down to the beach and I dozed off to the sound of the surf crashing against the beach and the knowledge that when I woke up, my bra would somehow have sand in it. Sunrise at Chuam Beach is suppose to be spectacular; it's even shown on the morning news while the national anthem plays, but thanks to clouds and early morning drizzle, there wasn't a sunrise. It just got progressively lighter and lighter until it was morning. Shortly after sunrise, a patrol of soldiers marched down the beach.

"Why are there soldiers?" asked Cameron, a fellow teacher who had just arrived in Korea two weeks earlier. "This is a beach!"

"North Korea," I told him. Donghae is only eighty miles from the DMZ, and many of the beaches in the area are lined with barbed wire and closed to the public. It's easy to forget since South Korea is so nonchalant about it, but the Korean peninsula is technically still at war.

Our ferry to Ulleungdo departed from Donghae at 10:00, and after sunrise, we left the beach and went into town for breakfast. It was before 8:00 on a Sunday morning, the weekend before a holiday, and not much was opened, but we eventually found a Dunkin' Donuts willing to open early for a chance to make money off a group of 90 foreigners desperate to not eat kimchi for breakfast. We drank our coffee, ate our donuts and were stared at by the poor cashier who really hadn't though her morning would be that busy, much less involve that much English. The ferry ride was uneventful; other people complained of a rough ride, but I slept the whole way. We reached Dodong Harbor on Ulleungdo by 1:00 and walked to our minbak, a Korean style bed and breakfast with a mat on the floor in place of a bed, for lunch.

After lunch, we hiked along the Haengnam Shore Walkway. It was a nice hike, meandering along the coast. Ulleungdo is a volcanic island and in many places, there were steep drops from the edge of the island to the ocean. The path clung to the side of the coast, starting near the water and then climbing high above the shore before dropping back down to the ocean, with bridges spanning small coves of startling clear blue water. The hike was suppose to lead to the Dodong Lighthouse, but when Caroline and I reached the end of the coastal walkway, the trail turned inland with no sight of a lighthouse, just a pier stretching out into the ocean. Turns out the lighthouse was another forty minute hike inland, but we amused ourselves by wandered down to the pier and climbed on the A-jacks forming the breakwater.

The group was suppose to take a cable car to the Dokdo Observatory before dinner, but by the time we made it back to the minbak, it had started to rain heavily. The Dokdo Observatory was postponed until another, hopefully clear, day and one of the staffers looked at the group assembled on the front steps of the hostel and said, "Well, I guess it's time to start drinking." Caroline trekked through the rain to the FamilyMart for soju and orange juice and we ended up in a group playing cards on the front porch until dinner.

Chuam Beach, Donghae-si, Gangwon-do
Haengnam Shore Walkway, Ulleungdo Haengnam Shore Walkway, Ulleungdo
Haengnam Shore Walkway, Ulleungdo
Top: Soldiers on Chuam Beach; Middle: Waves crashing against the breakwater on the Haengnam Shore Walkway (left), Stone cairn along the Haengnam Shore Walkway (right); Bottom: Haengnam Shore Walkway

More photos are here.

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