Saturday, November 6, 2010

Ulleungdo, Mysterious Island: Day 2

Ulleungdo, day 2. On Monday morning, the group went on a bus ride around Ulleungdo. Ulleungdo is small, but there isn't a road the circumnavigates that island, so we drove most of the way around the island, and then turned around and drove back the same way. There are a number of rock formations that supposedly look like animals just off the coast and the bus driver took care to point out every single one in great detail. That rock is a turtle, diving in the ocean, with a baby turtle on its back and that right there is the baby turtle's man penis. This is the elephant rock and the small rock behind it? Yeah, that's the elephant's dung. Near the end of the tour, we drove through a natural stone bridge that is suppose to look like a vagina. Male drivers like to drive part way through, back up and drive through again. They also like to say, "I'm coming," as they drive through and sometimes hit the windshield wiper spray as he drove through. Stay classy, adjoshi.

After the bus ride and lunch, a smaller group took the ferry to Dokdo. Dokdo is... it's complicated. Dokdo is comprised of two main islets and 35 smaller rocks in the middle of of a watery nowhere that is right smack dab in between Korea and Japan. Both countries claim sovereignty over the rocks, and while Dokdo is situated over rich fishing grounds and a possible natural gas reservoir, the controversy has less to do with economics and more to do with the 400-year-long feud between Korea and Japan and Korea's lingering resentment over Japanese invasions. This is Japan vs. Korea, round three thousand, and it has become a matter of intense nationalistic importance in Korea. While Dokdo is disputed territory, it is administered by South Korea and the only residents are Korean. There is a daily ferry between Ulleungdo and Dokdo for tourists, and after a year and a half of seeing adds about Dokdo, hearing songs about Dokdo, seeing kindergarteners dressed like the Korean flag dance about Dokdo and having tiny 4th graders beseechingly tell me, "Teacher, Dokdo is Korea," I wasn't going to pass up the chance to see the island for myself.

I've now been to Dokdo and, well, they're rocks. Rocks in the middle of nowhere, but if I have to choose a side, I'm on Team Korea. Visitors were restricted to the wharf, but Caroline and I clambered up the rocky sides of the island, and if we can't say we've stood on Dokdo, we can at least claim to have perched precariously on Dokdo. We played rock-paper-scissors since it was the most Korean thing we could think of besides kimchi, and neither of us had any kimchi handy.

It rained pretty much the entire first two days. From the sporadic rain Sunday morning (a rude awakening to my beach nap, let me tell you) to the pouring rain Sunday night which canceled the cable car trip to the light mist that obscured views during the bus ride, it was a wet trip, and while on Dokdo, I overheard some of the staff talking about a big storm that might shut down the ferries and leave us stranded on the island. Monday night, the Adventure Korea staff told us that due to an approaching storm, the ferries back to the mainland would be closed on Wednesday, Thursday and possible Friday and, faced with the options of either being stranded on Ulleungdo, five to a hotel room, during heavy rains or leaving a day and a half early, they had decided to cut the trip short. An extra ferry would be running the next day at noon to take people back to the mainland, and we had less than twenty four hours left on Ulleungdo.

One of the bridges along the Haengnam Shore Walkway crossed over a cove wide enough and deep enough to jump into. On Sunday's hike, part of the group had jumped off the bridge and gone swimming, but I hadn't wanted to finish the hike in a wet bathing suit, so I stayed on dry land and planned to come back later in the trip. Thanks to the change in departure, my only chance was to go that night, so after dinner, Caroline and I donned bathing suits and walked back to the trail to go swimming. At first we weren't going to jump on the bridge; it was five or six hours later than when people had original jumped, we weren't sure how the tide might have affected the water depth and the lights on that section of the walkway were out, so we would be jumping blind. We climbed down the side of the coast next to the bridge to check the water, and while it seemed deep enough, we discovered that the railing along the walkway was mildly electrified. We couldn't feel it when we were dry, but once we were wet, it stung like a bitch every time we touched the metal railing. Instead of electrocuting ourselves, we decided to just go swimming in the East Sea and, come time to get out, scare the bejesus out the Koreans dinning on the nearby dimly-lit beach by rising out of the waters like some 외국인 Monsters From the Black Lagoon. While we were swimming, a Korean family hiking along the pathway above noticed us and shouted out a greeting.

"Hi," the little girl shouted to us.

"Hi," Caroline and I shouted back, and immediately she launched into a torrent of broken English. Who are you? Where are you from? What are you doing? Do you like kimchi? I love Korea! At one point I asked her how old she was and her father, who was standing next to her, shouted back, "I am 41 years old."

We swam until we started to get cold, and then walked back to our clothes at the bridge. While we were drying off, the Adventure Korea staff showed up, a bit drunk, to go bridge jumping. Caroline and I warned them about the electrified fence, but since they were dry and couldn't feel it, they didn't believe us until after they had jumped into the ocean and were electrified trying to slither under the fence back onto the walkway. There was lots of shouting and swearing and laughing (from Caroline and me). After a few jumps, the staff convinced Caroline and I to join in, and I ended up jumping off the bridge once. It wasn't that high of a jump, or at least that's what I thought until I had climbed over the railing on the bridge and was looking into the dark ocean below and realized that, oh crap, I was going to have to let go of my death grip on the rail. It was a lot of fun, though, and worth that brief moment of panic.

Elephant Rock, Ulleungdo
Samseonam Rocks (Three Fairy Rocks), Ulleungdo Dokdo
Top: Elephant Rock with elephant poop; Middle: Samseonam Rocks representing "the three fairies who were stuck on views here changed to those three rocks," according to the guide I picked up at the minbak (left), Seodo (western islet) of Dokdo (right); Bottom: 가위바위보! Dokdo is Korea!

More photos are here.

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