“I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” Mark Twain
After a few hectic, exciting days in Seoul I was fortunate to spend several days meandering through some 1200 kilometres of rural Korea. Since time was limited, my host planned an itinerary she considered would be a representative cross-section of Korea’s countryside and historic towns. Unerringly (with her trusty GPS) she guided me to daily discover what is a picturesque country with scenic landscape around every bend of the road and proudly preserved historic and cultural achievements. I have made no secret of my affinity for bucolic landscape and since as a boy I first dipped a toe in salt water seascapes around the world have pulled me to their shores. Thanks to this thoughtfully designed tour I feasted on an abundance of all that I love best. Traveling in harmony and good humour throughout, I can only express a deep debt of gratitude to you my dear friend.
(NOTE: To improve your viewing experience click on the photos below to enlarge – once for medium, twice to zoom in.)
Incidentally, a GPS is a wonderful travel aid and I plan to prevail myself of that technology any time I can in future forays to foreign lands. Knowing my love of everything to do with the sea, seaports and seafood we headed for the East Sea, more precisely to Hupo Port, some 40 kilometres south of Uljin. A geographical note here: in case you are wondering if there’s a connection with the Sea of Japan, indeed there is, it is one and the same. Except the Korean people are a little more pragmatic reasonably calling the waters bathing their east coast, the East Sea. The Japanese on the other hand seem to have taken full possession of it by naming it the Sea of Japan. That reminds me of my great irritation as a boy learning about ‘La Manche’ (figuratively the Sleeve that connected the North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean) and coming to Canada to learn somehow it had been appropriated by the English, thus I discovered it as the English Channel in my new school atlas. I thought to myself what kind of jingoistic arrogance was evidenced by that bit of misappropriation? Okay, I’ve finally got it off my chest – oy, feels good!
Highways are invariably several lanes wide and in great upkeep; it did take me a little time to get used to the numerous speed cameras until I opted to make use of the cruise control in the car. At first a little boring to always dawdle at a sedate 100 kph (a far cry from European autobahns) gradually I got to appreciate the relaxed driving and non-aggressive behaviour of the traffic. Along the highway there are frequent fuel stops to gas up and check over the local goods offered in what we’d refer to here as a strip mall. Here too the Korean retail model for reasonably priced and tasty fast food is hard to avoid or resist. I came to look forward to these brief stops just to see what might be there that wasn’t found at the previous one.
Loved the grilled squid – crunchy, flavourful, easy to eat while driving and inexpensive, as most fast-foods are in Korea.
A view of Hupo Port from my hotelt, it turned out to be a mecca for the seafood lover that I am; a splendid eating experience was guaranteed anywhere, in a restaurant or cooked right on the docks.
It was difficult, in fact well nigh impossible to keep from sampling freshly cooked King Crabs right there on the docks. The tantalizing aroma wafted from every corner and from behind every crab pot, who could resist? Not me, I assure you.
Then to top it off with a tasty local delicacy, something akin to a waffle in the shape of the ubiquitous King Crab that is the mainstay of the local economy as far back as can be remembered.
My hotel rather strangely called ‘Motel Theme’ was centrally located and from my room’s window I could survey what I always love, a seaport, fishing boats and the limitless horizon of the sea.
No kidding this was the room’s decor, a full wall, top to bottom – I felt as if I was sleeping in an aquarium and maybe that was totally appropriate. Come to think of it that might explain why it’s called ‘Motel Theme’. I should have checked out other rooms and see what else there was to see.
To my surprise the flat rooftop below my room was used to dry fish. I suppose the cold weather kept any hint of fishy smell under control and probably not allowed later in warm weather. A photo op I was happy to take – notice the fishing fleet in the background.
Green branches are lashed to the top of the mast of each fishing vessel. Why? I have no idea and since there was no one around to ask I have no answer but I’ve not seen that anywhere else. Perhaps a good luck charm to ensure a big catch?
A night view of the port and an interesting discovery; the string of powerful lights on the deck of a boat meant it was exclusively dedicated to fishing for squid who can’t resist the temptation of bright lights. Maybe there’s a moral there, somewhere. Do you think?
Reluctantly I was convinced no matter how much I loved Hupo Port and feasting on crab and delicious raw fish prepared sashimi style, it was high time to move south along the seacoast road. Around a bend and look! What came next was equally satisfying, in fact I dare say I found my perfect get-away next time I want to spend a few weeks by a gorgeous emerald tinted sea.
My friend informed me that big city folks desirous to spend a few inexpensive days or weeks in a peaceful surrounding can find the perfect get-away here, in a kind of local B&B in a fisherman’s home. Immediately I expressed my interest since as I was already drugged by the iodine-loaded air. She was doubtful I would be comfortable in a sparsely furnished room and to sleep on floor mats, although she thought I’d most likely enjoy the daily meals. I countered that I liked sleeping on a hard mattress and I could always buy an air mattress if really necessary. Indeed, it’s not an outlandish idea and I may yet spend a few weeks in this enchanting seaside get-away recharging my creative battery. First though, I need to learn a little more of the language than I presently possess.
I noticed at frequent intervals decorative gazebos, usually found in a pleasant nook in rural settings, perhaps by a river or a beach; these for the most part have been built by nearby residents or local council. They are freely to spend leisurely time with a gathering of friends and neighbours. Nice!
I’m seriously contemplating staying a few weeks and joining the fellows on the rocks who I’m sure would share with me local fishing secrets. I assure you, I’ve never met an unpleasant fisherman, the world over, concluding the pursuit of fish simply doesn’t attract anyone other than fine, peace loving men (and women too) akin to my own placid disposition. OY!
A visual surprise awaited on the beach close by. A fine tableau of imposing bronze sculptures depicted the historic significance of fishing and the prized snow crab in the economic well-being of countless fishing communities on the East Sea.
Always reluctantly I have to be dragged away but then we came to a beach and a splendid scene of blue skies, blue-green waters, soaring seagulls and after a long walk a rewarding sit-down to another fine seafood feast.
Pointing to the one I want – and after a long stroll breathing in a bracing sea breeze I had no feelings of guilt. On my plate it came as succulent slices of sashimi.
Yes, that’s the one! Let me assure the victim was much appreciated on my plate.
The fine view from the adjoining window and on the table. As usual in a Korean restaurant the entree is always preceded by an array of condiments, kimchi and tasty tidbits.
On the way back to the car park we came across this archeological curiosity, the Tomb of King Munmu (661 – 681) built under the mound of rocks about 200 metres off-shore. The king gave specific instructions to be buried in the sea after his death so that he would become a dragon and protect the Shilla Kingdom. A thoughtful monarch, don’t you agree?
Here ends a memorable jaunt along the East Sea coast of South Korea. Next I’ll escort you on a tour of the royal city of Gyeongju, a famous temple, royal tombs, surreal Anapji Pond and that’s only a hint of much more to discover.