Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Seonyudo Island, South Korea: From Peak to Peak

Seonyudo Island, South Korea

The trip begins with a rude awakening at an ungodly hour of the morning. The alarm played the role of enforcer, and made sure that we would arrive at the Seoul Express Bus Terminal around 7 am. It's both exhilarating and disappointing to wake up at 5 in the morning and surrender yourself to the day. I normally wouldn't be up this early on my own accord, but we had signed ourselves up for a trip with Adventure Korea. I'm not normally the type of guy to sign up for tours of any kind; I made a point of avoiding all of the crowded bus tours across Europe that happily fed fat tourists the information they were so hungry for. Instead, I tried to utilize the low-key tour approach (New Europe Tours) that cost next to nothing, and forced me to use my legs. "New Europe" was sort of like the appetizer sampler pack that enabled me to gauge what I wanted for my entree in each city. I also always felt that you couldn't really ever discover anything truly unique from the seat of a bus. An alleyway can sometimes withhold a hidden gem. That gem could be anything from golden plaques to stray cats.

Adventure Korea handed the traveler the rope, but gave out some much needed slack. My biggest fear was that the trip would be suffocatingly organized. However, they provided all the essentials for a good trip without defining the word "good" for each member of the trip. The price was also extremely reasonable considering all that was included. Basically, we were free to roam around the island at our own leisure which, as you may have noticed, was essential to me. I suppose I've never taken too well to being told the exact way in which my day will unfold. Life without surprise and spontaneity isn't much of a life at all.
If you wanted to feel this picture, as opposed to just seeing it, then it would be wise to put your fan on full blast and turn it to the setting "thorough enjoyment". We were previously cooped up on an early morning bus, so it was nothing short of sensational to get out onto the water. Morgan, Bri, and I occupied a corner of the second floor of the ferry and relished in it. One month earlier, I hadn't even been aware that Morgan was in the country of Korea. We both conversed and discussed English regularly in our restoration poetry class at Queen's University, but I had no idea we would be blessing the streets of Seoul with our English as well. We ran into each other coincidentally, and then purposefully planned a trip. It's remarkable how the world is changing. Anybody can be anywhere at anytime. We arrived on Seonyudo Island around 1 in the afternoon completely under slept and overjoyed. We were shown the way to a set of rental bikes that no one appeared to be minding. The entire group then proceeded to take their pick and bike off towards out accommodation for the night. This is another example of the "honour system" that seemingly pervades all of Korean society. I have never visited a country willing to take a solemn promise as a legal and binding contract. If you say that you will return the bike, then you will, and that's all there is to it apparently. In Canada, I would have had to sign an extensive contract, and probably would have been asked if I wanted insurance for my leisurely bike ride.

We were led to a hotel which wasn't necessarily a hotel at all. It was more a collection of rooms in which one could temporarily rest. I should probably elaborate because my previous sentence seems to describe a hotel pretty aptly. I mean that the rooms didn't contain any beds, but only blankets, pillows, and floor with potential. This isn't wholly uncommon for Korea, but it was made more interesting by the fact that four of us were sharing a room, we didn't know each other extraordinarily well(except for Bri and I of course), and there were only two blankets. In fact, a fourth individual, Bobby, from Kansas City, whom we had met only that day was to be a part of the mix as well. He turned out to be a trooper though, and Morgan seemingly got along famously with Bri and I all weekend, so it wasn't a concern at all. It was a source of humour more than anything else. I slept like an absolute baby on the ondol mat, but I can't say the same for the rest of the room.

We met outside of our "hotel," and embarked on a journey with our bikes. We biked towards a famed peak on Seonyudo that we would be able to hike. The views were extraordinary all around us, and my mouth was salivating at the thought of a vantage point. We also brought a few beers along with us on the hike to, shall we say, "enhance" the view. It took all the power I had to not stop every ten feet and take a picture on the way to the summit. However, the summit made you reconsider the word "paradise." I look back on the hike as a sort of euphoric summer memory, and not a mid-October hike. The views were remarkable, as islands sprawled out as if put there to bedazzle the curious hiker. It was only a few weeks ago that I was traversing Mount Namsan, and now I was confronted with a completely different type of beauty from a completely different vantage point. I'm constantly amazed by how consistently beautiful and remarkably diverse Korea is.
We descended from the peak and proceeded to hop back on our bikes with only a vague plan. As you will notice in the first picture of the three, Seonyudo Island is actually connected to three other islands. Seonyudo, Munyeodo, Jangjado and Daejangdo Island are all connected with beautiful orange bridges and are a famous site in the Gogunsan-Yeoldo archipelago. It was remarkable to have free reign to travel from island to island with only a bike and a camera. We spent the afternoon visiting the separate islands including Munyeodo with it's vast reeds and pebble fields. After 3 hours of exploring, we came back to Seonyudo to meet up with the Adventure Korea group for some clam digging. The differentiation of the tides is immense on these islands, so when the tide is in, the clams are ripe for the picking, or should I say digging. With one dig of the shovel and a pinch of salt these clams rise to the surface faster than a drowning scuba diver. After a few moments of this we chose to take a seat a little farther back from the group and bask in the remarkable sunset. The only sunset I can think of that rivaled this was in Croatia near the Dalmatian Islands. However, it's difficult to imagine that any sunset being so serene anywhere else. It was almost as if it was painted in the sky for the lucky visitors of Sunyeodo.
We went back to the hotel after this and feasted upon a Korean BBQ. There was pork, soup, rice and a variety of side dishes including the clams that were caught earlier. It was great for the entire Adventure Korea group to share dinner together and get to know each other. I can honestly say I met some fantastic people on this trip from all around Korea. I highly recommend Adventure Korea to all the outgoing individuals across Korea that also appreciate the ability to explore on their own. There are a lot of like-minded, friendly people who utilize this travel company. We spent the evening, and night, refreshing ourselves with the finest Korean beverages and enjoying the sites and smells of Seonyudo.

I awoke the following day with the urge to get hiking. I was a little worse for wear from the festivities of the night before, but that could never stop me from seizing the day. We left our accommodation and walked over to the staple of Seonyudo - Mangjubong. Mangjubong is a tremendous rock structure that seemingly comes out of nowhere on the island. You can see it in the scape of some of my other photos in this blog (specifically the sixth photo, the greater of the two rocky peaks). It was quite an effort to climb this little mammoth. We used an array of ropes, trees and man-power to get to the top. All of the effort was succeeded by the sheer gratification of encountering the view. The three of us relaxed and reminisced on the top for about half an hour before we even considered the descent. This wasn't even necessarily due to how daunting we all knew it would be, but rather because there are moments in life when you simply need to sit down for a moment and think about how you made it to that point, or more specifically that peak. We would soon head back to the bottom, the ferry, the bus, and reality, but reality didn't quite make it to the peak of Mangjubong.

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