27 July, 2006

9th Annual Boryeong Mud Festival, Daecheon Beach, July 15-17

Apparently going to the Boryeong Mud Festival is the thing to do in July. And rightly so--what's not to love about mud, especially mud purported to refresh your skin and make you glow even brighter than your Seattle tan already does?

Marc had been wanting to get a Korean driver's license, and this seemed the perfect opportunity. Julian helped arrange the rental of a lovely nine-passenger van, and Marc and Bryce gathered recruits. With eight people total, the van fee was fairly reasonable. So with license in hand and me, April, Marnie, Lee, Taylor, Bryce, and Morven in tow, Marc headed the van in the direction of Boryeong early Saturday morning. Boryeong is on the west-central coast in Chungcheongnam province. We figured it would take us four to five hours to get there, and that was about right.

Sleepin' in the van

We drove down the main strip in Daecheon Beach checking hotel rates and settled on a decent looking place with average rates and most importantly, as the festival draws thousands of visitors, available space. We dumped our stuff in our rooms, put on our mud clothes, and made a beeline for the main festivities. The day was hot, overcast, and humid--perfect for rolling in some mud.

Mud Prison!
We got food first which took way too long as no one could decide on a place to eat, and in the end we just ate at GS Mart anyway. Then, though the mud was calling us, the large waves of the Yellow Sea (much different from those of our own East Sea) called louder, and we went for a good frolic in the waves and taught a few of the lesser educated of the group the finer points of chicken fighting.

THEN we were ready for the mud. We found the main center of activity and jumped right in. There was mud surfing, mud wrestling, mud painting, a mud slide, and a mud prison, to name a few of the choices. We opted to throw ourselves in the mud prison and started flinging mud at each other with savage intensity. A 'jailor' also periodically hurled a dipper of mud into the prison, adding to the chaos and muddy mayhem. We spent several hours running back and forth from the sea to the mud, engaging in general foolishness. I nearly lost a contact in the mud wrestling vat but escaped before it got lost in the grime.

'Do you have a license for those guns?'The next Orbit gum commercial
I warily eye a prawn and view fireworks on the beach

April, Morven and Taylor sing their hearts out

After the sun went down, we schlepped back to our rooms to clean up for dinner. We girls abandoned the boys for some prawns then later met them down on the beach to watch the fireworks. We left the boys again as well as the beach this time to check out the carnival where we rode the Viking Ship. And finally, we ended with some late-night singing at a noraebang.

Late the next morning, we met under cloudy skies to grab some food before heading east. We ate hamburgers and fries at the 'foreigner restaurant' and waited out a downpour under the restaurant umbrella. During this time, we got word from another east coast friend who said traffic was terrible, roads were bad, and buses going east were cancelled. It didn't sound good, but we had our own van, so we loaded up and started out of town. It was about 3pm. I fell asleep, so I wasn't completely aware of what was going on, but when I woke up, I couldn't believe where we were. They told me that it had taken two hours to go something like three exits.

Everyone was quite weary, so we stopped for dinner to regroup. We had been on the phone with several tourism offices as well as a couple of our directors to find out which roads were open, and as we started driving again, the boys kept their eyes glued to the maps and the scrap of paper with the supposedly open route. By 8pm, we were to Wonju, the halfway point and the point that marked our detour from the regular highway. We took our turnoff but decided we went the wrong direction, so we turned around. Having determined that we were now going the right direction, we watched for the next turn. We found the sign for the right highway, but none of the cities matched the cities on the map. We stopped the van in the middle of the road, Taylor and Lee ran around in the dark checking various signs, and we eventually just decided to go north on the small winding road even though the map didn't match the signs. We stopped again in one of cities that didn't exist according to our map to get some drinks and snacks. The little shop owner in small-town, middle-of-nowhere Korea spoke great English, and he strongly advised us against proceeding. As it was now nearly 10pm and we had given it our best effort, we took the man's advice and threw in the towel, following his directions to some places to sleep up the road.

What we found was a lovely little mountain resort. We checked the rates even though it had big bucks written all over it, and sure enough, it wasn't cheap. In the meantime, April and Marnie had run up the hill to check a more modest establishment. They came back reporting rooms for 40,000 (roughly $40). That sounded great to us, but when the resort fellow heard we were taking our business elsewhere, he told us to wait, that he wanted to ask the owner if he would match the rate. Taylor, being the tactful, gracious, smooth-talker he is, oversaw the whole deal and came back with the incredible news that we were getting really nice resort rooms for 40,000 each. Most of us had a Monday holiday or didn't have to work until later in the day, so it ended up being a really fun surprise way to continue our weekend adventure. We patronized the outdoor restaurant and tried the natural water 'hot' tub.

In the morning, we got word that the main highway was open. We drove back down to Wonju, and along the way, we saw the insanity we had driven through in the dark the night before. The river had risen far above its banks, taking with it trees, bridges, houses, and roads. Once on the main thoroughfare, we saw why it had been closed. Whole hillsides of mud and rocks had collapsed into the road, taking out all four lanes in several places. The river had swollen such in other places that the road had simply crumbled into it. The countryside was slashed and scarred by impromptu rivers and mudslides. Our province was the worst hit by the rains, and many people died. As we drove through the destruction, I felt very blessed to be alive and well in our little van full of crazy foreigners.

We rolled into town around 1pm Monday afternoon, delirious and completely sick of each other but closer for all the weirdness we'd just gone through. I had a great time, and I'd do it all again given the chance. Cheers, Kang-sters!

Thanks to Marnie Recker, Photographer, for letting me steal some of her beautiful pictures.
Thanks also to Marc, Lee and Carey for the muddy pictures as I did not take my camera into the fray.

26 July, 2006

Samcheok, July 9th

Bryce found an interesting looking cave to go to, so he and I hopped a bus to Samcheok, "world renowned as the 'Cave City,'" on Sunday afternoon. By the time we reached the cave nearly two hours later, it was raining nicely, and, on top of the humidity, it made the steep 20 minute hike to the entrance a grotesquely sticky experience. We then had to don jackets over our wet shirts to brace against the winter-like temperature inside the cave. In spite of the discomfort, the journey through the large cave was quite enjoyable. We saw such wonders as the summit of hope, cathedral of dreams, and bridge of hell, all named in true Korean style. Back in Samcheok, we decided to hang out at the beach for awhile before grabbing some food and a bus back to Gangneung.

19 July, 2006

Somewhere in the mountains of Gangwon-do, July 8th

Julian and a couple of the parents planned an outing into the mountains on Saturday afternoon and invited us teachers along. Liz and I went. The dad drove, Liz sat in the front seat, and I crammed myself into the backseat with the four boys who just floated around with no seatbelts. After forty or so minutes of driving on a very bumpy dirt road into the mountains, we reached a little riverside restaurant. There was a main preparation building surrounded by little gazebos hung with mosquito netting. Inside the gazebos were stumps for seats and handcrafted mud stoves topped with flat, smooth stones for cooking. We cooked large slabs of pork and ate it with the typical relishes and side dishes--garlic, lettuce, bean paste, kimchi, Korean pancake, radish...It was delicious and picturesque and I ate way too much.

12 July, 2006


I am good sleeper. I like sleeping, and I can sleep through alot of things. The jack-hammering going on in front of this building one morning was not one of those things. I was so angered by it, in fact, that I rose PRE-ALARM to shake my fist out the window and shoot it with my camera. Fortunately, for me AND the workers, the building is nearly finished.

What the students do when Margie Teacher has a headache