Last weekend we finally made it out on a camping trip to a spot recommended by one of Bryan’s coworkers – an Italian guy. It was fun. We relaxed and read Phantom Tollbooth in the tent while it sprinkled outside. The kids played in the mud by the little trickle of a creek, and we slept quite soundly in the silence and chilly clear air. There was one other group at the campround – a few families together – but mostly we were on our own.
I so wish I had time to type this up…. maybe later when life isn’t so busy. But, the kids and I had a wonderful road trip last week. After visiting the beaches and bamboo forests we headed south to the island of Wando where we learned about seaweed a the Seaweed Center: it was a great museum! I’m always so impressed with Korean museums. From there we drove on the local roads toward Jindo island, but stopped mid way when we saw a sign for a dinosaur fossil sight. Being only 3km off the road meant we were definitely taking a detour. And it was incredible! Again, I could type and type about this cool place. It was fossil footprints of dinos and even pteranadons, plus outdoor exhibits and an incredible museum that would cost and arm and leg elsewhere. Here, it was $4 for the three of us. We spent HOURS! We did finally make it to Jindo just in time to see the Jindo Dog center before it closed. Cute overload. Found a hotel for the night after driving around a bit looking for a seaside camp site. The island is huge and mountainous, so no luck on beach camping.
The next morning we drove to Gwanmaedo. Again, this place was incredible. What a great final trip in Korea. We camped at the beach, hiked the trails, found treasures in the sand, and scooter-ed around the adorable village. It was a 2+ hour ferry ride to this place at the edge of nowhere, and it certainly felt like it. so nice.
So short on time….. here are pics instead.
Last weekend we drove a few hours east to a riverside that Bryan spotted from the air. It was a beautiful river valley with wide sandbars and a bit of shade; perfect for a memorial weekend of camping. Really, the sky was bluer there and the air clear! The mountains here are steep and verdant and gorgeous this time of year. It was a nice hot weekend, too, so we easily spent our time playing in the cold water, collecting minnows and tadpoles and generally mucking about.
The kids built a ‘truckstop’ in the dirt. Bryan gathered and chopped wood. Zoe and I sketched a bit. We read 21 Balloons (which is a great book, btw), and waded in the river. I even took both kids on a little float trip around a bend. The river makes a huge S curve, but there is a cut through at the center with a little water fall. Avi and I did the lower section. We used our old blow up boat that is on its last legs and found a giant tree limb for some paddles. It was fairly uncontrolled, but fun with some good rapidy spots. Zoe and I walked through the waterfall and did the upper section where we saw some goats, and rolled down 3 pretty good rapids; 2 being too shallow for me to float so she did them on her own! It was a blast and a super fun way to while the weekend.
We were one of three families camping along the river, but in a fairly unKorean manner everyone spread out so we could barely spot the other folks. We did, however, make friends with the fishing couples downstream and sat at their spot (it was kinda the best, right at the big swimming hole and waterfall) for a long time pointy-talking and iphone translating. They thought it was cool Bryan was a pilot, and said we were like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, so they must’ve been blind. Of course they fed us so at dusk we returned the favor by bringing s’mores over to their campfire.
Spent two nights at that wonderful river, and came back home (where the sky is white) with 4 tadpoles and a giant wound….. Bryan chopped his hand. oops. Avi wandered over to watch him splitting wood and Bryan glanced at him and, thinking his hand and axe were steady, chopped. Avi looked mortified, and Bryan realized he didn’t get the log. I guess it didn’t really hurt…thats how sharp his new axe is. He calmly yelled, “Kat, need some help over here” and I looked up to see gushing blood. ugh. We stopped the bleeding and I butterflied and steri-stripped the flap back onto his thumb. Our medkit had lots of dried out stuff, so I need to refresh it. Luckily I found a pop tab of Benzion tincture which he declared the most painful thing ever. Well that sucks. Probably it needed stitches, but who wants to go dnif over a little axe to the hand? He is lucky he has a thumb.
Aside from that excitement it was a calm relaxing weekend that we all loved. Our little tadpoles are all at different stages; one already turned into a frog and jumped out of the fish tank. We released it out back….it’s still there, after a couple days, soaking in his tray of water.
The day we packed up, we didn’t quite feel like going home, so we meandered down a different river valley in search of another big sandbar Bryan noticed from the air. Turned out to be stone and behind someones house, but we were undeterred and pressed on down stream to find another awesome little beach for an afternoon of play. This valley was surrounded by massive cliff walls, and had a tiny vacation village with cottage rentals. Our little raft made its final voyage in that river and was actively deflating as Bryan and Zoe puttered back in. It has been a good raft.
Lately South Korea has started to feel a bit, well, small. We are going into our 3rd year here (plus another 1 from our first tour), and seen a lot of the peninsula. We love being stationed in Korea; it has provided a wonderful experience for our family. We love walking in our town, we love the ‘Mayberry’ feel of our base, we love the seasons, the mountains, the Korean people, and the food. I could go on. But, we really miss variety. We pine for long weekend road trips with just a few goals and no definite destinations…bringing the tent to camp and seeing the sights along the way; sans the fear of horrendous traffic.
Veterans Day weekend we decided to attempt a good old fashioned American road trip here in Korea. We left with simply an idea of heading south, packed the camping supplies, and hoped to catch a ferry. Going free-for-all certainly gave the weekend a new excitement and revived our love for travel in our host country.
Departing on Saturday is always risky with traffic barreling out of Seoul, but since our goal was ‘south’ it mattered not. I use an awesome mapping app on my phone called Naver Maps; it’s Korean, but with minor fiddling you can figure out how to overlay bike paths, good satellite, and (best of all) traffic flow. Being that it’s Korean has the added benefit of being up-to-date. We have often driven on new beautifully clear highways that do not appear on other English-based map apps or GPS. If you are stationed in Korea, download Naver maps!
With my husband at the wheel we chose I-35 because southbound traffic on The One was as expected: slow. It was a pleasant drive and we decided to stop along the eastern side of Jirisan National Park. As are the mountains throughout this country, it was beautiful. The distinction here was size. We marveled at the flaming red maple trees along the windy road into one of the numerous valleys.
Cold drizzle began just as we parked at the Somakgol ‘Yah-yawng-jong’ (야영장) or campground. A fun little suspension bridge links the parking lot and the camping areas; luckily there is also a cart to haul gear over the river and through the woods.
Camping is one of the things that our family seems to thrive on. We all start to feel cooped up indoors and need some quality time together in the wild. In Korea the ‘alone’ part is a difficult expectation, but to our pleasant surprise the campground was empty! We got our tent up, played in the drizzle, climbed on boulders, had a fire and read late into the night.
Morning was cold, but my husband (ever the woodsman) got that fire going and we were toasty again. The sun was out in full force and enlightening us with an exciting array of fall color. The slow parade of oranges and red came down the mountain as the sun slowly rose over the valley walls. It was a misty fall paradise, and we lingered.
Back on the road, we went further south arriving at a port town called Tongyeong. We chose this site because it was straight down I-25 AND a quick glance at Naver maps showed lots of dotted ferry lines heading out, and that seemed fun. It was a cute small town with a few full-size ancient reproduction Korean turtle boats.
The ferry port was easy enough to find by following signs; and once there we asked which island we could go to, stay a night and return tomorrow. Hansando it was! And we had an hour to spare. The bonus was that it had a car ferry, so we didn’t need to worry about the bus schedule on the island.
The kids loved the ferry ride; especially feeding the seagulls off the back. It was a warm sunny day, the breeze was gentle, and the ferry ride was short.
Korean islands are super cool, and especially down south because they are like giant cliffs and mountains jutting up out of the ocean. Hansando was a great surprise; very rural and pretty. We drove around the island and across a connector bridge to a smaller land with a big stone beach, a large area of tidepools and even some sandy space. This was the place for us; Chubong.
After exploring more of the area we ended up back at Chubong searching for Minbak; a room to rent for the night. I tried a few doors and phone numbers with my Korean skills: “minbak nea?” “bang hana olmayayo?” “nea, bang hana juseyo”. Basically, “minbak, right?… one room is how much?…. W40,000 ….. Yes! one room for me please. This cute golden-toothed old lady came walking down the street for us, and led us into the old courtyard home along the beach. Our room was nice and large with ample bedding for a comfy nights sleep on the ondol (heated) floor.
Spent the evening wandering at the beach, eating some raymon, and shooting fireworks over the ocean.
In the morning we visited Hansando’s claim to fame; General Yi Sun-sin’s memorial. General Yi famously fought off the Japanese naval invasions of the 1500’s. He is also credited with designing the famous turtle ships we saw in the harbor. The General’s memorial is a lovely stroll around the edge of the lagoon from the ferry port. It had a pretty shrine building, large pine trees, and memorial temple. Definitely a highlight of the trip!
Back on the mainland we ventured east to visit Chinhae Naval base. On the way we drove along the coastal road to see some sites. It was a gorgeous drive. We found a set of fossilized dinosaur footprints along the way; Goseong-gun is the best place in Korea for dinosaurs! We also got to see some amazingly gigantic ships at the shipyards along the way.
At Chinhae we had a wonderful respite in their very well-appointed Navy Lodging. The standard room we got was like a small apartment with a bedroom, living room and kitchen. Super Nice! We slept well and watched TV to relax before heading back home to Osan…stopping on the way to fill up the car at Camp Walker in Daegu. Taking a road trip in Korea seems easier when there are little pockets of America to stop in.
Fall is coming! Days are still warm but nights are cool. We camped at Woraksan national park this weekend – haven’t been to that one before and a brand new freeway links it up a lot closer than before…. Took us 1.5 hours to get there, which is halved of prior.
Anyway, it was fun. We picked a decent campsite, swam in the creek, kids fished, went on a short hike, and cooked. Still it’s hard to get used to Korean camping style. They mostly come to just BE outside… Doing what they would at home and with home comfort, but as quality time with friends and family. So it’s not like there are a lot of things TO DO near the campground, and it’s always full of Koreans sitting around cooking, eating, and partying. They don’t go out into the nature, but want to have it around them. It’s called forest bathing. Anyway, they were up late! Earplugs and eyemasks are essential. But only on the weekends; I’m sure we’d have the place to ourselves tomorrow.
The kids had a blast all evening running around with the campground kid posse. Made me recall camping in the states and Zoe making campground friends, except here they play together at night and can’t hear each other over the racket from the grownups.
It’s been a fun couple of weeks. For the fourth of July we spent the morning at home, weeding the garden and playing. In the afternoon we biked onto base for their festival. Avi has gotten quite good, and is learning the rules of the road. I still strap his bike on mine for going through the gate, but after that he is off on his own!
The festival was fun; bouncy castles, food, balloon animals…and even some contests. Zoe tried her skills at the watermelon eating contest and might have won except that she started eating the rind which takes longer to chew. I won the hula hoop contest, too!
Around dusk we biked up to the base housing car park deck where a bunch of friends were getting together to hang out and watch the fireworks. Zoe spent the evening off with her own friends and Avi was a bit more independent as well. After the big show it was a quick bike ride home. We only let Avi bike on the bike path in the dark, though!
Over the weekend we drove out to the western shore called Taean where we have been camping many times. Well, at our spot there is now a no camping sign! We ignored it this time and still played in the sand on the super-huge flat formed when the tide is out. Built a couple pretty amazing castles. The kids got in the water, but it was too cold for me. It was a bit overcast and breezy. After our stealth camping we drove up the coast to explore for a new spot. And, we found it! There is another place that is a designed camping area – but still not a campground. Campgrounds in Korea are usually stone line and cramped together in a grid. This place was just an area of land – kind of a free for all. Perfect for us. The beach there isn’t as soft, but still nice, and there are some cool trails to explore.
The vacation is also over for school. Zoe has started back in earnest at her studies in the mornings. Avi is now joining us at the school table; once Zoe is started on her homework I can work with him on his new reading book.
For a special treat on Thursday we drove up to Everland after school work was completed. It was empty and super fun. Found out Avi is just about 2cm shy of the big boy rides and Zoe is just about 2cm shy of being too big for the kiddy rides. So either he needs to grow or she needs to stop! That way they can still ride together for most things and I’m not sitting around waiting for both. Zoe is super excited, though, as she’ll be big enough for some new big coasters!
That evening we did go home, and instead camped out at our local Jinwi Citizens Resort. It’s very close to our house, but we wanted to check it out so we are prepared for next weeks session of Camp Blue Bird! Even Bryan rode his bike out to have dinner with us and bring me a lighter to cook the dinner. That night we were surprised by how close we were to all the jet’s landing at the base. It’s was pretty neat until we wanted to sleep. In the morning, all was quiet, and we swam in the pool to cool off before heading home for some rest.