Sunday, August 31, 2014

Weekend (8.8. - 8.10): Boryeong & Wonsando

Hannes initially told me that he didn't have any good memories of the beach and that it'd be difficult for me to persuade him to go, but honestly, I don't even remember having to convince him that getting down to Boryeong would be a good idea. It was one of the last remaining places in Korea I wanted to see. Now I've just got the main ones, Jeju and Busan, left this summer; Jusanji in autumn; Taebaek in winter. Then I'll officially be ready to peace out.

I decided to prepare a boatload of food to take to save money, and because of my almost total lack of other planning resulting in unforeseen expenses that blew up my strict budget, that turned out to be a good idea. I made spiced curry potato croquettes with green onion and cheese, sweet potato ones with crushed almonds, craisins and blueberries, sliced up some kiwis and tomatoes and brought hummus, lentils, chips, wasabi peas, dried mangoes, et cetera.

We booked it to the Express Bus Terminal after work that Friday because I figured we'd be able to catch a bus quickly or at least within an hour, but we had to wait for two. Whiling away time in a cafe munching a couple of the croquettes and hearing about how an obscure guy back in Germany with a "Taliban beard" named Archibald who specialises in camelids has dedicated his life to making an awful new agricultural product he's dubbed "Camelbert" isn't the worst thing in the world, though. 
Not like the camel cheese. The cheese definitely sounds like one of the worst things in the world.

Anyway, it's about 11,000 for the shortish 2 hour and 15 minute ride to Daecheon Station. 

What I didn't realise was how large Boryeong actually is. We walked from the station to the nearest cluster of neon motel lights, found a little place to stay for 40,000 and were pleasantly surprised that they weren't going to bump up the price for Saturday night. It wasn't great, but it was acceptable.
The next day, though, I found out from a very nice English-speaking woman in the convenience store who took it upon herself to help me that it was a good 30 minutes down to the beach by bus. 
Well, that's okay, not the end of the world; it's not like anybody's in a rush to lay on the beach and do nothing. Thing is, though, that we couldn't find the bus stop (allegedly) down the road to which she'd very vaguely gestured, and when we finally did find one, it had a very sparse yet complicated timetable entirely in black and white text that was extremely unhelpful.

We ended up just taking taxis everywhere after also giving up on the possibility of renting a scooter.

I'd read on other blogs that a space on the beach suitable for 4-5 people cost money, but figured that was a separate kind of thing that we wouldn't be needing. And I was wrong. 
Initially they'll probably tell you that it's 30,000 for a space but that they'll give it to you for 20. I actually went "Pfffft!" in a guy's face out of pure surprise and had already turned and started walking away before realising what I was doing.

A little further down the (extremely narrow and minimal) beach we found a younger guy who started at 20 and was willing to go down to 15. After adding that we had no interest in the inner tube rental that was included, we got the space for 10.

... and then realised that neither of us had any more cash.

Neither of Hannes' cards ended up working at the ATM, so after he came back, I had to go use mine.

Good grief.

Anyway, after that point I focused on not being angry with myself for not finding out more before leaving Seoul, as we were both having a good time regardless. We laid on the beach and relaxed for a good long while, munched on the things I'd brought, drank soju and mixers. I even got this super classy Hawaiian Punch-type drink with a little plastic piece you twist off and attach to the bottom to form a sort of wine glass-shaped kiddy drink Voltron. Aw yiss. 

Going into the water was absolutely hilarious because Hannes is a total woman. You'd think it was one of those events Russians and Scandinavians have where they jump naked into holes cut into frozen lakes. I really, really wish I'd filmed his convulsions, lamentations and general ridiculousness and made chunks of them into an animated .gif. When I finally did convince him to just dunk himself into the water completely, he crumpled down like someone dying in an action movie; it was kind of reminiscent of Terminator 2, but not as graceful and with much less conviction and resolve.

(believe it or not, he's not nearly as burned as he looks here)

We walked around for quite a while after our relaxing day trying to find something to eat, but there is literally no other option than overpriced seafood sets you grill at the table. I mean, you'd think that'd at least be more affordable given the proximity to the damn water.

We also spotted this dude. Because, you know, the best secret agents are the ones you can easily keep track of all the time:

After asking a cute English-speaking Korean girl working a vinyl cocktail kiosk for recommendations, trying a Swiss-style lodge and finding out their cafe was only serving breakfast to guests, we gave up, went back to our room, and had a motel bed picnic while watching a bizarre Chinese comedy porno on the Playboy channel.

I'd also decided we should take the cheap ($5 each way) ferry to the nearby island of Wonsando, having seen lovely pics of its beaches on the Google and correctly having assumed that we wouldn't want to return to Daecheon beach for a second day. We got up a little late and just barely made the second of the two possible times.

Apparently winging shrimp crisps at seagulls is what you do on Korean ferries (TIL), and man, was that entertaining to see for the first time. There was even detailed, professionally-written literature to study for those who wished to learn how to do so properly:

We both tried it and understood why the kids hesitantly holding up their snacks invariably jerked backwards when gulls got close enough to snatch them. They're surprisingly fast, accurate and good at grabbing what other birds miss mid-air.


Now, here's where it got interesting. And by interesting I mean inconvenient and confusing. 

When we got off the ferry I first decided to find out where to get our return tickets. A nice lady at the sparse and run-down convenience store where a variety of things (including the obligatory red chili peppers, of course) were being dried on tarps outside pointed us in the direction of another dubious-looking little building, where a slow-moving, weather-beaten old man pointed out and repeated the posted times and told us to come back at 6. Fair enough, as long as there was no chance of getting stuck.

We walked a ways through a tiny rural neighbourhood and spotted the sea over a hill. Ah! Excellent. We were getting a little worried about the fact that everyone else had disappeared and we seemed to be heading for the interior of the island, plus it was pretty warm and humid and we were carrying all our stuff (towels and water = kinda heavy). 

Coming to the deserted beach, we noticed fairly quickly that it was generously fringed with industrial waste. Okay, "industrial" is an exaggeration; it was mostly large plastic containers, rope and other fishing-related refuse. But, it was pretty gross.

We tried to ask the few people at the small diving school (the only thing nearby) along the hill path where there was a good beach, but they couldn't tell us anything, or even absentmindedly gesture in a general direction, so we walked the only remaining direction there was. We came upon a random pension in the tiny village, and the nice people there furnished us with a bottle of soju and a packet of mixed nuts while we waited for the owner's husband, who offered to drive us to one of the decent beaches himself.

I offered to pay him, and he said he'd throw in a couple of beers for 1500 apiece. When we got to the beach, though, he suddenly wanted 2500 for them, plus 1000 for the little packet of onion crisps he'd also brought. $16 for a 10-minute drive and a couple of beers? We didn't even have it on us. We agreed that the guy would come back for us "at 4 'o clock" and repeated it several times just to be sure.

We had this particular beach all to ourselves; there were maybe a half dozen other people on one far side of it that we could just make out but couldn't even hear. There was also some weird building over there piping out cheerful music that got louder and faded again intermittently, I guess because of the water, rocks and tall hills.

I'd also never seen a beach covered in quite so many shells; another sign that it was deserted minus the 5 or 6 other people, weird music and single set of tire tracks.

Day 2: Supplies dwindling, but morale still excellent

We didn't have much food left for the day, but it was enough to hold us over. Hannes - whose legs and especially ankles had gotten burned the day before - didn't feel like going into the water, as it was cool, breezy and overcast that day and thus likely to be a bit brisk. At first he wrapped toilet paper around his legs to cover them, determined to craft something himself, but I ended up throwing one of the towels over him and telling him to stop being a ridiculous lobster mummy.

The water was a little chilly but not cold; the swells low and gentle. The bottom was pretty even, soft and sandy, as the Yellow Sea apparently tends to be. Wading out into it and watching the silhouettes of distant fishing vessels pass the small islands jutting up along the horizon gave me a genuinely calm and peaceful sensation.

(German stoicism at its finest)
As the afternoon wore to a close we packed up what remained of our stuff and went back up to the drop-off point to wait for our chauffeur. There were a couple of random women sleeping on the deck thing we'd chosen as a seat, wrapped up in a car sunscreen and beach towels, while a third slept in the small white car parked just in front of them. 

We soon started to get a bad feeling and ended up waiting until 4:30 before we called it. Just as we were talking about asking the other beachgoers for a ride, a fourth person appeared, making it impossible.

Neither of us wanted to - because it was a long way on a very narrow, windey, hilly, wooded, dangerous road with no shoulders - but we started walking, since missing the ferry wasn't an option, either. 
Amazingly, before we'd even gotten off the road that connected to the beach, we managed to flag down a nice older couple from Daejeon who drove us back to port. We were so grateful; I was almost beside myself. They seemed pretty entertained by the clueless foreigners, even though we explained that we'd had a ride and that he never came back to get us.

We found ourselves once again with almost two hours to kill, so we spent it sitting in the plastic chairs outside the convenience store adjacent to the ferry docking area drinking soju ciders, munching wasabi peas, talking, and getting progressively chillier in the relentless salty wind. We each used the primitive facilities there - which consisted of holes in the concrete where a large amount of human waste had piled up over an indiscernibly long period of time - and when it was my turn (after going back to the little building to get our return tickets), I ran into our humble onion farmer/pension owner driver. We were both very surprised and he went, "Oh! You!" and pointed at me. 

Apparently it'd been his understanding that "four 'o clock" meant "four hours from now", he told me in Korean. He also said he'd driven all around looking for us, thinking, I guess, that we'd gotten lost somewhere. I explained our side, and after a moment of silence he said, "... You had a good day?" "Yeah, we did, how about you?" I asked in reply. He nodded and shrugged, the universal language for "Pretty good/can't complain", and we parted ways affably.

Before heading to Wonsando we'd gotten our return bus tickets, and it's a good thing we went when we did, because even fairly early in the day all but the last 9-something bus were sold out. When we got back to the terminal I had some crappy bibimbap and Hannes got a couple of "toasts", which are simple, cheap sandwiches with Korean ingredients like shredded cabbage on toasted white bread. We took turns laying across the uncomfortable terminal seats until the bus came while I showed him teaching and travel pictures on my phone. 
Of course we both completely passed out on the bus, and got back just in time to have narrowly missed the last trains, but it was totally worth it.