Put together mud, alcohol, water, the beach, music, Koreans, foreigners, slides, a prison, pools, and a spectacular fireworks show and what do you get? Mud Fest 2011.
Running from July 16th to 24th, this is one of the must-do items while in Korea. I can now see why many ex-pats recommend going to this massive festival. Mud is brought to Daecheon Beach from nearby Boryeong and dumped into slip and slides, a mud prison, a wrestling arena, dyed multiple colors for body painting, and readily available for fighting with. If you go, make sure to wear comfortable clothes you don't care if they end up the shade of slate grey. It's likely that you'll never get them the color they started out ever again, nor would you want to wear them anymore. You're also likely to return home having taken half the beach back in your bag.
The weather for the first weekend of Mud Fest started out with a 20 minute downpour of rain at around noon, but then rapidly cleared up for sunny skies perfect for beaching it. Much to the surprise of my friends who had attended last year's festival, this year they charged a 5,000 ticket price for a bracelet that would let you in and out of the Mud Experience. Given that the lines qued up for each venue were in the hour plus range, we quickly decided that not much experiencing was going to happen there. We made our way to the mud painting booth, where Koreans eagerly slathered us in white, blue, red, and green mud and sent us on our way.
Once muddied up, we headed down to the beach to enjoy the weather, the ocean, and some fine beverages. The beach was filled with thousands of other foreigners and Koreans doing the same thing, and it made for a pretty awesome communal experience. To our right was a small stage where bands played and people could watch. The music provided a good backdrop to our post-mud comas on the beach. Under the strengthening sun, soon our bodies begged for relief from the heat. The water welcomed us, not as cold as I had imagined it would, coming from a freezing dip in Busan's tides two weeks prior. It was delightfully warm, although I tried not to think too much about the reasons why...
A few games of chicken, several dunks underwater, and one mistaken identify later, it was back to the beach for more relaxing before dinner at a samgyepsal restaurant along the shore. Our hunger was intensely fueled by the day's activities, and we devoured our pork belly and kimchi with fervor.
Back to the beach for sunset, and was it ever gorgeous! Watching the sun go down over the water in brilliant oranges, pinks, blues and purples was a great way to end a swim. Before we continued our evening however, we would need to return to our hotel for showers and a nap. We returned to the beach just in time for the big fireworks show that put those I've watched in the US to shame. My pictures can't do them justice, as hard as I tried to capture the beauty of the moment.
Hours melted into each other as the moon rose high over the beach. It glowed over the heads of pockets of people scattered up and down the sand, enjoying drinks and conversation. Occasionally the more brazen ones would set off fireworks or venture into the ocean for some skinny-dipping, only to be chased down by the lifeguards and police. (Of course, whilst the authorities were otherwise occupied, some Koreans made off with several of the giant balloons holding up the Mud Fest sign. Only one was left by the time the police started paying attention.)
It was almost time for sunrise before we packed up things and returned to the hotel for sleep. Of course, the wee hours of the morning coupled with tiredness and revelry makes for some interesting and very giggly conversation, hindering the very sleep that is sought after. Nonetheless, we were able to drift off for a few hours at least before having to pack up and head out.
By our 2 pm bus ride back to Gwangju, I was thoroughly satisfied with how the weekend had turned out. Not only had I gotten to experience the biggest festival in Korea, I had enjoyed it with great friends and made a lot of memories to take with me.