Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bug Bites and Sunburn

Last week was the annual Chuseok holiday, which I spent camping on Bigeumdo Island off the western coast of Korea.  Bigeumdo is a two hour ferry ride from Mokpo, and costs 7,900 to get there.  The ferry ride itself is calm, with no big waves unlike my previous ferry trip from Jeju.

The night before we got together for a slumber party at a friend's, complete with pizza, games, and a few drinks.  The next morning found us making sure everything was packed up and ready, as well as waiting for what seemed like forever to get 3 taxis to the bus terminal.

Luckily, Mokpo is a quick 45 minute trip from Gwangju, and we were fortunate enough to snag the last few seats on a bus that was just departing.  We took another series of taxis to the ferry terminal, stocked up on a few late-minute supplies, then boarded the boat.  The pile of things that 11 foreigners take on a camping trip was almost obscene as we sprawled out on the back of the ferry.  Koreans passed us by with curious looks, wondering if perhaps they had missed something only we knew.

Upon arriving on Bigeumdo, we snagged 3 more huge SUV taxis to take us out to Heart Beach, a place I had only seen and heard about through others' accounts and photos.  I could see why it was so highly recommended.  The beach is truly shaped like a heart, surrounded by stacks of rocks, trees, and mountains.  It was very secluded from the rest of the island, and we very nearly had the beach to ourselves for the whole weekend.  Exactly the opposite of going to Busan's Haeundae Beach, where you jostle people for a spot.

We set up camp close to the picnic areas, then ventured down to the shore to check out our surroundings.  The boys set to gathering wood to build a fire later, while the girls made sure that the food and drinks were organized.  The overcast skies left the day a little chillier than I would have liked for swimming, but I did venture into the ocean for a few quick dips.

Nightfall heralded an awesome bonfire, as well delicious lunch meat sandwiches and tuna salad for dinner.  We enjoyed each other's company with drinks, conversation, games, fish-saving, and even a frenzied midnight dip in the ocean before retiring for the night.

The next day dawned grey but cleared up soon to bright sunny skies.  More people were apt to swim in the warmer weather, and some went on a hike around the rocks at the end of the beach, reaching the summit of the nearby point.  An obstacle course was constructed, but sadly was forgotten in the rest of the prep for that evening's even more awesome bonfire.  (Four trees worth of wood!)

One of the things I have missed about cooking outdoors was making s'mores, but we were able to remedy this situation by finding marshmallows and chocolate bars at Homeplus.  I contributed graham crackers brought from home.  I'd forgotten how decadent s'mores were, coupled with the delicious taste of sausages roasting over the fire.  It made for fantastic camping food.

The night's festivities carried into the wee hours of the morning, after which I crawled into my tent feeling itchy from bug bites and sandy everywhere.  I also had the makings of a good sunburn, which left me feeling like I was on fire.  The price you pay for a great weekend on the beach!

After cleaning up camp and eating breakfast the next morning, we called the taxis to take us back to the ferry terminal.  Good timing prevailed again, and we were soon on our way back to Mokpo whilst napping on the boat.  Korean-style floor sleeping made it easy to sprawl out, but the yelling and screaming children also on board did little for the ambiance.

Needless to say, I was tired when I got back to Gwangju.  We ate one last meal together at TGI Friday's, looking and smelling like we had just spent 3 days on an island.  But we didn't care--it was a lively meal spent recollecting the events of the past weekend and looking forward to the next.  My first-ever camping trip turned out well, and I look forward to the next time we can camp together.

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