Korea’s collection of free museums includes a maritime museum in the far southwest corner of the peninsula, and when we read that it holds not one, but two! shipwrecks, each over 1,000 years old, excavated from the sea floor and transported to the city of Mokpo, we were on the first train out of Seoul.
Well, not exactly, but we did make it to the museum as part of a long weekend trip. Our friend Marie, a science teacher living in Seoul, coordinated with a Korean friend, and Deukson (she instructed us to say “talk song”) pulled out all the stops. She had an itinerary prepared down to the 30-minute time slot (can you tell she’s a documentary filmmaker…) and we took full advantage of the guided tour of the region.
What I remember about the first stop is all the framed autographs from Korean politicians and celebrities. We felt like we were so in-the-know! And Deukson must have talked us up when she made the reservations, because the owner invited us to see his private collections in his home above the restaurant, ranging from celadon pottery of Korea’s Silla period more than 1300 years old to a 20-foot anaconda skin from South America and Masai spears from Kenya. It didn’t seem appropriate to run downstairs for the camera, sorry.
After that, the food is all a blur. It just kept coming and coming and coming. Kimchee, fermented skate (a delicacy – ahem – of the region which smells strongly of ammonia), doughnuts… thankfully, the later restaurants were outdoor spots so we could just waddle away and not worry about fitting through the doorways.
Nope, not even talking about some of the fish we ate. We found these hilarious goggle-eyed gobies (aka blue-spotted mudskippers) at Suncheon Bay: “The species lives in brackish water of estuaries and freshwater tidal zone; often found in mangroves. Occurs in burrows and is often found on mudflats. An intertidal and amphibious air-breather that actively shuttles back and forth between rock pools and air (Martin and Bridges 1999).”
Crazy Bamboo Forests!
A few years ago, we planted some bamboo in our yard in Oregon, hoping it will grow into a privacy screen for our hammock. If it ever gets this big, we are in SERIOUS trouble! Koreans, ever the avid hikers, carve lovely hiking trails into these bamboo forests where families can go for a few thousand Won (W1,000 = USD$1) and spend a day hiking and picnicking.
Sleeping on Heated Floors!
A great thing about a local friend is that she knows places you’d never find on your own. Deep in the mountains outside of Suncheon, Deukson drove us to a traditional tea house. Koreans are their country’s own best tourists, and the regional governments support tourism by sponsoring maps, information centers, and even this idyllic tea and well-being house. Guests can sleep in the traditional-style tea house complete with the famous Korean ondol (heated floors… heaven on the back…) and participate in tea ceremonies or attend a concert if the timing is right. As for us, we woke up to this scenery in the morning, and Deukson had to bribe us with doughnuts from her favorite Sunday-morning street vendor to keep us on schedule for that day’s touring activities:
After parting ways with Deukson and Marie, KC and I inadvertently spent the night in a “love hotel” in Mokpo (the home of the maritime museum) and the next day managed to scramble aboard a ferry at the last minute for an overnight visit to the fishing island of Heuksan-do. Where we hiked, enjoyed the harbor, and ate more … interesting… seafood. I’m not sure why, when you throw a sea anemone into a pot of stew, you don’t remove the little cartilage pieces that held the spines. Roughage, perhaps?
Here are a few more photos of Mokpo and Heuksan-Do; I hope you enjoyed the tour. (We’re a little late in posting, being halfway through our time in Thailand, but we’ve been busy with work and surfing every day! We’ll catch up… one day…)