Monday, August 16, 2010

Lasting memories!

We awoke to the sound of rain trickling down the screens of the open windows, rather than the usual scorching rays of the sun. The air was warm and damp as we srtuggled to maintain conciousness. As our minds began to defog themsleves, we arose to start the day. We had packed the night before and so now it was time to rinse ourselves off and load up the car... roadtrip time! After shoveling our bags into the car, we buckled up and headed to our friends home to pick them up as they would be joining us for an unforgettable adventure. We were not confidently sure of how to reach thier place, but we knew the general direction and so off we went. After a slight detour, we managed to steer ourselves in the correct direction and made it there intact. (Korean drivers are a bit... um... SCARY!) We popped in, had a cup of coffee, and some pastries for our pre-trip breakfast. Next we stocked to cooler, neatly packed the car, and the five of us loaded into the little hatchback Accent! The girls and Corin dominated the backseat as the guys navigated us through the "rough terrain" of Korean highways! Not long after noon we found ourselves in the scenic, Jiri-san National Park. Upon arrival, we were greeted by some rather chilly gusts of rain soaked wind. It was not what we were hoping for as we thought back to our tents we intended to use. With the rain now pouring, we settled down at a covered picnic table and ate our homemade lunches. It was rather fun to each a tastey salad out of a ziplock bag with chopsticks. It amazes me how I don't really miss the handy dandy fork anymore. After gobbling down the feast Melody had prepared, we washed it down with a few homemade chocolate cookies... again thanks to Mel... and were ready to search out dry sleeping quarters. Once piled back into the car, we cruised the roads nearby in hopes of an affordable motel. We decided to find a min-bak instead. A min-bak is basically a large "common room" where you build a pallet on the floor, and the whole crew (usually 4-8) people can have a cozy little slumber party and split the cost of a room. There is also an attached bathroom and adjustable heating for the floor. After sending Kyle in and out of the rain a few times, we finally found a min-bak that fit our budget and our space requirements! The rain was now coming down at a steady pace and in large quantities. We set out beds and began to wind down for the night when sirens began going off nearby. As the sirens blared, an announcement began repeating information over and over... Of course none of us understood what the lady was saying over the loud speaker, but we were pretty sure it had something to do with the amount of rain we'd recieved and the fact that we were the ONLY people occupying a room that night! haha! With nowhere to go, and the bill pre-paid, we decided to shrug it off and worry about it in the morning. Not long after sleep took over our thoughts, the siren and announcements blared again. It was now about 2 in the morning and the echos of rushing water filled the room. I tried to peek outside to catch a glimse of the river that ran along the side of the building about 20 yards away. There was not enough light though, and so I laid back down to be swept away by sleep. At 4am, I awoke to the sirens and announcement yet again. Still to dark to see anything, I relied on my sense of hearing to determine the situation concerning this raging river. I figured if we were in danger, the owner of the min-bak would come notify us... it would not look good on his part to let 5 waegooks die on his turf, right?! Anyways, back to sleep on the hard floor only to wake to the 6am morning call... I mean sirens. This time I was just plain annoyed. I just wanted to sleep. It was lighter out now and so I peeked out at the river. It was rushing and raging down it's little gully... which now looked smaller than it had yesterday in light of the heavy rainfall. The river had risen several feet and was now spitting water onto the banks as it crashed into the boulders that littered it's path. The rain had let up a bit and was now down to a mere drizzle. The crew woke up slowly and ate breakfast, drank "go juice" and began our day. The boys packed up the car and soon we were on a mission to find the owner so we could check out and hit the road. We ended up leaving the key and taking off after finding no signs of life... (makes you wonder if they took the hint from the announcements and left us to fend for ourselves!) Haha! I imagine they were still sleeping though considering Korea is called the land of the morning calm. (A.k.a. they like to sleep in!) After a bit of discussion and tourist map research, the men decided to attempt the drive-through section of the park. We were hopeful that the weather would clear up by the time we found the scenic road. As we officially entered Jiri-san National Park, we found a temple to walk around. Taylor and I had yet to visit a traditional Korean Temple and this seemed just as good as any to explore. The sun began to peek out from behind the clouds and patches of blue sky emerged in the distance. Certain we would be enjoying those blue skies shortly, we slowly made our way through the temple grounds and back to the car. We then began the climb up the mountain to the top where we would drive along along the ridge to see some amazing views... or so we thought! Soon after starting the trek in our little white car, the air around us became thick and white as well. WE were in HEAVY fog that didn't appear to be lifting anytime soon. With 20 feet of visibility, the drive was little less than scenic. The views were... well, non-existant. We make it to the top of the first ridge and stopped at the little scenic overlook to grab a snapshot of us by the binocular viewers. Unfortunately, those were the only things we COULD see! We did manage to pick up a few keepsakes at the souvenier shop and then ate lunch in the car before continuing on in the "cloud."
Soon we came across a waterfall and hopped out to catch a peek. It was just off the main road and as soon as we got within viewing distance, we pretty much got drenched by the spray shooting up off the rushing downpour of water. Pictures were a little tricky and almost not worth the effort of keeping the lens dry. Soon we were out of the fog and got to see some pretty amazing mountain views. The clouds of fog whisped through the mountain valleys and hugged the peaks, constantly shifting with the wind. It was hard to resist staying in one place and taking multiple shots of the same mountainside as the scene changed dramatically every two minutes. Finally, Melody and I were "summoned" via honking back into the car and we were off to see another waterfall. The last one was not too impressive and so we hoped to find a slightly more jaw-dropping display of God's creation. We found it. The next waterfall had an actual parking lot and wooden walkway with multiple sets of stairs that wound down to the hidden treasure of a waterfall. The water was insane! It rushed down the mountainside with such an incredible force. It was actually pretty scary to think of the power behind that water. There was a bridge draped across the gully which sent a rush of adrenaline through your veins as you crossed to the other side. The water raged underneath you as the mist swept sidewades across your body in the open air above the waters. Once on the other side, a metal frame satirway led you upward towards the mouth of the falls. It was such a breathtaking view to behold as my legs shook on the climb to the top. The water just gripped you with fear as your mind cycled through all the ways it could easily consume you. Each step was carefully planned and executed as we moved along the edge of the blouder atop the stairs. Each step Corin took had me clenching my jaw and widening my eyes! Soon we had our fill of picture taking and made our way back to the wooden staircase. Melody and I could now joke about our shakey legs as we made our way back to the car. Once we all buckled up, we headed off to Namhae, a "small" island off the southern coast. I say small in that it does not look all that big on a map, but once you start driving around it, the time can pass slower than expected. After a couple of random roads spitting us out into steel factories and such, we made our way across the bridge to Namhae! The sun was now beginning to set and we wanted to get to our campsite so we could set up the tents and relax as we watch the sun set behind the neighboring mountain ridges as the light reflected on the ocean waters. Soon after, we did just that. After dinner, we enjoyed a nice long chat as the the waves routinely washed ashore. The sound of lapping waves was so peaceful and soon we were in our tents and fast asleep. The next morning I woke up to the sound of the zipper on our tent "door." Taylor had set out early to reap the harvest the ocean had swept in through the night. Soon after, Corin woke up and was ready to hit the ground running... so we joined Tay on the beach in search of treasure. The beach was pretty nasty to my surprise. There was layer upon layer of seaweed doning the shore which hade been shining sand the day before. Trash, styrofoam, shoes and glass was tangled amongst the green globs and just covered the beach like a quilt of sheer nastiness. I was hesitant to walk amidst the "ocean's vomit," but I had never really gone seashell hunting before and I was eager to seize the opportunity after seeing Taylor's bounty! Corin stayed with dad as he investigated the pile of treasure, while I combed the beach for more trinkets. Soon we headed back up to camp to take pride in our harvest and show them off to Kyle and Melody. Soon after setting up for breakfast, little old Korean women began appearing with buckets and bags in tote. Apparently, they were the beach clean up crew and went to work sorting through the mess. The seaweed was set aside and the trash was thrown away. We all guestimated that the seaweed would be rinsed and used for food purposes... which made us a little more suspicious about our kim-bap meals! :) We soon packed up and set off for cleaner and brighter beaches! Along the way, we stopped at a wodden deck over-look. The deck peered out over layers upon layers of rice patties that trickled down the mountainside to the bluffs before the sea. A plaque stood alongside the deck informed us that there were over 100 layers of rice fields! Amazing! It was such a neat site to see. Soon after, we ended up at a nice large beach. The sun was now shining full force and the waves called to us as the sand glowed under the light. We geared up and headed out. Taylor took the first shift at the "base" as he took guarded our things. With only one re-application of sunscreen, we soon found ourselves red and tired from the blazing sun... but it was a great day at the beach! Corin found several washed up starfish and had fun playing with those. He also entertained/played with several Korean teenagers that were eager to try out their english skills on him! Corin LOVED the beach! We went inland for dinner and were treated to half of our neighboring tables dinner! It was a table full of old Korean men and they even shared a shot of soju with Kyle and Taylor. Corin won them over with hugs and the restaurant owner, a little old lady, was just full of smiles for Cor. We headed back to the campsite where we'd stayed the night before and made it there just after dark. There was no late night talking that night. We simply set up, and laid down. Rain started dripping through the screen skylight around 4am and Taylor made quick work of putting on the rainshield. It was a little harder to get up and going by the time the morning came... The lack of uninterupted sleep was beginning to show on our faces as we boiled our water for coffee that morning. The rain had let up by then and we soon packed up before the clouds opened up again. We were now on our way towards Tongyeong. A city on the next penninsula over toward the east. It was a wet dreary day, but we were hopeful to enjoy the festival that was being held in Tongyeong. On our way, we came across a couple HUGE dinosaur statues. Of course, we had to loop back so Corin could get a good look at them and then realized we were at the entrance to the local dinosaur museum... What better day to visit a museum, than a rainy one?! So off we went to explore the museum with Corin. He loved every bit of the fossils and figurines. He really wanted to touch and play with the various displays of dinosaurs, but we restained him and convinced him to play pretend. Taylor and I got hima little stuffed dino in the gift shop before continuing on towards Tongyeong. Soon we were navigating our way through the city in search of a place to sleep that night. We had all agreed it would be nice to have a warm shower and a cozy bed for our last night of vacation, so we found a motel that was reasonable priced and toted our bags up to the rooms before heading out to see the festival. Soon we were in the midst of Korean soldiers and festival staff in character for thier roles as historic members of Korean society. There were mostly craft booths set up along the bay's edge where you could try your hand at a local craft. What caught our eye first, was the halway of booths set up for kids. As we entered this area, we were greeted with a card that had multiple boxes for the various booths. At each booth, you would complete a task, or "challenge" and at the end of the alley, you would recieve a medal if you were sucessful in your attempts. Some of the stuff was not age appropriate for Corin in that it was just a little to hard for him, but he managed to make his own armor (out of carboard cutouts and yarn... well maybe the lady at the booth made it but who's keeping track?!), a wooden sword, and a bow and arrow set complete with suction-cup arrows! After he completed his challenged, we walked around the rest of the festival as I drooled over most of the crafts. We found a booth near the end that made really cool prints of the "turtle ship" which was the ship that helped lead the Koreans to victory at the Battle of Hansan... which is what the festival was celebrating... and we wanted to make our own print. So for only 1,000 won, we made a wood-block print and were so excited! (1,000 won is about 88 cents u.s. currency) It was coming up on dinner time and bedtime for Corin, so Taylor took Cor back to the motel and I was in charge of food for them. Kyle and Mel wanted Kim-bap and so I tagged along with them for a suprising meal. Normally kim-bap is a layer of seaweed wrapped around rice, vegiies and meat sometimes. This kimbap was seaweed around rice and a side of spicy octopus and kimchi turnips. Hmmmm. Not what we expected, but Taylor HAD warned us about Tongyeong being famous for this type of kimbap... so we were kind of asking for it. The three of us at least TRIED the side items and gobbled down all the kimbap rolls. I then headed out on my own to get the boys food and bring it home while Kyle and Melody stayed back to enjoy some of the festivities. Of couse... being the directionally challenged girl that I am, I got a little "off track" on my way back to the motel, but with Taylor's guidance, I made it safely to them with suprisingly still warm food! We scarfed down the meal and were asleep in no time. Finally, the last morning was here. Not that I was sick of vacation, but I was sick of feeling unrested. I needed a good night's sleep in my own bed and time to sit and relax. We went into town for the morning to get a few more prints made at the festival and to see a bit of the town itself. Taylor and I found a cute little shop full of handmade bags and purses, of which I just had to have one! So I pulled out the birthday money and got myself a new wallet. It is so pretty! I love it... and am ready to go back to the store for more! :) We got some coffee and ice cream from a littel shop before meeting back up with Kyle and Melody for lunch. After a nice filling bowl of ramyeon, we loaded up one final time and made our way back to Busan. I think we all had hit that wall... you know, the one where you just want to lay down for hours and not move or talk or do anything. It had been a great vacation! Corin was sad to see " Mr. Kyo and Mr. Mrs. Mewody" leave, but he totally crashed that night out of exhaustion too! :)
Taylor and I hope to get back to Jiri-san on a weekend with clear weather so we can see what we missed out on. We also hope to visit Namhae and Tongyeong again and perhaps take the cable car to the top of the local mountain. It was a very fun-filled and adventurous week with the Thib's! We were glad to have them along... and so thankful that they were willing to share vacation time with us too!
Check out these sites for more info on the trip! (Just click on the names of the places to go to the link)
Oh, and be sure to check out the photo gallery on the side bar entitled Korea vacation 2010.

Jiri-san National Park

Namhae, South Korea

Tongyeong Festival for Battle of Hansan

Shop where I got my new Wallet


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