07 May 2013

진도 Miracle Sea Parting Festival

This festival happens in Korea once a year for two days, and during those two days the sea between two islands near the southern coast of Jindo, Korea are connected by an almost biblical-like 'parting of the sea,' creating a 2.9km long pathway that can be traversed between the islands that are separated by water the other 363 days of the year.  We traveled by bus, boat, and plenty of foot to get from Seoul to Jindo, but it was well worth it, and such a rare experience that I felt I should share it with you people on the blogosphere (and of course the random robots that keep leaving me comments on my posts - annoying).

Where is Jindo?  It's a small pseudo-island (not really sure if it's allowed to be called an island based on the fact that you can reach it by highway and it's sort of basically the same land mass as the rest of the southern tip of Korea? but I digress) off the SW coast of Korea, about as far as you can get from Seoul without leaving the peninsula.

I hopped on a bus full of other foreigners with Andrew & Chance around 10pm Friday night and headed out of Seoul for the festival.  The tour group we signed up with also took us on a few other sightseeing/hiking adventures, which were partially awesome and partially really difficult to stay awake for.  The bus ride to our first destination, Wolchulsan National Park (월출산국립공원), took about 4 hours or so.  We arrived at the park in the middle of the night and were forced to sleep on the bus for an hour, which is great if you're a bus sleeper and absolutely miserable if you're not (me).  Around 5am we started the hike up to the Wolchulsan Cloud Bridge, which I had seen in pictures and looked absolutely amazing.  The group of people in total was around 140 I believe (3 buses full), which is an insane amount of people to hike with, so we split up pretty quickly based on athleticism and ability to basically climb complete 90 degree walls of rock and metal staircases

 Case in point ^ this is your typical Korean 'hiking.'

About an hour into the hike we were all complaining and wondering what the hell we had gotten ourselves into, but about half an hour later when we realized we were done it was so completely worth it.  The views from up at the top were stunning, the cloud bridge was really fun to cross, and the feeling of watching the sunrise at the top of a mountain was pretty awesome to say the least.  PS hiking in the dark is hard, I recommend flashlights.
 The first few moments of light.
 Me & the boiz on the Cloud Bridge
 View from the opposite side of the Cloud Bridge, the sun was just coming up above the mountains.  So phenomenal to watch.
 The cloud bridge from a different angle.  It's basically a large suspension bridge that connects two separate peaks.

We left Wolchulsan around 7am, and instead of doing some normal post hiking activity, we were taken to a Korean sauna to "rest and clean up" before we headed off to Jindo.  Now I don't know if any of you are familiar with Korean saunas (or jimjilbangs), I know a few of my family members are ;) hi Jenn, but here's a brief description.  Basically you pay an entry fee, around 3,000won ($2 USD) to get a towel and use of the facilities, and you're ushered into this locker room type of area where you take your shoes off and get a locker key.  From there you head to the shower lockers, where you strip naked and put all of your things into a locker.  Then you enter the actual shower area where there are dozens and dozens of other naked people doing basically whatever they want, some are showering, others are soaking in hot pools, still others are using the cold pools or different types of water temperatures depending on how nice the jimjilbang is.  Then there are the adjummas (old Korean ladies) who you can pay to literally scrub your skin off for about 20 minutes.  Apparently it's supposed to be really good for you... the jury is out on that one for me.  Some people are scrubbing in front of weird mirrors, others are using these weird little foot baths whose purpose I'm not quite sure of but they seem nice.

So basically 50-75 foreigners are dropped off at this jimjilbang and told to take an hour to clean up and get ready for Jindo.  Needless to say the adjummas were confused and probably appalled at our body hair (or lack thereof) and tattoos and different colored skin and what have you.  After the very strange-ee experience there, it was off to Jindo!  Mind you it's about 9 in the morning still, and I've already climbed a mountain and gotten naked in front of a dozen old Korean women.

The bus ride to Jindo wasn't too far, probably about 3 hours, so we arrived there right around noon.  Jindo is a super rural coastal town, like there are NO Starbucks or English signs on buildings, which is a far cry from Seoul and the outskirts in Gyeonggi-do (where I live).  The word Jindo was already a common one to many of us on the trip, not because we'd been to the island before or because it was a famous destination, but because that is also the name of Korea's most prized dog.  Yes, dog.  The Jindo dog (obviously) is thought to have originated in the Jindo area of Korea, and was traditionally bred as a hunting dog.  Now Jindos are seen in Korea as some strange prized possession, they say they're very loyal and learn quickly - to that I say no kidding, it's a dog.

Upon first arriving at Jindo, after a short walk to the beach, we encountered just a lot of... bizarre stuff.  It felt like we had stepped into some weird Korean carnival straight out of the 1960's or something.  People were selling what looked like things they dug out of their basements, some old dude just had a bunch of metal knick knacks laid out on a blanket?  We're pretty sure we saw a firearm in the mix somewhere.  Of course there were a bunch of food vendors, people selling 번데기 (boiled silk worm pupa - yum) and those strange tiny seashells that I'm not 100% convinced are even edible?  Once we got past all of that noise, we found our boat and headed across to the island that would soon be connected by the maaagical parting sea.

The view of Jindo from the other side.
There were a whole bunch of young Korean army guys on the shore with these huge flags that they were going to walk across the pathway between the two islands, but for some reason they either had too many or they just wanted to be friendly to the foreigners, so they let us carry some.  The goofy looking dude waving in the middle of all of the military guys is my friend Chance.  He just got here this term, he's from Texas.
The lineup of foreigners and military ready to cross the water.  Pretty cool.  These things got SUPER heavy about halfway through the walk though, even though they're bamboo, they were difficult to carry the entire way for some reason.

Sea parting warriors! Chance Heck (real name) and me on the other side, back on Jindo.

I just realized that this blog is becoming really incredibly too long and drawn out, so I'll make this last part nice and short.  After the sea parting was over, we got back on a bus and the ride to our pension/motel (an hour away) felt like it took seven years.  We took showers, headed out for some super mediocre food (actually ended up at Domino's, oops), and went out with a big group of other sea parting white folks for some drinks.  I headed back to the motel super early because I'm 64 years old and needed my beauty rest.  I roomed with Chance & Andrew (duh) and two total strangers who were in the Air Force and did some meteorology work out of Busan... I think their names were Mike and Dan but I don't really remember.  So yeah I was basically an honorary boy scout for the weekend.

Bright and early on Sunday we woke up and boarded the bus again for Daedunsan (대둔산), a mountain that was relatively close to where we were staying and about halfway to Seoul, so it was convenient to stop on our way back to the city.  I felt bad for a lot of people on Sunday, they were feeling pretty crappy from the night before, but I for one felt like a rock star!  Never knew responsibility could feel so good (mom be proud).

The view(s) from the observation deck/sky bridge that we definitely did NOT hike to - not after the non-stop Saturday that we had... I could barely walk up the hill to the ticket kiosk to pay for the tram ride up the cliffside.  Pathetic.

That red thing below is the bridge between two peaks that we walked about 5 minutes from the tram drop-off to.  The view was nice but dang was I happy I didn't have to hike all the way up there to get to see it.

After a few hours at Daedunsan, and one of the most delicious Korean pancakes (파전) called pajeon with mushrooms and some weird soy sauce, it was BACK to the bus to finally get back to Seoul.  We got home around 8pm or so Sunday evening and I literally felt like somebody had driven over my body with some heavy machinery.  But it was all totally worth it for a picture like this:

Photo credit to our trip leader, William Cho.  There are maybe 100 of us in the back by the flags SURROUNDED by the Korean performers and people who were entertaining us for the handful of hours before the sea fully parted.  What a wild day.

If you're anything like me and aren't satisfied with the 'it's a miracle!' explanation of the sea parting, look no further: Here is all of the information you'll need.


  1. I think Korea is the only place in the world where people hike at 3am. This is the second such 'tour'hike you've taken, where you hiked in the middle of the night up a ridiculous cliff.

    And then you never went to bed until......Saturday NIGHT! haha. They totally missed going to bed Friday night. WIERD.

    Yes I'm proud you got your beauty sleep.