Monday, August 17, 2009

Weekend Getaway to Namhae (hey that rhymes!)

So as many of you may know, I was seeing a girl here in Korea since about the ides of March (I don't pay attention to history). After a short hiatus, we patched things right around the end of July and things have been great ever since. Well since soccer season is on a break, I thought it would be a good idea for the two of us to get out of Ulsan and take advantage of the summer weather. So together we picked out Namhae, which is an island (although really it's like a string of 4 islands) on the South coast of Korea.

So after a delayed start on Saturday morning, due to the fact that this guy still hasn't learned his lesson with soju, Carmen and I made it to the Ulsan bus terminal around 11:00 am Saturday morning. After a short trip to Busan, we came to the quick realization that we had to go to another city just to get a bus to Namhae. I still think we could have gotten a bus from a different bus station in Busan, but that still would've required a long trip on the subway so it wouldn't have been too different. So from Busan, we were on our way to Jinju only so we could catch another bus to Namhae.

From Jinju, we were able to get board a bus for Namhae in little time. Once we got to the island, we were both content with our selection. The island was very green, full of rice fields and tree covered mountains. It also had lots of nice coves and views of the sea, a very welcome change from the industrial city that is Ulsan. We arrived in Namhae somewhere around 5:00, which was a little disappointing as it had been such a beautiful day on Saturday, but our arrival was delayed by hangovers, indirect bus routes and highways packed with people fleeing the city for the weekend.

Having arrived at the bus station with nothing but some 3 paragraphs in the Lonely Planet book, we wandered around hoping to find some food and lodging. Since the directions in the L.P. were fairly vague (not the first time the Lonely Planet has failed me in Korea, probably won't be the last), we decided it would be best to head towards the beach we wanted to check out and hope there was lodging there. Wanting to take advantage of the nice day and sunshine, we passed on the bus ride and opted for the 20,000 won (16 dollar cab ride).

Shortly after we got to the beach we decided to get some food as we had spent most of the day on a bus with only eating some cookies. After passing tent after tent that were meant to serve as restaurants on the beach, we finally came to one that looked like it could fit the bill. So the two of us ordered doenjang jjigae, which is a stew that comes from soybean paste. Being on the beach, and in Korea, where things from the sea seem to find a way on your plate regardless, it was of little surprise to see some shrimp and mussels in there. We even had the pleasure of seeing spongebob's boss (the crab) look us in the eye as we digged in the bowl.

Refueled and ready to roll, we decided it was time to find a place to stow our things for the evening. We checked a couple of motels for rooms but they were all booked, and it was no surprise as this was during the busy travel month of August. The Sangjo beach area doesn't have many hotels anyways, and all the ones were all booked up. Soon people could see that we didn't have a place to stay and they began to approach us with staying in a Minbak. A minbak is apparently a guesthouse which is pretty tiny to be gin with, and they offer you a small room with nothing but some blankets on the floor. Pass. We kept on walking around after checking out a few Minbaks, utnil we finally came to one where the guy actually had a room with a bed to offer us. Paid the guy 20,000 won for the night (about $15.00) and done deal.

After resting up and putting our stuff down, we decided to walk around the beach area. Since it was such a nice evening, and there is literally nothing to do there, so we went out and got some bokbunja, or raspberry wine, our favorite drink in Korea, and jalapeƱo doritos and just chilled on the beach.

The following day we made a trip to the beach although Sunday was not nearly as nice of a day as Sunday was. Lots of clouds and practically no sun, but since we were at the beach we decided to take advantage. So we hopped into the water and it was a little chilly but not too bad. It would have been a lot better if it was sunny and hot outside, but we enjoyed going in regardless. After playing around in the beach for a bit, we decided to try out the banana boats that were setting off at the end of the beach.

Now, the only ever time I'd have ever been on a banana boat was in Mexico, where they had a proper boat pulling us. Here in Korea they use jet skis, so we didn't go nearly as fast as the one in Mexico. Also, in Mexico they took a sharp turn that forced us all into the water but here they took some turns here and there but nothing that forced us into the water. Carmen tried her hand in getting me into the water by tugging and pushing but to no avail. I wasn't going to be the only one in the water.

Coming in from a fun but dry banana boat ride, we went for a dip in the beach for a bit longer and then decided it was time to make the trip back to Ulsan. Since we there are no direct buses to Ulsan, we decided to get a bus back to Masan which is a city in between Namhae and Ulsan, and supposedly has an awesome authentic Mexican restaurant, a needle in the haystack of korean bbqs and soup restaurants. By late afternoon, we had jetted off from Sangjo beach and en route to Masan.

As mentioned before, our trip also coincided with the busiest travel month in Korea. And being in a beach town, many people from the city also shared our aspirations of jetting from the city and going to the beach for the weekend. What this led to was some of the busiest highways I'd ever been on. By Lonely Planet standards, a trip from Ulsan(approximately) to Namhae should take around 3 hours. More than 3 hours later and we were still at a standstill outside of Masan. Carmen's dream of getting good Mexican food was slowly fading away as we started to fear that we would get to Masan after it closes.

We eventually crawled into Masan sometime around 8 or so, and started to look around for this Mexican restaurant. We weren't given real clear directions on how to get there and Carmen was told that we would be able to get into a taxi and tell the driver "Mexican Restaurant" and the taxi driver would know the place. Fail. But, Carmen's desire was strong, so where there's a will there's a way. After asking for directions for a p.c. bang, or p.c. room, we got access to our good ol' trusty friend "internet" and were able to get a phone number for the place. Carmen called and was able to talk to the owner, a chilanga or person from Mexico City, who was able to help us with directions and get tell the taxi driver what to say.

Carmen's quest was near completion as were welcomed into a piece of Mexico in Korea. After Carmen chatted with the women for a bit and we wondered about what to order as there were so many options, options of foods that had only been in our dreams for the last several months. We decided to go about the menu with a group attack mentality, getting a couple of dishes each and then sharing. So out came the enchiladas, the tacos al pastor. And the tostadas, oh the tostadas. And how about some delicious agua de horchata to wash it down? Don't mind if I help myself to some of that horchata, and another glass for extra measure. After finishing round one, we decided to go all out and get some more tacos, and order some tamales for the road. By the time we were finished, we were both completely satisfied yet in stomach pain. We managed to rack up a 45,000 won dinner bill, maybe some 37.5 dollars. I guess that's not too bad for a dinner in the states, but by Korean standards, that's expensive, yet it was worth every penny.

With a content Carmen, we trekked over to the bus station to catch a bus back to Ulsan. Luckily for us, most of the travelers had made it to their destination at this point, so the night trip to Ulsan was a short one. Back to Ulsan to start the daily grind the very next day.......