Ekke

My photo
Pretoria, South Africa

9 Jul 2017

Boracay & Palawan


(English below photos)
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Fantastiese Filippyne

As ek die oomblik of trip moet uitwys waar die reis-gogga oftewel die backpacker-gogga my gebyt het, is dit my eerste reis Filippyne toe. In Januarie 2013 het ek en twee vriende met rugsakke op ons ruë op ’n vliegtuig Manila toe vertrek. Ons bestemmings het ingesluit:

Manila - ons het slegs ons eerste aand in the Filippyne en tyd tussen vlugte hier spandeer. Na 1 jaar se woon in klein dorpies in Suid Korea was ons eerste prioriteit westerse kos, en Manila het voorsien. As jy op reis is in Asië,  jy lus is vir iets wat meer bekend voel en proe, en jy bevind jouself in Manila moet jy die Mall of Asia besoek.

Puerto Princesa, Palawan - hier vind jy een van die nuut(nie-meer-so-nuut)-verkose Nuwe 7 Natuurlike Wêreld Wonders, naamlik die Puerto Princesa Ondergrondse Rivier. Dit is wel ’n ongelooflike geologiese bestemming, maar as ’n besienswaardigheid skiet dit vir my effens kort. Jy wag vreeslik lank voordat jy op ’n kano op die rivier onder die eiland in kan vaar. Dit raak egter soos verwag kan word vinnig pikdonker, en binnekort word jou sig beperk tot dit wat jou toergids met die kollig vir jou uitwys. Daar is paar rotsformasies wat hul kreatief benoem het, en die gidse is regtig pittig en vermaaklik, maar as jy gedruk is vir tyd kan jy maar liefs verby hou en meer tyd in die ongelooflike riwwe om die eiland spandeer. 

El Nido - van Puerto Princesa af is dit ’n ses-ure minibus rit op die gepas-genoemde “Abortion Road”; en glo my, die skud op die pad is so erg as wat die naam insinueer. Die eindbestemming is egter absoluut die moeite werd, so neem maar jou naarpilletjies, en slaan maar ontbyt oor, maar moet nie El Nido misloop nie. Dit is nou nog my nommer een bestemming in Asië. Ek verneem daar is ook bote wat El Nido toe vaar, die weer is egter onvoorspelbaar, en ’n medium-sterkte wind kan die vaart veel erger as die minibus rit maak. El Nido is bekend vir pragtige strande, kalksteen eilande en die feit dat dit nie stampvol met toergroepe is nie. Daar is verskeie dagekskursies en elkeen van hulle is onvergeetlik. Die water is pragtig skoon, daar is heelwat vis te sien en die plaaslike mense is baie vriendelik. Scooters is ook te huur vir ’n appel en ’n ei om die nabygeleë strande en dorpies te besoek.

Boracay - is seker die bekendste en gewildste bestemming in die Filippyne, en met goeie rede. Die strande is spierwit, met idiliese palmbome, seilbootjies, pragtige blou branders en onbeskryflike sonsondergange. Ek wil net weer beaam - die sonsondergange in Boracay is onvergelykbaar! Daar is heelwat aktiwiteite om van te kies en te keur, dag en nag. Dié eiland slaap nie, so boek maar ’n slaapplek wat bietjie weg is van al die aksie af. Die enigste negatiewe punt is wel dat gewildheid gepaard gaan met kommersialiseering en groot skare toeriste wat daagliks daarheen stroom. Ek sal egter nie dat dit my ontmoedig om te gaan nie, maak net seker jy bespreek rustiger bestemmings ook om dit uit te balanseer.

Ek moet net kortliks byvoeg dat Filippynse kos nie teleurstel nie. Hulle geroosterde vark, hoender en vis is verskriklik lekker, en is iets wat ek selfs leer kook het omdat ek so gereeld daarna verlang. Ek kan ook nie versuim om te noem dat die verskeidenheid eksotiese vrugte jou sal stomslaan nie, en teen die prys waarteen jy dit kan bekom kan jy definitief bekostig om alles te probeer.
 
Buiten die asemrowende skoonheid van die Filippyne, en die geurige kos, moet ek net soveel, as nie meer eer gee aan die gasvrye mense van die land nie. Ek het teen nou al heelwat meer getoer as destyds toe ek vir die eerste keer in die Filippyne was, en ek het sedertdien ’n tweede besoek aan ander gedeeltes van die Filippyne afgelê.  Ek staan egter steeds by my eerste indrukke, die mense is besonders. As jy hou van toer en mense van die land ontmoet en tuis wil voel tussen hulle, sal die Filippyne presies dit oplewer. Tydens ons besoek aan El Nido het ons ’n lekker knus, onstpanne kroeg gevind om elke aand by uit te span. Elke aand was daar ’n “Open Mic” aand, en toevallig het dieselfde groepie mense elke keer kom sing. Ons het begin liedjies versoek, en hulle het elke liedjie, nuut of oud, sonder enige probleem opgevoer. Teen die tweede aand is ons met ons aankoms by die kroeg oor die mikrofoon verwelkom, en het ons na die opvoering met die musikante gekuier. Op ons derde aand is ons genooi om die komende naweek saam met hulle te kajak en te gaan kamp op ’n nabygeleë en onbewoonde eiland. Nie as kliënte nie, maar as vriende. Na net vier dae in El Nido het ek soortgelyke bande gebou met mense by byna elke onderneming waar ek al gehandel het. 

Doen jouself ’n guns en besoek die Filippyne! Verken soveel as moontlik van die pragtige land, maar bestee genoeg tyd aan die ongelooflike mense wat dit hul tuiste noem.

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Foto's / Photos
Puerto Princesa rivier / Puerto Princesa River
El Nido Strand / El Nido Beachfront 
Groot Lagoon El Nido / Big Lagoon El Nido
Snorkel / Snorkeling
Ons musikant vriende / Our musician friends
Boracay Strand / Boracay Beach
Boracay sonsondergang / Boracay sunset
Boracay nagte / Boracay nights
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Fantastic Philippines

If someone were to ask me to point out the moment the travel-bug, or backpacking-bug rahter, bit me, I would have to answer that it was on my first trip to the Philippines. In January 2013 two friends and I packed our backpacks and boarded a plane to Manila, Philippines. Our Philippine destinations included:

Manila - we only spent our first night in the Philippines and some time between our different flights in the capital. After one year of living in rural South Korea our first priority in Manila was to find some western food, and we were not disappointed. If you’ve been in Asia for a while, and you’re craving something that tastes closer to home, pay the Mall of Asia in Manila a visit.

Puerto Princesa, Palawan - here you’ll find one of the recently appointed New 7 Natural Wonders of the World, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River. It is definitely an amazing geological site, but as a tourist destination it is a little underwhelming. One waits for a very long time to get a spot in a canoe to navigate this underground river, and then you realise that being on an underground river, you’re surrounded by pitch black darkness. You’re unable to see anything other than what the tour guide points out with the spotlight. There are a couple of creatively named rock formations, and the guides are extremely witty and entertaining, but if you are short on time, you should much rather spend your time in the pristine ocean and beautiful reefs around the island.

El Nido - from Puerto Princesa it’s a six hour minibus ride on the aptly named “Abortion Road”; and believe you me the going is as rough as the name suggests. The final destination, however, is worth the whole rocky way. So take your motion sickness pills and skip your breakfast, but don’t skip El Nido. It is to this day my favorite place in all of Asia. I’ve heard that you could take a boat to El Nido as well, but weather is unpredicatable, and even a medium strength wind could make for far rougher traveling than the minibus ride. El Nido is known for its pristine beaches, beautiful lime stone islands and the fact that it’s not quite as commercial yet. There are various day tours that leaves from the main beach each day, and every single one of these trips is worth every penny. The water is crystal clear, there are beautiful reefs with plenty of colorful fish and the locals and tour guides are super hospitable. Scooters are also available to rent, at very affordable prices, to explore the beaches and sites nearby.

Boracay - is probably the best known and most popular destination in the Philippines, with good reason. With powder white beaches, idilic palm trees, sailboats, beautiful blue waves, and breathtaking sunsets, it has paradise written all over it. Let me just reiterate, the sunsets are incomparable! There are also a lot of activities to choose from, day and night, as the island never sleeps. If you do prefer some sleep, make sure you book accommodations a little while away from the main action. The downside to Boracay is that with popularity comes commercialization and big crowds of tourists that stream there each day. I will however not let that discourage me from having a slice of this paradise, just make sure you book somewhere more remote during your trip to balance it out.

It also has to be said that Filipino cuisine does not disappoint. Their roasted pork, chicken and fish dishes are superb, and even something that I had to learn to make myself since I crave it frequently. Oh, and who can forget about the wide variety of exotic fruits to choose from, it will leave you in awe. The best part is that at the price that you can acquire them, you can afford to try them all!

 Apart from the breathtaking beauty, and the mouthwatering dishes, one has to give credit to the beautiful people of the Philippines. Even after traveling to many other countries, and returning to the Philippines on a second trip, I have not changed my mind, Filipinos are simply amazing! If you like traveling to a country and meeting the locals, and feeling at home amongst them, the Philippines will deliver. To give my own account, while we were in El Nido we found a cozy laid back bar to wind down in every night. They had an open mic night, every day of the week, and while we were there, the same musicians performed each time. We requested songs and without any hesitation they performed, oldies and current hits, flawlessly. By the second night they announced our arrival over the mic and dedicated a song to us. They also hung out with us after they had finished. On our third night they invited us to kayak and go camping with them on a nearby uninhabited island, not as clients, but as friends. After only four days in El Nido, I felt like a regular at every store, fruit stand, juice bar, restaurant or bar that went to, such was the hospitality and service.

Do yourself a favour and travel to the Philippines. Explore as much of the beautiful nation as possible, but do not neglect getting to know the amazing people that call it home. It is more fun in the Philippines!

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3 Jul 2017

Beijing & Badaling


(English below the pictures)
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Beijing en die Groot Muur

Met ’n groot begeerte om nou ook my Asiese avontuur oor die grense van Suid Korea uit te brei het ek ’n naweek in Beijing, Sjina bespreek. Ek was die Vrydag op ’n laatmiddag vlug uit Beijing toe, en sou die Sondag ’n laataand vlug terug Seoul toe neem. Dis dalk ’n kort tydjie vir Beijing, maar ek moes maar net die beste daarvan maak.

Alhoewel Seoul en Beijing relatief naby aan mekaar is, het kostes my gedwing om maar ’n konneksie vlug te neem deur Dalian, Sjina. Dit was die eerste keer wat ek kennis gemaak het met Sjinese lughawens - hulle is maar anders. Toe ons in Dalian van die vliegtuig afklim was dit reeds laat skemer en als was donker, heel asof hulle ’n kragonderbreking ondervind het. Dit het ook geblyk of ek die enigste persoon op my vlug was wat moes oorklim op ’n volgende vlug, en in die donker, en Sjinese skrif, was dit heel moeilik om my pad te vind. Ek het maar my instinkte gevolg en aanhou loop totdat ek ’n enkele lughawe personeellid by ’n ‘Transfer’ bordjie, in die donker, sien sit het. Hy’t my sommer met ’n hand skandeerdertjie ondersoek vir wapens, my paspoort met die stempel wat hy in sy broeksak dra gestempel, en toe een woord geuiter: “Up!” Op by die stilstaande roltrappe het ek darem aangesluit by die res van die mense wat op my vlug sou wees, en iewers was daar darem ’n flou lig aan...

Kings Joy is ’n bekostigbare hotel in Beijing, met die perfekte ligging. Die restaurant is op die vierde verdieping en het ’n pragtige uitsig oor Tiananmen plein en die beroemde Forbidden City. Na aandete het ek gaan wandel deur die bekende Qianmen straat met sy liggies, trems, moderne en tradisionele klerewinkels, kafees en restaurante. Ek het sommer daar vir my ’n netjiese jas gekoop vir glad nie te duur nie.

Teen sewe-uur Saterdagoggend was ek al by die hotel se deur uit, elke eetplek in my straat het dieselfde item op aanbod gehad, ’n egte plaaslike ontbyt van langwerpige vetkoeke en ’n visserige seewier sop. Vreemde kosse skrik my nie af nie, en wie is ek om op iets anders aan te dring - so dit was my ontbyt. 

Dit is heel moontlik om byna al die belangrikste besienswaardighede in Beijing te sien in ’n enkele dag - as jy jouself druk. Neem taxi's om tyd te bespaar, eet en drink terwyl jy stap en ken jou belangstellings. Hierdie was my reisuiteensetting vir die Saterdag:

Temple of Heaven - van daar af lê al die besienswaardighede in Beijing in ’n byna reguit lyn noordwaarts, dis a.g.v. hul Feng shui filosofie. Temple of Heaven is seker my gunsteling plek in Beijing, die etlike verdieping hoë gestapelde ronde tempel is net iets om te aanskou. Die park rondom gons ook van mense wat met vlieërs vlieg, tradisionele speletjies speel, verskeie gevegskunste oefen, mediteer, kuier en verbasend genoeg salsa dans of lyndanse doen. Daar is ook ’n eeueoue jeneverboom wat die moeite werd is om te besoek.

Tiananmen Plein - Die hekke voor die plein, sowel as die beeldkuns in die plein is interessant, maar ek’t nie veel tyd hier spandeer nie. Dis die perfekte plek om mense dop te hou sou jy die tyd hê, en jy dit interessant vind.

Forbidden City - Die skaal van die tempel/paleis is ongelooflik, en eerlikwaar oorweldigend. Jy besef gou daar is te veel om als te kan verken, en binnekort begin als maar eenders lyk. Ek het dus die grootste besienswaardighede besoek voor ek deur die noordelike hek oor die moot is. 

Ou Hutongs - Ek het ’n riksjaw gehuur om die tradisionele woonbuurte te besoek. Dit is opsigself mooi, maar dit is die riksjaw drywer wat die ervaring onvergeetlik gemaak het met al sy staaltjies, histories korrek of nie. 

White Pagoda - Daar is ’n wandelpad vanuit die hutongs wat tot bo by die pagoda lei. Dit ps nie juis in by die tradisionele geboue van sy era nie, maar dis egter baie mooi. Vandaar kon ek die Childrens Palace en pragtige omrigende parke aanskou. Aan die onderpunt van die koppie het ek op een van die 9 miljoen fietse in Beijing geklim om op klipsteen strate langs waterweë en wilgerbome te ry tot skemer. 

Ek het besluit om die aand maar weer in Qianmen straat deur te bring, omdat ek nou al bietjie bekend daarmee was. Normaalweg sou ek iets meer avontuurlustig doen, maar ek was nie lus vir nog prysstryery en skare mense nie, en die gebeure van die dag het my uitgeput, gebeure wat ek eers ’n bietjie wou uitstel om van te vertel ~

Ervaringe in ’n vreemde land, kan soms minder lekker wees. Laat my storie sommer ook dien as ’n waarskuwing vir ander reisigers: In Korea het ek al gewoond geraak aan vreemdelinge wat ’n geselsie met my begin aanknoop, slegs omdat hulle die geleentheid soek om hul Engels te oefen. Ek is inderdaad in die Ooste om Engels te gee, so ek weier nie sommer om iemand bietjie te help nie. So het ’n jong man my op Tiananmen plein genader en gesê hy studeer Engels en toerisme, en hy wil graag van hulp wees en terselfdertyd sy vaardighede oefen. Ek was gewillig, maar het dit duidelik gestel dat ek teen ’n vinnige pas moet beweeg omdat ek soveel wou sien die dag. Hy het ingestem en gesê hy sal in die loop praat en verduidelik, ons hoef nie lank stil te staan nie. 

Hy het ’n paar interessante dinge vertel en net voor ek by die Forbidden City inloop het ek vir hom gevra of hy weet van ’n winkeltjie waar ek my water kan aanvul en dalk ’n koeldrank kon koop. Hy het gesê hy weet van een net om die hoek, en ek moet hom sommer volg, hy gaan ook water kry. By die plekkie aangekom was dit ’n kafee, en ek moes ’n glas koeldrank bestel, eerder as ’n botteltjie vir die pad. Ek het ’n yskoffie bestel wat byna onmiddelik gekom het, die student het ’n pot tee bestel, en ek het maar gedink ek sal hom hier moet laat, want hy gaan te lank neem om sy tee klaar te drink. Toe ek my koffie klaar gedrink het, het ek vir hom dankie gesê, en myself verskoon sodat ek kon aangaan met my dag. Hy’t aangedring dat ek wag, en ’n bohaai opgeskop oor ek nou al wou gaan. Die kelnerin het aangestap gekom met die rekening van rondomby 1000 Amerikaanse dollar. Ek het uiteraard gewyer om dit te betaal.

Die kelnerin het gesê sy gaan die polisie roep as ek nie die volle bedrag betaal nie, en ek het duidelik agtergekom dat sy en die ‘student’ vennote in die kroekspul was. Ek het 30 RMB op die tafel neergesit en gesê dit is al wat ek bereid is om te betaal en na die uitgang begin stap. Albei van hulle het die uitgang toegestaan en sy het my weer met die polisie gedreig. Die keer het ek aangedring dat sy hul roep, sodat ek aan hulle kan vertel wat hier aangaan. Haar antwoord was ’n ontnugtering en dalk die skrikwekkendste van die hele situasie. “Die polisie ken my, hulle is aan my kant, hulle praat nie Engels nie, hulle gaan jou in die tronk gooi.” 

Ek dink hulle noem dit die “veg of vlug instink”, wel vlug was nou die antwoord. Ek het die mannetjie uit my pad uit gestoot, die deur oopgemaak en teen ’n vinnige pas uitgestap, om nie verdag te lyk nie, terug om die hoek oppad na die Forbidden City, terwyl ek hardop bid. Heeltyd het ek oor my skouer gekyk of hulle my nie agterna sit nie, en dopgehou of ek nie ’n obskure polisieman uit ’n stegie sien kom nie, maar daar was niks, hulle het nie eers agter my aangeskree nie. Dit was net tjoepstil. Tussen ’n skare toeriste het ek kalmeer en veiliger gevoel. Vir etlike minute moes ek die woede in my verwerk, die spanning laat vaar, en my kop skoon kry sodat ek die res van my kort tydjie in die stad kon geniet.

Toe ek my kaartjie by die Forbidden City se ingang koop lees ek twee waarskuwings raak: “Beware of Tea room/cafe scams!” “Beware of Free Art Exhibition Scams!” Ek het reg voor die ingang ’n koeldrankkarretjie gewaar en ’n Coke en water gaan koop. Dit is net toe, dat 3 jong dames hulself voorstel as kunsstudente en vra of ek nie belangstel om hul kunsuitstalling by te woon nie, dit was verniet en baie naby geleë. Ek het hul nie eers ’n antwoord gegee nie, net omgedraai en deur die hekke tot binne die Forbidden City gestap, en maar eers weer op ’n bankie gaan sit en kalmeer. 

’n Goeie nag se rus doen darem wondere vir die gemoed, en ek het Sondag opgestaan met vars opgewondenheid en durf. My reisuiteensetting was as volg:

Ek het sommer die oggend reeds by my hotel uitgeboek en my bagasie saam met my geneem, sodat ek van die laaste bestemming van my begeleide toer af ’n taxi lughawe toe kon haal.

Badaling Muur - Die groot muur is meer as 8000 km lank. Die gedeelte naaste aan Beijing is bekend as Badaling. Van die voet van die berg af het ek ’n kabelkarretjie opgeneem na die muur, die karretjies was in werkende toestand, maar ek het gewonder vir hoe lank nog, ek moes selfs self die deurtjie van my kabelkarretjie toehou sodat dit nie aanmekaar in die lug oopswaai nie. Die muur is ’n ongelooflike sig, en my naweek se hoogtepunt.

Ming Grafte - Ek het nooit voorheen regtig iets van die grafte geweet nie, maar dit was ingesluit in die pakket, en ek is glad nie spyt dat ek dit besoek het nie. Dis ook ’n kompleks van tempels, hekke, en tuine opgedra aan lede van die Ming dinastie. 

Jade Museum - dit was die laaste punt van ons toer, en as ek nou maar reguit is, net ’n truuk om mense te kry om Jade juwele en ornamente te koop. Daar is vreeslik baie bygelowe geheg aan Jade stene in die Ooste.

Dit was ’n propvol dag, en my eksentrieke gids het gesorg vir baie vermaak. Sy het sonder ophou haar bygelowe aan ons uitgelê, en die erns daarvan met klaarblyklike bewyse probeer staaf. Dit het begin by kos in die potte los vir afgestorwe familielede, en leë potte in die oggend op die stoof vind, tot teels in die kombuis hoor kraak as haar oorlede ouma kom kuier. Daarna het sy elkeen van die ornamentjies aan haar hangertjie en armbandjie se belangrike betekenisse aan ons verduidelik: geluk, liefde, vrugbaarheid, rykdom, balans, ens. En natuurlik het sy ook ’n jade steen teen haar hart gedra vir goeie bloedvloei, en ’n lang lewe.

Sjina het soveel om te sien, plekke wat ek baie graag wil sien, en dinge om te ervaar. Volgende keer gaan ek net vir ’n langer tyd, met meer voorbereiding en minder naïwiteit.

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Foto's / Photos

Temple of Heaven
Ou Jenever boom / Old Juniper tree
Tiananmen Plein / Tiananmen Square
Tiananmen Plein / Tiananmen Square
In Forbidden City
'n Ou Hutongs straat / An Old Hutongs street
Mooi kanale en wilgerbome / Beautiful canals and willow trees
Die Groot Muur Badaling / The Great Wall Badaling
Die Groot Muur Badaling / The Great Wall Badaling
Ming Tombs
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Beijing and the Great Wall

By October I had the desire to explore Asia beyond the borders of South Korea, so I had booked a weekend to Beijing, China. I would catch the Friday evening flight out, and a late flight that Sunday back to Seoul. It was a short time to spend in Beijing, but I would just have to make the best of it.

Although Seoul and Beijing aren’t that far from each other, costs had forced me to book a transfer flight through Dalian, China. It was the first time I encountered Chinese airlines and airports - and they are different. On arrival at Dalian airport it was already dusk, and everything at the airport seemed dark, as if they were experiencing a power failure. It also seemed as if I were the only person on my flight that needed to transfer to another flight. Alone, in the dark and with mostly Chinese signs, this was no easy task. I followed my instincts and hoped for the best following dim emergency lights, until I finally found a single airport employee sitting on a lone chair, in a dark corner, by a faint transfer sign. He used a hand scanner to quickly check me, pulled a stamp out of his pant pocket to stamp my passport, and uttered a single word: “Up!” I walked up the stationary escalators to arrive at my gate, at least there were some more people, and some dim lights switched on. Weird...

Kings Joy is an affordable Hostel with the perfect location in Beijing. The restaurant is on the 4th floor and has a beautiful view of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. After dinner I went for a stroll through Qianmen street, it is near the hostel and offers modern and traditional clothing stores, cafes and restaurants. I even bought myself a nice winter coat there for a very reasonable price.

By 7am on Saturday I had walked out the door of my hostel already. Every eatery in my street was serving the same thing, a local breakfast of deep fried bread and a fishy seaweed soup. I’m no stranger to foreign cuisine so I went ahead and ordered what the locals were having. Greasy and fishy, yet satisfying.

It is possible to see the most important sites in Beijing in a single day, if you push yourself. Take taxis to save time, eat and drink on the go, and know what your interests are. My itinerary for the day was as follows:

Temple of Heaven - from here everything I wanted to see in Beijing formed a straight line northwards, that’s because of the Feng shui philosophy in China. Temple of Heaven was probably my favorite site in all of Beijing, with its ample stories of round stacked traditional roofs. The surrounding grounds and park buzzes with activity, from people flying kites, playing traditional games, practicing various martial art disciplines, meditating, hanging out with friends, as well as salsa dancing and line dancing. You could also visit the centuries old juniper tree in the park, it is beautiful.

Tiananmen Square - The gates in front of the square and the various monuments are interesting, but I didn’t spend that much time here. It would be the perfect place to people-watch, if that interests you, providing you had enough time.

Forbidden City - The scale of this temple/palace is mindblowing. You quickly realise that it’s too big to explore every corner, and pretty soon the next courtyard starts looking like the previous. That is why I just visited the biggest attractions in the complex, before exiting through the back gate to cross the mote.

Old Hutongs - Right by the mote I hired a rickshaw to take me through the old hutongs. The traditional neighbourhoods are full of interesting sites and buildings, but it is thanks to my rickshaw driver’s stories, historically accurate or not, that I really enjoyed the experience.

White Pagoda - My rickshaw driver dropped me off among the hutongs near the path that leads up to this unusual pagoda. Its round, bell shape and white exterior is very different from other pagodas in Beijing. From the top you have a great view of the Children’s Palace and the surrounding gardens. At the bottom of the hill I got on one of the 9 million bicycles in Beijing and rode along cobble stone streets next to canals and huge willow trees until sunset.

I decided to spend the night in the now somewhat familiar Qianmen street again. Usually I’ll venture out and be adventurous by visiting night markets and such, but I was just not up for more haggling and crowds of people. That and some unfortunate event during the day still dampened my spirits a bit, an event that I put off to mention earlier so that I could dedicate more time to it here ~

Some experiences in foreign countries can be frightening and tough. Let my experience serve as disillusionment and warning to new travelers: In Korea I had gotten used to strangers approaching me, starting a conversation with the intention of practicing their English. I am indeed in Asia to teach English, so I rarely refuse to help someone while commuting or waiting for my bus. And so a young man approached me on Tiananmen Square. He introduced himself and said that he was studying tourism and English. As an assignment he had to volunteer his services to toursits, and that it would be good practice for him. I was willing to help the guy, but made it clear that I was on quite a tight schedule and he’d have to keep up. He agreed to my terms and said he would explain everything as we walk, no stopping or sidetracks. 

He kept up and shared some interesting information as we went. Before I entered the Forbidden City I asked him if he knew about a little convenience store or stand nearby so I could refill my water and buy a Coke. He knew about one around the corner and lead the way. Got there and it was a cafe where I would have to sit down and order a glass of whatever. It would have to do, so I ordered a tall ice coffee, which I got almost immediately. He ordered a pot of tea, and at that point I thought this would be where our paths would separate; I was going to down my coffee, pay and get back on track, his tea would take too long. I excused myself and thanked him for his time, but then he threw quite the scene about the fact that I was leaving so quickly, that I had to sit and wait for the bill. The waitress brought a bill for 1000 US dollars. I looked at both people in front of me, they had a threatening gaze in their eyes. I naturally refused to pay that amount.

The waitress threatened that she would call the police if we didn’t pay, and the student chimed in that I drank the coffee and thus had to pay the amount. They were obviously partners in crime. I put 30 RMB down on the table and said that it was more than enough to cover my coffee, and started to walk toward the exit. Both of them pushed past me and blocked the door. There was no one else in the whole place. The waitress threatened me with the police again. This time I insisted that they call the police so that I could expose them for the frauds they are. The waitress’ reply sent chills down my spine and for a moment petrified me with fear: “The police know me, they are on my side, they don’t understand English, you’ll go to jail!”

I believe they call it the “fight or flight instinct”, well flight kicked in. I pushed the student out of my way, opened the door, which was luckily not locked, and walked out at a very fast pace. I didn’t run, as not to look too suspicious, rounded the corner back towards the Forbidden City, all the way praying out loud. I constantly looked over my shoulder to see if they weren’t coming after me, and kept an eye out for the one or other dodgy police officer coming out of an obscure alley. But nothing. It was quiet. They didn’t even yell after me, neither of the two crooks even set foot out the door. Once I reached the crowd of tourists in front of the ticket box at the Forbidden City, I felt more at ease again. For several minutes while queueing I had to process the emotions, the anger and had to let go of all the tension. I had to clear my mind in order to be able to enjoy the rest of my short time in the city.

When I got to the front of the ticket box I noticed two warning signs, each printed in basic black font on A4 white paper: “Beware of Tea room/cafe scams!” “Beware of Free Art Exhibition Scams!” After getting my ticket I noticed a refreshment stand, and went over to buy a Coke. Right as I was standing there three young girls approached me and said that they were art students and had a free exhibition on nearby. They asked whether I’d be interested to come to their exhibition. I didn’t even answer them, didn’t even make eye contact, I just turned around and entered the Forbidden City. Just past the first gate I found a bench, I just took a moment there, before continuing with my day's itinerary...

A good night’s rest does wonders though, and Sunday morning I got up bright and early full of excitement for the day and its activities. My Sunday itinerary looked like this:

I checked out of the hostel and took my luggage with me. I would catch a cab to the airport right from the last point on my guided tour route.

Badaling Great Wall - The Great Wall is more than 8000 km long. The portion of the wall closest to Beijing is known as Badaling. I took a cable car from the foot of the hill to the top of the wall. The cable cars were in working condition, although I can’t vouch for their compliance to safety regulations. I even had to keep the doors of my cable car closed myself, since they would swing open and closed constantly. The wall however was such an amazing site, and a bucket list item ticked off. It was the highlight of my weekend.

Ming Tombs - I had never really known anything about the tombs, but they were included in the package tour, and I really didn’t regret paying them a visit. It’s a whole complex of tempels, gates, monuments and gardens dedicated to the Ming Dynasty.

Jade Museum - This was the last attraction on our package tour, and if I’m honest just a gimmick to get people to buy jade stones. People in the East have a lot of superstitions around the jewels, and I bet the tour company had some kind of commission deal with the store.

It was a packed day, and my eccentric guide was a source of great entertainment. She tirelessly made jokes, and dived right into all her superstitions, trying to explain and prove each as an important practice. It started with leaving food on the stove for the ghosts of dead relatives who get hungry in the afterlife, to hearing tiles creaking in the kitchen when her deceased grandmother comes to visit lat at night. After that she laid out the meaning of every one of the ornaments she had on her necklace, bracelet, keyring and car: joy, love, fertility, riches, balance, etc. Then she also showed us the jade stone that she carried in the pocket over her heart to ensure good blood flow and a long life.

China has a lot to explore, places that I desperately want to visit, and things to experience. Next time I’ll just go for a longer period of time, better prepared and less naive.

26 Jun 2017

Argonaut Island (Ulleung-do)

(English follows the pictures)

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Ulleung Eiland

Laat ek begin deur te sê Ulleung eiland is ’n merkwaardige bestemming. As jy die tyd het, en veral as jy jouself in Korea bevind oor die somer vir ’n geruime tyd, is dit absoluut die moeite werd om te besoek. 

Ulleung is ’n vulkaniese eiland met dramatiese rots-landskappe, pragtige mistige woude, en die kraterlandskap met laslaplanderye, strome en tradisionele plaashuisies is asemrowend mooi. Die hele kus is ’n bewys van die vulkaniese oorsprong van die eiland, met ongelooflike rotsformasies, versteende kolomme, grotte en tonnels. Boonop is die eiland omring met ongelooflike deursigtige donkerblou water, met rots swemgate en wemelende seelewe. Pasop net vir die see egels.

Ulleung is in die See van Japan, of die Oos-see soos die Koreane dit verkies, omtrent 120 km vanaf die ooskus van Suid Korea en het in die Weste bekend gestaan as die Argonaut eiland. Dit is die naaste bewoonde eiland en hawe aan die omstrede eiland bekend as Dokdo (Koreans) of Takeshima (Japanees), in die Weste bekend as Liancourt Rocks. Japan en Korea eis albei die twee rotse as hul gebied. My argument is dat dit nader aan Korea is, met meer Koreaanse besoekers dus… Dit daar gelaat. Wees net voorbereid dat as jy voet op die eiland wil sit, jy ’n verklaring gaan onderteken waarin jy erken dat Dokdo deel van Suid Korea is.

Uiteraard is Ulleung die perfekte bestemming vir staptoere, met gereelde geleenthede om bietjie af te koel in die swemgate. Ons het by die hawe begin en die eiland deurkruis. Sodoende stap jy die buitekant van die vulkaan uit, stap jy deur die mistige woude teen die hange af tot binne in die krater, en deurkruis jy die krater met sy unieke terrein. Hier het jy ook die opsie om eiesoortige wildegroente-disse te eet, en tuisgemaakte ryswyn (makgeolli) te geniet. Jy kan ’n aand in die krater spandeer, of een van die voertuig-paaie uitneem tot by die naaste bushalte en uiteindelik jou akkommodasie. 

Byna die hele kus van die eiland is ook ontwikkel met staproetes, so jy kan die volle omtrek van die eiland stap. Daar is bruë waar nodig, trappe om jou teen die styltes uit te help, natuurlik-gevormde tonnels wat roetes verbind, en stellasies in die kranse ingeslaan sodat jy die adrenalien van meters bo klotsende golwe stap kan ervaar. Daar is ook busse wat eenrigting om die hele eiland ry so jy kan op enige punt ’n roete na die hoofpad uitstap, en dit volg tot by die eerste bushalte, opklim en by jou bestemming uitkom. Wees net bewus van die busdienste se afsnytye.

Dan is daar die toere na Dokdo. Dit is ’n patriotiese tog, wat byna elke patriotiese Koreaan ten minste eenkeer in hul lewens sal wil maak. Dit is egter nie so maklik om te doen nie, en weens seetoestande, vaal amper meer pogings as wat slaag. Beplan dalk dus om die die twee rotse te gaan besoek, maar moet nie te verbaas wees as jou toer gekanselleer word nie. Kostes sal tot sover my kennis strek ten volle terugbetaal word indien dit die geval is. Dit was die geval toe ek gepoog het om hulle te besoek.

As jy belangstel om Ulleung te besoek het jy die opsie om dit saam ’n georganiseerde groep te doen, dis wat ek gedoen het, of self te beplan. Vir die groepe, sluit graag op Facebook aan by ‘Seoul Hiking Group’, 'When In Korea’ of ‘Adventure Korea’, van die groepe is ek die vertroudste met die eerste groep, en ek weet hulle beplan jaarliks ’n langnaweek toer na die eiland. Kostes met die groepe bly relatief laag, als is vir jou beplan, en jy het heelwat keuses van aktiwiteite en vrye teuels om deel te neem aan wat jy wil. Jou tyd op die eiland is net effens beperk.

As die groepe se datums nie vir jou werk nie, of jy wil vir ’n langer duur gaan, moet nie bekommer nie, dit is heel doenbaar. Eerstens moet jy kyk na beskikbaarheid van plek op die veerboot tussen Donghae Terminaal en Ulleung eiland. As jy belangstel om Dokdo te besoek, sal jy uiteraard ook die beskikbaarheid van toere vanaf Ulleung na Dokdo moet bepaal. Sodra jy beskikbare datums het, bespreek maar en moet nie te lank uitstel nie - soos genoem is dit ’n gewilde bestemming vir Koreane, en daar is net soveel plek op die veerbote, toere en gastehuise.

As jou bootkaartjies bespreek is moet akkommodasie jou volgende fokus wees. Soek vir Ulleung Minbaks (Huurkamers), Ulleung Pensions (Huurhuise), hotelle of gastehuise, of beplan om ’n tent te neem en doen navorsing oor kampterreine en geriewe. Bespreek! Onthou, toegang is beperk. Kry gerus die hulp van ’n Koreaanse vriend, kollega of kennis in om die hele proses te vergemaklik - of selfs beter: nooi jou Koreaanse pelle (chingus) saam.

Die laaste bietjie logistiek is net om jou buskaartjie van waarookal jy is tot by Donghae terminaal te bespreek. Ek doen dit gewoonlik in persoon by die bus termine vanwaar ek gaan vertrek, omtrent so week voor my vertrekdatum. Kry jou vriende bymekaar, pak julle rugsakke en gaan verken Ulleung Eiland!

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Foto's / Photos

Die getekende verklaring / The signed declaration
Die hawe / The port
Uitsig vanaf die vulkaan se piek / View from the volcano peak
Mistige woude / Misty Forest
Krater landskap / Crater landscape
Kus staproete / Coastal hiking route
Natuurlike tonnel / Natural tunnel
Blou oseaan / Blue ocean
Kus uitsigte / Coastal views
Vat 'n dip / Take a dip
Verfrissend / Refreshing
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Ulleung Island

Let me just start by saying that Ulleung Island is an amazing destination. If you have the time, especially if you’re staying in Korea for a longer period of time, it is absolutely worth the visit. 

Ulleung is a volcanic island, and with dramatic rock landscapes, mysterious misty woodlands, and the fertile crater basin covered in patchy crops and farmlands, streams, and traditional farmsteads it is breathtakingly beautiful. The whole coast is proof of the volcanic origins of the island, with incredible rock formations, petrified columns, caves and tunnels. In addition the whole island is surrounded by transparent, deep-blue oceans, rock pools ideal for swimming, and plentiful underwater life. Just look out for the sea urchins.

Ulleung is in the sea of Japan, or as the Koreans prefer - the East Sea. It’s about 120 km off the east coast of South Korea and used to be known to westerners as Argonaut Island. It is the closest inhabited island and port to the controversial island known as Dokdo to Koreans, Takeshima to the Japanese, and Liancourt Rocks to westerners. Japan and Korea both claim the rocks to be their territory, the dispute has been unresolved for decades. My argument would be that it’s closer to Korea, has more Korean visitors, thus… But nothing’s that simple. Just be prepared that if you want to set foot on land at Ulleung Island, you’ll have to sign a document stating that you agree that Dokdo is part of Korean Territory.

Naturally Ulleung is the perfect destination for hiking, with its beautiful scenes and frequent opportunities to cool down in rock pools. We started at the port and traversed the island in a semi-straight line. By doing this you’ll hike up the steep volcanic exterior, walk down toward the crater basin through misty forests and cross the crater with its unique terrain. There you’ll have the opportunity to try local wild mountain-vegetable dishes and enjoy homemade rice wine (makgeolli). You could spend the night in the crater, or take one of the main roads out of the basin to a busstop, and catch the bus to your overnight accommodation. 

Added infrastructure has made the whole coast of the island accessible to hikers, so if you had enough time, you could circumnavigate Ulleung and take in all of its vistas. There are bridges where necessary, steps and rails to help you in very steep spots, naturally lava-formed tunnels to connect routes, and platforms fixed to the sides of cliffs, high above crashing waves directly beneath your feet, for your thrill and pleasure. There are busses that drive circular routes around the island, so you can follow an extraction route to the main road at any point, make your way to the nearest busstop and catch a bus to your desired destination. Just be aware of the bus service's cutoff time.

Furthermore there is also the option of doing a tour to Dokdo. It is a trip that every patriotic Korean wil make at least once in their lifetime. It is however not that easy to complete, and due to sea and weather conditions almost more attempts fail than succeed. Plan on taking the tour to the two rocks, but don’t be too surprised if your tour gets cancelled. To my knowledge all costs are refundable if it does. That was the case when we attempted to visit Dokdo.

If you are interested in visiting Ulleung island, you have the option of doing it with an organised group - that’s what I did, or planning it by yourself. For group tours, go onto Facebook and join ‘Seoul Hiking Group’, ‘When in Korea’, and ‘Adventure Korea’. I’m most familiar with Seoul Hiking Group, and I am sure that they plan a longweekend trip to the Island every year. Costs with these groups remain relatively low, everything is planned for you, but you have a lot of activity options and leeway. Your time on the island is just a little limited.

If the groups’ dates don’t fit your schedule, or you intend to spend more time on the island, don’t fret, it is completely possible to plan it yourself. First of all you should look at the availability of seats on the ferry between Donghae port and Ulleung Island. If you are interested in visiting Dokdo, you’ll naturally have to look at tour availability for that as well. As soon as you find dates that fit your schedule - book! As mentioned, it is a popular destination among Koreans, and there is limited room on the ferry, tours and guesthouses.

If your tickets for the boats are booked, accommodation is your next priority. Search online for Ulleung Minbaks (Rooms for rent), Ulleung Pensions (Houses for rent), hotels and guesthouses, or plan on taking a tent and do research on campsites. Once again - reserve! Remember, access is limited. Don’t hesitate to ask a Korean friend, colleague, or acquaintance for help - or even better: invite your Korean pals (chingus) to join you.

Krater bodem / Crater basin
The last logistical task you need to complete, is buying a bus ticket to Donghae terminal from wherever you will be departing. I usually do it in person at the bus terminal of my departure, a week or two prior to my departure. Get your friends together, pack your backpacks, and go explore Ulleung Island!

18 Jun 2017

Modder en Vuurwerke / Mud and Fireworks


(Scroll down for English)
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Modder en Vuurwerke

Ek het heel goed begin aanpas by lewe in Korea. Ek het nog heel gereeld die ontnugtering gehad dat ek in ’n ander land woon en werk, maar dit was als vir my ’n lekker ervaring. Deur aan te sluit by ’n paar Facebook groepe het ek besef dat daar byna elke naweek iets was om te doen en te sien.

Die naweek het weer aangebreek, en ek het vir my ’n plek bespreek op die stapgroep se bus na Boryeong, Suid Korea. Dit was meer nuuskierigheid, as ’n diep belangstelling wat my laat besluit het om by die toer aan te sluit, ’n geval van ek is mos nou hier, ek kan net sowel… Want wat is ’n Modderfees nou eintlik?

Boryeong is ’n klein landelike dorpie aan die weskus van Korea. Daar was vir een of ander slim geologiese rede ’n baie fyn tipe kleigrond, wat ’n sagte, gladde modder vorm in die reën seisoen. Iemand het bevind dat dit kosmetiese potensiaal het, en ek raai hul moes dit op 
’n kreatiewe manier bemark, dus ’n Modderfees.

Die fees vind plaas op Daecheon strand, waarheen vragte van die modder aangery word. Daar is opslaan swembadjies, opblaas hindernisbane, glybane, ’n modderput en modderfonteine. Dis kompleet soos ’n waterpark, maar gevul met fyn, gladde modder. Jy moes ook ’n toegangskaartjie koop, die bandjie om jou arm dra, en in rye staan vir elke aktiwiteit.

Ek is seker dat daar mense is wat jaar na jaar die geleentheid bywoon, en hier het hulle al ’n tipe van kultuur en tradisie by die fees geskep van opdaag in uitspattige en belaglike kostuums. Selfs een van die ouens wat in my groep was het opgedaag met sy sussie se leotard en pienk tutu. Nog ander het opgedaag met opblaas vlerkies, tjoepies en swemkappies, duikbrille en snorkels.

Modder bly egter net vir so lank amuserend, voordat die lang lyne jou ontmoedig om nog ’n keer te gaan. Maar gelukkig is die see nie vêr nie, en binnekort gaan spoel jy af in die branders en lê jy bietjie op die strand en bak. Ek moet wel bieg, dat my vel na al die modderspelery lekker sag en glad gevoel het, so die modder het dan seker wel kosmetiese eienskappe soos geadverteer.

Teen sononder is al die moddersports verby, maar die fees is nog lank nie oor nie. ’n K-Pop-konsert vind in die oop veld naby die modderputte plaas, en dis ’n groot affêre. Direk na die konsert verby is jaag almal weer vir ’n goeie plek op die strand vir ongelooflike vuurwerke. ’n DJ sorg vir dansmusiek tot die klok 12 uur slaan. 

Kafees, restaurante, en winkeltjies blyk ook 24 uur oop te wees vir die geleentheid, en die strand raak byna glad nie stil voor sonop nie. Daar is ook ’n klein, maar duursame klub om die nuwe dag in te dans. Na ’n hele dag se opgewondenheid, heelwat te drinke, en ’n oorheersende liberale gees, laat mense in die oggend ure maar alle inhibisies agterweë en moet polisielede maar die strand op golfkarretjies patrolleer om nagswemmers en naakbaaiers te konfronteer, vir hul eie veiligheid natuurlik. Dit geskied darem als met ’n goeie en vergewende gesinheid. 

As die son opkom, vind die naguile ’n plekkie reg op die strand om bietjie roes af te slaap. Die 24 uur burger plek swaai die spyskaart om, om hul ontbytopsies beskikbaar te stel, en net dan, vir ’n oomblik was dit heeltemal. Wat ’n vreemde maar interessante ervaring.

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Foto's / Photos

Van die mense in my groep / Some of the people in my group
Basiese uitleg / Basic layout
Stoei put / Wrestling pit
Hindernis baan / Gladiator course
Vuurwerke / Fireworks
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Mud and Fireworks

I’d started to get accustomed to life in Korea. Every so often there was still the sobering thought that I was in a country other than where I spent my whole life, but what a great experience! By joining a couple of meet-up groups on Facebook I learned that there was something else and new to do and experience nearly every weekend.

The weekend had arrived, and once again I had booked my spot on the hiking group bus to Boryeong, South Korea. It was more curiosity than real interest that made me decide to join that weekend’s tour. It was a case of I’m here, might as well… What is a Mud Festival anyway?

Boryeong is a small country town on Korea’s eastern coast. For some clever geological reason it has a very fine type of clay soil, that becomes smooth, slippery mud in the rainy season. Someone then figured out that it has some cosmetic uses, and I guess needed to advertise it in a creative way, thus the Mud Festival.

The festival takes place on Daecheon beach, and loads of mud is brought from the mud pits to the beach area. Mud is poured into inflatable pools, inflatable gladiator obstacle courses, slides and mud fountains. It’s a whole waterpark filled with smooth, slippery mud. And like a waterpark you buy a ticket, get a wristband, and que for every ride.

I’m sure that there were a lot of people that had attended the festival several times before, and they’ve helped to create a festival culture and some festival traditions, attending in some outrageous costumes for one. Even one of the guys in my group wore his sister’s leotard and pink tutu. Others arrived wearing inflatable arm floats, tube floaties, swimming caps, and even snorkeling gear.

Mud, however, is only amusing for a short while, before long queues deter you from going on another ride. Thankfully the ocean is nearby, and within moments you can wash off the mud in the waves and bake warm in the sun on the beach. I will admit, that my skin did feel smooth and soft after the mud-sports, so I guess they do have the cosmetic properties advertised.

By sunset the mud area closed off for the day, but the festival was far from over. There was a K-Pop concert in an open field behind the mud area, and it was a huge deal. After the concert wrapped up everyone scrambled for a good spot on the beach again for a fabulous firework display. A DJ was also present and ensured that people could party on the beach until a little after midnight.  

Cafes, restaurants and convenient stores also seemed to be open 24 hours during the festival, and the beach didn’t quiet down at all until the sun rose again. There was a small, expensive club not far from the beach for those who wanted to dance through the night. After a full day of excitement, drinking, and the general liberal spirit amongst festival goers, some people started losing their inhibitions a bit, and police members had to patrol the beach on golf carts apprehending night bathers and skinny-dippers; for their own safety of course.

As the sun rose, the diehard party animals and nocturnals found themselves spots right on the beach to sleep off a little rust. The 24 hour burger joint flipped their menus to show their breakfast options, and right then, for a fleeting moment, it was all completely peaceful. What a strange but interesting experience.



11 Jun 2017

Kampvuur, Karaoke en Knoffel. / Bonfires, Jukeboxes and Garlic.


(Scroll down for English)

My volgende avontuur in Suid Korea was weereens na ’n eiland aan die suide van die land. Vir hierdie spesifieke naweek is ek toe saam met ’n stapgroep na die eiland Namhae toe. 

Ek het heelwat naweke saam met die stapgroep deurgebring. Dit was ’n baie gerieflike, en bekostigbare reëling. Vrydae aande het ons 23:00 bymekaar gekom en in die bus geklim. Ons het maar almal op die bus geslaap tot ons by die bestemming aankom, en dan het ons omtrent dadelik begin stap sodat ons voor sonop op die een of ander uitkyk punt kan wees. Sondae aande het ons gewoonlik skuins voor tien weer by die bushalte gestop, net betyds om die laaste moltrein huis toe te vang.

Die tog Namhae toe was geen uitsondering nie. Ons het soos gewoonte donkeroggend daar aangekom, ons padkos gekry en waterbottels gegryp en begin stap. Teen sonop was ons in ’n grot teen die hoogste berg op die eiland, en het ons ’n ongelooflike uitsig oor die eiland en strand gehad. Die res van die dag was vol avonture soos roei op die see, ontspan op die strand en frisbee speel. 

So tussen die speel moes ons ook ’n plekkie in die kampterrein gaan uitsoek om ons tente op te slaan, waar ons die aand sou deurbring. Ek het die perfekte plekkie gekry waar my tent lekker onder ’n boom sou koelte kry, sodat die son my nie sou uitbak nie. Dit was ook nie vêr van die ablusieblok of hoofstrand af nie. Ek wens net ek het die verdekselse ding in die voetpad naby my tent raakgesien!

Die aand het dinge begin interessant raak met ’n groot kampvuur op die strand, ’n bietjie malvalekker-braai en, soos wat mens seker maar kan verwag, heelwat drank wat gereeld aangevul sou word. Ons was nie die enigste groep op die strand wat ’n partytjie gegooi het nie, mens kon elke paar meter nog ’n groep sien wat met identiese aktiwiteite besig was. 

Teen omtrent middernag het die feestelikheid maar vir my bietjie handuitgeruk, en ek het besluit om tent toe te keer. Die kampplek was stil, en al die tente het amper leeg voorgekom. Ek het sommer vinnig ingesluimer, dit sou ’n lekker nagrus wees. Of sou dit? 

Dit was omtrent twee uur die oggend wat ek wakker geskrik het. Iewers het Koreaanse musiek kliphard geblêr, en ’n paar mansstemme kon duidelik gehoor word wat dronkerig saam mompel en op al die refreine kliphard uitjil, voor hul weer terugkeer na ’n onverstaanbare mompelrige geraas. Daar was geen manier dat ek sou slaap met die geraas nie.

Ek het besluit om te gaan ondersoek instel. En dis toé dat ek die verdekselse ding raaksien. Net daar in die voetpaadjie tussen my tent en die ablusieblok was ’n buitelug blêrkas, met net 5 liedjiekeuses, maar massiewe klanktoestel. Die hele ding lyk nie op eerste oogopslag soos ’n blêrkas nie, maar net soos ’n kampterrein ornament, slegs daar vir estetiese waarde. Voor die blêrkas het 4 middeljarige Koreaanse mans hulself bevind. Hul het al 5 die liedjies deurgespeel en saam geblêr, terwyl ek als wat ek kon oor my ore druk om die marteling van hul samesang te verlig. Die manne het darem na die laaste liedjie weer tot ruste gekom.

Ek het eventueel weer aan die slaap geraak en het nou net gehoop dat niemand anders die ware funksie van die ornament ontdek nie. Tevergeefs! Dit was net na sonop, of so het dit gevoel, dat ’n klompie jong kinders ’n speletjie daarvan gemaak het om ’n liedjie te kies en dan weg te hardloop en weg te kruip, totdat die liedjie verby is en hul weer die knoppie kon druk.

Slaaptyd was amptelik verby, met die kombinasie van dié geraas, die son wat uitkom en ander kampeerders wat ook begin rondskarrel, sou ek definitief nie weer aan die slaap raak nie. Ek het maar voor die strandkafeetjie gaan sit en die een koffie na die ander ingeryg terwyl ek vir die lae brandertjies kyk en probeer beter voel oor my min slaap. Ek het ook maar ’n roomys vir ontbyt geëet.

Sondag het ons toerleier besluit om ons na ’n baie spesiale fees te neem. Namhae eiland se ekonomie is hoofsaaklik afhanklik van toerisme en landbou. Waarvoor hul die bekendste is, is inderdaad knoffel, dus hou hul die jaarlikse Namhae Knoffel Fees. Nou as jy dit nog nie kon raai nie, knoffel is ’n groot ding! Dis nie net sommer ’n geurmiddel vir hierdie mense nie. Daar is ’n spesiale knoffel navorsingseenheid opgerig op die eiland, en dit was juis waar die fees gehou is. Daar was allerhande knoffelary beskikbaar; van die gewone gedroogde knoffel, gekerfde knoffel en knoffel poeier, tot uitstallings van knoffel rangskikings en kinderkuns rondom die knoffel tema, tot knoffel tee, knoffel soda, knoffel jellie en knoffel in sjokolade. Bisar! Ek het net gehoop dat iemand nie ’n bondel gedroogde knoffel in ons bus wou terugneem Seoul toe nie.

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Die Grot / The Cave
'n Tempel naby die grot / A temple near the cave
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My next adventure in South Korea was also to an island in the south of the country. This specific weekend I went with a hiking group to Namhae island.

I actually spent plenty of weekends with the hiking group. It was a convenient, and affordable way to travel. We would meet at the pick-up point at 11pm on Friday nights, and board a bus. We would sleep on the bus, and arrive at our destination early the next morning, and almost immediately start hiking up to some kind of vantage point for sunrise. Then on Sundays we would get back to the city just in time to catch the last subway back home.

The trip to Namhae was no exception. As was the tradition we arrived in Namhae before sunrise, got some snacks, grabbed our water bottles, and started our ascent. By sunrise we had arrived at a cave in the highest mountain on the island. It had an amazing view of the island and coast. The rest of the day was spent kayaking, relaxing on the beach and playing ultimate frisbee.

In our free time we also had to find a spot in the campsite to put up our tents for the night. I thought I had found the perfect spot, conveniently located in the shade of a big pine tree, relatively close to the ablution block, and not far from the main beach. I just wish I had taken notice of the darn feature installed in the footpath near my tent.

That evening we had a big bonfire on the beach, and things started to get interesting with all the bottles of beer and cheep wine and spirits making their way to the party, stock never seemed to run out, as people made top-up runs to the convenience store frequently. We weren’t the only group on the beach either, and every few meters a group of people could be found busy with similar activities. Pretty soon all these parties and groups started spilling into each other and it became one big drunken nest.

At about midnight it became an uncomfortable gathering, with open fires, drunk people, egos fueled by alcohol, etc. and I decided to make my way to my tent. The camp site was quiet, and all the tents almost seemed deserted. In bed by a decent-ish hour, I almost immediately dozed off. Surely I would be well rested the next morning, or would I?

It was about 2am when I woke up in shock. Somewhere a Korean song was blaring out loudly, and some men could be heard drunkenly mumbling with to the tune, belching out the choruses, before returning to drunken muttering. There was no way I would be able to sleep in this racket.

I decided to investigate, and that’s when I so the damn thing! Halfway between my tent and the ablution block, the feature surrounded by the four middle-aged Korean men, turned out to be an outdoor Jukebox. It only had a choice of 5 songs, but boy did it have volume. The whole thing didn’t look like a Jukebox at first glance, it simply looked like a campsite decorative feature. The 4 men played all five songs, and sang along as loudly as they could, while I tried my best to block the tormenting sound from my ears and get back to sleep. After the last song finished it got quiet again and I could try to sleep again.

Eventually I managed to fall asleep, and would manage to sleep in a little if no-one else discovered the true purpose of the decorative campsite ornament. But that was perhaps too naïve a hope. It must’ve been right after sunrise when a couple of mischievous children started playing a game of press the button and go hide, just to repeat the game after the song had finished.

It was evident that there was no more sleep to be had, with a combination of the noise from the boombox, the sun brightly shining into my tent, and the other campers starting to scurry about, I would definitely not have been able to fall asleep again. I went and sat on a plastic chair by a plastic table in front of the convenience store next to the beach, drinking the one convenience store instant coffee after the other, looking into the small waves, and trying to cheer myself up despite the lack of sleep. I also ate an ice cream sandwich for breakfast that morning, because I needed all the help I could get to seem alive. Not a happy camper!


On Sunday our trip leader decided to spoil us by taking us to a very special festival. Economically Namhae Island depends on tourism and agriculture. In fact, its most famous produce is none other than - garlic. For that reason they also annually host the Namhae Garlic Festival. Now if you haven’t guessed it yet, garlic is a big deal! There is a special garlic research centre on the island, and that is exactly where the festival was held. One could find the usual garlic fare, like dried garlic, crushed garlic and garlic flakes; the more unusual products like garlic tea, garlic soda, garlic jellies, and chocolate covered garlic; and then there were also the really bizarre garlic bouquets and arrangements, garlic photo benches and children's garlic themed artworks. I just hoped that no one wanted to take a bundle of tried garlic on the bus with us back to Seoul.

6 Jun 2017

Deur die Geel See / Crossing the Yellow Sea


(Scroll down for English)

Ek was al skaars 2 maande in Korea en ek was lus om bietjie meer as net my dorp te verken. Die enigste hindernis was die feit dat ek nog nie ’n selfoon, bankrekening of Suid Koreaanse ID-dokument gehad nie, o ja, en dat ek feitlik geen Koreans kon praat, lees of verstaan nie. Dit het beteken dat as ek wou reis ek noukeurig moes beplan, en niks beter verkeerd loop nie. Dis mos maklik!

’n Vriend en ek het afgespreek dat ons saam na die eerste fees van die seisoen sou gaan. Dit vind plaas heel aan die Suide van die land op ’n klein eilandjie genaamd Jindo. Dit staan bekend as die “Jindo Sea Parting Festival”. Jy’t reg gelees, see skeiding, soos met Moses en die Israeliete. 

Dit is nou nie ’n bonatuurlike verskynsel soos die in die Bybel nie, vir hierdie een is daar wel ’n logiese verduideliking. Dit is eintlik net ’n baie lae gety wat as gevolg van die maan se wenteling en afstand selfs laer as ’n gewone lae gety is. The fenomeen duur vir omtrent ’n week of so, maar die Saterdag van die fees is dit veronderstel om die laagste te wees, laag genoeg dat mens op droë grond vanaf die strand vir byna ’n kilometer die see in tot by ’n nabygeleë eilandjie kan stap en terug. Wie sal nie so iets wil beleef nie?

Dit is toe afgespreek, ek en my vriend gaan Jindo toe. Daar is egter die klein kwessie dat ons twee 5 ure per bus van mekaar af woon en dinge fyn moes beplan om mekaar op die bushalte in Jindo te kry. Hy het omtrent ’n week voor my in Korea arriveer, en ek dink hy het dalk net ’n foon gekry, maar dit help nie rerig as ek nie ook een het nie.

Ons busritte het toe darem uitgewerk en toe ek die Vrydag aand by Jindo se bushalte aankom het hy reeds daar vir my gewag. Met die hulp van sy splinternuwe slimfoon se kaart toepassing het ons ook vinnig ons hotel gevind en was ons gereed om te verken!

Saterdag het vinnig aangebreek en dit was tyd vir die fees om te begin. Daar was ’n paar dinge van die fees wat ek nie heeltemal verwag het nie. Eerstens het ek nie verwag dat daar soveel mense sou wees nie, letterlike duisende. Tweedens het ek ook nie gedink daar gaan ’n man in outydse kleed, sandale, lang grys baard en boonop met ’n staf in sy hand aan die voorpunt van ’n  skare mense staan nie. Agter hom was musikante met simbale, dromme, trompette, en klokkies, ook geklee in outydse drag. Dit was sowaar ’n viering van die destydse deurtog van die Israeliete deur die Rietsee.

Korea is ’n baie gelowige nasie, en toegewyd tot die verskillende gelowe wat hul daar beoefen, so dit maak seker sin dat as daar ’n droë pad deur die see oop maak, hulle hul geloof daaraan sal koppel. Ek wonder nogal by myself watse simboliese uittog hul vier tydens die fees, of is dit ’n toekomstige uitkoms vir die land, wanneer Noord en Suid kan herenig, wat hul wil voorstel.

Dit daar gelaat. Ons is agter die “Israeliete” aan, see in, al die pad tot by die einlandjie. Daar het ons ’n oomblik gehad om ons deurtog te vier, voor ons maar weer moes terug deur die Geel see, voordat die gety inkom en ons daar halfpad betrap. ’n Honderd meter voordat ons terug is op die vasteland het die gety sterk begin inkom, die water was ysig koud en het mens se voete byna dadelik laat kramp. Die water het die ongelyke klippe toegespoel en die vordering nog bemoeilik, ek het op die ou-end kuit-diep deur die ysige water gesukkel voordat ek teen ’n paar hoër rotse uitgeklim en droë grond bereik het.

Al wat nou nog voorgelê het was ’n beker lekker koffie, lekker warem Koreaanse kos wat eie is aan die streek en tuur na die eiland en die see, waar die pad ’n rukkie gelede oopgelê het. Hierdie geleentheid was net ’n voorskou van als wat hierdie klein landjie als gehad het om te bied.
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Die Musikante / The Musicians


Die droë weg / The dry path
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I had only been in Korea for a little shy of 2 months, and I wanted to explore a little farther than just my own town. The only obstacle to my exploring was the fact that I still didn’t have a phone, bank account, or Korean Alien Registration Card, oh and my lack of Korean language skills. That meant that if I wanted to travel, planning would be of utmost importance, and if anything went wrong I would proverbially be screwed. No big deal!

A friend and I agreed to go to the first festival of the season together. It would take place at the very South-West tip of South Korea on an Island named Jindo. The festival is known as the “Jindo Sea Parting Festival”. Yes, you read that right, sea parting, like with Moses and the Israelites!

It’s not a supernatural occurrence like in the Bible though, there was a perfectly logical explanation for the sea parting at Jindo. It’s basically just a really low tide, caused by the Moon’s orbit of earth the tide would be much lower than usual. This phenomenon lasts for a week or so, but on the Saturday of the festival it was supposed to be very low, enough so that a dry path of about a kilometre would open up between Jindo and a tiny island off its coast. Who would want to miss an opportunity like this?

Agreed, my friend and I would go to Jindo. There was however another little issue - we lived 5 hours by bus away from each other and would not be able to travel together, but would have to meet there. So things would have to be planned really well. He had arrived in Korea about a week before I did, so by that time he had just gotten a phone, but that didn’t help us since I didn’t have one.

The bus schedules eventually worked out quite well, and when I arrived at the bus terminal in Jindo on Friday night, he had already been waiting there for me. With the help of his smartphone’s maps we were able to then easily find our hotel.

Saturday had arrived and it was time for the festival to start. I don’t know exactly what I expected to see at the festival, but there were some things I didn’t expect. Firstly, I didn’t expect so many people, literally thousands of festival goers. Secondly, I did not expect to see a man, clad in a robe and sandals, sporting a long grey beard and holding a wooden staff, to lead the procession through the sea. On his heels were a group of musicians with cymbals, drums, trumpets, and bells, also wearing robes and sandals. It was actually a reenactment of the Israelites' crossing of the Red Sea.

Korea is quite a religious nation, and very devout, regardless which religion they practice, so it probably makes sense that if a dry path opens up through the sea it would get connected to religion in one form or the other. I then started to wonder what symbolism this crossing held for the people taking part in the procession, was it a celebration of deliverance they had experienced, or a prayer for deliverance they stilled longed for, maybe reunification?

Enough about that. We followed the “Israelites” into the sea, all the way to the little island. Once there we had a short moment to celebrate our crossing of the Yellow Sea before we had to start walking back to the coast, lest we get caught by the incoming tide. About a hundred metres from the coast the tide started coming in fast, the water was freezing and almost immediately caused one’s feet to cramp up and go numb. The water started covering the uneven path, making progress even slower. I eventually walked calf-deep in the icy water until I could clamber up a higher rock and walk onto dry land.

All that remained to do then was to get a nice hot mug of coffee, hot local Korean food, and to gaze over at the island and the ocean where, just a short while ago, a dry path had lain. This festival was just a preview to what amazing adventures and sites this little country has to offer.