Dinosaurs on Sado Island, South Korea

Last weekend Nicole and I visited Sado Island with a bunch of friends. It’s a small island a few hours by ferry from Yeosu. Saturday morning Nicole and I packed up our things and took a bus to a cab to a ferry and two hours later we showed up on scenic Sado Island. The island is tiny. It takes maybe 30 minutes to walk all the way around the island. There are perhaps 40 people there, most of them seemingly over the age of 70. When we arrived on the island we also arrived on the only road on the island. Sado road. It’s about 1000 feet and it doesn’t really go anywhere. There was one car on the island, why? I don’t know.

The island is famous for its dinosaur footprints, fossils, and beautiful scenery. Scattered all over the island there are giant fiberglass dinosaurs. Walking around the island was like walking through Jurassic Park on pause. A great experience. We stayed at a minbok, a small guesthouse room where you sleep on blankets on the ground. The last time Nicole and I did that was nearly two years ago on Oedaldo. The proprietor of the minbok, an old woman who looked like she actually lived amongst the dinosaurs, met us at the concrete wall where the ferry dropped us off. She had a two-wheeled cart from the middle ages and offered to carry all of our luggage on it. We politely declined but she ignored us and put our bags in anyways. Off we went slowly following a woman old enough that she might have followed Moses through the deserts of Egypt. She led us to her minbok and gestured us towards our rooms. We unpacked and explored the island a bit. Half of our group was staying at the minbok and the other half was camping on the beach.

That night we met up with the rest of our group on the beach and cooked up some food on their campfire. There was only one store on the island and it was only open when the guy who owned it felt like opening it, so we brought all our food and supplies for the weekend and stocked up on bottled water when the owner decided he felt like opening the store.

Our whole trip was only two days, Saturday and Sunday but it was a blast. We hiked, cooked out on the beach and got to climb along the rocky shore of the island. I definitely recommend this island. It’s one of the most beautiful islands I’ve visited in Korea and one of the quietest as well. I plan to return there at some point before leaving Korea in August.

Oedaldo Island (외달도)

This weekend we went to Oedaldo Island for a weekend trip. When it comes to nature trips there are two general kinds in Korea, at least that I’ve observed: Island trips and Mountain trips. Korea isn’t that big and it’s really mountainous so whatever isn’t a mountain is often a beach or an island.

Both trips are fun in their own ways. Mountain trips are lots of hiking with gear and camping on the top of a mountain. You bring your own food, sleeping bag, or tent. Sometimes you can rent the equipment, but that requires a level of Korean that I do not have…yet.

Mokpo Seaside
Mokpo Seaside

Nicole and I opted for the latter, an island trip. We met up with my co-teachers, Kayla, Patrick, Will, and Ted at the bus terminal and took a bus to Mokpo, a port town on the west coast of South Korea. Mokpo is an important port city because it’s a great halfway point between China and Japan, so it gets a lot of commercial shipping traffic. For tourists though, Mokpo represents a gateway to many of Korea’s beautiful islands.

A bridge near Mokpo
A bridge near Mokpo

From the bus terminal we took a cab to the ferry terminal and boarded a ferry for Oedaldo. The ride to Mokpo from Gwangju is about an hour by bus then another hour on the ferry to Oedaldo island.

Ferry to Oedaldo
Ferry to Oedaldo

Once we arrived, we set out to find our lodging. We were staying at a minbok, which is like a guesthouse. People rent rooms in minboks, which are usually part of someone’s house. Each room tends to be large and sparsely furnished, very sparsely, like no beds. Everyone sleeps in the same room on the ground on futon-like mats or thick blankets depending on the minbok. The advantage to minbok’s, aside from the fact that they are traditional, is that they are cheap, like $10 a night cheap if you get enough people into it. Our whole group comprised ten people, more would be joining later, so we spent next to nothing to sleep there. The downside being we shared one bathroom between all of us and basically spooned all night because there was that little room.

Peter sleeping in the Minbok Wardrobe
Peter sleeping in the Minbok Wardrobe

Oedaldo is a very small island. You can circumnavigate it in under an hour. It has a small water park with lots of Koreans in full body swimsuits, a little village, and a beach and that’s about it. After we left the minbok we went to a little restaurant to have some lunch. The restaurant was one of the highest points on the island with a little outdoor eating area so you could see out over the rest of the village from there. A lot of the other Korean patrons at the restaurant brought their own food and sort of “rented” space at the restaurant just using the tables to prepare their own food with a nice view to boot.

Lunch...all of the sides
Lunch…all of the sides for $6/person

After lunch we went for a walk on this little path that wraps around the island. It was really beautiful. Along the path was the beach to the left and the mountain and forest to our right. Halfway around the island we came across a little lighthouse and stopped for some pics. The foliage and landscape of the island reminded me a lot of Maine, while the food, people, and architecture were very much Korean. It was a strange dichotomy.

From Lighthouse to Beach
From Lighthouse to Beach

The walking path we took led us to the beach where we spent the afternoon enjoying beverages by the water and floating in tubes. After a bit the rest of our group who had taken a separate ferry joined us and we were all reunited. Nicole and I went for a short walk mid afternoon and when we returned the tide had come in and the beach had disappeared, leaving only the concrete steps and picnic tables left over. Nicole and I hung out watching the waves and chatting while eating cheap ramen.

Oedaldo Lighthouse
Oedaldo Lighthouse (from left to right Will, Kayla, Patrick, Will)

That night we all returned to the place we ate lunch at, one of a handful of restaurants on the island. At this point I should explain a few things about Korean culture of the rest of the story won’t make sense.

In Korea there’s a custom called “service” where if you spend enough money at a shop, bar, restaurant, the proprietor will give you something for free or “for service”. Basically this means “you’ve spent enough money here, you’re cool with me, enjoy”. At a bar this is often means free chips with your round of beers. At a restaurant this can mean a free drink with your meal. One time I bought a whale shirt at a store and I got a t-shirt with sparrows on it for free.

The total number of people who had come with us to this restaurant was close to ten and we each had a meal there plus several beverages for the table so our total bill was close to $300, a king’s ransom by Korean standards and more food and drink than we could possibly imagine. Consequently, and partly because the restaurant owner was the daughter of the minbok owner, we received a free additional room at the minbok, a $100 value. Here’s to Korea.

After our several hour dinner we wandered the island and sat by the water talking about life and english curriculum, the usual when English teachers get together. At the end of the night everyone had forgotten about the bonus minbok room aside from Peter, our lovable Korean co-teacher, who had the bonus room to himself while the 9 of us shared the other room.