Back in September my co-workers and I had a meeting to discuss our school trip.  There were many ideas on the table, ranging from island hikes to temple visits to traveling to multiple cities, but I didn’t know quite what was in store for me until I was picked up on Thursday morning.  Our itinerary, a five page packet, was written entirely in Korean.  I couldn’t be bothered to translate it, so I opted to just roll with whatever was thrown my way.

Fellow foreign teachers in Korea, consider this your warming: regardless of their age, all of your Korean co-teachers can out eat, drink, and party you.  The activities are never-ending. They will not stop, and they will not show you any mercy.

Our general route from Boseong to Geumodo…followed by Yeosu, Suncheon Bay, and the Naganeupseong Folk Village.

The morning began innocently enough.  After managing a last-minute washing machine delivery (don’t ask), two of my other co-workers and I were picked up bright at early by our school’s bus driver, Seokoh-ssi.  His van had two seats in the front and an open back, so my two co-teachers kicked off their shoes and sat on blankets while I was ushered into the front seat.

We began with a three hour drive to Geumodo Island (금오도) where we met with the rest of our staff at the ferry port.  We purchased tickets and all hopped aboard the 10:45 ferry, except for Seokoh-ssi who was coming across with his van.  He needed to wait for the next ferry as there were too many cars, so we popped into a pavilion and had some snacks and beer wile we waited.

All aboard!  People and cars in a jumbled line, waiting to board.
Some of my co-teachers and I on the ferry over to Geumodo.
My co-teacher and I, safe and dry on the island.

Soon we were all reunited, and all twelve of us piled into the van!  We drove entirely across the island to our lunch destination, which consisted of a massive, multi-course seafood buffet.  I tried snails for the first time (which are actually pretty good!) as well as a variety of other sea plants and critters.  The main course was hoe (회, pronounced ‘hweh’), or Korean-style raw fish.

The spread of side-dishes that accompanied all our main courses.  Unlimited refills!

Hoe, Korean-style raw fish and a crab somehow found a home among the side-dishes too.

After lunch, we all piled in the car again and set off for the beach, where we would start our hike.  The island isn’t particularly well-known, so sometimes entering information into the GPS can be difficult.  My teachers couldn’t get it to pick up on the beach’s location, so I ended up guiding them there by using the location tracking on my phone and navigating the roads on Google Maps.  With nine voices shouting from the back attempting to translate English into Korean for the teacher driving, we did end up with a few wrong turns!  But fortunately the island is small and relatively easy to navigate, so we found ourselves at the start of the trail in no time.

Even the docks are pretty here.

While 3km (1.86mi) isn’t really all that far, the estimated time to complete the hike was posted as 45 minutes!  The entirety of the hike is up very steep, narrow, winding paths on the mountains that lead to various look out points.  While I had tennis shoes with me, my teachers were shocked that I opted to hike the entire way in Birkenstocks.  All in all, it was very beautiful, but absolutely exhausting!

My vice principal, leading the way.

One of the many look-out points along the trail

Our destination is the little beach in that inlet, but we still had a ways to go!

We were very close to the top of the mountain too.

…Looking at this photo, I’m just now realizing that we’re supposed to look like we’re falling.  In the moment I was just told to copy what everyone else was doing, haha.

At the end of the hike, we found ourselves at a quieter beach tucked into a cove.  There was a small convenience store where we bought ice cream and makeoli (마거리), which is a type of Korean rice wine.  After our break, my vice principal and some of the other teachers were still raring to go, so they headed off on a second 2km hike that continued southeast from where we were.  The remaining teachers and I wandered along the rocks and cooled our feet in the water while we waiting for Seokoh-ssi to run and grab his van for us. 

80% of the way through!

This was the last section of the hike, and also my favorite.  I love the grasses that grow here!

Thoroughly exhausted, we all piled into the back of the van and began making our way off the island.  When I asked my co-teacher what was next, she explained that we were heading to Yeosu (여수) for dinner.  At the ferry port, we all split up into our respective carpool groups again, and it was just my three co-workers and I left in the van.  So much more leg room when you only have four people instead of twelve!  At the restaurant, it was another seafood-themes meal centered around an amazing spicy fish soup.  Every time I eat a meal with a Korean (friend, co-worker, doesn’t matter), I’m always asked if I can handle the spiciness of the food.  With fish dishes like these though, I find the thin, sharp fish bones to be more dangerous!

The sunset views on our ferry ride back were beautiful.

After dinner I thought we might go for a drink somewhere (or maybe even the notorious norebang (노래방) for some karaoke.  But my teachers had done their research, and a bowling alley was next on our list.  There are no bumper lane options in Korea, and across all genders my teachers had a wide range of bowling talent.  Some achieved success by managing to get the ball down the lane without ending up in the gutter, and others were nailing strike after strike.  It was all in good fun though, and at 11PM we were finally heading back to our hotel for the night.

Haven’t been bowling since high school…and sadly my score reflected that…

The hotel was incredibly nice, and we were assigned two to a room.  Originally the vice principal wanted to room with me, but then she said she realized I would probably have a better time if I was partnered up with my co-teacher, who can speak more English and is very close to me in age.

The bathroom was massive and had a huge rain shower too!

Just as I was about to collapse into my bed, exhausted, my co-teacher informed me we were only checking into the hotel to brush our teeth from dinner.  It was already very late, but everyone wanted to go to a norebang!  I was beyond exhausted, and when we all met downstairs I was given the option to stay at the hotel in sleep…but I could see how badly my teachers wanted me to come, and I didn’t want to disappoint.

I was told we would only be going for about an hour, but my teachers ended up staying until 1:30AM!  Normally I’ve found karaoke rooms to be a lot of fun when I’ve gone with my friends, but I forgot about the age gap between my teachers and I.  My teachers are all older, and are huge lovers of trot (트로트) which is a genre of old Korean pop music.

You guys, I’ve tried, I really have, but I have an absolute, passionate hatred of trot music.  If you want to subject yourself to it, there’s an hour-long compilation video here.  On top of that, they don’t know as many American songs.  Those that they do know are from my parents’ generation, so I felt awkward singing songs that no one knew or understood.  On top of being absolutely exhausted and having a headache at 1:30AM, I didn’t have much patience for it.

Eventually though my teachers were ready to go, and we all piled into the van to go back to the hotel.  Fortunately breakfast went until 9:30AM and my teachers weren’t looking to have as early of a day the second time around, so we got to sleep in until 9AM.  After breakfast and check out, it was off to our third destination: Suncheon Bay (순천만)!

We on a boat.

Wishes hung by visitors from all over the world on our way in.

Suncheon Bay is a beautiful protected wetlands and national park.  It has gorgeous reed beds and rice fields, a plethora of wildlife, and great views.  I asked my co-teacher if we would be hiking again, and she told me no.

On the boardwalk through the wetlands.

One of the farms neighboring the nature preserve.

Just kidding.  There’s always hiking!  Fortunately for my legs it was a relatively leisurely walk up a mountain path, though I did take the “difficult” route with my vice principal and the other energetic co-teachers from yesterday.  The views were truly worth it though!

Nearing the top of the mountain.

Making our way back through the wetlands.

After Suncheon Bay, we all jumped into our respective cars and headed off for lunch.  This was the last official stop on our school trip.  We stuffed ourselves with another fish dish and wrapped up with a coffee before we all slowly headed off on our separate ways.  My three other co-teachers and I piled into the van once away, and I stared sleepily out the window at the beautiful countryside lit up by the afternoon sun.

Pretty much any soup this color tastes delicious.  Hurray for Korean pepper paste!

As we drove, I was wondering why Seokoh-ssi wasn’t taking the high way back.  The particular route he was on wasn’t even the most direct route back to Boseong…something was up.  Sure enough, we pulled off the main road next to a giant mountain and came to a stop in a parking lot.  My co-teachers hopped out, and while I was crossing my fingers for a bathroom break, it turned out there was one more unofficial stop on our list.

At the entrance to the 낙안읍성 Folk Village

The Naganeupseong Folk Village (낙안읍성민속마을) is located between Suncheon and Boseong, and is an old fortress village made up of a castle and surrounding homes.  Around 100 families still live within the grounds themselves in the traditional Korean homes, even though it is open to tourists.

The entrance gate to the fortress. 

Waterwheel outside one of the buildings at sunset.

Overlooking the village at sunset.  The pots are used for fermenting kimchi (a Korean cabbage dish)

Initially I didn’t want to stop since I was so tired, but my co-teachers are hilarious and we ended up having a really good time.  It was also that ‘golden hour’ time of day close to sunset, so the entire village was bathed with rich autumn colors.  Seokoh-ssi bought all of us ice cream, and when one of my co-teachers expressed interest in the handmade bamboo mugs a vendor had for sale, he surprised us in the car with one for each of us!

One of my co-teachers at the grain grinding station.

Halt!  Throwing criminals in the nearby jail.

My co-teachers and I with our bamboo mugs from Seokoh-ssi

After the Folk Village, I was still tired but in a much better mood.  This time we were actually on our way home, and it only took about half an hour to get back to Boseong.  Despite being so worn out, I had an awesome time with me co-workers and was more than impressed with their stamina!  I got to see a pretty sizable chunk of the country in a short amount of time, and it was still Friday when I arrived home.  Though I have to say, now I’ll know what to expect and can brace myself accordingly!

Driving home to Boseong…finally!