Of Camels and Sand Dunes in the Rocky Gobi

Our second morning in the desert got off to an early start. We were up and dressed by about seven, and were soon presented with breakfast: a sort of porridge made with meat and what appeared to be suet, accompanied by meat dumplings. Meat is a huge part of the diet in the Gobi, and everywhere in Mongolia, so we saw a lot of it over the next few days. After breakfast we finished packing the last of our stuff into the van, said goodbye to our hosts, and rolled over to the nearby Gandanchoinhorlin monastery.

Saying goodbye to the family

Saying goodbye to the family

Our translator took us on a brief tour of the little enclosure and then we were off heading south further into the Gobi.

The outside of the monastery enclosure. (We were not allowed to take photos inside)

The outside of the monastery enclosure. (We were not allowed to take photos inside)

We hadn’t been driving more than twenty minutes when he spun the wheel left and took us bouncing off the track across the Gobi until we stopped at a ger. After a few toots on the horn, a young man came out and held the dog while we went into the ger. There was a very elderly couple inside and they served us tea and camel milk curds as soon as we sat down. Camel milk curds have a similar texture to a really hard cheese, but are actually quite sour. A few minutes later the lady added sugar cubes to our bowls and Blake ate his curd with a sugar cube – bite of curd, bite of sugar – which made it a lot more palatable. We were only there for about fifteen minutes before we were out the door and driving across the desert again. This was not a scheduled stop, or one of the families we were supposed to visit. To this day we have no idea who they are or why we stopped there.

We spent the better part of the next two hours heading further south into the desert and soaking up the views. It was fascinating to watch as the scenery became more and more desert-like.

Checking out the changing scenery during a rest stop.

Checking out the changing scenery during a rest stop.

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After a little searching we found the family we would spend the afternoon with herding goats and stopped to watch while they finished what they were doing. After that we were taken to the ger for lunch, a meat and noodle soup, before they brought in their camel herd to be milked.

The two little girls insisted that we put our arms in certain baby camels’ mouths, and later tried to trick us into offering up our arms to some of the meaner ones.

They brought in the baby camels and tied them up first.

They brought in the baby camels and tied them up first.

Because they were young their bite did not really hurt.

Because they were young their bite did not really hurt.

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There were two little girls there who Tamara immediately made friends with and a younger boy as well. They were all eager to show us their camels and help us try to figure out the trick to milking them. We were not good at it. You have to stand on one leg, brace the bucket on your knee, and then get a certain rhythm going to really be a productive milker. Also, the baby camel is on the other side so you have to keep the young one from taking your side of the udder. It was a really interesting experience.

After the camels were all milked we were taken back inside the ger to sample the product of our labour. It was really, really sour and did not sit well in our stomachs. Sadly, We may have slightly offended the family because we were not able to finish the cup that we were given. It just was not happening without dire consequences for the remainder of our trip.

Our first Ger experience.

Our first Ger experience.

The families goat herd. Tamara was very excited about seeing so many goats.

The family’ goat herd. Tamara was very excited about seeing so many goats.

We left that family in the mid-afternoon and continued our journey southwards. Another hour or so brought us to the ger where we would spend the night. This ger had only one couple and a small girl about seven years old. As in all our previous stops, we were served tea immediately when we arrived along with something that is like a cross between bannock and a bagel. We had it several times throughout the trip. It is quite heavy and oily, but pretty good dipped in tea. After this refreshment we headed out in the van to take in a few of the local sights.

This area was the driest and most deserty that we saw for our trip and it was cool that we got to spend a bit of time checking out a few different parts of it. Our first stop was an old destroyed monastery. It was really neat to check this out. There was no roof left anywhere, just the shell of old clay and brick walls. We would have liked to stay a little longer but our little guide kept insisting that it was time to head back to the jeep. It was clearly a pretty extensive complex at one time. Originally established to be near the Uush Sand Dune, it was destroyed by the Soviets when they attempted to purge Buddhism from Mongolia in the 1940s.

From the monastery we looped around a set of rocky hills where our host led us into a very narrow, albeit short, canyon. After climbing for a ways he pointed out the opening of a cave in the rocks. Blake went further up the canyon and then crabbed across part of the rocks and into the cave, startling flocks of pigeons which resulted in some pretty erratic dodging efforts on his part. He got far enough back in the cave to see that a shaft ran vertically up to the top of the hill and continued much further down into the mountain. However, continued incursions by the pigeons, and as he went deeper bats, eventually drove him back out to join the rest of the group and head back for the van.

Our last stop was Uush (pronounced Oh-sh) sand dune. After parking at the bottom, our host signed that we were to take off our footwear and head up barefoot. We dropped our boots at the bottom and started to climb. It is actually pretty high and climbing in sand is not all that easy so we stopped twice for breaks. During one of these, he showed us that we should cover our legs in the sand and lie back on it because it is supposed to be good for joints and kidneys. It was super fine and dry and was actually pretty comfortable once you got settled in. Eventually we got to the crest. Our guide stopped there and we continued up the crest towards the higher parts of the dune to get a bit of a view of the surrounding area. It really was beautiful and standing on that sand dune was pretty cool. There was a bit of a breeze that carried fine sand in it (that’s how the dune was formed after all) so sunglasses were a huge bonus while we were up there. Sadly, Tamara had dropped hers in a pit toilet during the bus ride down so she was forced to squint a fair bit.

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Once we had relaxed and thoroughly satisfied our curiosity about the dune we headed back down to the van. (One of the tricky things about our trip was that the language gap meant that we were never entirely sure how much time we were supposed to take at any given point). We headed back to the ger and arrived just in time to enjoy a dinner of noodles and meat, although this time without broth. These dishes are surprisingly good given the limited ingredients the nomads have to work with. Basically, it was just homemade noodles, meat and salt mixed together, but it was delicious. This was served with goats’ milk tea which is also very tasty. We really appreciated this tradition of immediately serving people tea when they arrive at a ger, as the process is very welcoming. After dinner we looked at a bunch of pictures of the family and the various guests they had entertained over the years and showed them some pictures of our trip thus far. They had turned on a movie on the tiny portable DVD player, so the husband, daughter and our driver were all huddled around that off to one side while we were entertained by the mother. We set up our tent in the lee of the van just before dark and, after relaxing in the ger for a little longer, we headed out for the night.

It was incredible how lonely the ger looked when you got some distance away and realized how empty and huge the area really was

It was incredible how lonely the ger looked when you got some distance away and realized how empty and huge the area really was.

Tamara helping with dishes after dinner.

Tamara helping with dishes after dinner.

Our tent was tucked just on the other side of the van.

Our tent was tucked just on the other side of the van.

It was amazing to see stars again after all of our time in Korean cities. We spent some time just wandering with our necks craned back and took a few pictures before finally retiring for the night.

Ger at sunset

Ger at sunset.

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The Gobi – Ulaanbaatar to Gurvansaikhan

Our trip to the Gobi started pretty early, and after munching on a few pastries we had picked up the night before, our Zaya’s driver arrived to pick us up and we hustled out to the Dragon Bus Stop on the west side of town. Our driver helped us find the correct bus and we settled in as more and more people piled on. We headed out a little after nine. Ours was part of a line of buses leaving the station and an interesting thing occurred as we left. There was a woman seated on the steps at the front of the bus as there was no other available seat. At a wave from a woman crossing in front, the lady on the steps jumped up and hurried back into the bus behind us. Moments later a uniformed official of some sort boarded our bus, checked the driver’s paperwork, scanned the passengers, and jumped off. We pulled out onto the main road and the woman emerged from behind us to share the fold-down seat with the relief driver in the stairwell for the remainder of the journey. It was very interesting because she was clearly hiding from the official, but perhaps even more interesting is that everyone on the bus accepted this as completely OK and normal. Someone behind us must have allowed her to crouch down by their legs or else she would have been spotted. It was really interesting to see.

That was only the beginning of a very revealing trip. After the first thirty minutes we were out of the city and getting our first real glimpse of the steppe, which was beautiful. Not very long after that, we hit the end of the pavement. Not the end of the highway, the end of the pavement. From UB to Mandelgovi is just under 300KM. It took us about seven hours to cover that distance and, once we were off the pavement, there was no sleeping on that bus.

Our first rest stop was our first real chance to view the steppe. It was pretty impressive.

Our first rest stop was our first real chance to view the steppe. It was pretty impressive.

This is the "highway" between Ulaanbaatar and Mandelgovi. As you can see there was a bit of a choose your own adventure feel to it.

This is the “highway” between Ulaanbaatar and Mandelgovi. As you can see there was a bit of a choose your own adventure feel to it.

And yes the large public bus was going down this road.

And yes the large public bus was going down this road.

We did eventually reach Mandelgovi where we were met by a man who turned out to be our driver in an old Russian van.

Our chariot.

Our chariot.

He also turned out to speak only two or three words of English. There was a bunch of confusion around another lady’s trip (she had come down on the bus with us and was supposed to travel with Ger to Ger but ultimately decided that it was too risky to travel on her own when her cell phone died), but we eventually headed off into the desert. This was our first chance to really have a look at the Gobi landscape. Mandelgovi is in the northernmost parts of the desert and as we travelled in a big southern loop over the next few days we saw how much drier things are south of the city. Even to the north things are not as lush as they appear in some of our pictures. While it appears that all the hills are covered in a blanket of grass, looking down when actually standing in the desert, you can see that it is patches of grass/weeds among much larger patches of rock. The Gobi is a rocky desert rather than a sand desert, which is probably why the “roads” are comparably good compared to much of the rest of the country.

The ride was certainly a little bumpy

The ride was certainly a little bumpy but pretty comfortable.

After about an hour we arrived at the village we would stay in for the night: Gurvansaikhan. Our driver pulled into a small compound with a couple of small buildings and we were introduced to the first family we would stay with. The parents were away in China so we were hosted by their 20ish year old daughter who spoke next to no English. Because our driver also spoke no English, the first part of our stay there was a little difficult to navigate as it was entirely in sign language. However, a short time later a relative (cousin?) came by to act as a translator. She had finished high school the year before and was preparing to go to UB for university. We had a dinner of little pieces of mutton mixed with rice accompanied by even more cups of tea.

After this we went for a walk around the village with our translator as a guide. We climbed a hill beside town and from there could get a really good view of the village and surrounding countryside. It was a really small place, really just a dot on the landscape, and was surrounded by rolling hills stretching away to the horizons. Although we did not really grasp it at the time, this would become familiar landscape to us over the next four days. Because we were a little north of Mandelgovi, the scenery was more reminiscent of the steppe than the desert. We were travelling in the rainy season, so things were nice and green compared to other times of the year.

The last part of the evening was spent learning how to play shagai, a game that uses the ankle bones of sheep as the pieces. There are several different versions, but our favourite was one that involved tossing the bones out and then having to flick them into one another based on the side that comes up. It is actually quite difficult, as the shape of the bones prevents them from moving in straight lines.

Playing Shagai

Playing Shagai

The rest of the evening was spent talking with the family, looking at photo albums, and playing with the kids. Our beds for the night were in the building adjacent to the house in the family compound and we were settled in there by ten. We were pretty fuzzy-headed after the long, bumpy bus ride and were more than ready for sleep by this time.

Ulaanbaatar, Round 1

Day 1

Our first full day in UB saw us up by about 6:00 getting ready. Staying in a guest house with shared bathrooms meant that this was a huge advantage. We were ready to go and pretty well first in line for the free breakfast before most of our hostel mates were even stirring! Following a delicious breakfast of eggs, toast, fruit, and coffee, we headed out to see a few of the sights. We knew that today was going to be a day that we spent in the town centre as we were looking for a place to stay when we returned from our Gobi Desert foray. (In an effort to keep our options open for the last third of our trip we had opted not to book everything ahead despite it being tourist season. Big mistake!)

Zaya's had a great breakfast spread included.

Zaya’s had a great breakfast spread included.

Before we tackled that problem we hit up Sukhbaatar Square where there is, surprise, surprise, a statue of Sukhbaatar in a plaza in front of the government buildings. On the front steps of the government buildings there is a huge statue of Chinggis Khan guarding the entrance way. It is interesting, although perhaps not surprising, that Chinggis Khan is a hero in Mongolia. It was fascinating to see how much he permeated the tourism industry. Even the airport is named after him!

In front of the Sukhbaatar statue

In front of the Sukhbaatar statue

Sukhbaatar Statue

Sukhbaatar Statue

Chinggis Khaan

Chinggis Khaan

B&T in front of the steps to government house.

B&T in front of the steps to the government house.

After wandering around the square for a bit we stopped at 40K Bistro (apparently named after the 40,000 apartments the Soviets built nearby) to peruse Lonely Planet for some accommodation options. The remainder of our morning and most of our afternoon went to sorting this out. We took a break for lunch in a place down a side street called Cafe Venus. Our experience here was our first real taste of a fact that became increasingly obvious: we, as foreigners, were not really that welcome in UB. Although it was empty when we first arrived, the cafe quickly began to fill up with locals. Every time a new group arrived, they would spot us, pause for a second then sit as far away as possible. It has been a long time since we had that many dirty looks thrown at us while dining. We did get to try some traditional style food though.

We finally found space in the Golden Gobi guest house just in time to head to the Ger to Ger offices for our trip orientation. We arrived there at about 3:45 and did not leave until well after 8:00. It was a nightmare orientation (as will be described in another post on Ger to Ger) but we had already paid for the trip so we sat it out, finalised our arrangements and then hit up Delhi Darbar for some pretty decent Indian food before we sacked out. So a good morning but a frustrating afternoon for our first full day in Mongolia.

This statue was outside the Ger to Ger building. Tamara's face about sums up our feelings after orientation.

This statue was outside the Ger to Ger building. Tamara’s face about sums up our feelings after orientation.

Day 2

Day two was a much better experience. Once again we were up early and some of the first people at breakfast. We managed to talk with Amir (the manager at Zaya’s) and arranged a ride to the bus station for our Gobi departure the next day, and a ride out to the Soviet Memorial for fallen soldiers immediately. Our start on this little journey was made interesting by the fact that the car did not even twitch when the driver turned the key. No problem. A little sign language and I am in the front seat turning the key while our driver holds the spare battery from the trunk upside down to line up the contacts with the one in the car. A bit unorthodox, but effective! Our second experience with UB traffic was, if anything, slightly more terrifying than the first. This may have had something to do with the fact that we were not completely zonked from travel this time and could truly appreciate the number of times our vehicle nearly hurtled into another that had opted to ignore lanes, lights, or common courtesy or vice versa.

When we did arrive at the memorial we were some of the first ones there. The bottom part is something of a construction zone but once you head up the stairs and get around to the memorial itself you start to get some really great views opening up for you. Because it is positioned right on the edge of the city you can get both steppe and city views just by turning your head. Pretty amazing. The monument itself was mildly interesting, but the best part by far was the views.

There were two little puppies up there that Tamara fell in love with.

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Just as we were leaving, lots of people started to show up in traditional dress and when we looked down the stairs there was a bride hiking her way up. No mean feat in a wedding dress and heels! We did not hang around as it was getting pretty crowded, but we assume that they were up there for pictures as we saw no officiant.

By the time she passed us she was definitely looking tired.

By the time she passed us she was definitely looking tired.

As we were leaving they were setting up to take pictures. Pretty amazing wedding shots.

As we were leaving they were setting up to take pictures. Pretty amazing wedding shots.

We had decided to walk back into downtown so that we could get a better sense of the city. On the map we could see an athletic park and, on the way in we saw the National Culture and Recreation park, both of which looked pretty interesting. Unfortunately, both were actually a little bit of a let-down. Maintenance is clearly not a priority in Mongolia and these two locations really reflected that. What appeared on the map as manicured green space and fountains turned out to be fields of weeds, shrubbery, and trash and dry piles of concrete.

This is the wiring in the athletic park

This is the wiring in the athletic park

This was in the Culture park near one of the fountains.

This was in the National Culture park near one of the fountains.

The old entrance to the cultural park.

The old entrance to the National Cultural park.

We had a late lunch at the Grand Khan Irish Pub (Irish Pubs are big in UB – we saw at least 6 in the time we were there), where we had an uncomfortable last ten minutes as the older Caucasian man next to us was apparently making some sort of shady business deal involving the Mongolian woman sitting next to him at the top of his voice. Awkward to say the least. The food was pretty good though. We followed this up with a quick bit of shopping for a few necessary items for our Gobi trip during which we bumped into the two Danish girls we had met our first night in UB and settled on dinner plans with them. Before dinner we dropped a bag for storage at Ger to Ger and hit up Cafe Amsterdam on Peace Ave. which is a really nice little place with great staff who speak English very well. There is even a bulletin board where people looking for travel companions can post messages.

We ate dinner at Marco Polo restaurant, which allegedly has the best pizza in UB. Tamara and I shared a pasta and a pizza and both were certainly very good. Our Danish friends got chicken dishes which were also delicious. It was interesting comparing notes about our experiences with the Ger to Ger orientation (they had travelled with Ger to Ger earlier in the week). None of us thought the orientation was any good and the general consensus was that parts were actually offensive. After dinner we wandered back to Peace Ave. and went our separate ways before heading to bed.

Final Thoughts

One thing that we did love about being in Mongolia was the range in temperatures. They were so reasonable. It was only about 25 during the day and got down to about 8 at night with next to no humidity. Ideal! We are writing this from back home in Korea where it has been over 35 with 80%+ humidity. Needless to say, we preferred Mongolia on that account.

Summer Days in Damyang

We have posted about Damyang before and will certainly do so again before our time here is up. It is an amazing place where we can escape from Gwangju for a day and enjoy a little of the rural countryside and small town feel that we grew up with. The weekend before we left for Mongolia we made this escape with two of our closest friends, Hendrik and Caitlyn. They are training for a marathon so they opted to run the thirty kilometres from their neighbourhood to Damyang. This necessarily meant it would be an early trip even for the two softies taking the bus. Interestingly, by the time you factor in the time to get to Usquare, wait for the next Damyang bus, and then actually get to Damyang it only took them an extra hour to run there!

We left our apartment at 8:00 and rolled into the Damyang bus terminal around 9:30; just in time to see Hendrik walk around the corner. From the bus terminal we all caught a cab out to the Damyang spa an hotel. We had brought a bag of swim things and a change of clothes for H and C so we would all be comfortable for our stay.

The spa was amazing and as an added bonus had an awesome outdoor swimming pool that backs right onto the mountain! Hendrik and I plunged in as soon as we were out of the change rooms and were promptly tossed out of the water by a nearby life guard. Apparently, you must wear bathing caps in all Korean pools. Who knew? Of course, by bathing cap, they actually mean anything that covers your head. We saw baseball caps, floppy army hats, sunvisors, and hoodies. The bar was not exactly high but we all had to purchase bathing caps anyway.

There were a couple pools and a little artificial river.

There were a couple pools and a little artificial river.

So stylish!

So stylish!

Post swim we headed to the metasequoia road for a stroll. This is a very famous road that is lined with huge metasequoias. Apparently, these trees were thought to be extinct until the 1940s when several were discovered in central China. Since then they have been propagated across several countries where the fossil record showed they had historically thrived.

Regardless of the science, the road itself is beautiful. It is a short cab or bus ride outside of Damyang village and has a nominal admission fee of 1000₩. The four of us strolled along a section eating ice cream and snapping pictures. It was gorgeous!

A very successful day!

A very successful day!

It was also incredibly hot and muggy so we were only there for an hour or so before hopping into a cab for the bus terminal. A great way to spend a hot Sunday.

Gwangju to Ulaanbaatar

Our Mongolia adventure started with an incredibly unwelcome 4:00 AM alarm rousing us from our sleep. We had to catch a 6:00 AM bus at Usquare and still needed time to finalise our preparations to depart. Despite uncertainty around the potential for catching a cab at that hour we arrived early at the terminal and were off to Incheon without a fuss. Blake promptly passed out for the first half of an uneventful journey that saw us arrive at Incheon about 9:30, nearly a full hour ahead of schedule.

A little tired, are we?

As it turned out this was a really good thing. Despite information to the contrary, it was rather difficult to find Mongolian currency at the airport. In the end, the only place that had it at all was the Hana Bank exchange. Blake had already spent several afternoons trying unsuccessfully to sort out the currency in Gwangju.

For added fun and excitement, Tamara left her kobo on the bus, necessitating a rather frantic search involving several other buses, long term parking, and the information kiosks. Meanwhile, Blake was left to deal with the currency, babysit the bags, and stress as suggested check in time came and went. We did make it though and managed to have a quick bite to eat before boarding.

The flight is a little over three hours and there is a one hour time difference between Mongolia and Korea, so we landed a little before 3:00. The airport is certainly from another era and things moved pretty slowly. Customs was essentially non-existent to the point we did not even see a kiosk for it.
Our driver was late but we eventually managed to connect with him. Zaya’s Hostel provides airport pickup for an additional fifteen USD and after all the warnings we had read about cab drivers trying to rip off tourists we were more than happy to shell out a reasonable rate. Interestingly, while we were waiting we were approached by several cabbies who were looking for fares. Very glad we did not have to deal with that on our first day.

The drive into Ulaanbaatar was an eye opening experience. Traffic here makes Korea look like a cakewalk! Lanes mean absolutely nothing. Traffic lights also appear to mean nothing. The roads themselves are in horrific shape. We eventually managed to make it through the massive snarl of cars that we assumed was the road and pull down a series of back alleys to our hostel.

Zaya’s Hostel is a place that would be a bit hard to find without our driver taking us right there. It is on the third floor of an old Soviet apartment building down a back alley.

The Zaya's sign at the end of the alley.

The little green Zaya’s sign at the end of the alley.

We got settled into our room, which was private but had two rather small single beds, and then headed out for a look around and a bite of dinner.

A view of our room at Zaya's

A view of our room at Zaya’s

Figuring out our next move.

Figuring out our next move.

We hit up a place we found in the Lonely Planet called American Burger and Fries. It was pretty full, mostly of foreigners, and we ended up sitting with a pair of girls from Denmark for our meal. They had been there for awhile and gave us an outline of what to expect for our trip with Ger to Ger. We also had a long conversation with the very friendly American owner of the place. He gave us some great advice and warnings about Mongolia. Most prominent were to be VERY cautious about pickpockets and not walk around to much at night. He also noted that the best place to see in Ulaanbaatar is the memorial to fallen soldiers on the edge of town. Beyond that he said Ulaanbaatar is not really a town that is worth spending much time in. The countryside is the place to be. We actually managed to get a decent sleep, no doubt assisted by our early wake-up, but due also to the fact that the temperatures at night fall to a nice cool 10 degrees or lower and the air is much drier than Korea.

The Big Kid Playground – Boryeong Mud Festival

Last weekend was our first adventure out of Gwangju in a while, so needless to say we were chomping at the bit. We headed north to Boryeong to tumble in the mud with a ton of other foreigners. Boryeong’s mud festival was something that we had heard about even before we arrived in Korea and has been on our to-do list ever since. It runs for an entire week and was started 16 years ago as a a way to promote the health/skin benefits of the local mud (which is really more like clay). Now it draws massive crowds every year, especially on opening weekend.

We opted to go on the second weekend, as we were not enthused with the idea of having to navigate drunken crowds for our entire stay. Pedro, our local tour organiser, had set up a small trip of twelve people to head up on the second weekend (he had closer to 100 on the first weekend). The awesome part about his trips is that you don’t have to worry about anything. Transport, accommodation, and even entry tickets were all included. We left Usquare at 9:30 in Pedro’s van and headed towards Boryeong. Both of us had been up late working on camp/teaching projects to free up our weekend time so we pretty well passed out for a good portion of the trip.

We arrived in Boryeong around 12 and checked into our pension a stone’s throw from Daecheon Beach where the festivities were being held. Our entry bracelets did not get us in until after 2:00 so we laid out our beds (you sleep on the floor in pensions) and then headed out for a wander around the beach and festival grounds. Mud plaza is set just back from the beach. All around the edge of the plaza are tent booths selling a variety of products or painting people with mud. In the middle of the plaza was an enclosed area that contained inflatable games (the same as those you would see at graduation parties) that were covered with mud and water. This area required tickets to enter, the rest was open to people roaming around.  Even though it was the second weekend, there were people everywhere! We wandered around checking stuff out with a couple of our friends and, on Pedro’s advice, got into the line for the inflated games well before opening time. It was a good thing we did. By the time the festival actually opened there was a line-up that circled most of the enclosed area.

Waiting with great anticipation. You can just see the entrance on the far side of the enclosure.

Waiting with great anticipation. You can just see the entrance on the far side of the enclosure.

Our group of four got in with the first hundred or so people and managed to hit one of the games with essentially no line-up. Before participating in the game, to get things kicked off, we helped ourselves at one of the painting stations where you smear mud on one another! The first inflatable we checked out was a simple race down the chute to touch the back wall and back out the front. While it sounds easy, the fact that both the game and the runners were liberally covered in mud made it incredibly difficult to gain any sort of traction. Blake lost to Adriano, while Tamara beat Robyn. The winners got to splash the losers with buckets of mud. Pretty awesome!

In my defence, I was savagely attacked by a mud wielding Korean in the final second of my race.

In my defence, I was savagely attacked by a mud wielding Korean in the final second of my race.

Consequences!

Consequences!

The end of the ladies race

The end of the ladies race

At one point or another we managed to get into almost every activity in the enclosure (except for the mud “wrestling” pit), but after the first race we spent a lot of time standing in lines. The entire plaza was absolutely packed and a huge portion of the crowd consisted of foreigners. There were certainly a lot of Koreans there as well, and it was interesting that many of them were in bikinis and quite a few of the men had tattoos. Both of these things are rather taboo in Korea. We hit up the massive mudslides, a mud prison, a mud obstacle course, and a mud pool before we left the enclosure and headed down to the beach.

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Even the beach was packed. The coast guard had people on sea doos patrolling just off-shore and not letting anyone go out beyond about neck deep so there was a massive crowd in the water as well. We never did figure out exactly why they would not anyone out, but it was likely a combination of concern about drunken people drowning and the fact that a large portion of Koreans can’t swim.

Daecheon Beach

Daecheon Beach – the mud on the lens blurred most of the beach pics even worse than this one

The festival in the background.

The festival in the background.

Pose like a Korean!

Pose like a Korean!

After a short dip, the four of us headed back to the pension to shower and change. One of the pension requirements was that you get hosed off on the street before you come in. That was a bit of a chilly shock! After showers, which still failed to get all of the mud out of our hair and ears, we headed out to wander through the booths and food stalls. Along the waterfront there are many hotels, motels, pensions, and shops, but scattered among these are empty lots where tents and stalls are set up. Whether this is intentionally set aside for the festival, or just an opportunistic use of space we have no idea, but it was nice to be able to relax at an outside table with a bulgogi burrito and beer after playground time. The four of us followed this up with a wander around the beach area then coffee and desert at a café overlooking the beach and festival. From here we were able to see that the last hour or so of the festival, around five or six, was practically deserted. If you can bring yourself to wait, this might be a good time to get in a few more quick runs through the various activities.

The view from the roof of Smart Pension with the festival in the background

The view from the roof of Smart Pension with the festival in the background

Mud plaza!

Mud plaza!

There was a break between the closing of the mud area and the start of the concert, so we wandered back to the pension and spent several hours playing cards on the roof. This was pretty awesome as we could see the beach, the plaza, and the concert area as the sun set and the lights started to come on. As the concert started we could see the events on the big screen, although we were too far away to get a good look at things. Eventually, we wandered down to the concert area. The event was billed as a hip hop rave party. Korean hip hop is an interesting thing. Obviously we were unable to understand most of it, but there were random English lyrics thrown into the mix. One line in particular was “all the girls standing in the line for the bathroom” which was bracketed by Korean on either side. We have no idea what the song was about. It was also very interesting to see several very small children at this supposed hip hop rave party.

View from the roof just prior to us joining the crowds.

View from the roof just prior to us joining the crowds.

These Korean guys had shutter glasses, whistles, and batons with blinking lights. Way to much movement for good pictures though.

These Korean guys had shutter glasses, whistles, and batons with blinking lights. Way to much movement for good pictures though.

After about an hour we ducked out of the concert and headed out for a walk along the beach. There were people spotted all over the place diving in or launching fireworks. At night the coast guard had switched to ATVs along the beach and were blowing whistles at everyone who was in the water. Apparently, the really don’t like people swimming at night. We headed back to the hotel about midnight for a little shut-eye.

Sunday morning was a pretty slow start. We went with Adriano to Café Bene to grab some breakfast. There were enough people in desperate need of caffeine and something to eat that we had to wait nearly an hour after ordering for our coffees and bagels. One of the only times we have missed the efficiency of a Tim Hortons! By the time we got back to the pension it was time to pack up and check out. The group decided that we would rather stop at another beach partway back then stay at Daecheon, so we all jumped/crawled into the van and hit the road. Less than an hour later we pulled into Chunjangdae beach for a little exploring. Our group was generally in pretty tough straits at this point so it was a very relaxed hour wandering around the beach and associated cafés. Adriano and Blake tried their hand at a pop gun game with minor success, at least on Adriano’s part. Beyond that we just wandered the beach and relaxed before piling back into the van for our journey back to Gwangju.

Chunjangdae beach from our gazebo resting place.

Chunjangdae beach from our gazebo resting place.

Fair games? Yes please.

Fair games? Yes please.

A desperate need for coffee made most of our group about as coherent as this sign we unloaded beside in Chunjangdae

A desperate need for coffee made most of our group about as coherent as this sign beside which we unloaded Chunjangdae.

Mudfest was amazing and certainly worth a visit. For those going in the future, make sure you arrange your accommodation well ahead of time and be prepared to stand in some long line-ups. It’s pretty awesome to just be kids in a big muddy playground again!