As many of you – or possibly only one or two – may have noticed, we have not been posting here as much as we did while overseas. The reason is pretty simple: we were in the midst of reunions with friends and family and getting organised to begin attending UVic tomorrow. Our years of travel and adventure abroad are over for now and we are moving on to a new stage. As a result, we will have less time for adventuring and writing and our trips will certainly be less exotic. So updates on this blog will be much less frequent and they will likely be centered on short trips around BC and the surrounding areas. For those of you who followed us through our adventures, thanks for all the feedback and comments. All the friends we made: hopefully we will see you over here sometime in the near future.

All the best to everyone.



A Brief Update

For those who may wonder what’s going on here is a 10 point outline:

  1. We are fine.
  2. We are in Harar, Ethiopia.
  3. Elections here result in security concerns which in turn result in major schedule changes. The elections are over and nothing happened other than our visit was re-scheduled and therefore our entire itinerary outside of Addis was shortened and altered.
  4. Internet here sucks. Really, really sucks, so email, facebook, and wordpress are largely out of reach.
  5. Tomorrow we will head to Dire Dawa for two days then fly back to Addis where we will be visiting our sponsor child for two days. On the 5th of June we will be in South Africa.
  6. Africa is really cool … and challenging … and not at all what we were expecting.
  7. Yesterday we saw half the cast of the lion king including elephants (from afar), warthogs, baboons, and a little gazelle like thing. Also about a million different birds.
  8. Today we learned that “laundry service” in Harar does not include ladies’ undergarments – they just won’t wash them. We were never able to get an explanation.
  9. Hyenas can be scary and also friendly … especially up close at night.
  10. It’s the start of the rainy season here. We spend a fair bit of time rather wet.

10 Things We Resolve Never Again to Take For Granted After Visiting India

We are currently in India and have been for several weeks, but we have run into a problem finding internet cafes have a sufficiently fast connection for uploading the photos necessary for keeping updated. So here is a little snapshot of ten things that we will really appreciated after our time in India.

10. Silence. India, like much of Asia, has proven very loud for our Canadian ears. We never knew Canada was so quiet.

9. Toilet paper. Enough said.

8. Furniture. It’s a long story.

7. Refrigerators. You simply don’t realize how important they are until you find yourself without one.

6. Clean air. There is nothing like the scent of burning garbage to deter you from a leisurely urban walk (okay, possibly the threat of being run over but it’s actually easier to get over that one).

5. Hygiene. Lord please have mercy on our bellies in the meantime.

4. Clarity. That head wobble is only the beginning of our confusion.

3. Schedules and routines! (That are both set and adhered to.)

2. Salads! Oh how we miss you…

1. Cold, clean drinking water. Again, we had no idea just how fortunate we were to get this straight out of the tap back home.

Railay Beach Day

Every two to three days we get a day off from working on the farm. On these days we do the watering in the morning and then everyone goes into town for the day. Last week we decided to use one of these days off to visit nearby Railay Beach and soak up a few rays.

Now Railay is a very well known little bay/beach area. It’s known for it’s sandy beach, great climbing, and proximity to a whole lot of other Thai islands that are pretty cool. Sadly for us, leaving from Krabi meant that we were only able to spend a few hours at the actual bay, as it is only accessible by water, and so we were limited to indulging in beach time rather than climbing. Thanks to all our friends for their recommendations about the climbing though. We may get to it yet!

From the Chao Fah Pier in Krabi, there are regular boats that leave for Railay beach. They cost 150B/person each way and take 45-60 minutes. The catch, as we discovered, is that they only leave when they are full. We were actually lucky as our boat out was nearly full when we arrived. Of course they then discovered it was low on fuel and left us sitting there for the better part of 45 minutes while they hunted down some diesel, but all-in-all not too bad. Forty five minutes later we hopped into the surf on Railay East Beach.

East Beach has some pretty surrounds with the karsk mountains, but there is not really a whole lot going on if you are not climbing. So, not really knowing where we were going or what to expect, we wandered through one of the resorts and ended up on West Beach.

A map of the Railay Bay area. It was only marginally helpful, but it gives an idea of what is there.

A map of the Railay Bay area. It was only marginally helpful, but it gives an idea of what is there.

This is the swimming beach and it is gorgeous! We spend the better part of our time laying on the sand reading or staring up at the karsk mountains. For swimming, it drops off quite slowly so even though we went out quite a ways we were never in above our waists.

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After soaking up some beach time (a must for Tamara) we headed out to explore a bit of the peninsula before heading back to Krabi Town. Finding our way through the various resorts required a few false starts, but eventually we headed around the back of some of the mountains towards the mainland. On our way to Diamond cave we spotted a ladder and, curiosity aroused, climbed into a small cave. As it turned out it was actually really cool (much better than Diamond Cave in our opinion).

After exiting our own private (free) cave tour, we tried to find our way over to Ton Sai Bay. We must have taken a wrong turn somewhere and never did sort it out as we were running out of time and wanted to have a look at Diamond Cave on our way back. Mistake. Diamond Cave is underwhelming at best and a rip-off at worst.

So in the end we had a great time at the beach. Railay is beautiful and (in our minds) was a day well spent. Gotta make the most of those days off on holiday!

Farewell Korea

Well, after two amazing years in South Korea, filled with new friends, new food, and so many memories, it’s now time to say farewell. With the frenzy of packing, ’till-next-time dinners, and trip-planning, we’re finding it a little tough to stay in the moment. As we transition from grounded expat life to drifting backpacker mode, we can’t help but feel a little nostalgic about our time here. To our co-teachers and co-workers: thank you for welcoming us with open arms and open minds, for your patience with us, and for all the opportunities you gave us. 감사합니다! To our students: thank you for not only making us feel like movie stars when we arrived, but also for teaching us just as many lessons as we taught you. And to our family and friends, both here in Korea and back home in Canada: thank you for supporting us on this crazy journey. We miss you and we will see you again soon!

Departing Gwangju. Farewell Korea!

Departing Gwangju. Farewell Korea!

Up next: backpacking through Southeast Asia and beyond!

Soswaewon: Gardens and Goodbyes

On Wednesday we said another series of goodbyes, one of them to Blake’s co-teacher Yuri, who has become a good friend over the last two years. She is the one who took us to her grandparents’ home in Jangseong to show us the kimchi making process. Because it was the first day of the 설날 (Seolnal) holiday a lot of things were not open, but we found a restaurant in backgate and then headed out to Damyang to look at a traditional tea house. Unsurprisingly, it was closed, but we decided to stop by 소쇄원 (Soswaewon) garden near the Damyang eco park.

This garden was originally built about 500 years ago and has been renovated several times since. It was designed partially to provide Confucian scholars and poets with a peaceful place to write their works. Although it is relatively small, it is still a pretty setting, despite the barren trees. It looks as though it would be incredibly lush in the spring and summer. Bamboo does not shed it’s leaves in the winter so we got to listen to the wind rustling through them. Peaceful indeed.

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We took the back way through Mudeung park on the way into Gwangju and stopped at one of the city lookouts for a quick look. Despite our multiple trips up Mudeung we had never seen it before. Apparently it is a popular date location for new couples. That must be a summer thing as the freezing wind drove us back to the car pretty quickly.

After a coffee near the base of Mudeung it was time to say goodbye. This has been one of the more difficult things about the last several weeks. It’s one goodbye after another. We can honestly say that the thing we will miss most about Korea is the incredible group of friends we have made here.

The Last Korean Hike: Chuwolsan in Winter

As we wind down our time in Korea we are starting to tick off rather a lot of ‘lasts’. The last hike was up a smaller mountain in Damyang that Tamara and I did nearly 18 months ago as one of our earlier hikes. Ben and I had a free afternoon and figured that a quick trip to Damyang for one last ascent was in order.

We did a slightly different route than Tamara and I, going up around the base of the cliffs and down the front past Boriam temple. It was a chilly day but a great hike.

We saw only one or two other groups of hikers and had the place pretty well to ourselves, which is a real rarity in Korea. Sadly, heavy cloud and haze meant that most of the views were obscured, but it was still a great way to finish off hiking in this country.

That is something I will miss. The hikes, the ease of access, and the great views.

The Packing Post

Since the February intake will soon arrive in Korea, we thought it would be appropriate to share our thoughts about what to pack – and what to leave behind – when you’re preparing for a stint as an English teacher in South Korea.

There’s not much point in us making an inclusive list of things to pack, as everyone has their own needs an packing schemes. However, here are some things to consider.

1. Korea has four seasons: pack accordingly. The winter does get cold, but it is also wet. You can buy winter jackets and such here, but they are often made of lower-quality fabric. If you already have a decent, warm winter jacket at home, consider bringing it along (if you have space).The summer is HOT and HUMID. Ladies: consider bringing your thick-strapped tank tops and skirts. You won’t likely be permitted to wear shorts at school, but they will be useful on your own time. Ladies: Korea’s not keen on cleavage. Be prepared to cover up (like up to your collar bone), at least at school. Some of my perfectly-acceptable-for-work shirts from home just didn’t cut it here, while nobody bats an eye if I wear a skirt with a hemline several inches above my knees.

2. The humid summers will mean you’ll probably sweat – a lot. But, deodorant is a little difficult to find and selection is slim. Consider bringing a supply of your own, or having family ship some to you later.

3. Sunscreen. You can get it here, but it may or may not have skin-whitener in it, and it’s likely to be spf50 or higher. We tried ordering some from iherb, but the one we selected just sweated off us and into our eyes. Yuck.

4. If you have the space, there are a few things you could bring to make your first week or so that much more simple and comfortable. One is a set of sheets, or at least a fitted one. As a couple, we got an apartment with a double bed. This might not be the case for everyone, as some of our single friends got something along the lines of a single bed. Many Koreans sleep on floor beds, so while you can purchase sheets here, they can be harder to find.

5. Another so-glad-we-brought-it item was a set of large towels. Korean bath towels mostly resemble North American hand towels, and aren’t always made of the softest material. Especially on a cold winter morning, wrapping up in a nice, big, fuzzy warm towel after your shower is nothing to be sneezed at.

6. If you have bigger feet (say above size 9) consider bringing your shoes (dress shoes/ hikers, running shoes, etc.) from home. While you’ll likely find just about every size and style you need in Seoul or online, if you live in a smaller town, shopping for shoes may require travel/ shipping fees and can just be a bit more complicated. Unless you require massive socks though, don’t waste space by packing a million pair. You can buy socks here everywhere, and for cheap.

7. Candy or some sort of easily packable, non-perishable treat from home. We brought tiny bottles of maple syrup as Christmas gifts for our co-workers, which were really appreciated. However, be aware that you can get many kinds of candy over here, particularly at the plethora of little chain foreign candy shops that have recently cropped up. They also have Nutella, by the way, which I packed unnecessarily. We have yet to find mars bars, though. I also brought Jello packets (about ten of them) to make and distribute tablespoon-full servings for a lesson on “Do you like…?/ Would you like…?/ May I…?” It was a HUGE hit. You can get Korean “jelly” (like Jello, but a slightly different sweetness and texture) here but they were very excited to try “Canadian” food. Something else to be aware of: if you’re teaching in public schools, there is a good chance you will have hundreds of (if not close to a thousand) students, and perhaps four to twelve co-teachers (everyone’s situation is truly different).

8. Medications. If you’re covered through a program like EPIK, medication is super cheap over here, BUT bring what you need to get started, including any special prescriptions you require, birth control, allergy medication, cold and sinus medication (Tylenol cold and sinus has gotten us through many, many stuffed up school days), Cold FX if you use it, etc. Again, you may be able to find variations of these here; however, for example, most of Korea seems to rely on Tylenol for pain medication, so if Advil is the only one that works for you, consider bringing a good size bottle. Be prepared: more likely than not, you will be sick, and sick often, for the first while (colds, flus, etc.).

9. Toothpaste. If you’re at all attached to a brand (eg. Crest, Colgate, Toms, etc.) then consider bringing at least a few tubes. While you might find it here somewhere, you’ll be more likely to find Korean toothpaste, which while some is minty, it admittedly tastes different. We don’t mind it, but some of our friends can’t stand it.

10. If you have curly hair and rely on mousse to tame your tresses, bring a decent supply with you or be prepared to have it sent from home. I brought a years’ supply and had more sent to me for my second year, but many friends have warned me against using Korean mousse, saying that it was very waxy and not effective.

11. Copies of all of your documents (passports, degrees, TEFL/TESOL/CELTA certifications, marriage license, travel insurance, letters of recommendation, etc.) on a USB, AND in your e-mail or on a cloud online. You never know when you’ll need copies of these things at a moment’s notice – literally.

12. I’ve had people laugh at me for this one, but we really, honestly wish we’d brought a small, reliable smoke detector from home. Yes, our particular apartment is on the bottom floor. But, the windows are all barred, and there is no fire detection/ sprinkler system in the building that we have seen. A little extra warning can go a long way.

13. A little piece of home: this could be a collection of pictures to put up in your apartment, a national flag, or a special blanket or coffee mug. Just trust us.

We made these little Starbucks tumblers before we left - and we're so glad we did. They're small, portable, practical, and great conversation pieces.

We made these little Starbucks tumblers before we left – and we’re so glad we did. They’re small, portable, practical, and great conversation pieces.

Are you already here and have suggestions for other things you could could have left behind but were glad you didn’t? Please feel free to add them in the comments below!

Also, if you’re currently packing and have questions about what to include, we’ll try our best to answer them.

Now to get back to packing up our apartment before we depart for our next adventure… Cheers!

Kimchi Making

For our first trick of the New Year, one of Blake’s co-teachers was kind enough to take us with her to this year’s kimchi-making event with her family. Many Korean families get together once a year in the early winter to make a year’s worth of kimchi as a group. It quickly became evident why: it’s a ton of work!

When we arrived at Blake’s co-teacher’s grandparents house, in a small village outside of Gwangju, we were greeted by four aunts/uncles and a cousin as well as her grandparents. We met everyone and were made very welcome in the living room where a few questions were asked before we got started on the actual kimchi-making tasks. The cabbages, a whole lot of them, had been salted four days before and the family had spent the morning preparing the paste to be rubbed into the salted cabbage. One of the uncles was already brewing fish broth outside over a fire made from sesame stalks. Our first task was to take two pots of vegetables (ginger, garlic, seaweed, and Korean pear) as well as two large bottles of raw, salted shrimp to the local mill to be puréed.

The mill itself was a really interesting little event. It was located in the back of one of the tiny marts that are scattered throughout country towns. What was more interesting was that in the back room with the mill was also a local watering hole and was filled with older men drinking makgeolli. Unlike many other places we have been, our arrival was not immediately greeted by excited chattering and discussions about the foreigners. This is probably due to the fact that we arrived with locals. One man did approach us. He is apparently mute and communicated using sign language. Apparently, he has a son an daughter working as doctors in the states. Over all, a very friendly experience.

After everything had been loaded back into the pots, we crossed the street to find the rest of the process well under way in a side room. There were two large basins of red pepper paste, a basket of chopped green onion and lettuce, and some grated carrot. There was also a board where one of the aunts was chopping radish. Tamara got in on that straight away (which may have slowed things down a bit). Meanwhile, Blake was enlisted to help mix the rest of the ingredients into the red pepper paste (after a recipe debate among the aunts). This involved dumping the various ingredients into the basins, pulling on elbow length gloves, and digging in to mix.

Once everything was blended, and met the approval of the various aunts, we made a couple small plates of kimchi to go with lunch. We were taken back into the living room and seated around low round table spread with a great deal of food. Once we sat, one of the aunts re-arranged the chopsticks so we had the nicest pairs. Many of the dishes we had tried before, but, as is often the case, the home-cooked versions tasted very different (and honestly better) than those we have had in restaurants. Apparently, this meal is a yearly tradition and serves to test the kimchi. This year, the aunts declared it too salty and headed back into the side room to add more ingredients to offset the saltiness.

A traditional lunch spread to test the kimchi -- apparently the first round was too salty so more radish was added.

A traditional lunch spread to test the kimchi — apparently the first round was too salty so more radish was added.

We now began the production stage in earnest. Blake started out helping one of the uncles cut the stems out of the middle of the salted cabbages; a process that was rather chilly on the hands as they were stored outside. Tamara immediately started working on rubbing the paste into the cabbage and Blake joined later. We were definitely the slow link in the process and the aunts around us flew through the heads of cabbage. There is a bit of a technique to it and we certainly don’t have it. We were, however, getting faster towards the end.

We had to depart before dinner and we left with arms full of gifts. We now have more kimchi than we could possibly eat in a year, never mind in less than two months. We also have several very ripe persimmons, and a bag of dried persimmons to top it all off. This was all tied in a nice blanket bundle for us to carry home. The entire family escorted us out of the courtyard and said goodbye at the gate. It was really amazing how welcome they made us and how willing they were to try to communicate across the language barrier. It was an amazing experience. Beyond learning how to make kimchi, we got to share this occasion with an extended family that welcomed us with open arms.

Geumseungsanseung — Winter On The Fortress Mountain

For the last hike of 2014 Ben, Tom and I headed out to Damyang for a spin around the fortress to the north. Tamara and I did this hike with a group a few weeks after we first arrived in Korea and we had not been back until the previous weekend when we took the Mortensons up to the first gate. This time I was going up in mid-winter and, while the views were still fantastic, things were a little slippery.

The trail up to the gates was nice and easy with no sign of snow. It was not until the second gate that we ran into a bit of ice on the path.

Geunseong 003

Looking back at the gate from partway up the first ascent.

Looking back at the gate from partway up the first ascent.

From there it was basically a question of whether the trail was on a north facing slope or protected from the sun by the wall itself that determined how slippery it was. We decided to head left from the main gate to hit the west gate and major descent/climb of the hike early on. This side of the loop is probably the least treacherous, although it was a pretty slick descent from Nojeokbong.

Going down from Cheolmabong to the west gate had some pretty slick sections as well. Because the entire path down is on a north facing slope, it was getting almost no sunlight. We did large sections of it crouched down using our heels as skis.

The main ascent in the whole hike comes from the west gate to the north and while it’s moderately steep, it’s not that long. We stopped for a coffee break at the north gate before continuing.

The eastern side of the hike is my favourite part. The trail runs along the relatively narrow ridge-top providing a great view and interesting hiking. At one point we hit a dead-end on a cliff and, rather than going back a hundred meters, we opted to descend a section of mixed cliff and steep slope to the trail. Ben and I both managed to take tumbles, but he had far and away the worst of it. Luckily he managed to stop his slide by catching a tree. It was a good bit of excitement.

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We also climbed up some icy rocks to Sirubong, an area that Tamara and I had missed the first time we came up. This is a great peak and the view would have been fantastic had we been there a bit earlier before the haze moved in.

Final rest stop on Sirubong before heading down the mountain.

Final rest stop on Sirubong before heading down the mountain.

From there it was a bit of guesswork to relocate the trails on the other side, but once we had it was a relatively short pell-mell run down the mountain to the resort and spa at the bottom. This is their trademark descent method and I have to say, it’s a lot of fun.

After a bit of spa time, it was off in a taxi to Damyang and home. For those living in Gwangju, this is a great and easily accessible hike that you should definitely try to do.