Before coming to Korea, I didn’t know what Chuseok was (a harvest holiday where Korean families get together to share mountains of homemade cooking). For foreigners, it’s a great chance to travel and pow around with friends. I spent one such holiday in Seoul with misfit friends now long-gone.
The next two years, I spent Chuseok getting drunk on peace and solitude in a local Buddhist temple.
I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be in Korea for a fourth year. So with yet another Chuseok to enjoy, I elected to try something new – an island getaway.
Without the luxury of international travel, I thought I’d travel as far as I could with a clear conscience – Geomundo – a secluded harbor of three islands located halfway between Yeosu and Jeju.
Traveling to such a remote and less-inhabited island was no easy feat. Whenever I hope to explore a new destination, I first concern myself with travel and accommodations. Once I have a ride and a bed, the other details seem to work themselves out.
Unfortunately, a week before Chuseok, a news story surfaced that the ferry boat from Yeosu to Geomundo was suspended for repairs. So in order to get to this remote island paradise, I first needed to board a 2-hour bus to Nokdong – a coastal community in neighboring Geoheung-gun.
It was there that I could enjoy some spicy Japanese-style beef and rice at the recommendation of a former trainee’s coworker. I give it a score of 5 out of 5 members of ITZY.
The following morning, I set off and settled in for a three-hour ferry ride. Fortunately, the padded, heated floor of the ferry summoned a nap out of me.
Upon arrival, I found a local minbak and unpacked my things.
Minbaks are low-cost accommodations popular on islands and rural areas. For about $36 per night, I could sleep on the floor of a heated room with blankets and pillows provided. The owner, a man between the ages of 70 and 90, didn’t speak a lick of English.
And being so remote, Geomundo doesn’t exactly have many listings on Airbnb or Agoda. I had to reserve my lodging via a phone call. I commend the owner’s patience.
(The following transcript is an approximate translation from Korean.)
Ian: Can I make a reservation?
Owner: Yes. When?
Ian: September 30th to October 2nd.
Ian: September 30th to October 2nd. Is it available?
Owner: Yes, okay. How long?
Ian: 2 nights. 3 days.
Owner: It’s okay.
Ian: How much?
Owner: 1 night. 40,000 won.
Ian: So 2 nights, 80,000 won?
Owner: Yes. 80,000 won.
Ian: I send you the money?
Owner: Yes. My account number is 3-6-7
Ian: Slow down. Slow down.
Ian: Wait. Wait.
Owner: 3! 6! 7!
By some miracle that defies any conceivable language barrier, I managed to transfer the money.
By virtue of its remoteness, Geomundo has an “untouched-by-modernity” vibe. Gone are modern convenience stores or supermarkets. It was all local Mom-and-Pop shops (or supers in Korean) for any and all grocery needs.
Part of Geomundo’s appeal is its historical significance. The British Navy occupied Geomundo from 1885 to 1887 due to its ideal harbor shape as well as concerns from advancing Chinese and Russian fleets.
This created tensions between the governments of Korea and the UK which lasted into the 20th century.
A plaque in a local cemetery memorializes the “unlawful occupation of Geomundo by the British navy.”
However, the island also serves as a burial place of 10 British sailors – and the cemetery remains a historial landmark.
I spent the whole rest of the day hiking around the islands.
One particular challenge of traveling to a rural area for Chuseok is the closing of restaurants. It became exceedingly difficult to find food on my first night as most restaurants closed as many owners elected to close up shop and spend time with their families.
However, after a long day of hiking, a bowl of ramen and a few apples from the local super always hits the spot :D.
He even took enough pity on me to gift me a few pieces of fried sweet potato – a Korean Chuseok staple. A small gesture that filled me with great gratitude :).