South Korea! What most Americans and perhaps Europeans know about South Korea is its caustic neighbor, North Korea. As it turns out, South Korea is a modern and well developed country ranked 15th in the Human Development Index, the highest in East Asia. In terms of average wage, it has Asia’s highest and the world’s 10th highest income. It is the world’s most research-and-development intensive country and the most innovative as measured by the Bloomberg Innovation Quotient. South Korea is the world’s seventh largest exporter, driven by high-tech multinationals such as Samsung, Hyundai-Kia and LG. A highly advanced information society, South Korea has the world’s fastest Internet connection speed and a female President! What’s not to like about that?
Disembarking from the Eastern Dream ferry on which The Turtle V had been safely parked in the lower deck, it was nearly dark when we finished with customs and insurance paperwork, we turned onto Hwy 7 and headed south.
Drivers were shockingly polite. No honking of horns. A few miles down the road, we turned off at the Samcheok Beach exit, not knowing what we would find. As yet, we had no GPS or paper maps. Monika had downloaded the Lonely Planet South Korean Guide from iBooks on the mothballed iPad that we never got to work properly but however useful those books are, they are not aimed at overland travelers driving their own self-contained camper.
Shortly we came to an intersection with an underpass clearly marked 3.6 meters!! We generally go with 3.5 meters on the Turtle V that includes the custom storage box on the rear of the roof. Our most accurate measurement is 3.3 meters. We held our breath, waiting for the box and the Yakima rack bars to be sliced off. Wheuu!! We made it!!
Turning right at the beach, well lit so the military patrols might spot a North Korean trying to sneak in, we parked in a huge empty parking lot, our home for the next three days. It was a beautiful beach with a boardwalk and swings, clean restrooms and water, and half a block from our truck no less than six cute “coffee dessert” cafés with high-speed Internet and electrical plugs by the tables. (Who needs Starbucks?)
The next day was Thanksgiving. Forget football, but what’s for dinner? Looking at the photos outside restaurants down the street, we could not identify anything that looked like comfort food. (A lot of it looked like “bait”, used for getting food!) Our Thanksgiving feast was multinational, as it should be: Hors d’oeuvre included hot buttered popcorn, (US), slices of dill pickles and cheese, (Russia), along with a shot or two of Mongolian Genghis Khan vodka. The main course was a rich Mole Poblano sauce, (Mexico), over chicken (canned from the US), bulgur from Turkey and sautéed carrots from Russia. Sorry, no pumpkin pie. We settled for some creamy JIFF peanut butter (US), on vanilla cookies, (Russia), and homemade apricot jam from our stash of frozen apricots from Kyrgyzstan. All the while our Espar Airtronic heater purred away, keeping us warm and cozy. We haven’t seen a turkey since we left Greece.
Thanksgiving morning a guy designing on yet another coffee shop brought us hot coffee and welcomed us. Next, the police stopped by, just curious about the strange truck but very friendly. The day after, a group of sea kayakers arrived and camped just down the beach. Real campers!! One guy, Lee, had a big teepee with a unique pellet-burning stove inside. A couple of them spoke English and invited us that evening for a taste of their local food and some homemade pumpkin/rice wine. (Not even close to pumpkin pie.) Lee, who also spoke excellent English, invited us the following evening and we sat in his warm teepee looking for a way to download a South Korean map on Monika’s i-Pad. It worked. In the morning he invited us for rice-cake soup and Monika prepared REAL Turkish coffee, something he had never had. He knew from a movie that Turks read their fortune from the left-over coffee grounds poured onto the saucer so we laughingly tried our luck at it.
Later he kindly drove us to the fishing village of Samcheok for some grocery shopping and a map from the Tourist Information Office. The smell of drying fish was in the air. Among other specialties it was squid season and many hung on drying lines in the sun. At night fishing boats use long strings of bright lights that attract the squid to the surface where they are netted. Other fish come along for the ride.
It was also cabbage season—–tons of it. A dish called “kimchi” is part of Korea’s national identity. Making kimchi from Napa Cabbage was historically a way for people to preserve vegetables for the long harsh Korean winter before the advent of modern refrigeration. With the introduction of chili peppers to Asia from the New World by the Portuguese in the 1600′s, it didn’t take long before people figured out that the capsicum in peppers had an antimicrobial effect aiding in preservation, while adding a little spice to the bleak winter days.
Looks like the next Ro-Ro ship to take our Turtle V back to California will sail on December 16, so we have some time to explore a little of this beautiful country.