Ferry from Jeju to Wando, Buddha’s Birthday and exploring Namwon, Jirisan Mountains, South Korea
Leaving Jeju island on the ferry to Wando was not simple and uneventful.
Unlike our journey to Jeju Island from Wando, when the ferry was half empty, the lady selling tickets at the Jeju ferry terminal, shook her head and said that there were absolutely no tickets available for the 12 noon ferry to Wando.
I added our names to the waiting list, in the hope that somebody might cancel.
A school group had bought almost all the seats, and when departure time came, with a flurry and a bit of fury, the ferry left without us.
I saw it sail away, hearing Jules’ unspoken words….. “You must ALWAYS make reservations ahead…”
We had no big plans for the day.
We only intended to pick up our car parked in Wando, and to drive up to the Jirisan mountains.
It was a long drive and we wanted to do it during the day, when there is light and we could possibly take the scenic route.
Now we would have to take the 5:50 PM ferry and to drive on the highway in the dark.
Jules did not say much.
Sometimes things work perfectly for us, and sometimes they do not.
We bought tickets to the next ferry, leaving that evening and settled in for a long wait at the ferry terminal.
The terminal had comfortable seats like in an airport, was clean and had free WiFi.
Jules left and walked into Jeju City, and brought with him some good tea upon his return.
An old man with no hands, stood before me and smiled.
He tried to make conversation, but when he understood that I do not speak Korean, he waved his handless arms towards another ferry docked outside, and made some windy motions.
I turned around and saw that the day had turned very windy and stormy.
The large ferry was rocking violently on the rough sea.
This man was my messenger for things to come, but I did not get it then…
Instead, I went into the terminal’s Korean restaurant and feasted on a Vegetarian Bibimbap which I thought tasted healthy and delicious.
It was not so delicious as I vomited it all out when I got seasick on the ferry.
The evening ferry was also full.
Young school kids were excited and noisy, as we started our journey and the ferry got splashed with big waves and strong winds.
They were all vomiting into seasickness bags, or in the toilets, a few minutes into the ride.
I made it to the toilets and stayed there retching my guts for the whole hour and forty minutes of the ride into Wando.
When we were in calm waters, I exited the toilet.
Young women were laying on the bathroom floor looking ghostly white and deadly green.
As we disembarked, a few young women whom I saw in the bathroom occupying the toilet stalls next to mine, asked me how was I doing.
We smiled at one another in misery, looking like Holocaust survivors.
I joined Jules who also looked green, but did not vomit at all.
I felt a new wave of admiration towards him.
We drove to Namwon in Jirisan mountain, mostly on empty highways.
We had a bit of a glitch with following the directions of our GPS, which did not recognize any of the newly built roads and kept detouring us into non existing roads, and even once, into a dark harbor with a non existing road which led into the dark sea.
We stopped following the GPS and I used my hand held phone maps instead.
When you come to visit Jirisan, you can have your choices of areas to stay around the mountains.
Many people come for multi day hiking, and they stay in well organized cabins and shelters along the paths, or in small guesthouses close to the trails.
We chose to stay in Namwon.
Our hotel is newly built, modern and clean.
That night, I soaked all my clothes with loads of laundry detergent and took a long shower in nearly boiling water, to wash off the ferry experience from all my cells.
My stomach was still sensitive and I could not eat or drink.
The next day was Buddha’s birthday, which this year, fell on May 17th.
We decided to take a long walk along the river towards the city of Namwon.
A smaller river runs by our hotel, and we walked along its rocky shores.
We came to a place where we saw across the river, what seemed to be a buddhist temple.
It had many lanterns decorating the grounds, so we took off our shoes and jumped on the rocks to cross the river.
It was the Yongdamsa temple, with its standing rock Buddha that was roughly carved in the Goryeo Dynasty sometimes between 918–1392 AD.
We continued towards Namon along another river.
We noticed a small temple as we approached town.
A monk dressed in grey, waved us into this small temple.
He introduced us to a friendly woman who spoke a bit of English.
She was the granddaughter of the woman who established this little rock-side temple, forty years ago.
With a sweet gentleness, she took us around the temple, showed us the stone stupas that her grandfather had built, the spring water they did not know existed until they cleared all the weeds and found a tall rock and this fresh spring, and she taught us how to bow in respect to the Buddha, the way the Korean people do.
After our tour, she and the other ladies fed us a fresh lunch of veg Bibimbap.
It consisted of steamed rice with greens and other vegetables which we could choose ourselves.
I avoided the ones that looked very spicy, and noticed that Jules did the same.
We were so touched by their kindness, and felt that this was a perfect way to celebrate Buddha’s birthday.
We could have gone to the big and important temples around Jirisan, to see how they celebrated Buddha’s birthday in a big ceremony, but this felt so intimate and wonderful.
We asked to make a donation to this wonderful temple.
She told me that a donation was not necessary at all, but I insisted.
Jules followed her to the office and wrote our names on a piece of paper that was attached to a lantern at the entrance to the temple.
We were invited to visit again that very evening, when they will light the lanterns, offer food, a ceremony, and another meditation.
We walked farther and saw the floats and lanterns on the river, prepared for this special birthday.
In the center of town is Gwanghallu Garden.
Namwon is called “the City of Love” because of a famous classic Korean love story.
The heroine in the story was named Chunhyang, and this garden is a sort of a shrine to this love story.
The garden is dotted with old and beautiful pavilions, with very old trees, water ponds and bridges.
Among the bridges is a stone bridge named the “Bridge of crows and magpies.”
The legend tells that two lovers could not meet, since they lived on two sides of a fast flowing river.
The crows and magpies spread their wings together to create a bridge to unite the lovers.
I guess it is a poetic way of saying that true love always overcomes all obstacles….
The garden was designed and built to symbolize the ideal of a Korean Utopia.
Outside the garden was a small market selling wooden kitchen items and souvenirs.
We left the garden and walked the streets of Namwon, looking for a tea house.
We could not find any tea houses, just two places offering coffee and many places offering Loach soup, which is a specialty of this area.
This Loach is a small mustached fish that lives in the muddy rice paddies.
It looks like a tiny brown eel, but not as long.
We did not feel it was right to try the Loach soup, and the town did not seem to offer much in terms of dining.
We finally ate dinner at the Kensington hotel, at their Ashley’s restaurant, which offered a large Korean and Western buffet.
It was full of people and noisy, but the food was fresh and it was our only option of dining in this town, and we were happy to find it.
We plan to stay in Namwon for a week, and to go hiking around Jirisan, and it seems like we will be frequenting Ashley’s restaurant every night.
It was way past sunset when we walked back to our hotel on a very dark road.
As we passed by the small temple, where we were invited for lunch, we saw our lantern shining and twinkling along a long string of other colorful lanterns.
All lanterns had a dedication on them, and they all glowed on Buddha’s birthday, with good intentions to bring happiness to all sentient beings, and to help all rise above ignorance and suffering, into the peace that is the very nature of All There IS….