Namhae Island - Fishing Villages in Paradise.
The trip to Namhae Island started with an all night bus trip. We piled into the bus at around midnight and slept as best as we could through the night, heading south. Rest area stops every couple of hours were convenient. As the Chartered bus rolled into the dawn, we cruised across a smaller version of the Golden Gate Bridge onto Namhae Island. By 7am, I went to climb the mountain by the coast near our destination town of Darangee Village (some folks stayed behind visiting the fishing village). A pickup truck took us to a lovely stone spring, and we hiked up from there for about an hour. The top was marked by a stone pyramid that was placed there as wishes for the birth of a son. I put a rock on it too, since I don’t have a son. The view was breathtaking as we could see the small fishing village way below us and the ocean going out to the horizon.
Next we went fishing, swimming and skin diving at the pebbly beach. I was a bit hesitant to get into the water, since I was tired from the mountain…but in ten minutes the water had 15 people in it splashing, swimming to a log raft and playing ball. So, I finally got in and it was only cold on entering and very refreshing after lying in the sun for awhile. I spent half my time in the water overall. I had brought flippers, mask, and snorkel as recommended if we wanted to skin-dive, and when I saw our fishing guide go snorkeling and come back with an octopus, I broke out my equipment and went looking for one too. Snorkeling was effortless and made me one with the clear water. Visibility was about 4 meters, which was excellent. At first I saw only rocks and pebbles, but soon I could see the fish and kelp among the rocks. Some of us went fishing off the rocks with a long telescopic fishing pole, but I figured skin diving was better for me. I had a great time going skin diving four times, and lent my equipment to four others. At one point I decided to find my own octopus because I really like the taste and wanted to be able to catch my own. I found a big one that was hiding by grabbing rocks and covering himself with them. On later trips, I found starfish, yellow striped fish, and sea urchins.
Our fisherman then showed us how to catch fish by hand by chumming them with a piece of bait right at the shoreline. We pulled the bait up when we felt something wriggling. That something was a baby eel holding on with his teeth to the bait, and some of us ate them raw on the spot. I ate three, but they did have a funny taste that might need gutting to remove. Later the fisherman cooked up the octopus in a big pot on the beach with one of the one burner stoves we see in the stores. When they turned red, he put them on a wooden spool end table about a meter across and cut them up into bite-sized morsels which we dipped into hot sauce he poured into holes in the hub. Later he cut up a raw sushi feast of fish, eel, and octopus which we washed down with juice, beer, or soju. Finally, we had a traditional Korean meal of rice, kimchee, and soup. Then we hiked up the mountain and visited the store for supplies. I bought ice cream and mango juice. Off went the bus to our sleeping accommodations in another town.
Haebari means torchball fishing, and that’s just what we did there. We settled into our comfortable Korean style rooms as guests in the houses of the villagers. Ours had a lovely rooftop with a view of the bay and mountains. The valley was green and lush with farming and the roads were very tidy. It looked like paradise to me. In the afternoon, we hiked to a pine forest area and drank fresh “citron” juice which was made from what we know as limes. It was very tasty. We had a nice meal of rice, kimchee, and fish with our host family, and then went night fishing. The whole town turned out and we lit a big bonfire on the wharf as we waited for the tide to go out. A big pot of large mussels was served up with hot sauce…a feast like I’ve only had in Brussels. When the tide was out sufficiently at around 11pm, we lit our kerosene ball torches and combed the beach. I caught and octopus right at the waterline and was happy to do so. We slept well at our lovely houses, some of us sleeping on the roof under the sky.
Next morning we had more rice, fish, crab soup, kimchee, and coffee for breakfast. Then we met at the community center and went out boating with the fishermen. Our boat took five people and the fisherman and his wife. They laid out a 100 meter gill net as the boat trolled the water, then they came back around for the boat noise to scare the fish into the net. As the net was pulled up, we helped pull the fish, crabs, shrimp, and mantis shrimp free and dropped the fish into the aerated water tank. The smaller fish were thrown back overboard. Our fisherman cut up some of the fish into fine strips and we had a lunch meal of raw fish, hot sauce, and soju on a plate on deck. We cruised back into the harbor, having been on a genuine Korean fishing boat.
We had one last meal with a great mussel broth, rice, kimchee, and ham. Then we loaded into the bus and took the expressway back to Seoul. The mountain views were fantastic and I took some great pictures of bonsai trees at one of the rest stops.
I came back well-exercised, lightly sunburned, and with an adventure that taught me how to fish well-enough to sail around the world and eat well anywhere. Only a very well-organized trip has so much education, exercise, and adventure, all in one package. Our Korean hosts and fishermen were kind, helpful and giving. Our Korean tour guides were very helpful and considerate. It was an excellent adventure.
Matthew Arthur Seabright.