Namhae - Darangee Village
Written by Adrian Cox
Located on the Southern tip of South Korea Darangee village is a real gem; nestled between rice paddy fields and scenic mountains. Looking out upon the vast ocean gives you a great sense of well being and really glad that you made the decision to follow Seokjin to this great part of South Korea. I must say Seokjin does a really good job in running adventure Korea and this trip is exceptionally good and it comes with my highest recommendations. I have ventured to Darangee village twice now. I had such a great time last year, so when the opportunity came up to go there again this year I didn’t have to think twice.
Having witnessed very few early mornings in Seoul, except for those Soju induced ones, it’s actually quite refreshing to board the bus at 8 o'clock and leave Seoul. Both times I have departed Seoul it has been grey and rather dull and upon arrival in Namhae it has been bright and blue. It pays to get comfortable and settled on the bus as it is a fairly lengthy journey - don’t forget the ipod, as well as your charger. If you have a PSP good for you, but don’t get too involved in that game of GTA as you will miss a lot of the scenery. Even though the bus ride can be tiring it is still really good. Movement away from Seoul brings great amounts of color. This is what struck me the most this year, an array of blues and greens plus with the bonus of Cherry blossoms made the journey very pleasant. A few stops for food and the much needed bathroom stops gives you a sense of travel as other weary travelers traipse towards the dokbokki stalls whilst others find pleasure in a hotdog. I myself personally enjoy the waffles. About an hour from the island of Namhae the scenery becomes really striking. It’s nice to see farming, with ajumma's and ajasshi's littering the fields as they go about their work. This is when you realize you are in a very traditional part of South Korea and farming methods lack any really form of mechanics. The bridge to the island resembles that of a miniature Golden Gate and gives you a sense of nostalgia if you have ever visited San Fran. From here it is a short journey to the destination and time to meet the lovely hosts of the weekend.
The village of Darangee is very small indeed with a rough population of around 150 people, so the fact that 70 foreigners are to be the guests for the weekend is a big deal and they really pour on the hospitality. For those living in Seoul, such as myself, it’s a stark contrast; tiny, scenic, very close to the ocean, clean and miles away from the Family Mart. The village boosts a small shop as its modern convenience. Before I started writing this I did some basic research on the Namhae region. Its population has been declining since 1964, and has been halved since that time. It has an aged population, which is a reflection of the village's demographic. The accommodations are home stays which are great as it gives you a good insight into the lives of the people. The hosts are all grandmothers and grandfathers with the majority of their children living in Seoul, so I gathered they really enjoy the company and caring for any of our needs, like any grandma or grandpa does. It is also really nice staying in an actually house as opposed to an apartment. The hosts meet and greet you then you are escorted to your dwellings for the weekend. The houses are really neat with assorted colored roofs and a lot of them have their own cows. Groups usually consist of around 5 or 6 people, so it is also a great opportunity to meet new people.
My advice - take your shorts, it is a lot warmer than Seoul and it’s a great chance to get some sunshine on those pasty legs of yours. After getting acquainted with the village you are given several options of activities for the afternoon: Hiking the lingering mountain in the background, which involves a race-car type driver taking you half-way in his truck and then a relatively relaxed hike to the top to take in the sights, or another option is to purchase a fishing rod and try your luck catching fish off the rocks and swimming in the refreshing waters to wash off the several hours of travel. Or there is the other option of chilling on the rocky bay over from the village swimming and exploring and if you have a tropical fish tank at home and want to collect some rocks for it to give it that authentic feel this is a great opportunity to do so.
After that its time to head back to the home stays for dinner which consists of your classic traditional Korean meal, served with a big smile. After dinner it is time to don a sweater and head to the school to get fueled on maekali and beer for the night’s activities. As I said it is a big deal for the villagers and a lot of them turn out to get involved in the activities, which involved a relay race, tug-of-war and a blazing bonfire. It was great to socialize with the people and look up at the clear night sky. Seokjin keeps the party flowing with maekali. I really appreciated the stillness of the village at night and gave me the sense of being on vacation at the beach when I was a youngster. After the bonfire the options are open but respect is needed in this quaint village so it pays not to get as loose as you would in Hongdae or Itaewon. Bedding for the night is comfortable and homely.
Sunday morning brings the option of getting up early to watch the sunrise, both years I opted not to cause sleeping is cool, however I'm very sure it's beautiful and is well worth it once you are up. After breakfast there is the chance to involve yourself in traditional farming methods – such as ploughing a field with an ox. It sure does look simple when the ajasshi meanders up the field and back with his ox but when it actually comes to ploughing it is quite difficult and tricky. There is also an opportunity to get up to your knees in mud and plant rice in the paddies. I wondered this year where all the rice comes from in Korea. I gathered from the village's nature that they are fairly self-sufficient and what they produce is what they keep and distribute in the nearby district, so I gathered rice comes from China or somewhere else because these are the only paddies I have seen in Korea.
After farming, its time to prepare for the fishing boat excursion. This is a real gem and enjoyed it the most both years around. It's fairly basic - jump on the boat and head out to where the fisherman haul in their nets. At first you might have second thoughts once you spy the boat but rest assured it's sea-worthy just with a very rustic nature, and if you are nice to the ajasshi he might let you steer the boat. It's great being out on the ocean again and you can catch some nice pics of the surrounding area whilst your friends back in Seoul wallow in bed after a big night at Tin Pan. Once out at the nets the ajasshi's do their business of getting their catch which soon becomes yours as Seokjin readies his Soju hand. The ajasshi's are true masters with their knives and have the fish filleted in seconds flat. Beware of the octopus, because shooting ink is a defense mechanism and sometimes innocent bystanders are sprayed whilst the chief of the village toils with it. We were split into two groups during this activity, so you have the chance to explore the coastline while waiting, and if you like you could collect some shells to make a necklace like no one else has in Seoul, or give it to your loved one. Once back to the dock, the full catch comes out and you have the opportunity of killing the fish, gutting it, then filleting it. Also having a bite out of a live octopus. Once the fish are prepared you can eat all the raw fish you desire - good stuff - fish is delicious.
After a day of traditional activities it sure builds up a great hunger and it's time to be ushered back to the home stays for the final meal before departure. Even though it's a short trip you become quite attached to the hosts and it's a little sad departing leaving them to their quaint and wholesome lifestyles. Pictures are taken and bows are exchanged. By this time it's time to depart, the buses haul out and your mind drifts away to lesson planning for Monday - ha. Often the trip back is longer than the trip there due to heavy traffic so have that ipod charged. Once again several stops and many hours later you find yourself back home amongst the bustle. It is a little bit surreal being dropped at Express Bus or Hongdae as you find yourself back amongst so many city folk and the mind drifts back to the village and leaves you wondering and contemplating the next trip. During classes I often drift off and think of the village - I think it's a real special part of South Korea and would quite happily go again. After this years job offer from the chief of working as a fisherman down there it's a consideration - hmmm, fish
Maybe this was a little long however I tried to do this trip justice through writing and I could of written a lot more however it's easier just to go see for yourself - I guarantee you won't be disappointed - a must do
Many thanks to Seokjin