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Posts Tagged ‘butterflies’

At the weekend, I went on my first group trip in a while – to Jindo, primarily. Jindo is an island off the south coast of Korea where, twice a year, the tide lowers to reveal a land pass to a much smaller island. The second part of the trip involved going to a butterfly festival.

After returning to Korea, I had a period of going on lots of trips (well, a few, anyway), but in the last couple months I haven’t attended many – or any. I’ve been concentrating on spending time with the people I’ve met and haven’t felt the need to meet new people. I still don’t really, but I saw that one of my new friends had signed up for this trip, so I did, too; she later told me she wasn’t going to go. It was also the longest trip I’ve been on since I’ve been back in the country – a full weekend.

I got the first bus out of Cheonan on Saturday morning – six o’clock. It should have arrived at the terminal a short distance from the meeting point at about seven, but there was a crash on the motorway that made me a little late. As soon as I boarded the second coach, the organiser, Harry, gave me a microphone and wanted me to introduce myself. I said, ‘I’m Sean. I’m from the UK. Sorry I’m late.’ Fortunately for my self-esteem, I wasn’t the last person arriving, so we didn’t actually set off until eight.

It was a long ride down to the south-west corner of the country. I sat next to a Korean guy who had lived in the States for a long time and we chatted about Korea and Korean. We stopped for lunch in Mokpo – where Harry announced to our smaller lunch group that they should all go to my birthday party. We made another stop to cross Jindo bridge on foot; the bridge is actually two very similar bridges side by side. The bridges had statues of Yi Sun-sin (pronounced ‘ee soon sheen’) – the Korean equivalent of Nelson or Raleigh; he fought against the Japanese invasion in the sixteenth century.

Yi Sun-sin Statue on Jindo Bridge

The continuing ride from the bridge to the beach we were visiting seemed inordinately long, but we eventually got there. On this leg, most of us put on the cheap rubber and plastic waders we’d bought from a man at the bridge; mine – and most people’s – were bright green. We walked to the festival site, where Harry bought tickets, and made our way towards the seasonal causeway that we’d come all this way to see. We were early, so there was lots of milling around, photograph-taking and so on. I didn’t have much cash, so I didn’t buy anything, although there were stalls selling food and drink. The group pretty much dissolved at this stage.

We all got together again as the tide continued to go down and stretches of the land pass were revealed; some people started making the crossing early through what looked like a couple of feet of water. We clambered over the rocks on the coast and on to the pebbly seabed and followed the crowds heading across the sea towards a small island in the distance. It didn’t look that far away, but the information I’ve read says that the land pass is nearly three kilometres long.

Jindo Land Pass

Having agglomerated into a single group once more to commence the crossing, we quickly dissipated into smaller clusters. I talked to a Moroccan woman on the way over and back about life and work. We bumped into one of my other new friends, Erica (we’d been in contact about meeting while we were there, but it didn’t look like we would actually make it happen. I saw a couple of other people I’d met on trips – it seemed like every foreigner-friendly tour/Meetup group was there in force; the expats almost outnumbered the Koreans). We didn’t actually make it all the way to the smaller island; our group leader told us we had to start heading back; a coast guard ship started sounding a loud horn and men in a dinghy blew their whistles at us.

Captain Maybe in Shallow Water

The walk back was a little bit frantic. The tidal flow evidently crosses the the causeway instead of being parallel to it, so water was rushing from left to right as we headed back to the main island, at depths of up to a foot – maybe more.

We stayed at a pension near the bridge(s) overnight. In the morning, as most people were breakfasting, I took a short walk across the road to the park by the giant statue of Yi Sun-sin that faces Jindo Bridge.

Yi Sun-sin Statue

We packed up and boarded the coach and headed back to Mokpo. An American woman sat next to me and we talked about fantasy books; she kindly gave me a couple of ibuprofen for my headache. In Mokpo, we had a short hike up a mountain close to the middle of the city called Yudalsan. On the way down, I talked to a different American woman who was also into fantasy and who had lived in Manchester (the British one) for several years. We found a cash machine, went to a coffee shop where we met another member of our group – a Canadian guy – and took our coffees back to the bus.

Mokpo

Then it was off to the butterfly festival at Hampyeong Expo Park. The weather was bright and warm and the place was full of flowers so the atmosphere was cheerful and friendly. It was a very family-friendly place; there various places to buy ice cream and toys and there were giant fibreglass models of insects. Out among fields of oil seed rape there were pools and rice paddies where you could try your hand at catching fish, planting rice or operating a waterwheel.

Lifting Water

The side of a nearby small mountain had a huge flowerbed in the shape of a butterfly. The butterfly hall was a little less impressive than similar places I’ve visited in the Philippines and Malaysia – at least in terms of the species it contained: I only made out two kinds of butterfly – white ones and black and white ones. It also had some live giant beetle grubs that you could pick up.

Butterfly

I tagged along with a few people; later, it looked like we’d get a group together to have lunch, but it didn’t really happen. I ended up having some rather expensive (₩8,000) chicken tandoori from an Indian food stall (which, for some reason, had a large picture of the Hagia Sofia at the back); then I got a kebab from the Turkish stand (which also had a Hagia Sofia picture).

Hampyeong Expo Park

Then we all got back on the coach and we headed back home. Well, nearly all; both the Korean man and the American woman (and her friend) that I’d sat next to left at this point to go their own way. I chatted to a Frenchman on the way back – he’s in the country working on RAM, apparently.

I had told Harry that I’d like to be dropped off near Cheonan, but, as I had no idea how I’d get from the service station to the city and my boss couldn’t give me any advice, I changed my mind and headed up to Seoul, where I met Zach and Matthew for dinner and a game of Munchkin. I’m pretty sure I got the last possible coach back to Cheonan on Sunday night.

All in all it was a very good, if exhausting, weekend. I met some very nice people that I’d like to keep in touch with, but, given the often fluid nature of friendships in Korea, I’m not sure if we will. One or two of them might come to my birthday this weekend.

Having stayed up all night on Friday, I came to the event tired and the length and quality of sleep that I was able to get wasn’t great. I think this showed on Sunday, as my desire to socialise dwindled and I was happy to be alone with my thoughts and the view out of the window as we returned to Seoul. I’m not sure I want to do another overnight trip again soon, but another day trip would be good.

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As I mentioned, we shared the ride from the ferry terminal in Tubigon to Alona Beach with a couple of young women who resided in Hong Kong, Ivy and Mara. We made arrangements with them to take a car tour of various place of interest in Bohol. Bohol is a smallish island province a little to the south of Cebu; our base at Alona was on a smaller island off the south-west corner of Bohol, near the only city, Tagbilaran. Panglao is separated from Bohol by a matter of a few score metres – there are two modest bridges linking both land masses.

We were picked up around nine o’clock on our first morning in Alona in a dark red people carrier and then driven the half-hour or so back across Panglao and on to the mainland. The weather was hot, the skies clear, the sun shining, and we were happy to enjoy the car’s air conditioning.

Our first stop was on the coast road near Tagbilaran – a statue commemorating the Sandugo or blood compact between the Spanish explorers and the native Filipinos in the 16th century. We stopped to take a few photos and then moved on.

Next stop was one of the oldest churches in the Philippines – Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Baclayon. This building reminded me a lot of the Basilica of the Bom Jesus in Old Goa in India – especially Swiss-cheese-like rock out of which it was built. There were worshippers inside, but it wasn’t clear if it was a mass or other ceremony, or people were just hanging out, but it seemed quite informal. Loud music pounded out of a pavilion on a green next door. Habiba was given a shawl to put over her immodestly naked shoulders. We stopped to take a few photos and then moved on.

The church was also on the coast, but our next port of call took us into the jungly interior of the island. Bohol is particularly famous for two things – and we saw both that day, the first being tarsiers. A tarsier is a small nocturnal primate. Its body is a little larger than a clenched fist, and it has a long, rat-like tail. It has huge eyes – fifty times bigger than a human’s compared to its body size – and long-fingered, knuckly paws with pads like a frog or a gecko.

There is a ‘good’ tarsier sanctuary on the island, according to our borrowed Lonely Planet, but I don think the one we visited was it. The tarsier zoo we went to was a large hut on the side of the road, surrounded by fields and forest. The tarsiers were kept in bushes in raised beds in the middle of the hut, and visitors were able to view them from every side. The boys who worked there answered the women’s questions about the tarsiers and we spent a fair amount of time photographing the little creatures.

Apart from being disturbed during their natural sleeping time by gawking foreigners, the tarsiers seemed fairly healthy. The young men working there encouraged us to get up close to photograph the tarsiers, but there were signs up forbidding touching them. The combined facts that we weren’t at the ‘good’ sanctuary, that there probably loads of these places scattered across the island, all probably getting their animals directly from the wild, and that characteristic ‘so cute!’ reaction of the women depressed me a little (especially as I know how much Habiba dislikes zoos).

I went outside to take some pictures of the fields. The sky had started to cloud up and the fields were of the watery variety, so there was a dramatic sky made doubly dramatic by its reflection in the paddy fields below.

Next on the itinerary was lunch, and lunch was to be partaken of on a boat on the Loboc River. We were taken to the boarding place by our driver (a Filipino called Paul) where there were lots of people waiting to board several of these boats. Each boat was an alarming construction – the buffet hall was maybe five by eight metres and sat on two boat hulls; this was powered by a separate boat connected to the main bulk at the stern. The buffet was mediocre – and made more so by the guitarist singing an endless stream of standards and making them all sound the same.

The river cruise took us along the brown river between jungle-shrouded banks. At the far end of the upstream, we stopped for two purposes: the end of the navigable watercourse where a few small waterfalls fed the river, and to stop at a large hut on stilts over the water where a troupe of Filipinos in matching pink and white outfits sang and danced for us for ten minutes. While we were there, the heavens opened and tropical deluge fell; fortunately, it eased off a lot as we puttered back downstream.

By the time we reached our next stop, the rain had pretty much ceased completely, although the sky remained cloudy. The next stop in question was Bohol’s other main attraction – the Chocolate Hills. These are distinctively regular and discrete conical hills that were formed by the upraising and partial erosion of a coral reef in the distant past. They’re called Chocolate because in summer the heat and dryness causes their grass skins to turn a sere brown. They were quite green when we visited.

There appears to be one hill that is set aside for tourists, with a visitor’s centre and shops and stalls clinging to one side. From there, you get a good view of dozens of other apparently untrammelled hills poking out of the jungle in most directions. The hills were actually steaming in the heat and wetness.

Our final stop on the tour was a butterfly sanctuary. This was a much nicer, more professional place than the tarsier place (and who cares about the feelings of invertebrates, anyway?), with a little museum/information area, a café and a garden. A lad took the four of use round the premises, explaining pretty much all the stuff I learned in primary school about butterflies. One display held examples of something I didn’t know about – the fact that butterflies have pronounced sexual dimorphism, and some rare butterflies are gynandromorphous – literally half male, half female. The young guy told us that all but one of the nine on display were fake (and you can’t help but have your doubts about that one).

We were encouraged to touch caterpillars and chrysalises, and then we entered a netted-off area where various live, adult butterflies and moths hung and fluttered. Most impressively, there was an Atlas moth clinging to one post of an arbor. Its furry antennae were like feathers and its thick, furry legs were reminiscent of a tarantula’s.

And then it was time to drive back to Alona Beach – and still have time to spend a while on the beach before a peachy golden sunset. The tour cost 2,000 pesos for the car (lunch and some entrance fees were not included), which worked out to about £7.25 each for the four of us.

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