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Monday, January 9, 2012

Welcoming Winter? Try an Icy Dip & Zip at Deokpo Beach!


On January 7th, I had the pleasure of participating in the 8th Annual Geoje Penguin Swim Festival. This festival was just so much fun, and definitely one of my favourite experiences in Korea thus far!

Geoje Penguin Swim 2012! 
거제도 국제펭윈수영축제 2012!

The 8th Annual Penguin Swim's Official Poster
(Image courtesy of GIPF's official website)

I rose early to join a meet-up group run by an amiable and well-spoken Korean man nicknamed Charles. Along with Charles and six others, we piled into a small van-bus and set off for the festival. The festival was being held in Deokpo (덕포) on Geoje Island or Geoje-do (거제도), Korea's second-largest island, located just outside of Busan


We crossed the new Busan-Geoje Fixed Link. This 8.2 kilometres route (5.1 miles) includes two cable-stayed bridges and an immersed 3.2 kilometres-long tunnel (2 miles), set 48 metres below sea-level (157 feet). This tunnel is both the world's second-longest and the world's deepest immersed tunnel to date.

The new Busan-Geoje Fixed Link, including Geoga Bridge 
(거가 대교) and the world's deepest immersed tunnel

Just a short time later we arrived at our destination, Deokpo, a tiny area known for its beautiful beach. The grounds included multiple tents offering such services as complimentary snacks and beverages for participants, face-painting, and games. We arrived just in time to collect our complimentary souvenir t-shirts and towels before watching the opening ceremonies.

Tour group friends from around the word pose with the festival mascots.
Korea, India, Canada, Ireland, and the USA were represented!

The opening ceremonies were a wonderful mix of traditional meets modern. First we were entertained by some well-practiced older men and women dressed in traditional costume playing Korean drum music before we took in an exciting drum show by a group of elementary and middle school students. They were followed by a local group of edgily-dressed, university-aged women performing upbeat dance routines to modern K-Pop songs, treating us to the entire spectrum of age and Korean musical tastes.

Small ones admiring the traditional drum music...

...And playing it too!

Dance troupe CHK showcase some stylish moves

Crowds young and old enjoy the show

After the show and official greeting (kindly translated into English), we were ready to swim. The crowds were called to the beach for the grand finale to the opening ceremonies. Cheers roared through the crowd as a ship trolled by spraying water into the air while laughter and claps could be heard as the beach was coloured with an explosion of confetti. All participants were then asked to ready themselves as the judges and volunteers made their way to their positions. 


A few words of welcome

Racing the see the show
Next year's penguin swimmer?

The fact that it was such a beautiful mild and sunny day made it easier to take off our street clothes and change into our swim gear, but it was definitely still cold! The initial shock didn't last long, because when we made our way over to the growing crowd of competitors, we had other things to think about, namely the even colder swim that awaited us, and the teeming hordes of camera crews!


The swimmers included students from India,
and English teachers from the USA, Ireland, and Canada

The group lovin' one of our many moments of fame

The festival crowd was quite large and the number of swimmers easily filled the enclosed area of beach. Camera crews circled, snapping Koreans and foreigners. It was a surreal feeling, but not an unwelcome one! After countless photos and camera interviews, we began a group warm-up session led by a far too energetic emcee.

Warmin' up in c-c-c-cold!
Getting limber...



We're ready!

Styles of dress ranged from fully clothed to barely dressed. Many outfitted themselves in their souvenir shirts, and quite a few sported serious-looking wet-suits and goggles. Somehow, and I don't know how, I was the only woman in a  bikini on the entire beach! Well, at least it means I'm easy to find in the photos! 

Limbs loose and hearts pounding, the competitors let out a few cheers before the whistle sounded. We ran forward, a mass body, into the ocean. Any thoughts of pain or shock due to the cold were cast aside because the needs of the group demanded that you push ahead. We ran as far as we could into the surf before the sand gave way and we began to swim. We had a goal of 25 metres to reach the dock with the volunteers, and then to escape as quickly as possible and swim 25 metres back to land. It was challenging to move in the cold with so many people surrounding you, especially upon reaching the dock, but we persevered and we made it. 


Finished and ready to go get our medals! 
Fighting! 화이팅!

It didn't take very long to make the round trip, and once we reached dry land again, our cold but happy bodies plodded our way past the cameras, smiling and waving to retrieve our winners' medals. Along with lines of other revelers, we made our way to stage. I shook hands with an elderly and well-dressed official who seemed very intrigued by me and my soaking-wet friends. He was a good sport posing for photos as he draped the medal over my neck.


Victorious, we smile for the cameras

After a few minutes rest with some complimentary hot lemon tea and ramyeon (라면), a kind of spicy instant noodle soup, we continued our fun by joining the live flatfish catching contest. About 700 flatfish were released into a netted area in the sea, and we were all instructed to go catch them - by hand! Successful fishers could have their catch filleted and served raw for a small donation. Four golden-coloured flatfish were also released, and each containing approximately 400 grams of gold inside them for the lucky person who found them! I didn't even catch one fish, let alone one infused with precious metals, but our group managed to catch or acquire three flatfish, thanks to a donated fish from a more talented Korean competitor. 

Antonio (far left) and Ben (far right) caught our flatfish lunch for us 
Pucker up!

These more active events were featured on national news, and we even made a few cameos!






We then took advantage of the hot shower service (free!) and got bundled and warmed up again. While our fish were being prepped, the boys competed in an eel relay race and treasure hunt, and a three-legged race took place as well. The lot of us entered an endurance contest, where we stood barefoot on blocks of ice till we lost our balance. I lost to a 13-year-old girl, but Ben came away with a prize of designer socks to keep his feet warm when he's not competing.




Ben's cool composure on the ice earns him 
the grand prize - designer socks!

As our feet thawed, we sat to our meal of delicious raw flatfish or gwang-eo (광어), served with lettuce and gochujang (고추장), or Korean spicy red pepper paste. I snuck out between bites to snap some pictures of other happy festival-goers.


These ladies swam and won


Other fishers enjoying their lunch


The man in the middle caught their fish, 
and he looks a bit irked that his buddy is eating it!


Group shot, enjoying our victory lunch 
with a few new friends


With all of the festivities completed, we decided to take advantage of the local zip-line that stretched 450 metres from one end of the beach to the other. Luckily for us, the ride was half-price, exclusively for the Penguin Swim Festival! We paid 10,000 won (about $10 CAD/USD) for a round-trip. The view was gorgeous, it was comfortable, and not at all scary once you got off the platform.


Our second adventure of the day, zip-lining!

Harnessing the opportunity...


Mid zip-trip!

Landing intact, our thrill-seeking troupe decided it was time head back. After taking a few parting shots, we drove out of Deokpo, admiring the beautiful sunset and chatting about our adventure-filled day.


When even the balloons were up for grabs,
we knew it was time to head home.

Good-bye, Geoje-do.


The Geoje International Penguin Swim Festival 2012 swimming contest cost 10,000 won, and this fee included a souvenir shirt & towel. Many of the activities, snacks, or other services were either free, available at a low cost, or by donation. The locals are friendly, and the event was well-organized. The zip-line is 20,000 won for a round-trip, and is open year-round. Geoje-do is accessible via the Busan-Geoje Fixed-Link, and trips from Busan take about an hour. I highly recommend the trip! See the Geoje-do tourist information page: http://english.geoje.go.kr/index.sko.


4 comments:

  1. kudos jessica!!!! feels like i am on trip while reading...

    ReplyDelete
  2. nicely written Jessica and great photos.

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  3. I love it! WELL WRITTEN! GOOD PHOTOS!!!! FIGHTING!!!!!!!

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