Hanging out Hillside: The Somaemuldo Mission

After the mid-April trip to Bijindo island, during which our inspiration to camp on the beach with an open fire was half-squelched by the local ajummas (the beach camping was a success, the open fire vetoed in loud, vehement Korean ), Joe’s and my vision for Somaemuldo was somewhat simpler: we just wanted to camp, period.  A fire isn’t necessary in the night heat of July, and from the maps we’d skimmed, beach access on this small (population 50!), rocky ocean jem southwest of Tongyeong looked limited, if not non-existent.  All we wanted to pitch a tent was a flat plot of land, ideally with a little open space surrounding it.  This potential one-night nature haven had to exist somewhere on the island….right?

Or…not.  This is Somaemuldo’s port.  Note the gentle incline.  It continues to climb, culminating in a not-so-gentle mammoth of a hill…

with a few warning signs posted along the path.

There are no roads on the island, and just one main walking route to the other side.  Still, we held out hope a secluded, level spot would appear, and sweated it up the dirt trail with our gear, taking in this view of Deungdaesum Island after the descent.

This tiny island is considered the highlight of a Somaemuldo visit: linked by a strip of gravel that’s crossable only during low tide, the view of its lighthouse (built by the Japanese during the Colonial Period) and jagged rock formations has apparently been featured in many Korean movies and commercials.  A parade of Koreans wound up and down the path; we tread on, scanning the landscape.

After spotting a couple NO CAMPING signs en route, and still no glimpse of level land, the mission to tent it evolved into a mission to hide while searching for a spot to to tent it—no easy task with the crowd surrounding us.  Veering off course appeared challenging, as the path was roped off and our backpacks and visorless waygook faces failed to blend in with the people or the steep, grassy slope.  So, after a jaunt to the rocky beach that led to Deungdaesum (high tide blocked us from crossing) we just sort of hung around awhile, looking.  Which wasn’t bad, considering the scenery…

Over the rope, about 100 feet to our left, a carpet of trees cut across the hill.  They looked inviting.  “Maybe there’s a flat spot on the other side of those somewhere,” one of us said.  We looked up to the bodies moving along the ridge.  Surely we’d be spotted crossing the open space between the path and the trees.  But would anyone report it? Would we set up camp in a shaded grove, only to be shut down by an angry Somaemuldo ajumma?

We decided to risk it, and walked single file toward the trees, taking cover beneath their branches. Let me be clear–there was nothing flat about this location.  It was the side of a giant hill. One misguided step along its edge would result in a quick and unwelcome entry to the beach below…

but after climbing up, then down, the island in the heat for the bulk of our morning, and comparing the slope of the angle before us with that of the sharp ridge above us, we convinced ourselves it was flat enough.  We rolled out the mat and planted our bodies down, leaning against our packs…

and watching the view.

We’d brought some trail mix and a couple of books.  I saw an old man’s face in the shadows of the big rock infront of us like those shapes you see in clouds; Joe tried but the man eluded him. We read.  We napped. The sunlight pressed on toward the water.  The hill’s slant prevented us from ever getting too comfortable: we had to wedge our feet against the ground to combat the persistent motion of our bodies sliding forward.

Hours passed.  It was a beautiful place to spend an afternoon.  But was it a camp spot? Debatable…

After a couple discussions weighing our options (and a vision of waking in the morning, sweaty and slightly dehydrated, with a steep hike back to the nearest source of supplies), we decided a minbak at the port was the best call.  But first, a climb up the rock we’d been gazing at all day…

then back to the path, up the hill, past the peak, and down again…where we passed this corrugated shelter, where someone wakes each morning…

and after, rented this room from a minbak ajumma who seemed very unimpressed with the sight of both of us.  The hike back had been a little rough; we were low on water, and must have appeared sweaty and disheveled, because she pretty much ordered us to shower before settling into the room.

It wasn’t a tent, and it wasn’t secluded.  But the floor was flat, and the view was lovely…

and a restaurant serving pajeon and makgeolli was just a five-minute walk away, down through the concrete paths.  It had a patio facing the sea, and old fishermen grilling fish and shouting and drinking soju at the table beside us.  The fishing boats far out on the water thinned into silhouettes as the night turned black, a thick, deep black you can’t find in the city, that you forget exists.


*Somaemuldo is an hour boat ride from Tongyeong Harbour.  I recommend.


3 thoughts on “Hanging out Hillside: The Somaemuldo Mission

  1. Love Love love it!
    It is so subtly implied, that the destination is not so essential to the journey,
    and I am pleased that you found the old man’s face sharing your view.
    Loving the photography! I caught glimpses of Flora and I must put in a request to see some portraitures of the biodiversity, especially of some of the textures in the backgrounds of the epic views in Somaemuldo.
    BIG Hugs!

  2. Somaemuldo is an incredibly beautiful island, I just wish you 2 could find one
    place where you could camp with a fire, however, as you say, THE VIEW!!!
    Beautiful picture’s, keep them coming, your work is greaaat!!!

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