Deokjeokdo Bliss: 41 Hours, 39 Pics

Any of you who have been following Coco Busan over the last year and a half (thanks, everyone!) have likely noticed my fondness for Korean islands.  I’ve visited six of them now, escaping the homogeny of the city buildings and immersing myself, temporarily, into the more traditional lifestyle and architecture that lingers on these slow-paced refuges. Bright rooftops and forests of fat green trees frame the small villages that make up this part of Korea’s culture.  Fishing boats glow in the night waters; narrow roads wind up toward silouhetted hills; the sound of families cooking dinner drifts into my minbak windows, unobstructed by cars.  Yep, I like these places. When I leave, six months from now, the islands will stay with me.

So of course I had to show one to my sister.

After three days trekking through Seoul, a journey that included hours poking around the vintage Hongdae boutiques, a sweaty jaunt to see the wooden houses of Bukcheon Village, an afternoon strolling through the art shops of Insadong, an hour at the 14th- century Gyeongbok Palace, which Abby thought would be “an awesome place for a music festival”, a cable-car trip up Namsan mountain to the bottom of Seoul Tower, and a rainy Han River Cruise–we took off for Deokjeokdo.  It’s an island an hour three hours from Incheon if you somehow miss the express boat and have to take the slow one, like we did.  Ah, well. What’s an extra couple hours on a boat with your sister in the Yellow Sea?

We arrived in the late, late afternoon on a Thursday. Our return boat was scheduled for Saturday morning. With only two evenings and one full day to enjoy a little beach time, we had one hopeful wish: sun.

The evening sky looked promising…

and after a couple hours sipping Cass while the tide rolled in…

we headed back to our luxury digs.

There are quite a few minbaks on the island, but in peak season, they were pricier than we’d hoped, so we settled on a minimalist barren room that fit our budget.

The real luxury was waking the next morning to clear sky, bright sun, and a stroll through the village…

past the ajummas and their carts…

and little houses tucked between trees…

to the beach.

Upon glimpsing the sand and the shore in its late morning-Deokjeokdo-sunny-August glory, Abby’s pace sped up.  Seriously, I think this was the fastest I saw her walk in Korea. Forget ancient palaces, traditional wooden houses, vintage boutiques, river cruises, and Namsan Mountain views…

My sister is a beach girl.

And the beach is where we stayed.  All day.

Well, we may have rented a couple inflatable yellow tubes for 5,000 won a piece from a nearby beachshop ajumma and floated on them in the Yellow Sea under the hot sun for an hour, discussing the particulars of Abby’s social scene as she stands on the precipice of Grade 12 (girlfriends, boys, basketball) while a swarm of fully-clothed Korean dudes splashed each other in the water nearby…

but other than that blissful sojourn, it was us, a striped blanket we borrowed from our minbak, the sand, which was a bright gold shade, a couple paper cups of sliced watermelon, and a copy of The New Yorker I’d tucked into my bag back in Busan. (Joe got me a surprise subscription a few months back–best gift ever.)

A beach, my sister, and The New Yorker?

This might be my new happy place. Definitely in the top ten…

Did I mention trees are one of my favourite things in nature?  Check out that green.  The whole island. That green.

I’d been eyeing up a long breakwater to our right since the evening before, so as the day dissolved into late afternoon, I dusted the sand from my bronzing reddening skin and went for a walk. Abby stayed, sprawled out and snoozing with her shades on.

A stream flowed out near the edge, the sand framing it windblown into long thin ridges that form what’s probably a sort of steep staircase to the local ants and sand flies…

And to the left of a few old Korean fishing boats perched on the wet shore.

Nets and ropes were piled along the edge of the break…

and graffitied bins…

and unidentified piles of stuff wrapped in blankets.

Close to the breakwater’s end, this little secluded spot appeared… 

And I thought, now that would be a sweet place to spend an afternoon!  If only we had another day…

Abby says I’m wistful.  Actually, I think I said it first, lamenting our limited time on Deokjeokdo the first night, when I saw how beautful it was.  “We have all day tomorrow,” she’d said.

“I know,” I said. “I just get wistful.”

“Ha! And where do you think you get that from?”


“Dad!” she said.

My dad finds new spots when they go on trips,  a quaint little neigbourhood in Southern California or a beach town on Vancouver Island, and starts to daydream.  “We could get a little place,” he says, “spend the summers, maybe come out for a few months in the winter.”  Traveling does that to you, to us. You think about staying for more than a day or two. You’re not ready to leave. You want this part, the discovering part, to last.  But my dad wants to see more, too, to get back in the car and keep driving. There’s only so much time, and more places along the way.  So that my sister and my stepmom have to convince him to park the car and just enjoy where he is.  I think he wants both–to stay and to go.  The idea of returning, perhaps, provides some kind of reconciliation between the dwindling time and the desire to find out what’s further up along the road.  Last May he went to Turkey with my brother.  Colleen, he wrote in an email to my stepmom, you wıll enjoy Anytalya when we come here.  The old cıty ıs very ınterestıng and wıth the cafes and promenades ıt has a European feel to ıt.

I ask my sister, “Do you think they’ll go?”

“Oh who knows,” she says. “Every time we go somewhere Dad says he wants to go back.  And then we go somewhere else.”

Back at the beach…

Abby was roasting herself.

A little dehydrated, we packed up and found a shaded patio…

with pajeon!

and this little visitor.

Late-day light on the stroll back…

turned to dusk.

The next day, we would return to Seoul, then ride the slow train back to Busan.

Eighteen months into my time in Korea, I’m homesick.  I miss Canada.  I miss my family and all the friends there who have also become my family.  When I hugged my sister goodbye at the Gimhae airport three days later, I thought, there goes my family–separated again, for what will be almost another year.

But, like the islands, she stays with me.

(Thanks Abby. xo)


5 thoughts on “Deokjeokdo Bliss: 41 Hours, 39 Pics

  1. That is a gorgeous island, dress, and the most adorable kitten I have ever seen. It can’t
    be more than a few week’s old. Hard to say goodbye to a loved one, but a year will go by
    quickly, especially with the holiday’s you have got planned! xoxox

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