So, for those of you who missed the miniscule articles and pictures about the Boryeong Mud Festival in Various news sources, I'm here to tell you all about it.
Our experience started on Friday night when we were looking for our hostel. We were supposed to meet the bus at 7 am and there was no way that we were going to make it all the way there from Suji (the meeting point was about 1-2 hours away from where we live). So I got us a hostel for relatively cheap online and we set out trying to find it.
What I didn't count on - but honestly should have - was that the area the hostel is in (Hongdae) is the university district. That means on a Friday night not only is it crowded, but there were drunk people left and right, carnival game stands and vendors on the street. We saw one couple face plant on the sidewalk right next to us because the guy had been trying to give the girl a piggy back ride. They both ended up with a face full of asphalt.
Through all this madness and the fact that the streets were very confusing and crowded we had very little chance of finding the hostel.
Along comes Korea's best kept secret: the sheer generosity and hospitality that every Korean shows to strangers when given the chance. After about two hours of searching we asked a woman at a nearby food stand. She didn't know either, but she would have rather eaten her own shoe then let us go without knowing we would find the place. She pulled in all the people at the stand and they had a mini conference about it - where was this place? Were we in the right area? Then this one guy who was there with his girlfriend ran all the way back to his car to get his GPS to find it for us. He then led us all the way there.
At which point, it became obvious why we couldn't find it. The entrance to it was down a sketchy alley and literally through a hole in the wall. If this had been India I would have said NO WAY. But Korea, I'm convinced, is one of the safest places on Earth, despite their tendency to fumigate city streets without clearing the people off first.
It turned out to be very not sketchy once we got inside - proving that sometimes you just have to embrace the adventure and trust in the good will of strangers. We slept very well - a lot better than we would have slept had we tried sleeping at the jjimjjilbang (sauna) again.
In the morning we got on the bus and made our way to the mudflats. The beach where the festival is being held is not where the mud is from. It’s from the mudflats about 30 minutes away. The tour we were on was embracing the true spirit of the mud and took us to the flats first. There we were given military looking outfits and told, very casually, that we were now going to run a marathon.
We were also told that we should be careful and 'walk lightly' because there were sharp shells in the mud that could cut our feet. Then it was explained that after that, we would do some mud games but that we should be careful because last year, 'a man was broken' during the games. Our particular guide had a certain flare for drama - either that or he was taught English by American soap operas. We found out later that the man just broke his leg while playing rugby on the mudflats.
So, we did the marathon - I say 'did' because I walked most of it; but 5 kilometers is 5 kilometers - which the Mayor of Boryeong started off with his pop gun, and got our army uniforms all muddy. I even got a Medal for completing. We then abstained from their organized rugby madness to have our own shenanigans. We started a mud fight just among the four of us (Leslie, Stephanie, Ryan and me) and Leslie's friend Jeremy, which escalated when one of the guides got involved. He lobbed a mud ball at my head and when Ryan turned to throw mud at him, he calmly informed Ryan that he couldn't do that because Ryan was on his team. Thus, the girls versus boys mud fight got pretty messy and ended with Ryan and Stephanie so muddy you may not have been able to tell them apart.
After getting all cleaned up - well, a little cleaned up, they were open air showers at which photographers with telephoto lenses were camped out - we got back on the bus and went to where the actual mud festival was being held.
We got to lay our stuff down in our room - which, by the way, had no furniture in it. No beds, nothing. And we left for the festival proper.
Leslie had been waiting all week to paint herself with the colored mud so that’s what we did first.
The ladies at the stall who were painting people ranged from understanding but harassed to fascist and angry. Stephanie wanted a certain pattern, and the woman who was doing hers listened to her carefully, then completely disregarded what she wanted. Stephanie tried one last time - she wanted a yellow circle around her eye - and the woman nodded and reached for the yellow paint brush. We thought that we had finally made a break through until she plopped the thing down on her hair and started to slather her hair with the thick yellow paint. So much for cross cultural understanding.
For food we inevitably ended up at this one restaurant that had bay windows overlooking the ocean. It was called 'Orange' which follows a long Korean Tradition of naming restaurants after random English food words. This is parallel to the tradition of naming restaurants with English names like Alice and Lucy or Frank.
The problem with the whole adventure was that we were sharing it with some unsavory characters. There were a lot of foreigners there who were doing a bad job of representing their country. I am speaking specifically of some of the Army people we saw getting drunk and shooting fireworks into the boardwalk. It was the only time I've even been cat called in all five months I've been in Korea. When we went back to Orange for dinner that night, instead of a nice relaxing dinner, we were constantly on edge trying to disassociate ourselves with the rowdy meatheads. Unfortunately, this didn't work judging by the fact that our waiter asked us to pay before we got our meal. Its one of my personal pet peeves, being judged on the actions of others and I was just in a bad mood the rest of the night. In fact, I left the restaurant and went straight back to the hotel, not only because I had woken up that morning at 6 am, but also because I didn't want to deal with more American Idiots.
The next morning I was in a foul mood and nothing I did could shake it. Everything anyone said to me was followed by a sarcastic remark in my head. I have learned long ago that the only way out of this kind of pattern was to give myself a time out from socializing. So while Leslie, Steph and Ryan went to the beach and got all muddy some more, I just sat under an umbrella by the beach and chilled. It did improve my mood a little and gave them a chance to have fun without Grouchy McSourpants along. I took some pictures, bought some mud soap and tried to lighten my mood. We met up later and had lunch at the 'foreigner restaurant' set up by the event staff. But all they had was hamburgers so I ended up eating at a Kabob stand down the street - best kabob EVAR.
At this point I was hot and sweaty and I could feel a headache coming on so I just decided to spent the remaining 45 mins of our trip on the air conditioned bus. I guess I wasn't as adventurous as I should have been on this trip but I blame it on the mood I was in. And the heat. But honestly, the heat wouldn't have stopped me if I had been all gung-ho about it.
All in all the trip was a success despite my moodiness and we have some fabulous pictures which I will post at a later date. This is because I am currently in Japan on the second part of my vacation. Be jealous.