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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Taking a Winter Dip at the Deokpo Penguin Swim Festival


On January 7th, I took part 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!

I rose early to join a tour group and travel to Deokpo (덕포) on Geoje-do, or Geoje Island (거제도), a tiny area known for its beautiful beach. The festival grounds offered such services as complimentary snacks and beverages for participants, face-painting, and games. 


The opening ceremonies were a wonderful mix of traditional meets modern. First we were entertained with some traditional Korean drum music before watching some edgily-dressed women performing upbeat dance routines to modern K-Pop songs.

Small ones admiring the traditional drum music...
...And playing it too!
Dance troupe CHK showcase some stylish moves

After the show and official greeting, we were ready to swim. The fact that it was such a beautiful sunny day made it easier to take off our street clothes and change into our swim gear, but it was definitely still cold! The shock didn't last long, because we had other things to think about, namely the even colder swim that awaited us, and the camera crews!

The group loving a moment of fame
The festival crowd was quite large. Camera crews circled. 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.

Getting limber...
We're ready!
Limbs loose and hearts pounding, the competitors let out a few cheers before the whistle sounded. We ran forward 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 had to swim a 50-metre round-trip. It was challenging to move in the cold with so many people, but we persevered and we made it. 


The swim didn't take very long, 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. 

Victorious, we smile for the cameras. 
Fighting! 화이팅!
After a few minutes rest with some complimentary snacks, 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.

Our group caught a three-flatfish lunch 
We then took advantage of the free hot shower service and got bundled up again. We participated in some of the other activities, including an eel relay race, treasure hunt, and a three-legged race. One of our team members won an endurance contest, outlasting all the others as he balanced barefoot on a block of ice. 


As our feet thawed, we sat to our meal of delicious raw flatfish or gwang-eo (광어), and many others were doing the same!





The tour group enjoys lunch together 
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. 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!

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.


Good-bye, Geoje-do.


The 2012 swimming contest cost 10,000 won, and included a souvenir shirt & towel. Many of the other services available were free, or by donation and the event was well-organized. The zip-line costs 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 Geoje-do tourist information: http://english.geoje.go.kr/index.sko.

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