Here fishie fishies...GOTCHA

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January 11th 2010
Published: January 28th 2010
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No, I fishies were caught this past weekend.

But WHAT a weekend. I had pretty much decided to cross off the months of January and February when it came to exploring and travelling just because it was cold, icy, and just not-cool weather (geez, listen to this Canadian complain) for exploring the country. HOWEVER, when Adventure Korea e-mailed me about an upcoming "ice fishing festival" trip on their website, I just couldn't resist. And boy, did I make the right choice.

This past weekend was two fun-filled days of ice, snow, hiking, sancheoneo (mountain trout), bbq, and jet-fueled bonfires.

I left Daejeon early Saturday morning to catch the KTX to Seoul in order to meet up with Adventure Korea at the Express Bus Terminal station. I was wired with excitement which resulted in complete lack of sleep the night before. Upon arriving at the arranged pickup point, I was reunited with my good friend Lisa whom I met several months ago when this Korean adventure of mine first started. I was so so happy and thrilled to see her!! We did the usual girl thing of shrieking and hugging and saying "oh my god" over and over again. Seeing her brought back memories of August when I first arrived...totally hating Korea and just wanting to jump on the next plane home. Its amazing how much has changed in these past 4 much my thinking has changed from "blech" to "I love it here!".

Anyways, it was a 3hr bus ride from Seoul to Hwacheon, Gangwon-do. However, the bus was filled with 40 other foreigners excited about the weekend and classic music was playing from the speakers which made the bus ride go by quick. It didn't hurt the cause that Jukebox Brad was alongside me singing along to every single song that came on. I could tell that we were fast arriving to our destination as the further we drove, the more snow and ice I noticed on the roads and sidewalks.

When we finally arrived to the festival site...the first thing I saw was an enormous replica of the Sancheoneo, also known as the mountain trout, high up above a building. We walked a short distance to the festival could definitely tell where it was all going down because the closer we got, the more we could hear the crowds of people along with the music blasting from the speakers.

Welcome to the 2010 Sancheoneo (Mountain Trout) Ice Festival!
Slogan: "Unfrozen Hearts, Unforgettable Memories"
Apparently, Hwacheon has a geographical feature of having the fastest ice freezing in the country because of the cold valley wind and clean water. There are many events going on during this festival such as great performances and 40 or so various experience programs such as ice sledding, snow sledding, snow sculpture-making, and ice soccer. The town boasts having "first-grade clean water" in the Bukhangang (river) for catching their Sancheoneo by hand or ice fishing on the ice.

First up for us OBVIOUSLY was trying our hands at ice fishing. Brad and I teamed up while Lisa partnered with her new friend Alex in an attempt to catch some fish. We were given one ice fishing "rod" per pair and were allowed to choose one of the 9000 ice fishing holes that had been pre-augered (?) for us scattered throughout the vast frozen river. The ice was apparently 40cm in thickness which I ASSUMED was comforting to hear as there were thousands of people surrounding us all putting their weight on this ice!

I thought to myself, "we're a shoe-in for catching at least one fish...heck I'm paired up with a Newfie!" Sadly...we were unsuccessful in catching anything besides a cold (har har). However, the media did come by and do a bit of a publicity shot by hooking pre-caught fish onto our bait and taking pictures with surprised looks of joy on our face as if we had actually caught something! This fish was still alive and as fun as it was to be in the photo shoot, it broke our hearts to see this fish struggling and flopping about. We were allowed to keep the fish afterward but both of us decided that it'd be best if we let it go back into the water while it was still alive...or at least we HOPE it survived instead of just sinking to the bottom of the river...poor fishy...not cool.

An hour or so later, we decided to give up our efforts and headed off to see what the rest of the festival had to offer. As we were walking amidst the crowd, we were suddenly stopped by KBS radio station who wanted to interview us about our experience here at the festival. We were glad and flattered to throw in our two cents and then at the end it was amusing to see the delight on the interviewer's face when he found out that Brad's last name was "Snow". ROCK THAT.

After the interview, We climbed onto a bridge that oversaw the entire festival and it was there, at that point, looking out around my surroundings, that I really took it all in. It was just...breathtaking. The view of all the ice activities going on: from ice fishing, ice skating, ice tubing, ice soccer, ice dune buggying, ice go karting, to listening to korean performances and watching Chinese sculptors expertly transform ordinary mounds of icy snow into exquisite, large scale creations of animals and people. The sound of children laughing along with the delicious smell of grilled fish. The brisk air and large snowflakes gently falling from the air all around me. It couldn't get any better.

I was wrong. It did. There is one event I hadn't mentioned: barehands fishing. This event consisted of one large outdoor tank surrounded by ice blocks and filled with water and mountain trout. Competitors would jump into icy cold water wearing only a t-shirt and shorts and attempt to catch the fish using only their bare hands. I had been looking forward to this event ever since day one of signing up for this trip. Unfortunately, not to sound all wussy, I had been battling a cold the entire week prior to the trip and ultimately decided it wouldn't be in my best interest to be carelessly jumping into cold-ass water wearing thin clothes. Brad, however, was brave enough to endure the extreme conditions but was unsuccessful in catching any fish while in the tank, as were the rest of AK. Personally, I don't think they released enough fish into that tank. =P

After the event, we ended our time at the festival with a bout of ice soccer. It was pretty much us slipping and sliding on the ice trying to kick an orange puck around. Luckily we were given helmets as I fell a few times resulting in the next day's bumps, bruises, and sore body. It was crazy fun running and sliding around on the ice...funny how it took seconds to get from one end to the other but took forever to turn/pivot around and kick the puck! My favourite part was watching the kindness of others helping the fallen get back onto their feet only to fall seconds later!

Exhausted from a couple hours of ice soccer, we finally clambered back onto the bus and headed towards our accommodations for the night. We arrived at the foot of a hill and walked ~7min (said Seokjin) up the hill and to our cabins. Our area consisted of a cluster of mini cabins, each holding up to 8 people. The cabins were spacious and simple as we were sleeping "ondol" style for the night. While we waited to be summoned for dinner, our small group sat on the floor doling out self introductions as well as reminiscing about the day's events.

Dinner was great. What a better way to wind down from the day than by having some 삼겹살 (grilled pork belly) and grilled sancheoneo! I could hear everyone laughing and retelling the day's stories while enjoying their dinner. It was a great atmosphere to be a part of.

After dinner, we attempted to SLOWLY walk it off by wandering around the perimeters of our cabin area, admiring all the different flags from countries around the world (yes we saw plenty Canada flags!) that were strung throughout the trees and checking out the small frozen pond in the middle of all the cabins. It was a clear winter night as stars dotted the black sky and snow continued to gently fall around us.

Back in the cabin, we warmed up a bit by passing around the soju bottle before heading back out into the cold to enjoy a jet-fueled bonfire. Things got a little out of hand as people began to wrestle "korean-style" (whatever that means, pretty much snow-wrestling in my opinion) next to the bonfire while the sober people calmly roasted marshmallows by the bonfire. As the fire died down, we slowly dispersed, knackered from the full day.

Early the next morning, we started our day off right with some fried eggs, toast, and a cup of oj before going on a hike up a snowy mountain known as Hwaaksan. Apparently it had snowed quite a bit the Monday prior to the trip and since then, no one had been up this mountain as we didn't see any old footprints. Seokjin (our tour guide leader) led the way with his special spiked hiking shoes while Brad and I followed right behind him, carefully clearing the path for others behind us. Going up the mountain was definitely an experience, one in which I thought I was going to die a couple times, as one slip would've had me falling into bunches of barbed wire (yes, barbed wire, as this was a military training course hiking path) surrounding us instead of the piles of soft pillows that I would've preferred. However, through endurance, persistance, and the strong helping hand of each other, we managed to hike up to the top unscathed. Along the way we spotted certain military training checkpoints that reminded me of parts of an obstacle course. For example, there were a couple balancing obstacles which would've required the soldier to walk across a huge steel cylindrical beam.

Once at the top, I secretly began to panic within, wondering how the hell we were going to get down the mountain after that treacherous hike up. Surprisingly, going back down was the best and most enjoyable part of the hike! Simply put, all we had to do was slide back down the mountain on our bums or stand and slide down snowboard-style. Sure we all ended up with snow up our shirts and such but it was all in good fun. Once back at the bottom, we took a moment to snap some memorable photos of the magnificent winter backdrop surrounding us before packing up and heading back to Seoul.

And THAT, my friends, was my ice festival weekend.

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