The Best Mistakes I’ve Ever Made
One Sunday afternoon in Ulleungdo, Tara and I found ourselves without much to do. We sat perched upon a set of stairs behind a row of vendors selling dried squid, OB Golden Lager in hand, looking out over the harbor. This had become our hang out area when we wanted to get out of the hotel room and had nothing else to do. The morning had been much harder than anticipated and after lunch and an afternoon nap I had the bright idea that we should do something. It was getting later and the sun would be setting in a few hours. A quick glance at the Lonely Planet and I’d decided where we were going: Sunset Point Pavilion.
We decided we’d take a taxi there because it was late and the buses come infrequently. I showed the driver the name on the map in Korean, he nodded, and we got into the back of the car. The drive around the island’s main coastal road was beautiful and allowed us to see the sleepiness of the island outside of the main port village where we were staying.
As the meter kept climbing, though, I started to wonder where exactly we were headed. About twenty minutes into the ride the driver pulled off onto a side road and announced we were there. There wasn’t much around besides an elementary school and a few houses. There was no sort of path that looked like it would lead to anywhere of interest. Somewhat doubtful, we got out of the car and pulled out the map. The taxi driver noted our confused faces and asked to see the map again. He then mumbled something in Korean and motioned for us to get back in the car.
He then drove around for about five minutes, turning around and asking for directions more than once, before dropping us back off in the original location. He got out of the driver’s seat and pointed to a tiny path up a densely vegetated mountain. We nodded and he drove away.
Tara and I looked at each other and then back toward the mountain. There were no signposts. There were no people. I was certain that this “trail” would lead us into some sort of Deliverance like situation. And the path was steep. Like straight up with no stairs.
“Let’s just go find the bus stop,” I said, trying to calm Tara’s fears of being stranded in the middle of nowhere on an island where we couldn’t communicate with just about anyone.
The faded sign at the bus stop informed us that a bus would be coming at 6:00, in ten minutes. We waited anxiously at the stop, wondering how old the sign was and if it was at all accurate.
At 6:00 on the dot a tiny bus rolled up. “Dodong-ri?” I asked the driver. He gave a quick “Yes” and we jumped on. I was certain, for a second, that we’d joined some sort of Korean tour group as the fifteen seater vehicle was filled with middle age Koreans. But no, this was the bus.
We sat down and began the drive back to Dodong-ri The sights had started to become more familiar when the bus pulled over suddenly. Everyone started to get off and I began having one of those “what hell is going on?” language barrier in a foreign country moments.
“Dodong-ri?” I again asked the bus driver. He pointed to another bus that had pulled up in the opposite direction and said, “1,000 won.”
Though we thought it was a bit strange that we had to pay again, especially when we were so close, we got on the next bus figuring the Korean bus driver knew better than us. About thirty seconds into the ride we realized this had been a mistake. We weren’t going to Dodong-ri, we were going to the nearby town of Jeodong-ri. Apparently, my Korean is so terrible they can’t tell the difference between my “do” and “juh” sounds.
When we got off the bus we figured we might as well have a look around. The tiny was very lively. A large market with many food stalls stood near the water’s edge and music filled our ears. We walked over to a small pier and noticed the sun was beginning to set. Faint pink and purples were cast down on the squid fishing boats and small town of Jeodong-ri. We walked around for a while taking photos and admiring the picturesque setting we’d accidentally found ourselves in.
As we got into a taxi back to Dodong-ri (Tara did the talking this time) we both admitted that both of my mistakes, taking a taxi ride to the middle of nowhere and being misunderstood by the bus driver, actually led to us to what was one of our favorite parts of Ulleungdo.
Have you ever made a mistake while traveling that led you to something unexpected?
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