A girlfriend and I decided to escape from city life and our guy problems for a night. We left Saturday in the late afternoon for Samcheok in the east coast of Gangwondo Province, where we could find a cave I read about in one of my guidebooks. Arriving in Samcheok after dark, we ate a ramen/instant spaghetti dinner at a GS25 convenience store, found ourselves a little hotel, and played cards until we fell asleep.
We woke up early Sunday morning to head to Hwanseon Cave. This cave is said to be one of the largest in Asia; something worth checking out. It was a quiet, hour-long bus ride to the cave from Samcheok. Our guidebook noted the "steep" path from the parking lot to the cave entrance -- and it wasn't kidding. We struggled. We tried to ignore the Korean ladies in their cute high heels who were making the hike, too. It took about half an hour of hard climbing, but we made it.
After visiting both Meramec Caverns in Missouri and Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico this past summer, I have to say I wasn't as impressed as I might have been. The lighting at Hwanseon wasn't as dramatic as the broadway-style lighting at the American caves. Instead of a "please be silent" policy, as there was in the American caves, we were surrounded by children stomping around on the metal walkway and screaming as loud as they could.
The highlight of the cave for us was the signage. The chosen names for the bridges, walkways, and viewpoints were hilarious. I was paying attention more to the signs than to the views! We were welcomed by the Palace of Dream, Summit of Hope, Valley of Desire, Fountain of Life, Bridge of Love, Valley of Hell, Bridge of Confessions, and Bridge of Galaxy. Our favourite was, of course, the Bridge of Confessions. On this particular bridge, we were greeted by a sign that told us to confess our sins here, after which: "You are now free of sins. You can now live the rest of your life happily." Oh, how nice. If only it were that easy.
On our breezy walk down the steep hill, we noted that we should have come here a few weeks earlier, when the leaves would have been decorating the trees with their colours.
We made it to the parking lot before we realized we didn't know how to leave this place! But, we quickly remembered that we took a city bus here, so there must be a city bus back to Samcheok.
In Seoul, bus schedules are generally written in both Korean and English. Not so, apparently, outside of the city. So, for the first time out of necessity, I read the Korean signs and found the bus that would take us back to the city.
When I first suggested to my friend that we should visit Samcheok and check out the cave there, she said, "Samcheok? Isn't that where the penises are?"
Um, excuse me? "I have no idea, and believe me, if I had read about something like that, I think I would have remembered it!" I said.
But she was right, and we scheduled the "penis park" for our Sunday afternoon. Hey, what else would two single gals see on their weekend away, right?
We hopped on a bus that took us right by the park, and the driver let us off just outside the site. Somehow the driver knew exactly what we were looking for. We paid our entrance fee, received our information page, and started laughing at ourselves.
We weren't the only ones there. There were couples, friends, families with children. Wonderful! A place the whole family can enjoy! The path through the park overlooked a beautiful, rocky coastal scene. But for the most part, we were distracted by the (literally) hundreds of phallic sculptures everywhere. Wood, stone, metal. Big, small. Still, moving.
As the legend goes, a young virgin was engaged to a fisherman. One day, she was stranded on a rock in the sea while he went fishing. Before he returned, she was struck by a wave and drowned. After that, the sea no longer provided the fishing town with the same large catches it had before. The town didn't know why, all of a sudden, fish had left their waters. One day, a fisherman relieved himself facing the ocean. Then, the waters suddenly were full of fish again! So, the fisherman concluded that, of course, the woman who drowned before she was enjoyed by a man was sexually unsatisfied.
So the town immediately set about creating phallic statues in honour of her. There was even a festival until a Christian group stopped it. But the statues remain for all to enjoy.
There is a zodiac calendar, in penis form. Phallic statues by ponds and in forests. Benches of penis design. Penis fence posts. A penis statue that moves up and down on a hill. We took some pictures, of course, but it was the old Korean women who created the most sexual poses. They were getting dirty! We couldn't hold our laughter in.
At the end of it all, there is a museum. We were at first disappointed that the museum referred to the fishing aspect of the small town, but the final exhibit is a representation of sexual art from around the world.
We two satisfied, refreshed females caught the bus back to Samcheok, then slept our way back to the big city.