Overland Expo 2015

May 25, 2015

It was 4:00 in the morning. An angry wind buffeted the side of our truck. I peeked out the window and it was snowing. What the ???!!? Glancing at the outside temperature gauge, it was a bitter 33°F. Inside it was a toasty 65°F as our Espar Airtronic purred away in its “maintenance mode”. I could only feel sorry for the hundreds of people surrounding us sleeping in ground tents, rooftop tents and pop-up campers. This was late Spring and it wasn’t supposed to snow or even rain.

We were attending the 7th annual Overland Expo at Mormon Lake Lodge outside Flagstaff, Arizona. It’s an event that is dear to our hearts since we can take some credit for bringing this level of recreational vehicle travel into its present popular state. These were not rock-crawlers or four-wheelers, towing their custom vehicles on a trailer to the trailhead, nor were they RVers driving giant motorhomes with three slide-outs. The six hundred registered attendees at this year’s event think of themselves as “Overland Travelers”, though perhaps not to the extreme of The Turtle Expedition, having recently finished our second circumnavigation of the planet. They may just be off for a couple of weeks in Mexico or perhaps a little jaunt down to the tip of South America and back.

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To facilitate their experience of being “Overland Travelers”, there were 245 exhibitors showing off their specialized products. Everything from elaborate cook sets to rooftop tents to winches to complete ready-to-put-food-in-the-refrigerator-and-head-down-the-road-of-adventure vehicles. The options ranged from Jeeps and Land Rovers with rooftop fold-out tents to totally custom $800,000 giant Unimog and Freightliner trucks converted and built specifically for traveling overland in comfort with at least the intention of being able to go on bad roads, not just paved highways hopping from KOA to KOA. We question the practicality of some of them.

Our own Turtle V Expedition Vehicle with its custom Tortuga Camper always draws lots of attention because of its practical and functional design and compact size. It’s not too big to go on the backroads we’ve been following for 40 years but it has the luxuries of hard sides, a shower, a toilet, a comfortable bed, and the facilities to cook healthy meals on the road anywhere in the world. Having just returned from our 40,000–mile/22-country/two-year expedition following the Silk Road and driving from the Atlantic (Portugal) to the Pacific (China), up through Mongolia, Russia, and finally into South Korea before shipping home, The Turtle V exemplifies what an overland travel vehicle is supposed to be able to do.

During the event Monika and I sat on three Q&A “Ask the Experts” panels. We also presented a PowerPoint Photo Selection on portions of our adventure along the Silk Road.

While motorcycle enthusiasts tested BMWs and other motorcycles on a special track, the Land Rover folks were doing “ride and drives” over an extremely challenging muddy course. A gathering of ex-Camel Trophy Team Members were teaching attendees how to assemble log bridges the hard way. A total of 140 trainers were busy teaching 187 seminars and classes covering everything from winch safety to how to travel with dogs and children, reading GPS maps and long-distance trip planning.

Torrential rain and melting snow had made things difficult to say the least. Our own truck was sitting in a mud bog surrounded by a small lake. The clay/mud resembled something like brown Crisco. Despite the inclement weather, 3,500 enthusiasts milled through the interesting displays during the three-day event. Many stopped to talk with us. It gave us a great feeling to have dozens of fans telling us that reading our stories over the past four decades was their inspiration to become “Overland Travelers”. We realized that aside from just having a great time traveling around the world, we had evolved to a second purpose in our lives, to inspire others to follow our example.

With a little bit of sun on Sunday some of the larger vehicles made an attempt to follow the off-road driving course and proceeded to get thoroughly bogged down in the mud pits. Happy Hour each day gave everyone a chance to reconnect with old friends and meet new ones, all with a common interest.

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Monday morning as the campers in the outfield, some with 2-wheel drive vans or heavy trailers, were being winched and towed out of the ankle-deep mud, we joined Marc Wassmann, founder of XPCamper, and headed for the nearest car wash to spray off some of the slop. Driving north through rain squalls and dust storms we finally emerged on the north side of the front that had been tormenting us and arrived at one of our favorite campsites in the incredibly beautiful Valley of the Gods. The weather still reminded us that Mother Nature always has the upper hand. We were treated to spectacular sunrises, sunsets and even a rainbow. Using our Mexican “discada”, (basically an old plow disc welded up into a portable wok), we had some wonderful meals with Marc, (a professional chef before he turned to building expedition campers), handling preparations. It was a great way to wind down after an exciting weekend. As we drove out the gravel road that twists its way through the Valley of the Gods we were reminded why we were Overland Travelers.

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South Korea 9 – 12/2014

May 12, 2015

Coming to the End of a Great Adventure is always a little sad. We headed south toward the megapolis of Busan. With a growing population of 3.6 million, we had no reason to drive into the city center, and in any case, we probably would not have found a parking place for The Turtle V. Aside from being the only city in the World with an United Nations Cemetery (see South Korea Blog 2), perhaps the most interesting claim to fame in the records of Busan is that on October 2, 1274, Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan and the head of the Mongol Yuan dynasty, felt that Japan would be easy to subdue. With over 20,000 Mongol troops on board 900 ships sailing out of Busan Bay, the attempt to conquer Japan was a failure.

We continued west to the Port of Masan from where our expedition truck would be loaded for its journey home to the Port of Long Beach, California. We spent our last night in The Turtle V camped on a wharf in a small fishing village overlooking the glassy waters of the East Sea. In the morning, fishermen were busy hauling in their catch and tending the numerous abalone beds in the bay. By parking in front of a small café we had Internet connections. This morning we tackled the job of preparing the truck for its homeward voyage. It basically involves removing anything that can be easily stolen like our PIAA auxiliary driving lights and the front Total Vision camera. The cab was emptied of easily pilfered items and all doors were double locked except the driver’s side.

Propane tanks were turned off and the propane compartment was double locked. We had learned from discussions with customs agents that many ports and shipping companies require propane bottles to be emptied and purged. However these pertain primarily to those big visible tanks mounted on the outside of motor homes and trailers. Our twin Manchester tanks are locked in a vented compartment so the question never even arises.

Dropping the truck off and double-checking all the paperwork was a pretty quick process set up days before by Wendy Choi, Aero International Co., Ltd. (wendy@aerointl.kr). Suddenly we were tourists on foot. Fortunately Korea has excellent transportation systems so it was a quick ride back to Busan where we would spend a couple of nights in a cute hotel in the Chinese Quarter, waiting to make absolutely sure there were no problems with shipping. This gave us time to do some last minute shopping, wander around town like real tourists and sample some more of Korea’s interesting cuisine. We still resisted the overpriced snow crabs.

With confirmation that the TARAGO freighter of the Wallenius Wilhemsen shipping line was headed east toward California, we hopped on the Panstar ferry for the overnight trip to Osaka, Japan, a country that had long been on Monika’s bucket list. If we didn’t do anything else, we had to see Kyoto and the Snow Monkeys.

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South Korea 8 – Markets – 12/2015

April 29, 2015

Markets. Yes, we’re market junkies, and we’ve seen some pretty interesting markets in the last couple of years, but really, the people in China and Mongolia and now in Korea, well, they eat things we really don’t have names for. Of course they have the regular stuff like chicken, beef & pork and vegetables. And then the rather unusual things like dog meat. (We couldn’t tell whether it was an Irish Setter or a Golden Lab.) Actually, the primary breed raised in dog farms for meat consumption is the Nureongi and differs from those breeds raised for domestic pets. There is a large and vocal group of Korean people that are against the practice of eating dog meat but BBC claims that 8,500 tons of dog meat are consumed per year, with another 93,600 tons used to produce a medicinal tonic called Gaesoju.

Korea Blog 7 29There were plenty of grains of all kinds including various types of rice. Spices galore in case you want to make your own kimchi. There was even one lady selling fresh pressed sesame seed oil.

So after the chicken, the dog meat and the pork you get to the fish market. Amazing in a word. We’re pretty familiar with fish but there were a lot that we had never seen before. Dried fish, salted fish, fresh fish, cooked fish, snails, clams, mussels, and that’s not to mention squid. It was squid season and trawlers went out at night with long strings of high-powered lights that attract the squid. Big squid! Thousands, no, maybe hundreds of thousands of squid. What you do with a hundred thousand fresh squid? Calamari? Spread them out on the cement pads. Keep them doused with fresh seawater so they don’t die on you, and package them up quickly to get to the market. We were not really sure where they went but obviously, some people in Korea and other countries really must like fresh squid.

Korea Blog 7 28It was afternoon by the time we finished being amazed at all the fish and clams and other critters. Food stands were selling all sorts of deep-fried fish. That’s when we spotted the huge tanks full of King Crab or Snow Crab, basically the same thing. Grab one for lunch we thought? We took a closer look and picked out a nice fat specimen from the live fish tanks. We’ve seen Alaskan King Crab legs in the local supermarket in California at an astounding $18 a pound, so we figured here in Korea, with the tanks packed with thousands of them, they might be a little cheaper. Not! The crab we picked out and had weighed would set us back about $132. Of course for that price they cook it, prepared it for you and give you the tools to open up the legs. It’s served with a variety of small dishes including the famous kimchi. We sort of choked at the price and went looking for something more reasonable. The next time I see Alaskan King Crab legs in the supermarket for less than $18 a pound I’ll buy a few and think it’s cheap.

The clock was ticking down so we headed to Busan and the port from where the truck would be loaded onto a “Ro-Ro” and shipped back to California. We still had packing and preparations to do; taking off all the lights and anything else that might be stolen in transit, perhaps an unnecessary precaution. Our truck would not fit in a container. A “Ro-Ro” (Roll-on, Roll-off) is simply a giant oceangoing ferry/freighter. No passengers allowed. With a couple of weeks to spend before The Turtle V would be arriving in Long Beach, we headed for Japan. Kyoto and the Snow Monkeys! More on that soon.

 

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South Korea 7 – Food – 12/2015

April 24, 2015

If there is one thing that makes travel in foreign countries exciting it’s the food, and Korea has some of the most interesting dishes we had experienced in the 22 countries we crossed to this point. We always like to taste local cuisine. In Korea it’s easy. Just walking down the street, restaurants had their menus posted outside. Now at first glance, most of the things in the pictures did not look particularly appetizing to our eyes. In some cases they looked more like bait than food.

Finding a menu that was tempting, (we couldn’t read a word of it), we went inside and were graciously seated at a table. Being unaccustomed to sitting on the floor with our legs crossed, we sometimes opted for a restaurant with chairs and tables. We pointed on the menu to the photo of the dish we thought looked good and from there it went to the kitchen. Everything was scrupulously clean.

Korea Blog 7 27Once we ordered a grilled mackerel. It came accompanied by a variety of small dishes and a plate of Kimchi. Kimchi is a national Korean dish consisting of fermented Chinese cabbage, chili peppers, vegetables, garlic, ginger, and a salted fish sauce. Health Magazine has cited Kimchi as one of the world’s five “healthiest foods”, with the claim that it is rich in vitamins, aids digestion, and may even prevent cancer. We tried several versions but never found one that we really liked. It’s an acquired taste.

Back at our table, in a few minutes the waiter brought a large wok and a propane heating plate. He then prepared the dish stirring and mixing all the spices and ingredients together. By now it looked nothing like the photo we pointed to, but it smelled great and tasted even better. The aroma of seaweed, ginger and chilies was enticing. If it was a soup type dish they gave us spoons. Otherwise we were stuck with chopsticks. I (Gary) would probably raise smile from the waiter if I brought in my own fork but it’s not a bad idea.

For just a snack, the streets were teeming with fast food stands. We found everything from French fried sweet potatoes to hot dogs on a stick to something like an omelet cooked in a seaweed broth. There were some unique desserts like “Strowberry Amond” or “Bapple Cinnamon” Waffles. Never mind the funny spelling. For dessert, the little custard-filled puffballs were delicious.

By far the most popular Korean alcoholic drink is Soju. There are many different varieties from a light rice wine to vodka-like liquor. We did visit the nationally famous Soju distillery in Andong that produces a version using traditional methods and typically running 90 to 100 proof. With its government protection/regulation seal, it commands more than 20 times the price of the light Soju every little corner grocery store sells. Feeling a little homesick, we found an occasional bottle of California wine in the popular chain of “7-Eleven” stores. (There are 7,064 7-Eleven stores in South Korea).

Since we do most of our own cooking, we headed for the open market. After all, that’s where the food comes from. More on that in the next blog.

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South Korea 6 – Andong – Bows & Swords – 11/2014

April 15, 2015

A light dusting of snow left no doubt that winter was on the way. Our Espar Airtronic heater kept the camper warm and toasty. We waved goodbye to the mask carvings outside Hahoe Village and proceeded to the nearby city of Andong to visit the Andong Folk Museum to learn more about the region’s unique traditional and cultural history. We found a fabulous collection of over 7000 artifacts and several displays with life-size figures that really gave us a great feeling of how people dressed as they performed the tasks of their traditional lives such as funeral rites and weddings.

Adjacent to the parking lot for the museum there was another display of old traditional homes. When the Andong Dam was created in 1976, the resulting lake would have submerged many cultural relics. Instead of leaving them to an underwater grave, the buildings and historical artifacts were moved to the museum’s outdoor space to create a park and the Andong Folk Village. Unlike the Folk Village of Hahoe, these homes were just on display. No one lived in them.

Korea Blog 6 59Walking back to the parking lot where we had camped for the night, we stopped to watch a gentleman practicing his archery. After letting us try a few shots ourselves with the unique Korean bow, strung a little lighter for tourists, Nam Hee-Jong demonstrated how easy it was to hit the bull’s-eye every time.

We learned that there are three main kinds of bows used in archery in the United States and Europe: the re-curve bow, the compound bow, and the straight bow. To these we can add the Yechon bow of Korea. The keratin bows made in Yechon have long been standard for hunting, archery, and we might presume, for battle. Unlike most present bows that are made of wood and fiberglass, the artisans in Yechon during the Joseon Dynasty developed advanced techniques to make bows from a combination of wood, animal horns and tendons. In the final stage, the craftsmen grafted the bow with the thin inner bark of the white cherry tree. The core of the bow consists of several layers of wood and horn that have been laminated. Fish air bladders were used as glue. Three kinds of wood, (bamboo, oak, mulberry), and cattle tendons were produced locally. Water buffalo horns were imported.

Korea Blog 6 38In talking with Nam Hee-Jong we discovered that he was a member of the Traditional Military Honor Guard who protects the president and performs official duties. This sector of the Korean military practices four disciplines: bow & arrow, various swords, fist & kick and riding horses. He offered to show us some of his talents. The swords he twirled as he leaped and danced in the demonstration courtyard were razor sharp.

Faster than the eye could even follow, he sliced off sections of very tough 2” bamboo, spinning around to whisk off a second or third piece. We could easily imagine that in a real battle these swords could lop off a man’s arm or head in an instant. He also demonstrated a different kind of blade called a “pole weapon”. It too was as sharp as a razor but weighing some 20 pounds. We watched as he impressively twirled around, clipping off pieces of the bamboo, sometimes catching the cut sections in midair and slicing them in half again.

As an Asian dawn spread across the sky we strolled over the Wolryeong (Moonshine) Bridge, the longest wooded bridge in Korea. Back on the modern highways we were still adjusting to the polite drivers and European-style tunnels and tollgates. Only the occasional memorial grave markers near villages where neat rice fields spread out toward a blue East Sea (Sea of Japan) and the bilingual road signs reminded us where we were. Passing a Starbucks or a Baskin Robbins ice-cream parlor would bring a smile, but no feeling of homesickness. While South Korea boasts the highest Internet speed in the world, some of their wiring did make us wonder.

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South Korea 5 – Masks and Toilets – 11/2014

March 26, 2015

Before we left the historic Folk Village of Hahoe, we had to take time to see the famous Mask Dance Drama called Hahoe Pyolshin-Gut Tal-nori, handed down by lower-class people since the middle of the 12th century. Village rituals were performed to appease the local goddess and drive away the evil spirits or to ensure much happiness and a good harvest for the village.

During the Summer, the play is held in an outdoor amphitheater but being November, we were sitting on the floor of a small auditorium. Tal-nori is one of four parts of the Pyolshin-Gut drama and portrays the conflicting relationship between Yangban (ruling class) and Sangmin (ruled class).

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This dance is made up of 6 episodes with a satirical story of a nobleman, a fallen Buddhist monk and it delineates the joys and sorrows of the ruled people. Musicians play native instruments and singers narrate the dance. In its essence, it allows the commoners of the village to poke fun at their superiors without repercussions since, after all, it is just a play. Even though the performance was in Korean, it was pretty easy to follow the rather entertaining story. Of course we missed the many punch lines locals were laughing about. Originally 11 masks, only 10 have withstood the passing of time. When the performance was over and the masks were removed we recognized several gentlemen we had previously met at the rice straw sewing work party. One turned out to be the famous woodcarver Kim Jong-Heung of the village. (See South Korea Blog 4.)

The Yangban (aristocrat) mask is believed to represent the highest artistic value of the Hahoe masks and has become a popular symbol throughout this part of South Korea. We even saw it on the signs for public restrooms, which, brings up an interesting subject.

Without a doubt, South Korea has more clean public toilets than any other country in the world, including United States and Western Europe. In London for example, I can’t tell you the number of cups of coffee we ordered at cafés just to use the restroom. In South Korea, public bathrooms are everywhere, and we don’t mean the dirty slit trenches we found in China. We’re talking about real ultramodern toilets. Some even had heated toilet seats, a feature you could get used to. Others had the modern butt washers and warm air dryers. Some played classical music as you entered. Yeah really! Others had special seats to strap your child in while you did your business or a miniature toilet or urinal for little kids. Sometimes you could push a button to play a rushing water sound so the person next to you wouldn’t be bothered by your, well you know what it means. It served to remind us that we were back in “civilization”.

PS. Check out this website for more information on the Hahoe Mask Dance Performance. http://hahoemask.co.kr/board/index.php?doc=english/html/hahoe01.htm

 

 

 

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South Korea 4 – Hahoe Village – 11/2014

March 18, 2015

While traveling through South Korea we were constantly reminded of just how modern this country is. Sometimes it was hard to find anything that would be ancient or historic, so we were delighted to stumble upon the Hahoe Folk Village. Located near Andong, Gyeongsangbuk-do, it was established in the 16th century during the Joseon Dynasty. It has been a one-clan community (the Ryu family) since that time. The village maintains old architectural styles that have been lost because of rapid modernization and development in South Korea. Aristocratic tile-roofed residences and thatched-roof servants’ homes allowed us to step back in time. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.      

South Korea Blog 4 46One of the more interesting things about Hahoe village was the extensive use of rice straw for many of the roofs. Rice is one of the main food crops here, but it seemed almost as important for the continued use of the thatched roofs which must be redone periodically. Once the rice has been harvested, the straw is gathered and stacked in the fields to dry. As we walked around the village through the narrow dirt streets we happened upon a group of men using an interesting sewing machine to gather the rice straw into bundles. As friendly as Koreans are, they invited us to join them for their midday meal and get a closer look at how they were preparing the straw for later use.

Peeking into open doors of private homes, however a private home can be when it’s part of UNESCO world heritage site, we were fascinated by some of the old traditions. Persimmons, cabbage and chilies were being dried and preparations were under way for making kimchi, a staple dish in Korea. We stopped by one dry goods store where they were selling an interesting snack, sort of like an egg omelet or crape on a stick cooked in a seaweed broth and basted with a soy sauce. It was quite tasty on this chilly day.

The Nakdong River flows around Hahoe in an S shape, which gave the village its name: “ha” means river and “hoe” means turning around. Some say, it resembles a lotus flower floating on water. On the highest point in town we found the 600-year old zelkova tree. The Goddess Samsin who resides in the tree is said be in charge of pregnancy and prosperity. You can make a wish by writing it on a small piece of the paper and then when the paper is burned on January 15th, your wish will come true. We asked for a safe trip to Japan and back to California, and time to celebrate Gary’s birthday in Mexico. More on that later.

South Korea Blog 4 50Driving into the visitor parking area where we would camp for a couple of nights, we noticed some interesting woodcarvings and Korean totem poles. We later met the artist, Mr. Kim Jong-heung, who, as it turns out, is quite famous, having presented his works to Queen Elizabeth II on her 73rd birthday and even to both Presidents Bush. He invited us for tea and oven roasted sweet potatoes in his shop. After meeting his family and seeing his many carvings he kindly presented us with the token gift, a smaller version of his large totem poles more suitable for packing in our truck.

 

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South Korea 3 – Cave & Penis Park – 11/2014

March 8, 2015

Returning from our visit to the DMZ, we took a side road to visit the Hwanseon Cave. Personally, I’m not a big cave person. I (Gary) would put spelunking next to ice climbing at the top of the list of things I never want to do, but big cavies are always interesting. The Hwanseon Cave is located in Gangwon Province. It is one of the largest limestone caves in Asia, and the biggest in Korea, with 6.2 km, (3.8 mi), of known passages and a total suspected length of 8 km, (4.9 mi), a mile of which are visited by over 1 million people a year. Situated in a rugged Karst Range near the city of Sachiko. The cave’s 32 ft tall entrance is a grueling 30 to 45 minute uphill hike from the ticket office. To our delight, there is a monorail that we took one way, Swiss style; ride up and walk down.

South Korea Blog 3 39Once inside, the temperature varies between 10° and 14°C, (50°F and 57°F). The walls spout water from several cracks and seeps, which join to make good-sized streams, waterfalls and ten large pools. Some rooms in the cave are vast, 100 m, (328 ft), tall. Bridges have been built across chasms. The usual fanciful names have been given to the various formations, but the high rate of water flow has prevented the building up of many stalagmites or stalactites. Flowstones, rimstones, popcorn, pipes and curtains are more abundant. A labyrinth of stainless steel walkways allow the visitor to wander for an hour or more through the various chambers. The use of multi-colored LED lights along the walkways adds a fantasyland effect.

Back on the main highway, we couldn’t resist a stop at Haesindang Park, (more commonly known among Westerners as ‘The Penis Park’). As the name would suggest, it’s a park full of penises!!! Before you write this off as a sleazy joke, or an advertisement for a porn shop, consider the history.

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According to local legend, a young virgin girl had been dropped off by her lover on a small rocky islet in the bay while he went to check his traps. A storm was brewing and before he could rescue her, she was washed into the sea and downed. Around the same time, the local fishermen began to notice a steep decline in their catch. The fish, it seemed, had all but disappeared. Concluding (as anyone would!) that the young girl’s spirit was haunting the ocean, angry and frustrated after dying a virgin, the locals decided to take drastic action to appease her presumed spirit. And what does a virgin spirit want most??

Well, they used their imagination as you might, and a park was constructed, full to the brim with phallic monuments and statues. Meanwhile, the local men were encouraged to (ahem) ‘relieve’ themselves in the ocean, thus providing some very real offerings for this virgin ghost to sample!

The artistic skills of carvers and sculptures over the years have made this a popular tourist stop, mostly for busloads of older Korean women from what we could see. Clearly, in the fishing village of Sinnam, size does matter.

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South Korea 2 – DMZ – 11/2014

March 3, 2015

Meanwhile, returning to the real world, some of you know and others may have guessed, we are back in California at our home base in Nevada City and The Turtle V has arrived via Ro-Ro from South Korea without a problem. We are now consumed with unpacking from our two-year/40,000-mile expedition, repacking for the next adventure, refreshing all the engine and gear oils, changing all filters, and more than I can list here, all in-between various doctor, dentist and optometrist appointments for long overdue checkups. Whew. Is it fun yet?

Before we pick up again with our blogs and photographs starting in Greece where we more or less left off, we want to show you a little bit of the amazing friendly country of South Korea or correctly called, The Republic of Korea. (See South Korea 1 for an introduction.)

Tearing ourselves away from our comfortable campsite in the beach town of Samcheok, we headed north to the DMZ, (Demilitarized Zone – East Coast). Just to give you a little history, at 4 o’clock in the morning on June 25, 1950 North Korea carried out a sudden attack against South Korea led by Russian tanks. That was the beginning of the Korean War. Countries from around the world came to South Korea’s rescue. Under the banner of United Nations Forces, 40,896 soldiers from 17 countries gave their lives to protect the Republic of Korea against the communist aggression.

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The DMZ cuts the Korean Peninsula roughly in half, crossing the 38th parallel on an angle, with the west end of the DMZ lying south of the parallel and the east end lying north of it. It was created as part of the Korean Armistice Agreement between North Korea, China, and the United Nations Command Forces in 1953. But the “war” is not over. 28,500 United States Forces Korea (USFK) troops still assist the South Korean military in guarding the DMZ. ——We did not see any US forces but the South Korean Army certainly made its presence all along the east coast (where we traveled)——South Koreans see the U.S. military presence as a sign of Washington’s steadfast support in the event of a North Korean offensive. Sporadic outbreaks of violence due to North Korean hostilities killed over 500 South Korean soldiers and 50 U.S. soldiers along the DMZ between 1953 and 1999. Coils of razor wire along the beaches and costal highways were clear evidence that the threat from North Korea is still very present as we found out in Samcheok. The excellent DMZ Museum near the entry to the controlled zone was a real education.

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At this DMZ check-point, our papers were carefully checked and entered into their log.

We filled out all the necessary forms and received our pass to drive as far as the Unification Observatory north of the village of Myeongpa. We were not able to actually see any of the military posts, but the viewing deck left much to our imagination. The natural isolation along the 250 km (160 mi) length of the DMZ has created an involuntary park, which is now recognized as one of the most well preserved areas of temperate habitat in the world —- except for the land mines.

A couple of weeks later, we visited the UN Memorial Cemetery of Korea, (UNMCK), in the city of Busan.  Beautifully landscaped and maintained, in 1973, the cemetery was transferred from the UN to the Commission for the United Nations Memorial Cemetery (CUNMCK). It is the only UN cemetery of its kind in the world. The Wall of Remembrance was especially impressive, with the names of the 36,492 Americans and 4,404 other nationalities that died in the fight for South Koreans’ freedom, many of whom are buried on sight. An eternal flame burns over a reflection pool.

It was a tragic war and terrible loss of men and women, but looking at South Korea today, the monument in the American section says it all. “HONOR, FREEDOM, PEACE”. It’s a goal that seems to have been reached in this modern nation.

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Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year – 2014/15

December 24, 2014

We are in Japan now and our trusty Turtle V expedition truck is on its way to California from South Korea. We will be celebrating another unique Christmas in historic Kyoto and later, since our flight to Sacramento leaves Tokyo on December 31, crossing the dateline and arriving on the 31st, we will enjoy the longest New Year’s Eve we’ve ever spent.

Christmas Season is subtle here in Kyoto with Christmas music playing softly in stores, coffee shops and shopping centers. We just bought tickets for a very special Kabuki (old style theater) performance on Christmas Eve at the Minamiza Theater, founded in 1615. For Kyoto residence, the opening of the Kabuki season (now) is as important as the traditional December performances of Nutcracker Suite and Dickens’ Christmas Carole in the US. We are excited to be able to attend this unique event.

We are wishing everyone a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays and a super New Year!

Gary and Monika

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Even in this far-away land, home of Toyota, Honda, Sony, Nikon, Canon and everything else so familiar to us, Christmas is alive and well and Santa Claus is looking for the nearest chimney. Didn’t we see him do this in Italy last year climbing the side of a motor home?

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We are looking forward to spending Christmas Eve in the beautiful historic Minamiza Theater, founded in 1615. The famous 4 act – 4 hour Kabuki play and dance performance, anticipated by people from Kyoto and all over Japan, will be our Christmas gift to ourselves.

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