It was time to say goodbye to the land of cats, giant spiders, mountains, and exciting weather. After nearly three months of cycling through Japan, we were travelling over to Korea and presumably cycling through that too.
Planes are lame, so we returned to the city of Shimonoseki and took the ‘Kampu Ferry’ to Busan. This ferry runs each direction every day, and is an interesting way to transition between the two countries.
Shimonoseki to Busan: 19.45 – 08.00
Busan to Shimonoseki: 21.00 – 07.45
Prices for cheapskates with bicycles:
Adult ticket, cheapest class – 9,000 Yen
Port facility surcharge – 610 Yen
Fuel Surcharge – 300 Yen
Bicycle charge – 1000 Yen
Total – 10,910 Yen
For a full list of fares including kids fares or fancy cabin options, here’s the official website.
Note on the bike fee – There is a sentence on the official site that makes me think that if you have a bag for your bike, you can just carry it on yourself for free. That line is this: ‘We will refuse to bring a bicycle without carrier bag by yourself on boat.’ Take from that what you will.
We cycled to the port (33°56’51.9″N 130°55’33.7″E) and found it to be rather quiet at 1.00 p.m. A lift took us to the ticketing area on the second floor, we filled out some mandatory immigration paperwork, then we paid for our ticket for the same day. We were handed back a boarding pass and a bunch of other immigration stuff to fill out for entering Korea, and then we were told to pay for our bikes at the baggage counter over the hall.
The baggage guys were looking a bit bored. One was on his phone almost falling asleep, and the other was sitting and staring at nothing. To his credit, it was a very determined stare, and I wouldn’t necessarily like to be caught in its path. We jolted them into a slow kind of action, and they gave us many instructions in Japanese that we couldn’t understand. After some pointing and charades, we obligingly removed our panniers and watched as our bikes were wheeled away into a dark room. The baggage guys returned to semi-hibernation and we took seats in the waiting area.
At 4.45 p.m., about three hundred Korean tourists showed up in a group. They slowly surrounded us, scoffing peanuts, eating fruit-on-a-stick, and wheeling rolling luggage, and they all seemed to be rather fidgety. Some paced up and down clapping their hands, some kept turning left and right in their seats as if checking for invisible foes, others just sniffed and chatted. All looked like they were in the ‘above 50’ age bracket.
Something was similar about all these Korean women, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Caroline made me see the light.
“They’ve all got perms!”
It was true. Perhaps somewhere on their tour of Japan, one of the designated stops was a kind of hair-fluffing facility. Fuzzy noggins bobbed about busily, and I pondered whether I’d ever been in the same room as so many perms before. If you grabbed and sheared every woolly head in the ferry waiting room, you could easily spin enough yarn to make a warm – through likely itchy – sweater. Winter was coming, after all.
Caroline started giggling. “I’m getting high from all the hairspray.”
The woman next to me began to cough, then it sounded like she vomited a little bit in her mouth, gargled it, then swallowed it down again. I happily mentioned this to Caroline, but she didn’t particularly want to hear the story. Suddenly there was a commotion from the back of the hall when a woman began screaming angrily. A silence fell over the gathered tour group, and about half got up from their seats to go and investigate. Korean drama is hugely popular throughout Eastern Asia, and here we were witnessing some first hand! Disappointingly, The woman’s rage calmed down and things in the hall returned to a dull roar. The woman next to me sneezed and some of it hit me. The staring baggage man, we noticed, was now the staring gift shop man. Multitasking.
Immigration was quick and painless. At the inspection gate I barely had time to put my bags down before my passport was stamped by the smiling officer. When it was Caroline’s turn, the same officer asked her if I was her friend, purely out of interest. This was a far cry from some other border crossings we’d been through.
We continued down the gangway to the waiting ferry, through a gauntlet of bowing staff, to our 2nd class room on the lowest floor. Being that we were almost the last people aboard, we arrived to the fevered commotion of people trying to find the best spots. Rooms were assigned on the tickets, but sleeping spaces were not.
There was Jazz trumpet cutting through the din of Korean tourists, excited as they extracted Asahi from the ship’s vending machines and jogged down the 2nd class corridors. The angel who decided which communal room we’d sleep in put us with the other folks who weren’t in the confines of a large group – the loners and the couples. A Japanese woman in our quiet room marvelled at Caroline’s crochet skills, and showed us a new way to use the Hiragana keyboard on our phone. After the encounter Caroline decided the thing she was currently crocheting – a cat’s paw coaster – would now be a gift for the woman.
We spent a few minutes exploring the ship, discovering an onsen, a small shop, a restaurant, and a games room containing one guy fervently playing what looked like Tekken. Judging by his expression of bug-eyed concentration, he could have been holed up in there for weeks, sneaking out only in the dead of night to steal instant noodles from people’s luggage for sustenance. He glared at me with wild eyes but I looked away, pretending not to have seen him. We turned and quickly left as he returned to furiously attacking his joystick.
As the ferry embarked, a jolly chorus of singing and clapping erupted from a nearby room. It was a merry affair, interspersed with wild laughter and the faint sound of jazz – now piano – playing through the ship’s speakers. Heavily permed 50-something South Koreans, it would seem, knew how to party. Our room was a much more sombre affair. People read, listened to headphones, or had quiet conversations with each other. The singing party in the next cabin kept raging.
I had learnt from previous Japanese ferries that you should wait for a couple of hours before using the public bath. There is always a clamour at the start of the voyage, and there’s only so many naked men you can cram into a hot pool before it starts getting awkward. Caroline and I took our baths just after 9, and I had mine all to myself. Caroline reported that two women in hers couldn’t figure out how to change the heat on their shower. It’s not that difficult really; you simply twist the handle with the degrees written on it. The two ladies were apparently spinning the button that makes the water come out, achieving very little in the process. Caroline’s offer to help was rejected, and the women resigned themselves to whatever temperature the tap was currently sitting on.
The din of drinking and merriment ceased rather abruptly at around 10 p.m., and the lights were turned off in our room. The boat started rocking a little harder than I was comfortable with, so I popped a seasick pill and stuck some headphones on. The green glow of the room from the exit sign, the curtains swaying from the rocking of the boat, and the weird drowsiness from the pill all fit together perfectly for my soundtrack: Goldfrapp’s Felt Mountain.
When Japanese people make announcements on the boat, they say an enormous amount of stuff. Sometimes they talk steadily for almost ten minutes, and you wonder how much of what they’re saying is actually critical information. The restaurant is now open for breakfast. You may not exit the boat until 9 a.m. My Cocker Spaniel had a cold last week, but he’s doing better now. Please make your way in an orderly fashion to immigration. I’m thinking about getting a new coat, but I can’t decide on the colour. The store will be closing in 10 minutes. I will now read an excerpt from my favourite book…
We couldn’t decide whether it was the half canister of butane or the metal spikes in my bag that triggered it, but the line at the bag check was held up when I went through it. I suppose the officers realised the spikes were only tent pegs, and the flammable liquid wasn’t too much of a safety hazard, and the conveyor belt once again began to move. Also, oddly enough, I made the metal detector beep when I crossed through it. They didn’t seem to care much about that either.
There was a money changer at the expansive ferry terminal, so we said farewell to Yen and hello to Won, and proceeded to cycle into the busy streets of Busan. It had been so long that we’d forgotten what insane drivers were like. The honking madness on the road was terrifyingly refreshing.
Hello, South Korea.