Sunday, April 5, 2015

37th Annual Jindo Sea Parting Festival

Images captured with a Sony A6000 with 16-50mm and 70-200mm lens.

(Scroll down to view the entire photo gallery)

The 37th Annual Jindo Sea Parting Festival was a spectacularly fun affair. The dramatic tide levels in and around Korea are infamous, however, at this one particular coastal spot in Southern Korea, the tide goes out in such a way that the sea actually parts (twice, once with the morning tide around 5am and once with the afternoon tide around 5pm the same day), exposing a sandbar which connects the mainland to an island. Visitors to the festival celebrate this unique event in tremendous fashion, beginning with the first tide.

Before visitors can walk out on the exposed sandbar, they must first outfit themselves with tall rubber wading boots, much like a fisherman's wading boots. Because although the tide goes out enough to walk across the sand bar, it's still very wet, rocky and pock marked with sometimes deep tide pools. Those who arrive early enough for the first tide enjoy the good fortune of their "early bird gets the worm" efforts. All who want one get a tiki torch that they can take with them out on the sandbar. The literally thousands of tiki torch bearers makes for a tremendous sight as they walk, seemingly walking on water out into the ocean. Suddenly, the booming sound of fireworks exploding overhead rang in my ears, catching me and many others completely by surprise.

The sun begins to peak over the ocean's horizon just as people start to make their way back to the shore. There's no time to waste, once the signal is given by festival organizers, there's only about 20-30 minutes before the tide has rolled back in, blanketing the sandbar which only minutes before was completely topped with masses of people and tiki torches. Local Koreans stick around and hug the edge of the shore digging for clams and other types of seafood that can be found in the numerous tide pools, there seems to be a bounty.

Food vendors are just beginning to arrive and set up their tents, a scant few open to feed the early revelers, but most will not open until the afternoon, in time for the flood of evening tide visitors. The longest line of the morning was the Good Times ROK booth, which was serving bagels and cream cheese and coffee. Beer and liquor was available for the serious party people, some of whom fated themselves to party the entire weekend, starting right then and there.

Good Times ROK and Adventure Korea are two of the main tour, travel and event organizers in Korea and I highly recommend their services. They both provide chartered transportation, accommodations and meals for organized tours to numerous festivals and popular tourist destinations all over Korea, including the Jindo Festival.

The afternoon activities begin with a demonstration of Ssireum wrestling, a traditional and ancient form of Korean wrestling. Competitors are outfitted with a fabric sash which is wrapped around their waist and one leg. The wrestling match begins with each competitor on their knees, facing each other. They begin by grabbing hold of their opponents sash with each hand, one on the waist and one on the leg. They then rise to their feet and begin at the sound on the referee's whistle. It's a contest of balance and power. The winner is decided quite simply, which ever competitor has any part of their body hit the ground first, that person is the loser. Skilled wrestlers put on an entertaining exhibition, but then the real excitement starts, festival attendees are allowed to volunteer and get in the ring, these matches really gets the crowd going.

By this time the food vendors have opened for business. Hungry attendees enjoy mostly seafood selections, including live octopus, squid and sea cucumbers. Well, technically, they're not "alive" the tradition is to eat them raw, while they're still moving, moments after they've been chopped up into bite size pieces. It's not something this photographer was interested in trying, but for others, especially first timers, it's a unique delicacy not to be missed.

Paragliders fly by just above the tree tops as a traditional Korean parade makes it's way down the length of the boardwalk, ending at the concrete steps leading down to the waters edge at the exact spot where one would make their way out onto the tidal flats as the sea parts. It's almost 5pm now and a large crowd has made their way to this very spot, just like the thousands of torch bearers did for the pre-dawn tide. Photographers sit atop a 5 story building adjacent to the beach and jockey for the best viewing positions, ready to capture the spectacular event unfolding beneath them. It really is a sight to behold. The size of the crowd is at least double of what it was for the morning tide and the mass of people slowly walk, step by step, matching the slowly exposing sandbar as the tide reveals it. Fireworks go off again, marking the moment the tide has reached its lowest point and the mainland is connected to the island. However, just as in the morning, the tide eventually comes back in, and the revelers must make their way back to the shore like a retreating army.

That's yours truly pictured above. I pulled double duty at this event, 
shooting photos and DJing as the closing act!

But the festival doesn't end there, quite the contrary, because the night time activities are anchored by an energetic and diverse music festival which features a live funk band (Bump City Band), sexy K Pop dancers and B Boys, hip hop artists known as the Part Time Cooks, with live DJs, including myself, closing out the festival around midnight. This particular year, the party goers couldn't get enough of the music and didn't want the party to stop. The lighting and sound crew provided by the city allowed the show to go on for 30 minutes more. 30 more minutes of fun, 30 more minutes of splendid memories of what was an outstanding festival that I highly recommend you mark on your calendar for next year.

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