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Nami Island: A Winter Wonderland

Gracefully floating like a leaf on top of Cheongpyung Lake, 63km north of the Han River, is the tiny Korean Island of Nami. One of the best things about Nami, and something that is immediately evident, is that there are no cars; and so the air is so crisply clear and fresh. With only a circumference of 6km, the half-moon shaped Island can be walked across in a matter of minutes. There is simply no need for the use of cars.

I arrived on Nami after a ten-minute ferry ride and stepped onto a winter wonderland. It was March in Korea and most of the winter snow had melted away on the mainland, but not on Nami. The first thing I saw as I stepped off the ferry was a giant ice sculpture supported by tree branches, pulling and twisting the ice in different directions. It seemed to point me onwards and welcome Nami. I obliged.

The Island, despite it solitary location, was surprisingly well inhabited by Koreans looking for a restful break during the Korean Independence Movement holiday weekend. Korea’s emancipation from Japanese occupation ended in 1945, but the first major demonstrations for Independence came in 1919. This national vacation is the celebration of those first brave steps towards freedom.

The atmosphere was relaxed and people were strolling around, chatting and enjoying the scenery. At the ferry port, I saw some golf buggy-like taxis decorated with fairy lights and home made signs. As curious as I was about this uniquely sculpted public transport system, I opted for a little strolling.

As I walked along the central pathway, it wasn’t long before I encountered an ostrich. I had seen some signs on the ferry which read, ‘beware of ostriches’, but I had laughed it off, not taking it too seriously. However, right on the path, strutting around like he owned the place, was an ostrich. It was not shy; obviously used to being around people. But I was not used to being around Ostriches! Feeling timid, I took an alternate route through some trees and emerged in a small village, a nexus point where Islanders entertained visitors.

Campfires were conveniently dotted around, providing warmth and a welcome break. The shore is lined with wooden lodges where travellers can spend the night. I hired one of these lodges and made a night-time barbecue, which can be hired relatively cheaply.

In the morning I went to one of the numerous restaurants at the centre of the island for breakfast. Traditional Korean foods can be bought here, some very palatable and others an acquired taste. I opted for some Pajon, a Korean style pancake, and some barley tea.

After breakfast, I decided that the winter snow was still a little treacherous to hire one of the many bicycles for rent. Instead, I took another walk and was entertained by the many artworks, which are dotted around the island, including some giant metal sculptures and various man-made ice formations.

I’ve been to a few South Korean islands, and this is certainly one of the better ones. I’d like to try it in other seasons, especially in the beautiful Korean fall, a particularly colourful season. A weekend winter break on Nami is a particularly enchanting place to be. If you’re in the area, try it. You won’t be disappointed.

By Jason Gaskell, Msc.

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