Sancheoneo Mountain Trout Festival: Week 46

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The crisp winter air along the river was infused with exhaust fumes, like a gas station potpourri. The noise of the go karts and ATVs dominated the ice and created a mechanical soundtrack for the festival. I found the largest helmet I could and when it didn’t fit I smiled at the ATV instructor and said “kun mari” (big head). As he tried to contain his laughter we hit the gas and inched off around the doughnut shaped track.

Brr  bbbbrrr  brrrrrrrrr. The noise was loud and our progress so frustratingly slow.

“Barret, I can’t stop skidding.”

“We’re on ice- that’s the point.”

“Well this is a silly idea.”

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A great portion of the frozen river was crowded with fishers patiently peering down holes in the ice. Using a special ice fishing rod that resembled a fly swatter, the sancheoneo (mountain trout) were coaxed out from the icy depths. Every time I saw the curved plastic rod it reminded me of an older woman I had seen ice fishing on TV. She was strutting around the hole in the ice with her friends, completely oblivious of her cameltoe.

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Further along the river people had gathered around a shallow circular pool. We took our place amongst the crowd just as a group of children emerged from a locker room wearing flip flops, shorts, and tucked cotton T-shirts. They shivered and drew their numb limbs close to their body as they stood by the pool. At the sound of a gong they flung themselves into the glacial water.

While many jumped out as eagerly as they had jumped in, there were some dogged contestants. One by one the resolute grasped the slippery mountain trout and squirreled them inside the neck of their T-shirts. The crowd cheered as they emerged with quivering bodies and wriggling marsupial pouches.

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The ice tube slide was deceptively scary. At the top, the slope looked impossibly steep and I wondered how we would be able to stop. Before I could consider that any longer the attendant pushed my tube and I was flying down backwards. Being unable to see the direction you are speeding towards touches on a primal fear inside you, and as I screamed in pure terror my eyes locked on Barret’s eyes. Once his arm curled into a fetal position against his chest I knew it wasn’t concern plastered across his face- he was dying of laughter. I didn’t need to see ahead anymore because I realized the worst possible outcome was an embarrassing video- which is something I know I can survive.

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How to get to the Hwacheon: From Dongseoul or Sangbong Terminal catch a bus bound for Hwacheon. You can also take a bus or the Gyeongchun metro line to Chuncheon and then catch a bus to Hwacheon. (Buses run more frequently between Hwacheon & Chuncheon than between Hwacheon & Seoul)

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