By Rick Ruffin
SEOUL, March 23 (Yonhap) -- On Feb. 19, Marin Medak of Slovenia and Simon Osborne of England left Jeongok Harbor on South Korea's west coast with a big challenge ahead: the first circumnavigation of the Korean Peninsula by kayak.
On March 14, they paddled into Sokcho Harbor on South Korea's east coast, completing their 23-day adventure under the escort of the Korean coast guard. A Korean Buddhist monk accompanied them, kayaking himself for most of the way.
They had paddled 1,200 kilometers and spent 21 days on the water, with two days spent off the water.
"The police phoned us up and told us that they needed a day of rest," Medak said in a recent phone interview from Seoul. "So, we couldn't paddle that day. The other day was lost to high winds."
In fact, the police, or Korean Coast Guard, were a continuing presence for most of the journey.
"We had more than 50 different coast guard boats escorting us along the way," said Medak. "They escorted us all the time. The only time they couldn't follow us was when we were navigating the seaweed 'plantations.'"
"We could go between the seaweed plantations, but the coast guard couldn't. It took us all day to paddle through one seaweed plantation," the Slovenian explained, stressing this was the hardest part of the trip.
"We initially had a bit of a hard time getting permits for this passage," Medak said. "But the kayakers in South Korea, especially Mr. Ha, were instrumental in getting all the paperwork in order. We couldn't have done it without them."
Ha Joon-su, 57, also known as "The White Pig," learned about the duo's expedition on Facebook. Ha was the one who sorted out all the paperwork, acting as a go-between for Medak and the Korean Coast Guard. He said he likes both saltwater and river kayaking and goes kayaking almost every weekend.
When Medak decided to get the permit for the expedition, there was one major problem: He can't speak Korean. "That's where I came in. I simply helped him speak to the coast guard, and we managed to arrange everything," Ha said.
According to The White Pig, there are currently about 1,200 registered sea-touring kayakers in South Korea, but only about 50 of them are active.
On their Web site, Marin and Simon wrote that the Korean trip turned out to be "entirely different than what we had expected."
Medak explained: "We had this preconceived notion of being able to really get away from it all. We thought we would be able to just chill out on one of the islands in Korea's South Sea. We thought we would be spending a lot more time alone. That, however, wasn't the case. We spent a lot of time in the villages, being entertained in restaurants and sleeping in people's houses."
"We also weren't prepared for the Korean hospitality, which was enormous. Everyone we met was totally helpful. People were really friendly, extremely friendly. We weren't expecting nearly such support," he said.
When the duo arrived at Yammi Island off the nation's central west coast at the end of their fourth day, they picked up the Venerable Hyocheon, who joined them all the way to the finish line in Sokcho, a port on the east coast, 19 days later.
"It was cold and windy," said the monk, "but I'm glad I did it. We had been thinking of doing such a thing ourselves, but until Marin and Simon came along, it was merely talk. When they showed up, we knew it was time for action."
According to Hyocheon, he's one of two monks in South Korea who kayak.
"I didn't know that the monk would be joining us for the journey. It was basically unannounced," Medak said. "But this guy was a good force. He was totally positive."
While Osborne has been kayaking since an early age, and has circumnavigated Great Britain and Ireland, and more recently attempted a circumnavigation of Madagascar, Medak is relatively new to the sport, having only taken up paddling a couple of years ago.
So far, he's managed to log thousands of miles of experience in the Mediterranean Sea, which is the largest body of water close to his native Slovenia.
The trio agrees that the highlights of their Korean trip were no doubt surfing the tidal surges of the South Sea off the Korean Peninsula's south coast.
"When passing under the Jindo Bridge," said Medak, "we were being pushed along at about 12 knots. I've only experienced stronger tidal surges than that in one place, and that is around the shores of Great Britain."
Osborne is currently on an expedition. According to his friends, he is out paddling the world's wide blue waters. He is always paddling and traveling, while raising awareness and money for leukemia research.
His drive and inspiration comes largely from the fond memories of his brother Mark, whom he lost to a fatal disease several years ago.
BTS album ranked on Billboard chart for 20th consecutive week
Choking fine dust envelops S. Korea for 5th straight day
Korea, Denmark to celebrate 60th year of relationship with cultural events
(LEAD) S. Korea's military forgoes 'enemy' label against N. Korea in white paper
Pompeo says 'details' are being worked out for 2nd U.S.-N.K. summit
(LEAD) U.S., N.K. kick off working-level talks for second summit of their leaders
Trump: Location of 2nd N. Korea summit chosen
(7th LD) Trump, Kim to hold 2nd summit near end of Feb.: White House
Top N.K. official departs U.S. after meeting Trump
U.S., N.K. kick off working-level talks for second summit of their leaders