Where a Low Tide Lifts Spirits

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Where a Low Tide Lifts Spirits

The biblical account of how Moses led his people out of Egypt by parting the Red Sea has its believers and non-believers, but anyone who stands with dry feet in the middle of the ocean is bound to feel part of some miracle.

If you visit Muchangpo beach, South Chungchong province, at the right time, you can witness for yourself what the local people call a "Miracle of Moses." In fact, the "dividing of the sea" at Muchangpo beach occurs several times a month, on the last and the first few days of each lunar month. The opening of the waters off the west coast beach, revealing an S-shaped, 1.5 kilometer rocky path to the nearby Seokdae Island, is not a religious miracle but a natural phenomenon that is dictated by the sun and the moon.

At low tide, the split in the sea reveals a wealth of underwater geographical features. This phenomenon occurs elsewhere along the country's western and southern coasts, areas that are characterized by a jagged coastline and a large tidal range.

Jindo, South Cholla province; Sado, South Cholla province and Jebudo, Kyonggi province, are some of the other well-known places to observe this phenomenon, though at different times of the month.

There are no religious fanatics to be found at Muchangpo beach when the tide recedes. What you will find are hundreds of happy clam diggers eager to take advantage of the dry path in the middle of the sea that is strewn with various sea creatures. Although it usually takes about 30 minutes for the path to Seokdae Island to stand completely clear of the water, some impatient folks are ready to jump in as soon as the water falls to knee-height.

Be warned, however: This is not your typical beach experience. You need to wade through a stretch of very heavy and slippery mud. Do not go barefoot - you are bound to slide and fall - but wear sturdy sandals that won't come off when you pull your foot out of the mud. Just when you get used to balancing yourself on the slimy mud, the landscape changes to sharp-edged rocks and pebbles. If you can manage to lift your head while walking precariously among the rocks and look to your right and your left, you will feel like you are indeed part of some miracle, standing raised in the middle of the ocean with the water on both sides.

After the requisite photo snaps, you may want to join your fellow visitors in doing a bit of digging around for clams. You will need a hoe and a bucket to do this but do not worry if you did not bring one with you. An enterprising vendor walking up and down the cleared path sells hoes for 2,000 won ($1.50) each.

Although the guidebooks tell you that the cleared path is teeming with clams, octopus, crabs and the like, it is no easy task catching one. Instead of digging deep wells and turning every rock, you may choose to do what the old ladies from the village do. To catch razor clams, look for small oval holes. Sprinkle a bit of salt into the hole and a razor clam will literally jump out. The trick is to grab it as quickly as you can before it retreats into its hole.

Small crabs are usually found among the rocks and you may even be fortunate enough to find an octopus clinging tenaciously to the underside of a rock.

Only the determined and the light-footed actually make it all the way to Seokdae Island and most tourists are content to catch some shellfish with which to make soup for dinner. Although the island is a favorite fishing spot among the local folks, the path is only clear for about an hour and a half before it is engulfed again by the sea, so you do not have much time to linger around, much less fish, if you hope to walk to the shore dry. In fact, if you hear some garbled speech over the loudspeaker on the beach, it is your cue to turn around and walk back. That announcement, warning people that the tide will soon come back in, is given only in Korean so take note when you see people heading back to the shore.

If you would like to witness this "Miracle of Moses," the sea is next scheduled to split open on Sept. 17 (09:50), 18 (10:31), 19 (11:11), 20 (11:49), and 21 (12:25). The times noted are when the tide is at its lowest, so prepare to arrive about an hour ahead. For a complete schedule for the rest of the year, visit Boryeong City Hall Web site at www.poryong.chungnam.kr, or call 041-930-3541/2.

Directions: Muchangpo beach is about three hours' drive from Seoul. From Seoul, take the Seohaean Expressway to Asan, then take route 21 heading toward Yesan, Hongseong and Boryeong, then follow the signs to Muchangpo. Buses leave from Seoul Nambu Terminal (02-521-8550), Seocho-dong.

by Kim Hoo-ran

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