Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Moonshine Shaman on Gageo Island


The Makkeoli Shaman sorting roots, with his sacred green boulder visible behind
The shaman's magical makkeoli moonshine
Recharged and tipsy
One of few remaining inhabited houses in 2-Gu 
Most 2-Gu houses are in this state
Looking northwest towards 2-Gu from Gageo Island's halfway point
Craggy tip of 2-Gu
The Shaman's neighbourhood
Looking down into 2-Gu
Bustling downtown 2-Gu, creepy abandoned school looming above
The steep road back up from 2-Gu - The shaman lived among the cliffs to the left, just out of frame
 (While on the subject of benevolent mystics, here's another snippet from a writing project I've been working on...)

  In addition to the smiling offers of free coffee that abounded in town after the abduction(http://snowyowllost.blogspot.ca/2016/04/abducted-by-korean-gangster.html) , one example of Gageo hospitality stands above the rest. During my second week, I made the lengthy (about 10 kilometres up and down the steepest of inclines) hike to the island’s second largest town, 2-Gu (pronounced “goo”). This place was lifted from a Hitchcock film. Clinging to a coastal cathedral of wind-whipped spires and crags, the “town” consisted of little more than a two-boat harbour, a herd of brazen brown cliff cows, a creepy deserted school from the 1940s, one seafood restaurant, and about ten houses, most of which were rotting into the weeds. It was a humid day, and after my two-hour slog, I was shattered and sweat-drenched. But after re-checking the day’s wind forecast, I knew that this was where and when I wanted to be, bird-wise. Situated in Gageo’s northwest armpit, the wind-beaten uplands of 2-Gu were a perfect migrant trap. This was the spot to search for bunched-up migrating birds as they rallied for their continued northward voyage.
  Wiping sweat from my brow, I gingerly wended my way up a narrow cliff-top trail, scanning through each weedy patch in search of movement. I didn’t find much, as the coastal winds kept most birds to cover. After an unproductive hour-long probe of the cliff tops above town, I started back towards 2-Gu, and the punishing return walk to 1-Gu that awaited.
  As I passed the last abandoned old house before the trail to town widened, I saw that it wasn’t in fact abandoned. An old man was hunched over a battered aluminium tub, amidst a jumble of lumber, junk, and dozens of large plastic vats and baskets. He was pulling apart roots and throwing the good bits into the tub when my arrival jarred him from his trance-like routine. A medley of surprise, curiosity, and calm hospitality played across his face in the span of a second, and he rose slowly to greet me.
  After introductions, I learned that he was the island’s lone remaining shaman. He revealed that he had lived in this remotest of outposts since he was young enough to remember when the dilapidated school still echoed with the voices of fishermen’s children. In a scenario that was the gentle opposite of the gangster abduction, he graciously bade me into his cluttered, stone-walled courtyard. I sat on the warm ground while the shaman scampered inside. He returned laden with modest refreshments, which he laid out on a small table. I gratefully ate the fresh spiced greens from metal bowls, but the best was yet to come. He produced a green plastic bottle of homemade makkeoli, and poured me a tall cup, then a smaller one for himself.
  Makkeoli (pronounce it without the “e”) is a rice-based alcohol commonly associated with Korea’s working class. Viscous and milky with a nutty, fizzy mouthfeel, I never cottoned to the stuff, as it gave me instantaneous headaches, and I just didn’t get it. But this was unlike any store-bought makkeoli I had ever reluctantly sipped. The shaman’s brew was thick and chunky, and tinged an unappetizing purplish-brown, but it was finest libation I had ever drunk, hands down. It was ice cold and tasted like glorious root beer yogurt, and as it flowed down my throat I was charged with a gust of superhuman vitality and calmness. I necked down several glasses of the exquisite elixir, while gleaning further fragments of the shaman’s life story.
  It seems the shaman had selected the location for his residence because of its proximity to a sacred rock. The jagged green spire of granite, the highest feature on that section of cliff, loomed 40 feet overhead. The rear of his house appeared to grow organically from the impressive vine-covered monolith, and in that perfect instant I had no reason to doubt his claim that the place was imbued with supernatural properties.
  When it was time to part ways, I told him of my distant destination, which elicited a raised eyebrow. As I headed back out through the gate, he slipped me another, smaller bottle of the magical makkeoli.
  “If you’re walking all the way back to 1-Gu, you’ll be needing this,” he smiled.
  I like to think this shaman’s smile did more than warm my ornery heart. Perhaps he was to thank for the outrageously fortunate chain of avian events that transpired on Gago in the week that followed our encounter.

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