Day four on Jeju Island – and I awoke quite tired and cramped from my massive hike up Hallasan yesterday. We hiked for eight hours and it totally left me drained and definitely not energised for more hiking. However, sure enough, my arm was twisted after breakfast, and I ended up on a bus at 9am, alongside three friends, on our way to another hike.
My hostel in Jeju was really cool, it was sociable, offered a free beer at 5, and offered free instant coffee in the morning. I shared my dorm room with a few Koreans, my friend Mark from China, and of course, me, the one white guy in the whole building. These guys were both amazing and infuriating. See, I’m a person that can be quite sociable and open, and easy-going, however, I really, really like time to myself. In fact I would say I need time to myself at least once or twice a day for a few hours, just to clear my head and empty the words and thoughts bustling around my little brain. These guys were very excitable and were continually trying to get me out of the hostel and onto walks or treks – which was great! Sometimes I needed that badly, or I would just stew at the hostel all alone. But sometimes, it drove me ab-so-lutely crazy. I love those guys
So it was that we clambered into the bus, and rode it for half an hour out of town towards our destination. We were to be walking the famous Jeju Olle Track, and was supposed to be an excellent way to get amongst the coastal and fishing community culture of Jeju; a culture so different to anything else in Korea. The Olle Track was comprised of some 20+ courses that weaved their way right around the island. I didn’t know much about the track or the courses we were attempting before I left the hostel, so I was quite excited to get out and about and see a different part of the island.
Given how wet the previous day, had been, and how miserable the weather had been for my hike up Hallasan, all I could keep thinking at first was how annoyingly cheery the weather was. Yuck.
We started our course walking through green paddies of farmland, surrounded by coarse, man-made walls of volcanic rocks stacked atop one another. Throughout the bright blue skies, streaky white clouds painted smooth lines across the horizon, and behind us, the tall mountains in the distance appeared like ancient giants watching over the island. The wind was brisk, but our spirits were high, as we wandered through field after field, gazing upon mountain after mountain, through blue-roofed homes and guesthouses, slowly making our way towards the ocean.
When we finally hit the coast, we paused for a moment to find a stamp for our books, something the Olle Track offers as a prize for completing the course, and then we walked around the rocky coast for half an hour and rested with water. It felt good to see the ocean again; the proper ocean, not penned-in by a wharf or walkway, but an actual coastline, with waves, and spray that covered my face. The smell of salt in the air was like a drug into my system, and it was really refreshing to see it again after so long amongst the concrete and the skyscrapers of Seoul, after the wilds of the mountains, and after being underground on trains for almost two weeks. I revelled in being by the seaside again.
We continued on our path, tracing our way along the coast as offshore islands came into view, each with some imperious-looking mountains of their own. It was great to feel immersed through the culture of Jeju, with Koreans as my guide. They told me all about the fishing villages, the huts – now decrepit – that used to be the meeting places for Jeju’s famous Haenyeo, the female ocean divers of Jeju. They are known as strong, independent women, with an iron will, and are said to have contributed to the semi-matriarchal family structure of Jeju. Whilst I was walking this course, the Haenyeo were before UNESCO, hoping for their intangible culture to become inscribed on the World Heritage list. They did in fact become added to the World Heritage list, making my memories of that coastline that little bit more special.
We paused for a spot of lunch by the beach; we heated noodles and boiled eggs for our snack, feasting upon the sand as the sun beat down harshly upon us. It was well into the afternoon at this stage. I was starting to wonder when our walk would finish, but there was no point in asking – even if I wanted to leave by myself, there was no way I could find my way back to Jeju-si without the help of my Korean friends. I laughed to myself and simply shrugged as we packed up our rubbish, our stomachs full, and continued on our way.
We circled around the bay until we headed inland towards a mountain. This was not a long climb, but a steep one; straight upwards, and we were forced to pull ourselves along using a rope beside the path. Reaching the summit only took 30 minutes, and we were rewarded with a 360 degree view of the coastline and the inland mountains. We soaked it in, and took plenty of photos.
But fruitful happenstance, this was the exact moment my phone died.