It's always too long before I sit down to this keypad and try to reconnect with you, any of you who read this. It's a great compliment to me that anyone reads it, that anyone follows my life here with me to South Korea.
It's been a fantastic 21 days since I last wrote. I can hardly imagine a better beginning to my 2nd year here. I celebrated my 1 year anniversary on October 1st and I celebrated well. My 1 year anniversary in ROK was spent on Jeju island, a large Island off the southern tip of the peninsula which is often referred to as the "Hawaii of Korea". It's the most popular destination for honeymooners and attracts business men and wealthy golfers (you must be pretty wealthy to play golf in Korea, those courses take up a lot of precious land). I was able to enjoy the weekend with a large group of friends as we all were enjoying a long weekend thanks to Chuseok, a Korean fall harvest holiday, that granted us an extra day off work. We travelled by ferry from Nokdong. We had originally reserved 3rd class tickets, but quickly upgraded to 2nd class when we saw that 3rd class was a noisy open hall with no seats, only floor which you could place a mat (if you'd packed one)and sit or lay on, while children run amuck about you. It was a clear day as we pulled out of the harbour, and I enjoyed spending sometime at the side of the ship, looking for jellyfish in the water.
We arrived mid-afternoon on Friday, and after some debate, Amanda and I split from the group to try to rent scooters. The scooter-rental shops we contact weren't willing to rent scooters to a large group of foreigners, most of whom did not have international licenses, and some of whom (like myself) had never actually driven one. We didn't have any luck in Jeju city renting scooters, but we were determined to see a little of the west coast before the sun went down. We hired a taxi to drive us to Guemnueng Seokbul-won stone garden. Amanda and I were mainly looking for some good photo ops with the Dol-Harubang ("stone grandfather") statues that have become the iconic symbol of the island. The statues were original carved by the island people for protection and fertility. We certainly got what we were looking for at the garden, and had a great time looking at all the other statues, exploring a cave and a small maze, a replicated folk village and buying a little dol-harubang to take home with us. (check out the pics! link below...)
After the garden, we zipped through the country-side to the south coast of the island, where we would be staying in Seogwipo. In the light of the setting sun, we drove through lush vegetation, Halla mountain rising up on our left and farmers fields lined with lava-rock walls on our right. It was strange to feel that although we were still in South Korea, we were in a foreign place. After we settled into our room, we rented scooters from a shop close to our motel that wasn't nervous about renting to foreigners. It was a bit of rocky start (see, when you don't feel in control you tend to grip hard onto something, which is bad if you're gripping the gas pedal) We grabbed dinner at Mr. Pizza and then picked up some food for the big hike. You see, tomorrow Amanda, Lizzie, Ian and I were going to hike South Koreas highest mountain peak - Hallsan. That night was as early a bedtime as a nighthawk like me could manage.
Our little scooter gang hit the road shortly before 8:00AM and wound our way slowly along the winding mountain highway to the base of our path for the day. I was relieved to see the trailhead started at 700M, so only about 1250 to go instead of the full 1950! The trail we chose was the longest at 19km roundtrip, but it was the easier of the two trails that lead to the peak. We were on our way by 9am. We kept a good steady pace, and stuck together until about the 1500m mark. At this point the trail got noticeably steeper and I started to fall behind the others a bit. At around 1700meters I broke out of the tree line. From then on out, it was a gorgous view already down the mountain to the seaside town and the coast. It was steady stairs all the way up to the peak, where I met up with my co-hikers who had all summitted between 30 and 12 minutes before me. We stopped here for about a 1/2 hour for lunch and to take a few pictures. Did realize it was freaking freezing up there until I'd been sitting for about 5 minutes! We also had the treat of spotting a korean deer, which until this point I didn't really believe existed. The descent turned out to be a lot tougher than the ascent. My thin street sneakers proved to be no match for the constant uneven, jagged lava rocks that are the pathway up Hallasan. My ankles and knees were hurting pretty bad from trying to keep everything stable when my ankles would twist unexpectedly. Still we made it down at 5pm, feeling pretty good. I dropped off my scooter at the shop and Lizzie, Amanda and I treated ourselves to a couple of hours at the Jimjilbong (sauna/public bath house)to relax our weary muscles a bit.
Later that night a few of us headed over to Dongdaemoon beach area to visit Lindsey and John at their swanky hotel that they'd splurged on. We mostly hung out in their room. But at the end of the night, a few peeps wanted to try their luck at blackjack in the casino. After sitting with my cranberry juice and a couple of galpals for few minutes chatting (minimum for playing blackjack was 100 000 won) we decided to throw 10 000 won (less than $10) at the slot machines for fun (sorry Mom!). Lizzie didn't have much luck but Kate did well and walked away with 35 000 won. And wouldn't you know it, beginners luck hit me too: I walked away with 60 000won! Thanks to Kate, who dutifully hit the cash out button when I reached my limit. It was a late night, and needless to say, after that hike I slept like a rock.
That casino money came in handy the next morning when Amanda, Jordaan and I decided to parasailing at 50 000won a pop each. It was a great experience, but at that price we all felt really disappointed that our rides didn't last longer than about 5minutes. Then again, we had a 5 oclock ferry to catch and still lots to do. Next we hopped in a taxi to see Biljarim forest, a protected forest of trees that are all 300 - 800 years old, the oldest of which is the Millenium Nutmeg tree, estimated to be nearly 1000 years old. It was a really beautiful walk, and I truly enjoyed every moment of being in that forest. After Biljarim, it was onto see the giant lava tube that is Manjanggul Cave. Manjanggul is an enormous cave created 100's of 1000's of years ago by lava flowing underground to the surface (I have mentioned that the whole island is the remains of Hallasan spewing her guts for a few centuries a long long time ago right?) One kilometer of the tunnel is open for tourista to walk through, until the lava column which reaches from floor to ceiling and is 13 meters high. The cave is dimly lit to protect the interior of the cave, and in many places water drips from the ceiling. The tunnel itself widened enormously in some places, feeling truly cavernous. It was an atmospheric walk to say the least, made just a little more dank and creepy by the fact that I had managed to drop my glasses case in the back of the taxi that had driven us, so the only thing I had to wear were my perscription sunglasses. In a cave. Well done, Lisa. Well done.
We left the lava tubes shortly before 4 o'clock, panicking just a bit. Jordaan had his ferry leaving the dock in Jeju-si at 4:30, and I was on the phone back and forth with an awesome lady from travel services trying to track down the taxi that I had left my glasses in. (As a side note: I am ridiculously near sighted, if I didn't recover the glasses, I would be teaching in my sunglasses until I could order new ones) Luck was on our side in both cases: We literally dropped Jordaan off at his dock at 4:30 on the button and he did make the boat, but not without making quite a run through the terminal. The kind lady from the tourist help line did manage to track down the taxi that had my glasses and arranged for the driver to meet me at the ferry terminal to retrieve them. The ferry ride home was great, relaxing, dozing and looking over everyones photos of the weekend. I had gone with 11 friends, but because we were such a big group we all split off and did different things throughout the weekend, so we all had different experiences of Jeju Island. Hope you enjoy the pictures, which can be seen here:
So thats...the first weekend in October. What day is it? November 10th? Crapsticks.