Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Jeju, Korea Part II: One Last Korean Adventure

I dragged myself out of my soft, cool bed and into the shower. Sunscreen was applied, maps were consulted, shoes were tied, then we re-entered the humid world of Jeju Island. On that particular  morning, the target was Seongsan Ilchubong, which is part of the exclusive "UNESCO Triple Crown," group of sites, and is considered to be one of the 7 Wonders of the Natural World. At least this is what they claim with enormously large writing at the entrance, but I haven't been able to verify this since. Judging from how impressive it was, I'm going to guess they were telling the truth. What exactly is it? According to the Korean Tourism website, it a large rock structure, resembling a natural castle of sorts, that was formed during a volcanic eruption approximately 100,000 years ago. There's a natural crater on top of this formation that's about 600 metres deep and 90 metres high. The views are spectacular from the top, so that's where we were headed. Firstly, I'd love to show you a bird's eye view of this immense, authoritative, behemoth of a rock. By the way, if you're looking for the intense scientific lingo in relation to this, then it's more specifically referred to as an "archetypal tuff cone" which was formed by "hydrovolcanic eruptions." You can nod your head with interest, but let's be honest, you've never heard of an archetypal tuff cone before in your life. Don't worry, I haven't either, but I've apparently seen one.

The sweltering heat was discouraging, but we were poised to get to the top of this and look down upon the greenest crater we've ever seen. Quite honestly, it wasn't a particularly gruesome trek at all, and we were nearly up to the top in about half an hour. It must have been the determined photo we took just before our departure.

Inevitably, we reached the summit of Ilchubong, and the views were remarkable. Slurping out of the ice cold water bottles also didn't hurt the cause. Quite bluntly, I'd never seen anything like this before in my life, and these feelings are what keep you committed to the cause of travelling. One day when one of my friends becomes a geographer, then I can tell him or her that I've been to the summit of one hell of an archetypal tuff cone in South Korea.

After descending, we grabbed a cab to the ferry terminal where we took a short boat ride over to Udo Island, which literally translates to "Cow Island." This is due to the fact that the island apparently looks like a cow lying down when viewed in full. The following picture is from our approach. I want you to guess how this island formed. Hint, it rhymes with "molcano." 

If you guessed "volcano," then you're absolutely right. It is, in fact, a lava plateau.  For one reason or another, the picture above seems a little blurry to me, but let's just attribute that to the fact that your judgement was momentarily cloudy while you were consummating the answer to my previous question. I recognize how wildly corny and cheesy that last sentence was, but that's the kind of cheese that has made this blog (moderately) successful. As I was saying, we arrived on this lush lava plateau, the proceeded to rent a "premium" bicycle from a rental shop (Koreans are very fond of the word "premium" to mean the absolute best). I've always ridden sluggish mountain bikes in the past, but the bikes we rented were aerodynamic angels. 

We used them to scoot around the island and take in the sights and smells. On our few hours on the island, we stopped for a swim on Korea's only white coral beach, then moved our way up the east coast to find some of our own hidden gems. I feel like we did a fairly good job, plus it's always a pleasure to aimlessly explore. 

Cow Island, indeed.

On our way home, we crossed paths with a very pleasant couple, Jim and Sile, from the US and Ireland respectively. It quickly became apparent that we were both heading back to the Seogwipo area, as they were CouchSurfing near there. We'll be doing a fair bit of CouchSurfing on our trip through Southeast Asia, and it's truly a fantastic community. Anyway, a great chat led to dinner, and dinner led to drinks. Before we knew it, there were a parade of people, beverages in hand, in front of our hostel on the picnic benches. Jim and Sile brought out Dan and Amy (another lovely couple who was hosting them for the night via CouchSurfing) who brought their friend Mars out. There was also a wonderful array of people who were actually staying at the hostel with us, including Lydnsay and Warren. The reason I'm going into such depth with the network of people is to adequately explain how we ended up with a free car on Jeju during our stay. Yes, you read that absolutely correctly. After a fantastic night by the water with a few drinks, Mars was kind enough to offer us her vehicle for the following two days as she'd be at work. It wasn't a drunken promise by any means, but merely a well-intentioned, kindhearted gesture. All she asked was that we "pay it forward" the next chance we could. This incredibly generous and moving offer changed the entire face of our trip, and I'll most certainly pay it forward the next chance I can. The following two photos provide a sum off the interaction almost perfectly.

Lydnsay leisurely strolled into our room the following morning and asked Warren (Warren and I were bunkmates, or "bunkies", as I so fondly referred to us), Bri, and I what we were planning for the day. We swiftly replied that we had a car, then asked if she'd like to join in on the action. Of course this made for an instant "yes", and right then and there we had just formed a sensational quad of people. Lyndsay hailed from the east coast of Canada, while Warren hailed from Ohio. They were (and continue to be) incredible people on their own, but the four us together had an unstoppable air about us. Bri put the car into first gear, I played the first track on my iPod, Lydsay unfolded the map, and Warren nodded his head in approval as we veered onto the street before us.

The open road. What a completely and utterly foreign concept on the mainland of Korea. The streets tend to be congested with cars, and the sidewalks tend to be congested with people. It was pleasant to roll down the windows and have the air surge through the car, although we didn't really have a choice considering the air conditioning was broken. Our first destination was the UNESCO World Heritage Manjanggul Lava Tubes. They are precisely what they sound like, but they happen to be particularly special in that they rank in the top 15 in the world in length (around 7,500 metres). Apparently, the caves were formed several hundred thousand years ago and are noted for their overall preservation. The highlight would be the lava column inside which happens to be the largest in the world. Not bad, huh? One of the personal highlights for me was the extraordinarily noticeable temperature shift. It felt miraculous to me that I could escape the plaguing Jeju heat and walk around these caves while gleefully shivering along. A joke was made several times that perhaps it would be a wise idea for Warren, Bri, Lyndsay and myself to never leave those delightfully cold confines. It would likely make for a popular story among the major Korean news networks.

Lava Flowlines
Lava Stalactites
Manjanggul's famed "Turtle Rock"

Reluctantly, we rejoined the rest of civilization and its horrid humidity. As it turned out, we were only headed a few hundred metres down the road to the hedge maze. Alas, it was a good opportunity to get some much needed sun, as some would have suggested I was looking rather albino prior to that. The hedge maze was created by a man from the States who had been living in Korea for quite some time. He was apparently a tourism professor who chose to make this his grand retirement project. I believe it's called the Kimyoung Maze, but don't quote me on that. It actually made for some clean, wholesome fun, and you can quote me on that. The four of us enjoyed childishly parading our way through it. Not to mention, the whole maze had a certain "Alice in Wonderland" appeal due to the well groomed, green bushes, and that's always a bonus in any scenario.

A sweat was discernibly broken during our walk so the next stop was logically towards the beach, and thus some sort of large body of water. We drove to a nearby beach, which happened to be fantastically beautiful, then spent the next few hours there lounging around without much aim at all. It was pretty much the best decision that could have been made. Eventually, we headed back to our hostel and indulged in a few of the aforementioned cheap beers at our hostel. The night spiralled into a wonderful affair that was capped off with a visit to the noraebang or karaoke room. Once we learned that Lyndsay had yet to go to one, then it was only a matter of time before poor North American voices would grace some nearby Korean microphones. As I mentioned before, I'll sincerely miss the noraebang. It was one of the better days, and late nights, that I'd spent in Korea, and it couldn't have happened among better people.

The following morning didn't quite have the early start that we'd planned. Wait, we never planned to have an early start, and that was the beauty of it all. When we were good and ready, we grabbed some delicious pizza from a place nearby called "Pizza Ran?" I can't really get enough of that name. I mean are they asking me if the pizza ran away? Or where the pizza ran? Or is it simply asking if pizzas can run in general? It's hard to know exactly what answer they're looking for with that peculiar question. We also had a new addition to our entourage in the form of a motorized scooter, thanks to Warren's determination to find one. And what a marvelous addition it was.

The Scooter - "How real gansters roll"

The expression on my face just says it all. This baby was a speed demon. Honestly though, Warren and I both took it for a spin on the highway cruising nearly 100 km/h. I'll put in a quick disclaimer here for my family (and perhaps Warrens) that it was entirely safe (I was wearing a helmet!) Anyway, there's no use worrying over it anymore, as we've both made it back in one piece. After our armada cruised around the island for a while, we ended up on a beach once again. We put on our swimming gear and headed for the beach, but we suddenly realized that no one was swimming. In fact, there were hundreds of people waiting right on the edge of the water. We quickly found out that the police had "discontinued" swimming for the day because of the typhoon! We were in absolute shock. At best, there was a mild wind, but the sun was shining in the sky. I swear it's because the general Korean populous are miserable swimmers. I kept on thinking what outrage there would be in Canada if anyone actually tried to enforce this. This was what we were faced with. I mean...really?

Who could swim in such monstrous conditions? It's not even one of those things that you can reconcile to a different country's policies. It simply didn't make sense to me, and still doesn't. So, with proud North American resilience, we wandered down the beach and found a suitable cove for ourselves that was covered from the police presence. Talk about breaking the law! We decided that if the whistles were blown (quite literally) on our little adventure that we'd have to have a little fun with the absurdity of it all. Warren politely took a picture of our planned action. To prove that they'd in fact been right about the dangers of the water we "played dead." This is the result that brings me to stitches every time I see it.

Eventually, a kind policeman did come over and ask us to get out of the water. We, of course, obeyed because it's not really worth fighting against steadfast Korean policy. In the end, we had our fun and cooled down, and that's all that matters. The rest of our time in Jeju was spent in great conversation, with an array of beers, watching peculiar Olympic sports, and generally appreciating our vacation. We gratefully returned the keys back to Mars, who I simply cannot thank enough for her trust and hospitality. I will certainly "pay it forward" when the time arises.

Well, it appears I've run out of time. Yes, I'm referring to this post and the fact that it's getting rather late, but more broadly I only have five days left here. Therefore, this will officially be my last post directly reliving a Korean excursion. Luckily, I managed to keep up with all of my blogging while I was here. Believe it or not, I've actually made about fourty posts since I started my blog back up in Korea. I couldn't be happier with how everything has turned out. Traffic really picked up, I was sent so many encouraging messages, and of course I became a World Korea Blogger, which has been an incredible experience. In fact, I'm looking to continue posting while I'm on the road in Southeast Asia, and maybe even in Canada if it feels right. Don't expect long, elaborate posts because there's plenty of exploring and wandering to be done in Southeast Asia. However, I'm sure I'll retell a few tales while I'm on the road. My next post will likely be from Vietnam, so until then, hold tight. If it takes a little longer than expected, then have patience. There is so much to be seen.



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