Sunday, October 21, 2012

Jeju Island

Happy Sunday to all! 

Today I wandered into a tiny shop down the street from my abode. I've always admired the beautiful tea cups in the window, so I finally decided to buy one. I buy a tea cup, Korean shop owner gives me a free toothbrush. Naturally
Other than my mini shopping excursion, I told myself that today, I WOULD sit down. And I WOULD post my Jeju pictures. I just...can't...get myself to write anymore. It's just a phase, I think. I hope. 

Anyway, here I go: I went to Jeju Island recently, "Korea's Hawaii." Except that, while it IS beautiful, it is certainly no Hawaii. But, regardless, it was a lovely four-day vacation and, because my photos loaded in opposite order, and because I am struggling to write right now, let alone reorder my photos manually, I will tell the story of my trip backwards. Also. You should know that I have a knack for writing run-on sentences.

My friend/co-worker, Andrew, and I, along with our trusty and lovable Korean friend, Gukhyun, took on Jeju by rental car. Highly advisable, if you are reading this blog post for Jeju tips. Do it -- get a car.  It will make your life that much easier and it's worth every penny. This was our lovely ride.

On the last day, we went to the Yongmeori coast, which boasts gorgeous lava rock formations. Also -- the most ghetto (fabulous), creepy mini-amusement park, which you must pass through to get to the coastline. We rode the Viking to the sounds of (what else?) Gangnam Style as I steadily grew more and more nauseous, and eventually found myself praying for the ride to end five minutes in. Now I know why I don't ride the Viking. Gukhyun's face pretty much says it all...

Before heading off to Yongmeori, we borrowed a woman's fluffy Sapsalgae pooch that morning and took it to the beach. I am officially in love with this type of dog. In Korea, it is known as the Exorcist Dog and is a National Natural Monument (#368). I don't really care if the dog can get rid of bad luck or evil spirits -- it was just so dadgum cute!

The previous evening, we stayed at Jeju the Guesthouse. I booked all of our hostels on, and I must say -- I did well. This place was my favorite. I didn't feel like I was in Korea. It was as if I had been dropped off in some spectacular beach house (as long as I kept my gaze from veering out the window to the rows of rice paddies next door). The upstairs patio, the views from the upstairs patio -- incredible. This place warranted much more privacy than you usually find at a hostel; it was especially great for women. Oh, and they had hammocks.

Earlier in the day we had climbed Mt. Halla, South Korea's highest peak. There's a crater lake at the top, and we really wanted to see it. But we got a bit of a late start and didn't actually start hiking up the correct trail until around 10:50. There was a mid-way checkpoint that you had to reach by 12:30 in order to pass through and ascend to the summit. Every. Person. Said. We. Wouldn't. Make. It. 

But lookie!:

That's right. We did it, against all odds. We were informed that the entire hike takes about 9-10 hours. We did it in six! I was pretty proud of us. I also had the worst calf cramps for the next three days. I don't advice running up or down mountains.

The second hostel we stayed at was in Seogwipo, the main city on the southern part of the island. It's name is Backpacker's Home and it, too, was incredible. There's a open air cafe that sits at the entrance of the hostel, and it's where we hung out for the evening with our new friends whom we had met at the first hostel (haven't got to that one yet!). It's also where we ate an incredible breakfast (of champions) the next morning. I would recommend this place just for its breakfast. I mean, it's not omelets and Belgian waffles or anything. But it's a step up from the staple, 'eggs 'n' toast.' That's for sure.

Earlier in the day we visited the Jeongbang waterfall in Seogwipo. It was interesting to observe the way that Koreans take in a natural work of art (I don't mean to generalize, but I didn't see one Korean who didn't do this).

It was sad. No one seemed to really see the beautiful waterfall. They were too busy striking poses in front of it, if not fumbling a camera to get the perfect shot. When they secured a few good ones, they'd turn around and make the trek back up the steps to the top, without a second glance back. It was disappointing. I notice this kind of thing a lot, actually.

So that morning, we wanted to go snorkeling, but our hostel wouldn't rent the gear to us, even though they owned a dive shop on the side and weren't going diving that day. They just WOULDN'T rent the snorkels and fins to us. Still makes me scratch my head.

We went to several other dive shops, who were also not diving that day, and they, too, would not rent snorkels to us.

"So what, exactly, do you DO here if you don't dive and you don't rent gear?" we asked, meeting blank stares every time. I'm glad they couldn't understand me. And I wouldn't normally be so rude. But dangit -- I wanted to snorkel! And what DO they do there??

Finally, we found Orange. If you're ever in Seowipo, just run straight to J.C. at the Orange Dive Shop. He's a charming Korean man with perfect English. He's worked as a businessman all over the world, and clearly, he knows how to make moolah. While every other dive shop refused the money we were essentially throwing at them, J.C. gladly accepted it. AND threw in an underwater camera for us to use while playing in the water. He was so wonderful, and even had us follow him in our car, so he could show us exactly where to go snorkeling!

So that afternoon, we slapped our flippers on and checked out some pretty fish.

The first night, we stayed at Doona Guesthouse. Other than the snorkel ordeal the next morning, they were absolutely wonderful, and I really enjoyed eating my breakfast on that big, beautiful porch. Doona is also where we met some amazing new friends (whom I wrote about previously...).

Throughout Jeju Island are walls made from stacked volcanic rock. Mt. Halla is actually an inactive volcano, and it's where Jeju began. So, let's just say, volcanic rock is plentiful on this island. Many of the walls aren't even cemented, yet they stay in place through heavy rain, windy weather, and typhoons because of the holes that are created from uneven stacking. It's genius, really.

We're down to Day One. Phew. Almost there. I really just want to go to bed right now. But I can see the finish line!

Anyway, on Day One, we visited Udo, a tiny island off the East coast of Jeju. It has a white coral beach, and it's the only one of its kind in Korea. We went "all-out" and rented four-wheelers to get around the island. Another piece of advice from the all-knowing Traveleasta: Go for the four-wheelers.

 Also, this is absolutely the coolest picture I have ever taken! I'm so proud of it. Go ahead -- admire..

The first stop on our trip was a visit to Sunrise Peak. It's essentially a flat-top hill, bedecked in lush, green vegetation.The view from Sunrise Peak was dazzling, though. And the climb wasn't too bad; rather enjoyable, in fact. Even with the 50,000 other Chinese travelers on holiday, climbing right along beside us.

And Gukhyun's friend, who is currently in the army and stationed on Jeju Island, came out for the day! His name is Coffee Bear. :)

I'm officially out of juice. Time for bed. Nighty night.

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