Because I’m a poor, overworked public school teacher the good people of Korea have deigned to give me yet another long weekend. This long weekend was supposed to be 3 days long, but each public school in Busan is given three discretionary holiday days that the principal can spread out over the year as he or she sees fit. The principal at my school, being the totally badass William Shatner look alike that he is, decided to turn my three day weekend into a four day weekend. Good call, Captain!
So it’s now October 5th, 2011 and I’m back at school, but still totally jazzed by my awesome long weekend in Jeju-do, South Korea. Jeju is an island about a one hour flight south of the mainland. It’s fairly small (you can drive across it in about an hour and a half) and chock full of things to do.
For those of you who don’t like reading I thought I would just summarize everything I did over the weekend in list format here, so you can spare yourself my mindless, coffee fueled prattling:
– Went bowling
– Rockclimbed in a dry streambed
– Ate Korean BBQ
– Played beach volleyball
– Ate Indian food
– Hiked Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak)
– Explored a lava tube (7km long cave)
– Navigated a hedge maze
– Ate sushi
– Went SCUBA diving (twice)
– Swam in a lagoon
– Saw a waterfall
– Hiked Hallasan (highest mountain in Korea)
You can see that it was a busy weekend, but also chock full of exciting adventures.
I’m not going to talk about everything I did, just some of the main highlights, even so this will probably be a long post. You can either put on a pot of coffee and settle deeper into your chair or close this browser window and get back to work (because let’s face it, 80% of you are here to procrastinate, just like me). Decide now because here we go…..
The first note worthy thing we did was some rockclimbing. We teamed up with an experienced Jeju climber who took us to a dried river with climbs ranging from 8-20 meters high. The river bed itself was a sight to behold. Centuries of raging rivers in the spring time and during the rainy season have smoothed the rocks down into really interesting shapes. Friction from debris in the river has also scrubbed the rocks to an off-white color. The bottom of the riverbed is filled with silt and tiny rocks deposited when the river dried up. Between the smooth white walls on both sides and the off-white fine powdery silt beneath our feet it kind of felt like being on the moon, except as soon as you start climbing the illusion is shattered when you realize the earth’s gravity still applies.
We did two interesting routes, one of which is called ‘push and shove’. The route leads up between a rock cliff and a rectangular shaped boulder that sits about 4 feet apart from the cliff face. The base of the climb is worn so smooth that the only way to get started is to do what is called a ‘chimney’ –> pressing your back and arms against one wall and your feet against the other and use equal pressure on both points to shimmy up the crevice. Near the top the two rocks separate so you need to turn around and finish climbing to the top of the rectangular shaped rock before turning around and stepping across the four foot gap to continue climbing the cliff itself. It was really really awesome and you bet I sang the Indianna Jones theme song to myself the entire time. I have a video of the entire climb that I will post in the coming days for your amusement. Just a few things to note about the video: 1) The look of abject terror on my face is actually just concentration and, 2) I will edit the video for time as there is about two minutes where I’m standing on top of a rock working up the courage to jump across and finish the climb. Did I say working up the courage? I meant taking in the view. I’m not afraid of anything.
The next awesome thing we did was a trip to a ‘lava tube’. The entire island of Jeju is the result of a massive volcano, called Halla, that slowly formed the island thousands of years ago. Though it is now dormant, there are all sorts of caves and craters around the island left from its active days. The lava tube that we went to is one of the largest in the world. It is 7.6 kilometers long (about 1.5km of that is open to the public). The cave itself is about 30 or so feet across and the ceiling varies between 10 feet and approximately 50 feet high. Unfortunately it was dark in there (it is a cave, afterall) so I have no video to show you.
Another thing I want to share with you is my hike up Hallasan. Halla Mountain is the highest in Korea (about 1.9km high) and is a dormant volcano situated smack dab in the center of Jeju island. The route I took to the summit was about 10 km long, and the route back down afterwards about another 10 km. As if climbing the highest mountain in Korea wasn’t challenging enough, I also had a fairly strict time limit as I had a flight back to Busan leaving that evening. I had heard that the hike takes between 6 and 8 hours, so I was a little worried about making it back to my base of operations in the south, Seogwipo (pronounced Soggypo – like a wet policeman), to collect my bags before catching another bus to the airport in the northern city of Jeju-si. Luckily I was hiking solo and was able to set my own pace.
The path up the mountain led through a thick forest, which was beautiful to look at when I wasn’t too busy watching my footing on the rocky, uneven path. The trail itself was fairly pronounced and usually wide enough for people to walk three abreast. As is typical for Korean hikes I found the size and style of the path (rope or wood handrails constantly, boardwalks over wet or particularly rough terrain, etc..) took away from the feeling of immersion in nature and accomplishment you get from hiking in other parts of the world, but since this is such a beautiful hike – not to mention the highest peak in Korea – I’m willing to let it go this time.
Eventually the path led out of the trees into a large boulder field that covered the final kilometer before the summit. This was the first point I could look behind me and see my progress/a view of the island and it was stunning (just watch the video). The summit itself offered awesome views of the city and island and there were just enough clouds in the sky for me to realize I was actually higher than them. I also got great views into the crater at the peak and saw the famous ‘Crater Lake’ that is photo-shopped into all the tourist pictures of Hallasan. The crater lake is actually more of a ‘crater mud puddle’ unless you go immediately after a Typhoon or during the rainy season (and who in their right minds would want to hike during either of those times?). The way down offered better views than the hike up and I covered most of them in the video. I finished the hike in about 5 hours, including a 20 or 30 minute break for lunch and a few short stops (2 or so minutes) for water/filming.
The last activity I want to briefly talk about was the SCUBA diving. We went with a dive group called ‘Big Blue’ and did two dives for about 100 bucks. The water was sooooper warm (26 degrees) and the visibility was around 25 meters. We took a small boat out to an island off the coast (more like a rock, actually) and set up a base camp. We did both dives while the tide was coming in, which resulted in a beneficial current. For example, we would dive in, swim to a location, and then just relax and let the current pull us along while we lazily admired the fish. Speaking of fish, there were quite a few of them. Thousands in fact… maybe tens of thousands. Before diving in Jeju I knew there were beautiful places to snorkel and SCUBA dive in the world, but it is impossible to imagine just how beautiful without experiencing it for yourself. My limited experience with ocean snorkeling and SCUBA diving (snorkeling on a reef in Mexico and SCUBA diving in Busan) did little to prepare me for the sensory overload I experienced during my dives in ‘Little Monsum’. Since no description will do it justice I’ll just tell you to never, ever pass up a chance to snorkel or SCUBA dive in an exotic location such as this. I think the most amzing thing I saw were the enormous schools of fish that were all swimming together. Imagine a 20 meter long, 2 meter wide snake winding back and forth through the ocean, except the snake is actually comprised of thousands of tiny fish all swimming together in unison. Makes my sister’s synchronized ice skating look as effortless as tying your shoelaces by comparison (sorry, sis).
Well that’s all I’m going to say about Jeju for the moment.
Hope you enjoyed the entry and keep an eye out for the Jeju video in the next few days (as soon as I get around to editing and uploading).
That’s all for now.