Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Jeju Adventure: The Whole Story

Where was I? Ah yes, we’d just arrived and rented a car.
October 9, 2010
One side note from our bus ride to the Gimpo airport: the bus station oversold tickets to the bus and so there were several people who actually sat in the aisle in order to not have to wait for the next bus. This will be important towards the end of this blog entry.
Oh, and another side note: I packed for this mini-trip in just my day bag, which is a fact of wish I’m exceedingly proud. I did have to ask Mara to put my pajamas in her suitcase, but otherwise, I packed a bathing suit, two shirts, two pairs of socks, two pairs of underwear, my pareo, a jacket, a bandana, my toiletries and medications, iPod and headphones, and baby powder, all in my pack. Not bad, huh! Oh, and a pair of flip flops. Go me!
Back to Jeju: Although not real keen on driving in South Korea, Carolyn did an awesome job of driving from the airport to the hotel. The only problem was that the GPS was only in Korean and we couldn’t quite figure out how to put in our hotel. The folks at the car rental place couldn’t give us directions, either. Since the GPS seemed to primarily go off of phone numbers, but our hotel phone number wasn’t accepted. So we followed directions to where we assumed the hotel might be, and eventually Carolyn pulled over so we could figure out an alternate plan. Can you believe, a Korean family in a car pulled over next to us, completely blocking traffic, to help us?! It’s true! The Korean man eventually got our hotel into the GPS and off we went, directly to the front door!
Our hotel was called Ocean Suites Hotel and located in Jeju City, on the north coast of Jeju. It was literally across the street from the water, although there was a low wall blocking you from the water. The views were wonderful from the hotel. Several weeks ago,when booking this trip, the Neimans had tried to find me a roommate, but no other singles showed up, so the plan was for me to just stay with Mara and Justin. The room they were given had a wonderful view of the water, but no extra space that I could sleep in. Justin managed to really work the hotel people, telling them Mara was sick and they needed separate beds, but couldn’t afford an extra fee per night for a cot, and they gave them a free upgrade to a room with a queen bed, a full bed and a completely separate room with floor mattresses!
We spent a little time at the hotel, then headed out to look for lunch. We wandered the back neighborhood by our hotel for awhile before picking one. I ordered dumplings, which turned out to be more of small vegetable pancakes, slightly larger than silver dollars. They were served with matchstick-cut vegetables and hot sauce and were quite tasty. All of us enjoyed our food and were then ready to attack our itinerary!
Our first stop: Loveland park, a huge grounds filled with erotica. Note: graphic pictures IMG_3292follow. We managed to get this one into the GPS and Justin took the wheel, expertly navigating the odd Korean traffic lights, which most people seem to ignore. We made it to Loveland, paid our admission, and promptly encountered the entry sign, which is the picture to the right. Notice anything fun about the sign? This was to be the theme for the entire park: penises and sex and breasts. It wasn’t tasteless, but it was a little more silly than tasteful. There was an indoor museum of art, but for the most part it was an outdoor park with statues, fountains, benches and hand-cranked humping figures.
We wandered the park, admiring the sculptures and enjoying the fabulous weather, and being surprised, delighted and slightly appalled by each new sight. My personal favorite was the statue/sculpture just inside the entrance:
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Pretty hot, huh! There were threesomes and there were couples, there were pigs and dogs and turtles, all going at it in various positions. There were interactive statues, made for taking pictures with live people.
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We spent perhaps an hour and a half at this park, walking the pathways and being properly amazed, impressed or mortified. The bathroom doors had handles appropriate to the sexes: large penises for the women’s, and boobs for the men’s. I could go on and on, but instead, I’ll just let you click on the photo album link to the right, entitled “Jeju Adventure",” and you can see all you’d like, or skip it, as you please.
After Loveland, it was time for a black sand beach. We headed in the direction we thought would lead us to one and found Ibo Taewoo beach. It was late afternoon, so we were catching some great light on the sand. It wasn’t exactly black, but it was darker than normal sand, so I was happy! We explored the beach and heard lots of cheers, American music and yelling. Turns out, there was a volleyball tournament going on, which added some festivity to our beach stroll. Mara and Justin waded a little in the IMG_3354waves while the rest of us walked on the beach. We all came upon a tidal pool which was ripe for amazing photos, with the golden light, lapping waters, sands with interesting patterns in it, and rocks of all shiny sorts. Remember, the whole island is volcanically formed. Anyway, the beach was gorgeous. We found hermit crabs and Justin and Mara had a fun time attempting to race them and finding new ones, as well as collecting shells. About an hour after we got to the beach, my camera died. I tried switching batteries and I tried shaking it, all to no avail. So I have no more of my own pictures from Jeju, unfortunately, but Mara and Carolyn said they would let me use some of their pictures, so those are what you see starting with day two of Jeju.
Anyway, at the beach it started to cool off, and so we headed back to the hotel for a break and to get a few warmer items.
IMG_3357Mara, Justin and I waited outside the hotel for Carolyn and Stuart. While we waited, I tried the ATM to no avail, and Justin made friends with a slightly drunk Korean guy who was an off-duty hospitality staff member of our hotel. We asked him for a good place to go for dinner and he very cheerfully recommended a place and gave us vague directions. Once Carolyn and Stuart came downstairs, we got our new friend to walk us to the recommended restaurant. There, he ordered for us and then left. We were seated on the floor in a side room, away from where all the locals were sitting, and promptly ignored for awhile. Eventually, we were brought black pork belly  strips of meat, which we barbecued ourselves. It was decently good, but we ordered some beef as well and that was much better. I’ve had Korean BBQ twice now and enjoyed it both times. I treated the crew to dinner that night and we headed out to find some coffee and dessert. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling so hot, so I headed back to the hotel and went straight to sleep. I’m not sure what was going on, but a headache and slight nausea really hit me hard. I hardly noticed when Mara and Justin came in, although they were surprised that I’d closeted myself on the floor of the empty room (on a double layer of the floor mattresses of course).
Thus ended day one in Jeju!
October 10, 2010
We got up early and met for breakfast at the hotel. I managed to sneak in, again… I’m really not the type of person to do this very often, but… in this case, it was just what seemed to be easiest. The buffet was full of both slightly American breakfast foods and Korean breakfast foods, so it was a nice mix. Then we headed to our first destination of the day: Mount Hallasan. It’s a huge mountain right in the middle of the island, with a crater and a lake in the crater. We originally wanted to hike all the way to this crater lake, but according to the literature we’d seen, that would have been an eight or nine hour hike, and there was too much else we wanted to see and do. So, we opted for a shorter hike called Yeongsil trail.
We took about an hour drive to get to the start of the Yeongsil trail. It was a gorgeous drive as we headed up into the foothills and slowly ascended up the first few thousand feet of Mt Halla. When we got to the park where our trail began, we got stuck in a traffic queue, of all things! We waited for about twenty-five or thirty minutes, alternately getting out of the car to get to the bathroom or just to walk around. The air was clear and crisp, the sky a lovely clear blue. Eventually we were let in along with all the other cars.
The whole trail was 3.7 kilometers, but we only managed to hike about 1.7 kilometers. The first kilometer was pretty and in the trees, albeit with quite a few steps and stairs. The last 0.7 kilometers we hiked was straight up the mountain on stairs. Justin, Mara and I hiked ahead when Carolyn decided to stop and Stuart stopped shortly after that. We made it to a beautiful lookout point, above the trees, and birds, and even some clouds. There were beautiful stone formations, many of which were titled the “500 disciples of buddha,” which were sharply stark against the blue sky.
My legs were feeling a bit rubbery, and as we clambered down the steps, they got even more so. I had to stop several times, but as we disappeared back under the trees, Mara and Justin and I began to race to be the first finished with the trail. We met Carolyn and Stuart at the beginning of the trail, and it turned out that they’d decided to forge ahead and they made it to the platform just below the one we’d made! They had only gotten back to the beginning of the trail a few minutes ahead of us! We all rested for a bit, enjoying the cool weather and the chance to give our legs a break.
Even though we didn’t make it all the way to the end of the trail, we still had a great time and with the perfect weather and only another twenty-four hours to explore, it was off to the next destination: Seogwipo for lunch! We found a nice place where I finally got to have some beef bulgogi, which was quite delicious. Then we drove off to see Jeongbang falls, a waterfall which falls directly into the ocean! This involved several flights of steps, which we all muttered about, but it was worth it to see the falls. Also, I got to try Carolyn’s favorite treat, a melon popsicle, which tasted just like honeydew melon. Yum! I bought a packet of postcards, as well. Just sitting and enjoying the view of the waterfall, as well as the spray, was a wonderful rest. We spent a bit of time there and then headed to the O’Sulloc tea museum and tea fields.
This was a neat museum documenting a basic history of tea, including the customs, making of, social status and tea accoutrements such as teapots and cups. The museum was free, as was the opportunity to wander in the tea fields. There was, of course, a store and a cafe, and we each got a different tea or tea-flavored treat. I treated myself to some delicious green tea ice cream as we sat outside. After we were properly fed and watered, we headed off back to the hotel. We got to the hotel around 6pm, and I decided I wanted to try to find an outfit matching the local standard: leggings (which would also help with chaffing, I hoped!) and a very long t-shirt. Carolyn, Stuart and I headed to an underground market recommended by the hotel staff, and I had my first Korean shopping experience.
Completely overwhelming is the only way I can describe it! It was corridors full of small stores, all mostly selling the same things with just some variety: shoes, clothes, stockings and leggings, shirts and skirts and pants. I’m talking over a hundred little tiny stores, here. No one would let me try anything on, which was frustrating, and most of them said “One size only,” when I held up a shirt to my front. One snotty lady even snorted loudly when I did that, shaking her head and taking it away from me.
I’m not Asian-sized, I guess. Far from it, in fact. It was pretty discouraging, even though I recognized the absolutely silliness of it all. I ended up buying a pair of stockings, black, and bargained the lady down from 5,000 won to 4,000 won (about $3.50 or so). They ended up being far through sheer, so I gave them to Mara later that night, but it was a good first try. I was quickly shopped out and we headed back to the hotel to meet up with Mara and Justin for dinner.
Justin had managed to get a good recommended restaurant that served okdom gui, a pink snapper that all the guidebooks said should definitely be tried. It’s a type of fish that is only found in the waters around Jeju and some books even touted the fish as tasting so good, someone who tasted it would find all other fish bland in comparison. High standards to meet, and so we we were looking forward to trying it out.
The restaurant the hotel recommended turned out to fit the bill perfectly. We ordered two whole fish and that turned out to be just right for us. We managed to find the cheeks of the fish, which were touted as being the best part of the fish. I’m proud to report that it’s true, the fish was very flavorful: sweet and savory. And along with all the side dishes Koreans serve with their meals, we had a great dinner. We were all suitably pleased with the fish.
On the way back from the restaurant, which we’d walked to, we stopped by an eMart, sort of like WalMart, to pick up some cheap wine. Mara, Carolyn and I ended up doing some clothing shopping, and I found a long-ish shirt, dark purple, which I really liked. We headed, with the wine and our other purchases, back to the hotel, and enjoyed a couple cups of wine out front by the sea-wall. We watched the traffic, pedestrian and vehicular, and a cute little dog that kept running out into the traffic (Justin went and put it back on the sidewalk). It was a nice, chill way to end the busy day. I opted to sleep in the second bed that night and was out like a light, as soon as the actual lights went out.
Thus ended day two of Jeju!
October 11, 2010
This morning, we got up a little earlier, had breakfast at the hotel again, and headed out for Sunrise Peak, a small mountain on the east coast of Jeju. We paid our entry fee and then began climbing the interminable stairs. My calves were screaming at me until I got warmed up, and even then my legs were pretty sore. The forty-five minute climb was worth it, though, for the view of the crater and ocean beyond it. This time we all made it to the top and we spent a nice little bit on the top, admiring the view and taking pictures. Then we clomped on down the stairs, which was harder on our legs than going up! I stopped at a little gift shop and bought a beautiful, delicate little bookmark, and then we headed for Manjanggul, which is purported to be the longest lava tube in the world.
I wasn’t altogether sure what a lava tube was, and so I was surprised and a bit disappointed when it turned out to be caves. The explanatory signs inside the cave weren’t too helpful, although they gave a general idea. Basically, you could see the lava flow levels along the sides of the cave, as well as formations created from rocks that had fallen, melted and caught some of the lava flowing by. There were lava toes, lava turtles and a lava column. Not to say it wasn’t pretty cool, but it just wasn’t what I’d expected. We walked about a kilometer to the end of the cave, then headed back. It was very dark and cool inside, with water drip-drip-dripping all over the place. Stuart and Carolyn had gotten bored about halfway in, so they met us back at the beginning.
At that point, it was time for lunch, and we decided to just go to the park restaurant. This turned out to be a good choice, in my opinion: I got dumplings and they were quite delicious! By the way, I don’t think I’ve mentioned it in this blog yet, but I really enjoy kimchi. Not too hot, but spicy enough to get your mouth heated up, and it complements the other food nicely! I also particularly like a ginger-flavored vegetable that is crunchy. Not sure yet what it is but it’s delicious!
Anyway, after the lava tubes, we drove towards the airport and searched for a dragon-head shaped rock called Yongduam Rock, another volcanic formation. It was a bit less than impressive, especially since there was a hotel built behind it which ruined the view, but I was glad we caught it on our way. We also searched for coffee for Mara and Carolyn, to no avail. It was strange that we couldn’t find a coffee shop, since they seem to be everywhere in Korea, but eventually we gave up and headed to the airport. We got there early, so we spent two hours sitting and watching the tremendous amount of crowds going to and fro in the airport. Mara and Carolyn got their coffee, and we explored the duty-free shops, but mostly we were exhausted and sat, read books, listened to music or just people-watched. Our flight ended up being delayed by about forty minutes, to make matters even better.
Finally, we boarded, and I promptly fell asleep until we bumped to a landing an hour and a half later. We immediately found bathrooms and then the bus ticket counter, which was closed (of course!). This was at about 6:45pm. We found that the bus we needed to catch would leave around 7:30pm, so we waited outside and chatted tiredly with each other and with others also waiting for the same bus.
Remember how I said there were people sitting the aisles on the bus ride from Songtan to Gimpo? Well, this time we were the people sitting in the aisles. Mara and I sat facing each other, my back against a step in the back of the bus and hers against Justin’s. It was nice talking about our lives together and postulating about our futures, although the floor was a pretty hard place to ride out the bumps and hard braking. An hour and a half later, we were at Songtan Bus Terminal, sore butts and sleepiness driving us to make the walk back to the apartment very fast.
Once home, we whipped out the leftovers and frozen pizzas, computers and tv remotes, and generally turned into piles of tired goo. At least, that’s how I felt! An hour or two later, we were all in bed, heading to dreamland.
Today, October 12, 2010
Not much to say about today. I slept in until 9:15am,which was wonderful! Besides walking to base and buying a new camera, I’ve just been writing this blog entry, backing up my pictures, and doing laundry. A fantastically lazy day! Tonight our plan is to stay in for dinner, then go out after for hookah (which I have never experienced) and perhaps a bar that Carolyn likes. I’m interested to see what a Baby Frog is, since Justin and Mara have told me that’s what I’ll be drinking tonight.
All in all, the Jeju trip was a whirlwind of good food, interesting attractions, silly adventures and great company. I had a good time! Now it’s time for me to figure out what the rest of my itinerary in Korea will look like…
--Z

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