Well the bulk of my summer vacation was spent on Korea's main holiday destination, Jeju Island. Right after work on Monday evening, I had the brilliant idea to spend the night in Gimpo International Airport. Unfortunately, I did not follow my thoughts through enough to realize that the comforting hoards of layover-ing travelers would be through security when I would not. This led to a somewhat hairy moment of me being by myself in the international terminal, not a traveler to be found, when they entirely shut off the lights. Cue a brief moment of panic, followed by a speedy retreat to a nearby cab and a plea for any and all nearby cheap motels. Luckily the guy found one easily enough and (despite fixating on a story my friend told me about a guy coming in her hotel room at 3 in the morning somewhere in South Korea) got a few hours of sleep before the morning. I made my way back to the airport and immediately found my group. There were a lot of single travelers in the same boat as I was so within 5 minutes I was deep in conversation. Before we even took off, I had my 3 roommates lined up.
The flight was surprisingly uneventful and thankfully did not live up to horror stories I've heard of aborted landings and such. True, that episode happened in winter time but I was very happy to have smooth sailing. Or flying. After a quick lunch of Jeju black pork (because the pig is black...) we immediately went to Udo, or Cow Island because apparently the very random squiggly horizon looks like a prostrate cow. I just think someone must have been in the grips of quite the craving when they named it because to my eyes, there was nary a bovine feature to be found. We walked up this bluff to a lighthouse and had some nice views of the ocean and grassy meadows and neat, tidy fields bounded by tottering rock walls. These walls were a favorite of mine because despite the fact that these islands are famous for their wind, they look so precariously balanced and delicate as to be pray to the gentlest passing breeze. And yet they stand. Very cute. After walking back down, we saw a white coral beach filled with what looked like popcorn kernels from far but what my guide termed as "monkey brains" up close. Yes, we stole some for good measure. Then, we stopped at a beach nearby and attempted to sunbathe in the midst of a light rain. But, it being monsoon season, the rain wasn't cold and it wasn't as miserable as it sounds.
Then, we hopped a ferry back home. A funny note is that the "ferry position," referring to the time honored maritime nap tradition practiced by my parents in the San Juans, is apparently quite international. In fact, that boat didn't even have seats but just a long wooden floor where people were spread out in all degrees of disarray. Funny. After a weird but passable international buffet, we were shown to our 4 star hotel. 4 star might be slightly debatable...I did see 4 indiscriminate flowers on a plaque where we entered but I am not sure that a hotel with neon day-glow table runners, plastic orchids, no shower curtain, and one person on the floor per room is quite up to the Ritz. BUT, it was right on the most gorgeous beach and from what I've seen here it could be much much worse so I was far from disappointed. Especially as I won the coin flip and missed out on the floor. That first night we were so so tired we just brought a beer back to the room, watched Angels and Demons, and passed out.
The next day started around 11:30 after we all dragged ourselves out of bed. Everything began with lunch, as well as a few pictures by some Harubang Statues which are the symbols of Jeju. Since way back when, they've been at the entrance of every village to guard them against evil spirits. If the right hand is above the left, it is a warrior for defense and if the left hand is above the right, it is a scholar for wisdom. Then we began our day. First, we went to the O'Sullock Tea Farm. Now, as far as untamed beauty Boseon outshone it with its lush green hills that fairy steam with productivity, but was a nice place nonetheless. They had a great selection of old tea cups and we got to try a prized varietal of young leaf tea. I also really liked smelling all of the different infusions that they came up with, my favorite was chocolate green tea. All in all, I liked learning more about it and it complemented my more raw introduction to the process quite nicely. Next, we walked part of the Olleh Trail. We saw some pretty wind-beaten cliffs and ambled along the coast for a while at a really leisurely pace. After a bit we made our way down to a beach where we saw man made caves used to store weapons from the Japanese during WW2. ALLLLL along these caves, and in fact everywhere even remotely by the beach, there were these collosal Jeju island beetle roaches which were really hairy and scuttled everywhere. I had many close calls and narrow escapes, especially as I did not care to have any of my island food supplemented with any extra protein...
After walking, we went by "Ghost Road" which sounds so cheezy but is in fact a convincing optical illusion of a bus drifting uphill. Our driver cut the gas and the bus definitely kept going, it was worth it. Then, on to Love Land. Oh, Love Land. In all the places of the world to have a Sex Park, it would of course be Korea haha. Well, it was actually more entertaining than I thought it would be. I mean sure, there's not much variety after the 144th penis and the 1,893rd sexual position but it reeeeeally broke the ice quickly with my group. There was one unfortunate moment when I was posing on this giant mosaic penis to take a picture when I saw an old man gesture towards his friends and start sprinting towards me. This is when I kept smiling and started frantically muttering "takethepictureTAKEthepictureTAKETHEPICTURE" to my friend but alas, he turned out to be a spry one and got there too soon. He just sidled up behind me, lay down, and the picture was taken. I was off but he proceeded to follow us around the park, a funny extension of the local decor...all in all, harmless and pretty funny.
After Love Land, we had another dinner and got back to the hotel. Everyone took a short breather and then got some drinks and met each other on the beach. This night was one to remember, it was really fun and definitely felt like being young. A giant circle of the best friends in the world who of course were basically perfect strangers. Midnight swims. Random conversations. Beer. Nothing scandalous happened, it just was so nice to get to know everyone and it seemed like the entire group mostly clicked very well.
The next morning, we had a quick jaunt through a hedge maze before we headed off to one of the biggest lava tubes in the world. For my money, Mt. St. Helens was more of an adventure (as it did involve search and rescue haha) but it was fun to amble along. I always love the perfect darkness of a cave, and this one even had the great drippy sounds to add to the atmosphere. It even kind of started in this tropical hole with vines growing over the edges which was cool and you could feel the incredible heat dissipate with each step down. After, we went on a nice hike to the crater of a little has-been volcano. The weather was lovely and we saw some funny wood carvings on the way up. Once the true hiking began, it was brutal and relentless until you were at the very spine of the ridge, obedient to its country, but I kept up just fine and the top was pretty enough, if distinctly un-craterish with its trees.
Then, beach time. Our beach had a couple of great sand bars so we got some sun, went swimming, grabbed dinner at a beach-side restaurant, and had another communal evening. It was really fun, lots of good memories to be had, one more great midnight swim, and then the next morning, after a bit more sun, it was time to head back. I am sad I only got a few days with these people, they were so much fun and I deem the trip an undisputed success. Even when, as the result for running from a cold for two weeks and flying twice in the middle of that, I came down with a sinus infection. More to come though! Love!!