Jeju Island, South Korea: Day 3


Birthday self-portrait, 2014

My birthday breakfast was the leftover soy fried chicken from last night. Getting older at my current state in life just feels better in a different place, or I could put it this way: this escape from reality just feels apt. The unfamiliar sensations one gets with travelling just trigger different stimuli.

Right after the necessary personal morning ceremonies, I packed a light backpack, and my cheap hiking stick, and waited for the tour bus. The group was up for the West Course tour, and the prospect of an hour mountain hike, and waterfalls, was good enough for me. Looking at the photos I took, this day went by quickly though. There was Hallim Park:

Suweolbong, which was a half hour beach shore hike. The weather felt like there was an ongoing tropical storm, but we were told this was just how it is in Jeju. The sun would peek through the clouds, oh, every 10 minutes.

A buffet lunch was had at Spirited Garden -where I had Jeju black pork again, and a generous helping of spicy kimchi- where I shared a table with a Filipino family and an English girl. The next item on the itinerary was Althr Airfield, but I think it was just skipped, and we went to Mt. Sanbang directly.

Sanbangsan Mountain is the result of violent volcanic activity some 700,000 to 800,000 years ago and is in fact a huge body of lava. The cliffs on the southern side of the lava dome are marked with a rich variety of curious formations such as weathering pits and talus scree slopes, some of which are as high as 200m. As its name ‘sanbang’ – literally meaning ‘a cave inside a mountain’ – suggests, this mountain contains a cave, which is located about 150m above sea level and has a spectacular view out over the ocean. Due to its close location to the sea and its high elevation, the peak is often ringed with clouds. The upper slopes of the mountain have their own distinct climatic conditions and are protected for their value for botanical research [source]

The hike was relatively easy. I was, at this time, making small talk with said English girl from lunch as to how places like this back in China, about how photography where there were relics of Buddha and the accompanying temples was pretty strict. Yeah, that is probably just the most engaging chat topic I could come up with.

The last place was a pick of the Teddy Bear Museum, or Cheonjeyeon Waterfalls, and it was comforting that we didn’t all have make this a vote, and just choose one. Most went for the waterfalls, as did I. A bit of hiking was in order again, and the challenge was mainly with the slippery stone trails.

That was that. My birthday tour. I was back at the guesthouse late afternoon, and feeling no significant satisfaction for today’s events, and having been bothered by the thought that there is this one place I didn’t need to go to, but I would mostly likely bear disappointment for not going, I left for Cafe de Seoyeun. Like I said in my previous post, the first time I heard of Jeju Island was from a movie I liked, called Architecture 101. The plot of the movie called for a house to be constructed in the island, and that setting has been turned into a coffee house. Was it a good idea to take a public bus across the island to the opposite end that evening? Not entirely, but on hindsight, this was probably my only chance. I was Shanghai-bound the day after.

With a piece of paper noting my bus stop -which I only showed to the bus driver after angrily asking where I was going- and some pastry snacks from Paris Baguette, conveniently located across the guesthouse, I had the chance to see what Jeju looked like on an early December evening. One would then realize that most of the island is actually unlit. Ten or so stops later, the intervals became more infrequent, and we were entering narrower roads. I had no working phone, I didn’t bother with a roaming setup. In any case, I could just hope for an open wifi. Ah, this should be easy-peasy, that seed of worry should remain a seed. I had a loaded bus card, dammit.

The travel time should have been an hour and a half, but since there weren’t much commuters that evening, I think I got off where I should just past an hour. I checked, and was glad that Google Maps was working, but was just giving a general direction. There were no visible signs, not one with maybe an espresso cup with Korean characters on it. I, again, just went for it, let my feet drag me, and this is just after having only been lost the day before. The second I saw the sea, and a brightly-lit building that was too conspicuous for a residential area, I knew I arrived.

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They only had two customers. I had a latte, no cake, not even a cupcake. Maybe I just forgot it was my birthday. I don’t remember having any concrete expectations of the place, but one thing was for sure: there was that needed satisfaction, an obvious sense of accomplishment that day. I went upstairs to get whatever view I could get from the starless, moonless sky. The regret that I could have been here over the weekend when I didn’t do much sunk in, but just for a bit.

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