Saturday, February 15, 2014

Walking the coast and islands

There are many islands around the big island of Jeju. The coast is full of variations. There is nature, civilisation, oranges and desalination plants. That is what I want to explore after mount Halla. However, the mountain hike and camping has left me in a a rather pitiful state. My things are wet, I am tired, cold and hungry. I meet Jamie and Leah, my couchsurfing hosts. They are both cool people, outgoing with character and full of life. There used to be times, a lifetime ago, when I used to be overly impressed by such people but now I prefer their company to others.

Cool is the adjective most describing both Jamie and Leah but they've done their share of amazing stuff. They have built a raft and sailed for 300 kilometers from Slovakia to Budapest where they got arrested by some killjoy cop. That is one crazy thing that I haven't thought about. And great!
Leah is the personification of my vision of fantasised american student life. Play hard with style but not excessive princessy bullshit. I often criticise western societies for their fake openness and actual conservatism but I feel more and more than America is slightly more allright in that aspect.

I stay a few days with the couple, we  is meet a few people. Korea is the first country where I actually meet foreigners because it is the first country where I actually use couch-surfing. It doesn't do me that much good, now I have a distorted image of Korea. From my personal point of view I have a very positive image of the country. Koreans are kind and hospitable. They are curious and humble. They are a bit naive and easy to impress too. From the foreigners here I hear about the conservative society, the alcohol abuse, the reckless driving. If the opinion was left to myself I would think that Korean are drinking pussies that even I can keep up with and their driving is quite alright. It confuses me not to know what to think.
Jamie and Leah
We live in an apartment just inside the Seogwipo market. Everyone is selling oranges and fish. Next door lives Lindsey, a reserved bubbly blond girl with an awkward way to communicate. Everybody likes her and I like her too.
Waterfall in Seogwipo

Jamie tells me how people were making videos about them because he posted the rushes on craigslist. So I have an idea: before going on my walk following the island coast, I'll set up an ad saying: please buy me a plane ticket.

Walking along the island coast was rainy at first and then it got boring. My things got wet quite fast, my sleeping bag is borderline useless; thank god spring is coming.
Landscape on the south side
But how interesting can walking be? You just put a foot in front of the other, what should I expect? Nature has its load of repetitions. Trees, rocks, sea. It's nature, not an american film.
The Olle trail is marked very thoroughly with strips of red and blue fabric every 500 meters; yet I do manage to get lost. First night I sleep near the sea on some polystyrene patch for isolation merely 5 kilometers from Jamie and Leah. Not ugly, not beautiful either. My next night is right on the hiking trail. Too lazy to find a better place and it is flat there. I sleep until 11AM and am woken up by endless columns of tourists. This is the laziest hike ever. I go to sleep late after watching movies in the evening in my tent. When I wake up I eat m&ms and when I finally fold up my tent it's usually noon. After walking a little bit it's dark again and I put up my tent. Long gone are the dangerous days when I was walking 50 kilometers per day to escape the wolves in Kyrgyzstan.
Tourists going on a very short and organised kanoe ride

After a while I start needing a shower so I badly that I actually put my mind to finding a solution. Not far from my camp is a luxury resort. So big and luxurious that you can it even had a plastic surgery clinic on site.
I went inside and opened some doors until I found a sauna which was being heated for this evening. A Korean sauna is not just a sauna, it also has a hot water pool and showers. I kept the lights out and spent a whole two hours there without nobody disturbing me. When I wondered through the hallways, nobody even questioned my presence there, the deeper inside the resort I was the more I was assumed to be part of the unquestionable jet-set.
I have a Korean sauna all for myself!
Back on the road I continue east towards U-do, an island east of Jeju that looks like a cow. I meet some a family from the netherlands. There is the son, the mother and his korean girlfriend. They are really nice, we talk a lot.

We meet again and they invite me to a restaurant. I think the reason why I get invited everywhere so often is that I just randomly engage with everyone I meet. We go to the restaurant just next to my tent.
Nether-korean family

See you in spring or summer or fall or winter or NEVER
Fishermen in sunset
The next day I walk a more decent distance and finish my day in front of some kind of huge wooden house. My battery is dead so I ask to recharge.
Turns out it's a restaurant and one of the younger people there speaks english. They've just opened together with the whole family. Two older women, professional cooks for over 30 years decided to test their food on me so I get dinner and a place to sleep on the second floor. I haven't tasted such wonderful food for a long time and I do eat tasty food on this trip.
There are different kinds of fish, gimchi, omelets, soups and god knows what else. Professional cooks, that really makes a difference.
This is going to be a badass restaurant, if you're interested in the location, it's here:

I put my tent on the second floor and it looks like this:
My tent on the second floor
The family takes care of me like of their own, making sure I have enough food for the road to Udo and making me promise to be careful and return to them. They will later be the key of me getting out of Jeju.

My path continues slowly towards U-do until I meet this girl who is a server administrator. She is on a speed-walking trip which means she basically walks as fast as possible even if it means not caring about the landscape. With her I walk a longer distance than all my previous days combined. On the way we eat lots of oranges, grapes and mandarines.

She leaves me at Seongsan, the volcano coming in the sea with a chocolate bar after paying for my bus for the last few kilometers.
Seongsan in front, far away
Seongsan has a paid entrance which so I sneak in there at night. There are cameras and sensors everywhere which makes me a little paranoid. Arguing with the authorities on mount Halla is one thing but today I plan to pitch my tent in the middle of a Unesco protected site, that might be a hard pill to swallow even for Koreans. I wonder if I am not being a little over the limit here. It is forbidden to even go into the crater much less to camp there. However I don't have any better ideas of where to sleep, too much civilisation everywhere else.
The crater however is wide and wild. Regulations are respected and nobody has gone there for years.
My tent in early morning
My initial plan was to get up at six before the guards man their posts. However I underestimated the stubbornness and tirelessness of Koreans. Before I had time to get out of my tent, hords of Koreans were nicely aligned behind the tourist ramp waiting for the sunrise. I did see that the place had a good reputation for sunrises but I wasn't expecting such commitment. I should have learned from my experience of Hallasan's summit: if a place was labeled beautiful touristic place then there will be people. If the label is taken away nobody will go there.
So I fold up my tent under the careless eyes of early morning Koreans. No one has literally noticed me despite the fact that I am folding my tent in the middle of a Unesco site. But why would they? The sign says look at the sunset not look at Filip. Therefore nobody sees me. Had the sign said look at Filip the sun would be nothing more than a faded star.  

The next day I hitchhike the ferry to U-do, ticket paid by two film makers. People spend the way feeding seagulls.
People feeding seagulls on the ferry

U-do is a small island but I like it very much. I climb the highest hill, the U-do-ish Hallasan. From there, I have a nice view on Seongsan and the sunset.
Seongsan from U-do
Sunset on U-do
In the evening I plan to sleep in some cool caves on the beach but before I go to recharge my tablet again.
The guy in charge of the restaurant gives me dinner and his friend says that I am stupid, that I'll drown in the tide and invites me to his hotel.
There are four overexcited girls in one of the room, they are about 10 or 12 and he tells me: "play with them" and shuts the door behind me.

I start looking for possible exits, what the hell am I supposed to do with four korean girls becoming hysterical in front of the TV broadcasting a korean drama and K-pop.
But turns out they were pretty cool, they gave me chocolate cookies, showed me how to turn cartwheels and I gave them dancing lessons which they took part in with great enthusiasm.

The weirdest of the four girls was Sophie. She was the youngest one and something incredibly creative was wiggling in her mind. I was really touched by her, she seemed to be a truly free soul, a rare thing among Korean children. Let's see how long she lasts.
One of them was half-korean half from Chile. And as the stereotypes say, she could dance, she had it in her blood. For the first time in Korea I had a truly amazing dance... with a 12-year old child!
Breakfast with the girls, the one in red is Sophie

The next morning I went exploring the caves. Quite big and really nice.
Big cave going into the sea

Good-luck stones in the cave

Another cave entrance
I didn't have time to hitchhike the ferry back to Jeju so I just blackrode it. I told the security guy that I forgot my ticket and he let me in. How could I possibly lie, right?

On my way back, I stop by the restaurant. Everybody is really glad to see me, I get dinner again and a place to sleep.

Another high class dinner
It is that night, in that place that I receive a reply for my ad: someone wants to buy me a ticket. This is unexpected, I have a hard time believing it.

After that, I safely hitchhike back to Jamie and Leah.