Two Savages in Southeast Asia

Going Olle Way

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Soft breeze caressing
Tired bodies while the leaves
Fall, confused and brown.

We began our hike of the Jeju Olle trail this morning, setting out from our hotel at a bright and early 6am. We felt a bit sticky even before shouldering our packs… I guess we’ll be more vigilant in our selection of hotels next time.

Returning to the spot where we found the ganse last night, we stamped our notebook and penned in the date we are starting the trail. We almost immediately lost it, not yet accustomed to the marks that are used to show its path, but took it along a freshwater canal to the sea, then up the hill to a restaurant where we got a steaming breakfast of “hangover soup”: beef and beef blood and seaweed. The blood is strange, it just comes in little gelled cubes that almost have the texture of mushrooms? But we downed it with alacrity: climbing that hill without any breakfast had been hard.

Evan nicked his foot using the toilet at the restaurant (how did he do it? I’m not sure.), so we quickly doctored it on the sidewalk outside. A local hiking up the hill came by, and asked us where we were going, whether we were going up the hill, too? We told him we weren’t sure, we were just following Jeju Olle. He walked away, seeming pleased.

The trail wrapped us around behind the hill to take a large staircase up it. At the top, with our brows slick with sweat, we were treated to a fabulous view of the Jeju harbor and a drinking fountain from which to refill our bottles. A herd of old Korean people were also at the top of the hill, contentedly using the exercise machines for greater fitness.

On our way back down the oleum (small, inactive volcano hill), we ran into an elderly Korean fellow who looked curiously at us, his dark eyes shining. “Can I ask you just one question?” he asked.

“Yes, of course,” we answered.

“Where are you from?”

“San Francisco!”

“San Francisco..” he said wistfully, “and what are you doing here?”

“We came to hike Jeju Olle.”

“Jeju Olle!” he laughed and smiled. “Thank you!” And he walked away, trudging up the hill and listening to his iPod.

We wandered along the Olle route, following blue painted arrows, ribbons, the ganses (metal square horses), and wooden signposts as they presented themselves. There was at no point an accurate map provided to us, so we just had to follow what we found. It was spiritually refreshing to hike past ancient Buddhist temples, along historic hiking trails, through fields and over low-tide lava fields. We knew that this was the right choice for ending our travels.

Around lunchtime, we arrived in a small town with a few convenience stores, one of which we dropped into on a lark. To our happy surprise, they carried the Olle passports! The passports are used to mark completion of the Olle trails, at stamp boxes placed at the beginning, middle, and end of each trail. They also entitle the bearer to discounts at some guest houses and food establishments. No sooner had we gotten the passport (and a pile of snacks and drinks) than we came across the middle-of-the-trail stamp box for trail 18. We excitedly pressed the inked rubber into our book, certain that no self-respecting North American vandals would leave such tools unmolested in our home countries, and continued down the beach.

This beach was black sand, all made of ground up volcanic stuff. It looked inviting but the day was already growing hot and we weren’t as far through our hike as we might have liked. We pressed on through the town, arriving eventually at the Anti-Japanese Sentiment Museum.

This was truly an experience. We don’t have any such things in the States, and while the translation could have been a bit better (“History of Anti-Japanese Stentiment Museum” might have worked?), it was indeed a museum about Anti-Japanese Sentiment on Jeju, particularly during the Japanese colonial occupation. The fight against the Japanese was apparently begun by the haenyeo, the Jeju women divers, whose profession we’re not exactly sure of (although we understand that it involves diving in some way). There were brutal exhibits depicting torture performed by the occupying Japanese soldiers, and in greusome detail many massacres of Jeju people were discussed. Anyway, it was air conditioned, fascinating, and only cost 500 won ($.50).

Now to search for a guest house. We officially completed trail 18 at the museum, and we began trail 19 there as well. No guest houses were forthcoming, so we followed 19 out of town and into the next town. Disaster: we asked at a few guest houses, and they were all full.

Eventually, the kind, English-speaking owners of one guest house offered to call around for us. They managed to find us a bed not too far away, which we cheerfully walked to, bowing and thanking them for their efforts.

At the guest house, we plunged into the unheated shower with reckless abandon, thrilled to be washing the day’s sweat and the night’s… whatever was in that bed… off of ourselves. We hung our sweaty gear up to dry and struck out to find food. Our efforts were soon rewarded by a seafood place along the ocean, where we ate incredible spicy seafood soup (shopowners here are very hesitant to give us spicy food, but we managed to convince them we’d eat it. Sure enough we swallowed every bite of food on the table.). A brief stroll along the piers assured us that we didn’t want to sleep outside, as what appeared to be large and small cockroaches skittered about with our every step. We laughed as they occasionally misjudged where the edge of the pier was and launched themselves into the sea below.

We’ve collapsed happily into bed. Maybe a half hour more reading books, then it’s off to sleep so we can wake up early again tomorrow.