Two Savages in Southeast Asia


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Turning the corner,
The sunrise bright in our eyes
Leads us on the path

We awoke, bright and early, as we’re now (a little) accustomed to doing. We had a bit of a false start an hour early as some of the other hostel denizens piled out of the place to drive to sunrise peak, but we woke up on our own time at a reasonable 5:30. Evan cooked us a breakfast of eggs and toast, three eggs each, which we set upon with vigour.

It was still? already? warm when we set out from Joseph’s Guest House, but we were undeterred and pushed ahead. The path seemed to lead in and out of every street in Woljong Beach, but we pressed on, assuming we’d get somewhere. With our directional senses sufficiently defeated, we finally emerged out of town and onto the coast road. We followed it for some kilometers, obliging the trail as it occasionally decided to take us along seaside volcanic rocks or dart inland through a town. Our morning passed by uneventfully, excepting one point at which we lost the trail as it led directly through a farmer’s fallow field, dropping us into town around 11am.

Our first act, upon arriving in town, was to refuse to pay 4000 won (about $4) for two peaches at a farmer’s market. We passed by some ice flake cafes that were closed. Eventually we reached the stamp box ending trail 20, which left us at the Haenyo Museum.

We took our sweet time exploring this place, reveling in its air conditioning and our ability to leave our bags at the door. In any other country we would fret for the duration of our museum visit about our passports, laptops, and other possessions in the bags, but this is Korea. We learned about the Haenyo, who are women divers that provide not only livelihood for their families but also a large percentage of Jeju’s exports, even today as their numbers dwindle and their average ages increase. It’s a dying art, and few women who practice it are left.

Basically the haenyo are freedivers, organized into 3 classes based on the depth they are qualified to, who dive for abalone, mussels, seaweed, etc. They go out to sea in groups and have a lively social scene. The average depth a haenyo dives to is 10 meters, and they begin to learn the trade at the tender age of 6 or 7. The tradition started in the mid 1600s as women gradually learned the practices of the men, and men were gradually phased out of the diving profession. Haenyo culture has been exported to Japan and mainland China, but here on Jeju there are now only about 4,000 practicing haenyo, with none of them below 30 years of age and few below 60.

After we finished our tour, it was blazing hot and hazy outside, so there was no reason to rush in leaving town. We tromped over to a seafood restaurant (can’t get enough of ‘em) for lunch, then decided it was still to hot to go anywhere so we napped in a public pavilion (these are a strange thing I have seen no place but Korea, where people nap in them almost habitually and we have also seen people camping in them). Post-nap, it was still too hot to leave, so we played on the internet provided for free by the haenyo museum.

After that, we finally decided that a) we could leave and b) we hoped to finish the entire next trail before nightfall. So we struck out.

Most of the trail was fairly flat with some interesting fields and views along the way. We still haven’t seen Hallasan, the great volcano in the middle of the island, but such is the haze. We paused at the trail 21 halfway point for a snack at a promising-looking hut, which turned out to be ice cream made of tangerines (it is difficult to describe how delicious and appropriate this was for us).

As trail 21 wound up, we lazily (tiredly, we justified to ourselves) decided to take the detour around a mountain that lay ahead rather than charging over it. This put us practically into town, where we received a call from our walking buddy for tomorrow, proudly stamped our trail 21 completion stamp (trail 21 is the last trail!), and booked ourselves into the first accommodation we could find, which felt rather like someone’s temporarily abandoned apartment, with toothpaste half used still in a bathroom cup and a selection of hair products in the tub.

Dinner brought us another adventure as we asked around at the places nearby to our hotel whether they served food. One man who spoke decent English said that, no, they didn’t serve food, but a place just a few minutes away did. “Just a few minutes away? How far to walk?” we asked. “To walk? It is 5 minutes by car.” “We have only our feet…” “Get in.” So we got in.

It was our second pseudo-hitchhike in as many days on Jeju, and we chatted a bit with the driver as we went, about where we were from, where we were traveling, etc. He let us off at a brilliant restaurant where we had a bowl of seafood soup, including an entire crab and probably 2 dozen mussels, as well as some strange squishy squirty chewy animals, for 16000 won. It even came with “dessert”, by which I mean a tall, cold glass of local orange juice.

Even though the walk back to our apartment was far, and my feet’s arches and pads feel totally defeated, we are excited to walk with Jim tomorrow. To bed!