Jeju, Part 1

Trip Start Jul 09, 2007
Trip End Dec 20, 2007

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Where I stayed
Jeju Hiking Inn

Flag of Korea Rep.  ,
Sunday, July 22, 2007

Day 14- Jeju-bound...
  We woke up this morning in Busan, with one looming fear running through our minds- Our luggage!  As we double-checked our flight times, we were again reminded that we are required to submit to a 20 kilogram limit.  As we checked out, Chen, our "concierge", tells us that a taxi only costs about $10 to the airport.  We were planning on taking the subway to the bus station, and then a 45 minute bus ride to the airport.  Instead we were whisked away by an air-conditioned livery, and arrived ten minutes later at the domestic terminal at Gimhae airport.  
  The moment of truth arrived.  We held our breath as we lifted the bags onto the "weigh station", and our mouths dropped as the scale read 39.98 kg (Thank God they weighed both of them together).  We decided that another 12 hour ferry (back from Jeju) would be too much to handle, so we booked two seats on a cheapo airline (Jeju Air) for our return.  The flight (on Asiana Airlines) was smooth and super quick.  We took off, had an iced tea, and landed (literally).  The view from the plane was spectacular.  Crystal blue waters, turned into blue-green collars around the countless volcanic islands throughout the journey.
  After arriving in Jeju, we were lucky to catch the #100 (cross-island) bus just as it was departing.  Along with six or seven honeymooner couples (we could tell by their coordinated outfits and matching tee-shirts), we followed the hour route through the center of the island to our little city called Seogwipo.  A few wrong turns (up and down some very steep hills), brought us to our little paradise for the next several days.
  The Jeju Hiking Inn is run by Kevin, a native Korean who learned English during college in Connecticut.  He is mentioned in the Lonely Planet (although we wouldn't see that blurb until the next day when we were stranded on the side of the road).  Our room was on the fifth floor (no elevator), but after discovering that there was no fourth floor, due to a Korean superstition, we weren't too upset.  The perk of being so high, was that we were only one floor away from the roof-deck with perfect views of the harbor.  The room was great.  Very spacious, TV, mini-fridge, double western bed, and private bath with shower.  We couldn't have asked for more especially for $20 a night. 
  It was evening by the time we settled in, so we walked to the local supermarket to grab some grub.  We were met by an overly-enthusiastic cashier, who ran from behind the register to help us with our purchases.  We settled on beers, chicken on a stick, pork pancakes, cold noodles, and ice pops.  Our little feast was consumed on the roof-deck as we watched the sunset. 
  Kevin told us that the nearby waterfalls, Cheongyang, were best seen at night.  Like all of the nature sites on the island, there was an admission fee.  In Korea, though, 24 years old is considered Youth (discounted).  I turned 25 in April, but what Korea doesn't know won't hurt it.  The waterfalls are at the end of a ten minute walk through a beautifully landscaped park.  On the way, we caught an outdoor concert in an amphitheatre. The first act was adorable school-aged kids dressed in shiny pink dresses, and shiny pink slacks, for the three boys in the choir.  They all were fabulous, but were overshadowed by this little girl standing on the bench in front of us.  She was no more than three, but showed amazing star talent with her dancing.  When the adults emerged on the stage, our little dancer sat down, and we decided to move on to the main attraction, the falls.
  The waterfall was dimly lit, which offered an eeriness to the site.  We spent most of the time trying to take a picture that captured what we were seeing.  Through countless settings on the camera, we were able to walk away with one or two decent pics.  In retrospect, I suppose we should have spent more time trying to really enjoy the waterfalls first hand.  After all, memories are the best snapshots. 
  We hit the Family Mart at the exit to the falls.  They had six plastic tables and chairs sitting outside with pretty views.  As we were choosing our drink of choice (Soju), an Amazonian-looking moth came charging into the store.  The insect was easily the size of a small sparrow.  We alerted the store-clerk, who, without expression, slumped over to the industrial sized vacuum hose (which was strategically placed near the door), and sucked the creature up in one swoop.  I could just imagine that the 12 gallon base to the vacuum is filled with hundreds of different species.
  We sipped the Soju and tried to enjoy the view, but the siblings of the recently departed moth decided they wanted to join the party. We said a jumpy goodnight, and itched and twitched the whole way home.
Day 15- A broken scooter and some teddy bears...
  Our first stop was the scooter store!  Kevin told us of a scooter shop in town that rented them for the day for a reasonable price.  The store was more like a carport where a lone man was sitting amongst the remains of a once virile mo-ped.  Parked on the street were an array (both modern and classic) of shiny scooters.  We asked about renting one for two days, and with the help of his cousin on speaker phone, we were able to negotiate a decent price.  He walked over to a well-preserved, but used, green scooter with a large basket on the front.  After starting it, however, he yanked the key out and walked over to a sad-excuse for a motorbike.  The rusting frame was held up by two tiny wheels that could not have been meant for the vehicle.  For the first time that day (but not the last) we ignored better judgment, and accepted the scooter. 
  We filled up the tank, and headed right for Home Plus, Korea's home good superstore (sort of like Kmart).  We were in search of a cheap sheet that we could use at the beach.  We would soon discover that sheets do not exist in Korea.  Blankets, pillow cases, even dust ruffles are a cinch to find, though. 
  Sheet-less, we set forth for the beach.  The roads on Jeju are all brand-new and perfectly paved with no potholes.  The road along the coast is picture-perfect.  We felt so free on the bike, with the wind in our hair (or my hair at least), mountains guiding us on the right, and the ocean on the left.  I looked into the window of a passing car, at one point, and saw a Korean girl taking pictures of us.  I suppose they were more impressed with two Americans on a motorbike than the jaw-dropping scenery.  It was somewhere around Seogwipo bus station that we ignored better judgment for the second time that day.  I'm not sure if it was the black smoke or the smell of burning oil that we first noticed, but we were somehow able to dismiss the warning signs.  We coughed it up (no pun intended), to the scooter being really old. 
  About a mile down the road, as we were traveling up a hill, the bike just stopped.  We rolled as far as we could, and then pushed it up onto the sidewalk.  The only sign of life was a nearby fruit stand.  We were both quiet on the walk up the hill knowing that our day was shot.  The woman manning the fruit stand, after seeing us pushing the bike, pointed further up the hill and said, "gas station" (as if this happened all of the time). 
  As it turned out, it was an oil change station.  We showed the bike to one of the mechanics, who just shook his hand (insinuating that he either knew nothing about scooters, or just didn't want to help).  We looked at him pleadingly (seeing as he didn't speak any English).  There was nothing we could do.  There were no other stations for miles.  After fiddling with the scooter for a while, he gave us the prognosis.  He said, "Engine" and crossed his arms in an "X" formation.  That is international sign language for: "you're screwed!".   He then offered to call the rental "company" to let them know where we were and to tell them that the bike is useless.  Phil and I looked at each other and realized, at the same time, that we had forgotten to take the phone number for the scooter place.  No big deal, we would just call Kevin, and he would get the number for us.  That would be great if I had remembered the card for the hostel! 
  After feeling completely helpless and stranded, I got an idea.  The lonely planet writes little bio's on some of the hostels in every town.  Since Jeju was such a small island, I figured our hostel had to be written up.  It was, along with the phone number and a nice little blurb about Kevin.  The saintly mechanic called Kevin and explained the situation.  Kevin told us to sit tight, and he would give us a call back.  Completely starving, we peeked into the ancient convenience store across the street.  We settled on a café au lait, and a package of these red bean-filled shiny donut-looking things.  Fifteen minutes had gone by, and we still hadn't heard from Kevin.  Our dream of a relaxing day at the beach was going out with the tide, until a tiny blue truck spun into the station.  A man jumped out of the truck and simultaneously and repetitiously bowed his head and apologized (in English and Korean).  He placed the bike on the back of the truck with such delicacy and speed, and we were back at the scooter place in ten minutes.  
  As soon as we pulled up, the same apathetic man who rented us the bike jumped to his feet and dragged two plush seats out to the sidewalk for us to sit on, while he prepared our new bike.  We received the same green one that he originally intended on renting us, installed a brand new battery and personally siphoned the gas (we bought) out of the old bike.  Before we knew it, we were back on the road passing the same place we had broken down. 
  Jungmun beach is a few miles off of the main road on sort of a peninsula which is home to a convention center, a load of hotels, and some major tourist traps.  A buffet lunch is offered at the beach for about $6 a person, for which we indulged.  The food was sub-par.  Standard kimchee, fatty cuts of chicken, veggies, and rice/noodles.  The beach was beautiful.  Crystal blue waters and yellow sand ended sharply at the walls of black lava rocks, which created forty foot cliffs above.  We walked the length of the beach, but after enjoying a couple of ice pops, decided that we did not feel like staying.
   Ever since I discovered Jeju island, when researching our Korea trip, I have been dying to go to the world-famous Teddy Bear Museum.  The museum is located on the same peninsula as Jungman Beach, so we rode over to check it out.  The teddy bear museum is basically a history lesson depicted through the fuzzy dolls.  There were displays for all of the major events through history (i.e.- Man landing on the moon, Elvis, Beatles, World Wars, Marilyn Monroe, everything American...).  At the end of the displays, doors lead out to the garden, where the teddy bears continue.  Large, weatherproof teddys were set up through the quaintly landscaped garden.  After a few choice photo-opts, we left the museum with no plan of what to do next. 
  As we rode toward the hostel, we followed signs to the Jeongung Falls (we had heard they were the only waterfalls that were directly over the ocean).  As we walked down the path to the falls, we came across the admission booth (we should have realized).  You have to pay for everything (except the beaches) on Jeju.  As we turned to walk away, we noticed a small tangerine stand.  We inquired about purchasing just one (they were sold in boxes or bags), and the man handed me one and turned away to signify "no payment necessary".  I thanked him, and was so excited about my free gift that I ate the entire thing without offering a bite to Phil (needless to say, that did not go over well). 
  As Phil stopped for gas, I told him that I would run across the street to the nail salon to quickly get my eyebrows waxed.  I stepped into the little salon, and everyone stopped in mid gossip to look at me.  I pointed to the waxing chair in the corner and then to my eyebrows.  "Eyebrow wax, please".  As if directed (and practiced), each woman turned to look at another with confused faces.  Thinking perhaps they didn't understand, I mimed the act of waxing an eyebrow.  One of the girls jumped up and shook a finger, "no, no eyebrow wax".  But there was a waxing chair, and a full bowl of wax.  How could they not do eyebrows?  Since I began waxing my eyebrows thirteen years ago, I have only allowed Korean women to have the honor.  This made no sense. 
  We were tired from the long day, so the idea to go back to our air conditioned room and veg-out for a while sounded clutch.  After a few dizzying minutes of scrambled porn (just out of curiosity), we found a station that was playing Titanic (in English).  As Rose pried Jack's lifeless hand from hers (even though she promised to never let go), we thought it was probably time for us to move on as well.  I knew I was testing the limits with the wattage conversion on my hairdryer, but I continued to blow on.  This backfired tonight when a large orange flame shot from the hairdryer turning it into a temporary blow torch.  Kevin let me borrow the one from downstairs and helped guide us to the authentic Korean restaurant the tourist bureau recommended earlier
We walked into a bustling sushi joint that didn't seem so authentic.  I pointed to the name the tourist board wrote out in Korean and the waitress replied (in Korean) "that's not us".  She was nice enough to come outside and point us down the block rather than sell us on staying.  We arrived at the very sparsely wood decorated restaurant and given a choice to sit on mats or a western table.  We chose mats.  We were brought a salad bowl of milky water with two goblets and a ladle.  We looked at each other and with a "when in Rome" smile poured two cups.  It tasted exactly how it looked, like rice water.   We awaited menus to decipher but were ignored.  Ten minutes later, still no menu, I grew restless and looked for our waitress.  (We were starved).  At that moment a large tray appeared with some twenty dishes.   Our eyes marveled.  I won't get into every single one but highlights included  a coddled egg casserole (similar to the filling of a tasty chive quiche).  Roast pork belly, fried fillet of a local fish, giant elephant beans in sweet vinegar, a peppery tofu stew and a starchy vegetable that tasted part potato, part avocado.  Delicious, simple, clean flavors.  Everything so fresh.  This meal epitomized traditional Korean food.  With one large beer, the bill totaled 12,500Y or about $13.  It felt criminal to pay this little for such a meal but they were very happy to accept the pittance.
  We sat on the roof before bed, I worked on the computer, and Phil snored through a soju-induced nap. 
Day 16- Long Scooter Ride and Lava Tubes...
  We love Jeju so much that we decided to extend our visit for another day (there was nothing in particular we were rushing back to the mainland for anyway).  Kevin changed our airplane tickets and agreed to house us an extra night (even though I'm sure that we were wearing thin on his patience). 
  Phil found out that there were lava tubes on the other side of the island, so we decided to take the scooter for the ride.  Had the street signs actually presented the real mileage (kms), the ride would not have been so bad.  We made a stop in Seongu Folk Village for some lunch.  The town was reminiscent of folk times with thatched roofs and dusty roads.  We had a black pork feast at a little restaurant on a side street.
PFS- mention the dried fish with eyes
  After lunch we bought ice cream from a little store (I'm sure Phil is worried by now about us blowing our budget for the trip on my little ice cream cravings).  Attached to the 40oz bottles of beer in the store were packages of those same little dried fish with the eyes staring at you.  I went to take a picture, and the owner thought that I wanted to try them.  He tore open a pack, and opened the pack of hot sauce that accompanied the little monsters.  I was obligated, at this point, to try them.  I made sure that my little guy made a swan dive into the hot sauce (to try to mask the taste and smell), and down the hatch he went.  I tried two or three more, and while they weren't that bad, they did ruin the ice cream taste that I was still savoring in my mouth.  
  A few hours later we arrived at Munggung Caves (lava tubes).  We weren't prepared for how cold it was in the caves, about 55 degrees (F).  Phil and I were in tank tops and shorts.  The caves are spectacular enough to forget your frostbit fingers, however.  The tubes are 4 km long and you are able to wander through them at your own leisure.  There were no annoying guides or groups to keep up with.  The caves are extremely wet, so it is easy to stop into a deep puddle while staring at the 20 ft ceilings.
  For the ride home, we decided that the coastal route would be easier and prettier.  Leaving the tubes, we saw a sign that said - Seogwipo (our town) 50 km.  Our odometer read 9,743.  A while later, Phil excitedly pointed to the odometer, showing me that there were only 17 km to go!  I could not have been more relieved.  The excitement of the scooter was quickly fading, while the aching in my butt and back was worsening by the second.  I'm sure it was even worse for Phil.  About two minutes after he showed me the odometer, we saw it!  A tauntingly huge blue sign that read- Seogwipo 27 km!  How could that be?  Who is doing their calculations?  How could they possibly be off 10 km?  We had use of the scooter until the following morning, but neither of us could stand to look at it another moment.  We happily said goodbye to our trusty vespa.
  Phil and I intended on trying the fugu restaurant next door to the hostel for dinner, but they were closed (at 8:30pm), by the time we arrived.  It was back to the supermarket for us.  Our personal shopper helped us pick out squids, scallion pancakes, and fruit.  We ate on the floor of our room, using toilet paper to wipe our mouths.  Extreme exhaustion prevailed over ambience. 
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