Zoe and I went to Jeju Island this past weekend. I've found where I want to retire to! Jeju is subtropical, which translates to really really hot. Every time we left air conditioning and went outside, my sunglasses and camera lens would fog up. On the flip side, the beaches are spectacular. Also, the island is a very peaceful place, and I'm hoping to go back this fall/winter when things have cooled down a bit. Getting up on Saturday was interesting - on Friday night, I went to a big dinner with my lab group, where someone clever, I forget who, gave me my Korean name. 유전자 literally means gene, in the biology sense. Also, there was a lot of making me drink. As the 동생 (little brother) of about 20 labmates, that's just part of the experience!
We met early Saturday at my place and trekked out to Gimpo Airport. After landing in Jeju, we picked up our car and headed to Seogwipo. After fighting with the GPS for a bit, we made it safely and parked near the fishing harbor (apparently very active although not at the hour we arrived). By reputation, Jeju is a beautiful place to dive, with relatively mild water, lots of soft coral reefs, and not too many people. I want to try to learn by the next time I head there.
After walking for a while, we packed up and started looking for a beach to nap at. I hadn't slept much the night before (oops!) and really needed to crash for a bit. We ran into a small but loud protest of some sort on a coast road along the way, so we stopped to investigate. Turns out that when you follow this stream a few hundred meters down to the coast, you happen across the huge, barbed-wire enclosed construction site for a large US naval base.
There's two sides to this at least: in the case of a regional conflict, Jeju's central location and deep water access make the construction of a base here very militarily favorable. On the other hand, this tiny village and its people seem to have been steamrolled by powers bigger than they are in the series of decisions leading to the base's construction.
From there, we headed to Jungmun Beach to mull this over and nap as well. I ended up in the ocean, which had waves a lot like Windandsea Beach at home. In other words, perfect for bodysurfing. Two hours of that really hit the spot. Finally, it was late enough to check into our hostel, the Backpacker's Home in Seogwipo. Highly recommended!
The next morning, we headed east along Highway 1132, following the coastline back towards Jeju City. This is really spectacular terrain... I'd love to do a bike tour here around the island, especially in fall or spring. Along the way, we stopped at a village that recreates traditional life on Jeju, where I hit my head on just about every structure.
Next, we stopped for seafood, which was delicious, as expected.
And then, we struggled our way up 성산, "Sunrise Mountain", which looks smaller from the parking lot. Unfortunately, the cliffside trail alternative was closed womp womp.
Continuing on around, we arrived at the lava tubes at 만장굴, which are absolutely incredible. I could have spent hours here taking pictures, but Zoe would have killed me. And I would have frozen. The lava tubes were about 15 °C, which was the best thing ever after just having sweated in the hot sun.
Finally, we arrived in Jeju City and visited 삼성혈 Shrine, the legendary site of origin of the people of Jeju. Here, if I got it right, three gods emerged from three holes in the ground (and met 3 princesses, settled the island etc), ultimately giving rise to the civilization there. It was neat to see origin myths - Jeju struck me as very connected to an animist past. Life on this island must have been extremely close to nature, yet highly developed as well. Also, you definitely don't see as much of this type of thing in Seoul.
All in all, a beautiful weekend. We even managed to catch an early flight home (we were totally wiped out).