So our flight arrived in Jeju and we were greeted by even more rain! As we waited for the shuttle to the car rental place, I was again surprised by some of the differences here than other places, namely theft. The first place I went was Central America, and the university all but forbade us from going out alone because it could be really dangerous. Europe was much safer, but everyone just sort of accepted pick pocketing as part of life, so they were very vigilant and protective of their belongings. Here it seems like people don’t really have that concern. For instance, when Helena and I went out the other night I had of course planned to leave my passport at her house. She noted my concern when she told me I’d need it to get in places and assured me that people don’t steel here like in Europe. Anyway, as we were in line for the shuttle a family of four was also waiting, and they just put their bags where it would be then stood under the awning. It turned out to be the smoking area, so they eventually took the kids inside and just left their bags sitting outside! Nobody really seemed to notice or think anything of it. In Europe it seems like things disappear if you aren’t in constant contact with them, so it just seems like a completely different mentality.
Anyway, Bomi was a champ driving through the rain and darkness, and we soon arrived at our Air BnB. The place was nice and we were exhausted, so we decided to order delivery. Bomi kept saying that Korean fried chicken was different and very good, so we went with that and they even delivered beer and soju! The breading was quite lite and had a hint of sweetness – it really was delicious. It was also great to just chill for a while.
We were a little worried that all the rain might put a damper on our trip, but as it turned out there was a waterfall that you can only see in the rain, so we were pretty excited for that. The place where we were staying served us a breakfast of scrambled eggs, oranges, toast, and…salad. I asked Bomi if salad was just a common breakfast food, since this was the second time I’d been served it. She explained that they don’t really have breakfast food, but they had tried to serve us a western-style meal. I guess salads are strongly associated with western culture.
After breakfast we drove for about an hour to get to the waterfall. It was somewhat crowded so we had to park and trek it up a pretty steep hill. We arrived to the lookout, but had to look kind of hard to see the waterfall because of the fog. Apparently it’s the fourth longest waterfall in the world, and it’s the only one that dries up when it doesn’t rain.
We then drove about an hour in a different direction to check out a cave. Along the way we stopped at a beach, and the dreariness of the day was the perfect backdrop. We didn’t stay for too long, but I got to touch the East China Sea! The cave we went to was actually a “lava tube” from the volcano that makes up the island. It definitely was not Bomi’s favorite place, but I loved it! we thought we might get some shelter from the rain, but it turned out to be pretty wet anyway. It was also suuper dark and pretty chilly, but I just love underground places.
We emerged from the cave into more dampness then set off for dinner. Bomi had also been raving about Korean Chineese food, so we found a nice little resteraunt. She was absolutely right and it was amazing. I didn’t even realize that the one dish was Lo Mein…I’ll never look at Panda Express the same way again!
Wednesday was the big day. So less than a month before the trip, Bomi asked if I would be interested in climbing a mountain. Right before that I had decided that within the next year or two I want to hike the Inca Trail up to Machu Picchu and was eager to begin training…you know, starting small then working up to longer, more intense treks. She asked me if I would be okay with a 10 hour hike, and I honestly thought she was kidding. She wasn’t. Hallason is the tallest mountain in South Korea at a whopping 3,597 feet. There are apparently several summits and trails to choose from, but we of course had to pick to pick the most difficult one. I again thought they were joking when they said that, but I came to learn they are indeed serious about hiking. I grew increasingly anxious as the day drew nearer because I honestly wasn’t sure how it would go, but what else was I going to do?
We woke up bright and early because we had to drive for a bit and wanted to make it there by 0700. We entered the trail into what seemed like a rainforest and began what was going to be one of the longest days of my life. Within minutes it got harder to breathe and I felt somewhat queasy, which was only exacerbated by the thought that this would be my life for the next 10 hours. Bomi had this boundless energy and she kept running ahead then stopping to wait. I was relieved that Adam was lagging behind me. He explained that we going at what felt like an uncomfortably slow place that he could keep for the rest of the day. He eventually started to feel sick too, so after a beef jerky break, he decided to take point, with me in the middle and Bomi at the end. Things got better after that, but it was far from pleasant. It was fortunately pretty cool and the water dropping intermittently from the trees was refreshing. For real though, it was intense! I began to question every decision I’d ever made that led me to this point, and I questioned how badly I really wanted to hike Machu Picchu. I did my best to remember that people usually train for THIS hike, not use it as their first day. Eventually I couldn’t think of much besides moving forward. There was a trail, but we also had to traverse large stones and sooo many stairs, some of which were almost as tall as my knees! Every step I hoped with my whole being that it would flatten out around the corner, only to be greeted with the steepest stairs for as far I could see.
On the bright side, it was cool interacting with the other people on the trail. Everyone always greeted each other when they passed, and Bomi would sometimes exchange friendly words with them. Occasionally they would see me and Adam and cheerfully call “hello” or “good afternoon “. A little more than halfway up there was an incredibly steep segment. There were some stones that I practically had to climb on all on fours, then it opened to a very steep and narrow staircase. It was at this point that the scenery became absolutely breathtaking (not that I had much breath left to take). It was also at this point that Bomi started to lose some of her steam, but right before that she had been talking how hiking could be a metaphor for life in many ways. I would say that never-ending stretch exemplified the juxtoposition of simultaniously feeling so defeated, yet so inspired.
It was encouraging to start seeing people on their decent because it meant we had to be getting closer. I didn’t help that many people would say something to the effect “whoa, you guys are going UP the steepest path” because it indicated that where we were heading would only get worse. We encountered one poor lady who really seemed to be on the verge of death and virtually abandoned by her group. Bomi offered her some of our water and asked if she wanted to join us since we were going pretty slow, but the lady said that she was going even slower. She also said that someone had told her we were only 30 minutes from the summit. LIES! After about 45 minutes we stopped at a lookout point to rest and revel in the fact that we had almost made it. Again, we were sorely mistaken…it just kept going on and on and on. We were also encouraged by a group on their decent composed of a man and two small children! Bomi sympathetically said something to the effect of “aww children” and the man just glared at her. The two boys were each wearing small packs and fearful expressions. One of them slid on the stones as we passed, but seemed to receive little sympathy from the man. If those kids weren’t motivating I don’t know what is.
We reached the summit at 12:45! We were shocked to see so many people there because we definitely hadn’t encountered that many on the trail, but it was because the vast majority of people had elected to take the other path. The best part of all was this lake on top that you can only see when there’s been rain. Earlier in the day, one of the locals had told Bomi that he frequently hikes the mountain and can only see it about 1 out 10 times. It turned out to be really lucky that we got to experience that. We took some time to rest and eat kimbop, sure the worst was behind us.
We decided to take the other trail down, which was almost a kilometer longer, but not as steep. I’m sure it was, and there were stretches of flat, wooden walkways, BUT there were also sooo many large stones. Like the trail was just huge rocks. I wiped out almost immediately, but it was a controlled fall. It seemed like all these older people were just strolling by us as I took several seconds to determine every single step. It wasn’t as physically taxing, but it was strategic and kind of scary. It didn’t take long for Adam to offer me his hiking poles, and they definitely saved me multiple times. I still rolled my ankle a lot and slid a few times. I felt like we were making decent time when we reached a rest area along the way. Then we learned that it would be three to four more hours until the end…
As we made our way down the mountain, our morale followed suite. Someone suggested that maybe hiking really is a metaphor for life in that sometimes you just want it to end. Again, it just kept going and going. We’d sigh with relief when we reached a wooden walkway, then seethe when we soon encountered more stones. At one point, Adam declared that he hated rocks because, what have they ever done for us? I pointed out the technological advancements of the stone age, but we both conceded that these particular rocks were despicable. Bomi said that we were just getting bitter because we were tired, but by the end she was right there with us. The trail FINALLY opened up into parking lot, and I’ve never been more relieved to see the sky!
We took a cab back to our car and had to ride with the windows down because Adam and I were both soaked through with sweat. We changed clothes then headed to a resteraunt were they serve Black Pork, because apparently black pigs are all over the island and a specialty. There was only one chair available during our 30 minute wait so we took turns, but honestly getting up and sitting down were the worst part. We splurged on an incredible meal and reminisced about the best and worst aspects of the hike. As I’d expected, it was one of those experiences that seems much more satisfying once it’s over. Since Bomi had also participated in the Soju celebration she didn’t want to drive so she called this really awesome service. They basically come to you, then drive your car to wherever, and it wasn’t even expensive! We had planned to hang out for a bit back at the Air BnB, but we all pretty much fell straight to sleep.
We had a pretty early flight the next morning, but were a bit behind schedule. It didn’t help that we could only hobble through the airport at a snail’s pace, but fortunately security was much more relaxed than in the US, so we made it in plenty of time. With that we headed to Bomi’s parents’ place in Chung-Ju, our final destination.