A Travel Log from JeJu Island, Days 4-7
The Olle trail is a 422 km walking path that circumnavigates Jeju Island. There are over 25 different routes that snake through farmland, follow the coastline, and wind through towns and villages. Olle means a path that connects a home to the main road and in 2007, it was launched as a way of promoting the local culture of Jeju and the amazing natural landscape of the island to visitors. Ashlee and I did not have the month that one might need to cover the entire walkway, so we picked out some of the more scenic sections. After breaking down our tent and packing our bags at Hyeopjae Beach, we took a bus down near Hamo Beach (maps.me) where we started Section 10 of the Olle trail. Since we were hiking in a counter clockwise direction, we quickly learned to follow the blue metal horses (pictured above) and synchronized flags on the incredibly well marked trail. The dirt path led us through lush fields where people were harvesting their crops and Sandbangsan loomed in the distance.
We soon encountered markers labeled as ‘Dark Tourism’ that indicated sites of historic tragedy. During the Japanese occupation of Korea, which began in 1904, many of the islanders were forced to work in unimaginable conditions under the colonial rule. The people of Jeju built an airfield that was utilized as the primary base for the massive bombing of Nanjing in 1937 during the Sino-Japanese War. Throughout our 3 days on the Olle trail, we would see the infamous caves where the Japanese soldiers were embedded in during the WW2 and massive holes that were remnants of where artillery cannons defended the water. One of the very unique parts to the Olle trail is the way that the history is interwoven into nature and modern day society.
The trail climbed through the citrus orchards that the island is famous for and then dropped back down to the waterline. Songaksan jutted out into the sea and the trail turned to boardwalk and stairs as hugged the edges of the cliff. The weather was perfect and we took a short nap on the top before fallowing the trail down to the waterline. We had lunch at great little spot (maps.me) that featured, you guessed it, black pork. And, if you are wondering how you make succulent pork even better, the answer is to deep fry it! I can’t say that it was the type of meal that provided us incredible energy to get fired up to start walking, but we were definitely full. As we walked along the ocean we had trouble deciding on where to camp. You can pretty much pitch your tent anywhere there are not signs telling you it’s prohibited, which leaves a lot of options. However, you want to be somewhat close to drinking water and public restrooms for obvious reasons. So, even though there were plenty of options, I had it in my head that we were going to walk until we found a secluded beach. Ashlee played along and a couple hours before dark we found an incredible site (maps.me).
When we were setting up our tent, we noticed that someone had stashed water, a table, and some other boxes in a cave area. Had we been anywhere else other than Korea, I would have been a little freaked out. However, we have learned to trust that there is always a reasonable explanation even if it seems to be completely random. Just after the sun went down and the full moon was rising, a group of 4 people came through the grass onto the beach. While a man and a woman walked along the beach, the other two men began setting up a grill, standing lights, and a table with chairs. We could only guess that the couple had paid this ‘outfit’ to create a romantic evening on a secluded beach. Our only option was to scratch our heads and chuckle as the crashing waves drowned out most of their soju infused conversation.
By the morning, our unwanted house guests had departed and I woke to the sound of big splashes in the ocean. I thought that maybe rocks were dropping from the cliffs into the water, but as I walked further down the beach I realized they were flying fish. It was truly an amazing site as they were sometimes 6 feet out of the water and traveling for 10 ft before plunging back into the water.
Section 9 of the Olle trail proved to be more rugged than our previous day as we climbed up and down the hillsides that buttressed the water. After one of our more significant descents we came to a seaside village that boasted several food options. Typically, when we go backpacking, we are completely self-sufficient with food, water, and fuel. On the Olle trail, we would simply plan the timing of our hike around the town we wanted to eat in. In this particular place, we found a wood fired pizza joint (maps.me) that looked like it was fashioned after a resort on the Mediterranean.
After filling up on pizza and iced Americanos, the trail hugged rocky beaches that looked like obsidian bristling out into the dazzling blue water. At one of the break spots, a smiling man came up to us and said, ‘I have a couple of ice bars for you.’ I initially thought he was trying to sell them to us and declined. Then, I remembered we were in Korea and was simply being incredibly gracious. We enjoyed the sweet red bean bars of blended ice that I unsuccessfully tried to pass off as a healthy source of protein. Ashlee and I commented on the kindness of the man and continued on with our day. About an hour and a half later, we saw the man in an eco park sitting on a bench. We said hello and thanked him for the refreshing treat. He went by YK and he had lived in California for almost 20 years before returning back to Korea. We put our bags down and joined him on the bench where he filled us in on the Presidential debate we had missed while hiking. YK decided to walk with us and we continued to talk about our experiences in Korea and the States. Before splitting ways, YK said he would love to connect with us on the following day and so we exchanged numbers. We were in the town of Saekdal and even though it was bustling with people and business the walkway took us down to a forested park down by the river. It seemed like great spot, except within seconds of putting our bags down we began to get shredded by mosquitoes. Right then, YK called and after checking with his wife, invited us to stay at their place for the night. I figured he must have thought were pretty destitute for living out of our bags and might have felt responsible for taking care of us. Either way, he seemed like a very kind and interesting man, so, Ashlee and I took him up on the offer.
It was officially the Chuseok Holiday and YK’s wife made a traditional Korean breakfast of different varieties of rice rolls and fresh fruit. They had a beautiful apartment that was on the edge of an orange orchard. YK had received the OK to spend the day with us and drove us down to Seguipo City where we had booked an Air B and B. We ate lunch overlooking the bay where the Yeon-Oechon dumps into the ocean before going on a hike to Saeseom Island.
We said our good-byes to YK with every intention of staying in contact with him. He is heading back to California at the end of October with the possibility of moving back. So often when traveling, we can get caught up in thinking that is all about the places. YK was a reminder that when it comes to creating lasting experiences, it is more about the people!
That night, rather than eating out at a restaurant, we went to the Seogwipo Olle Market. Ashlee and I truly felt like we were in the heart of Southeast Asia as the sights, sounds, and smells were only overwhelmed by our tastebuds as we sampled from several different food stalls.
Closing out a trip is always difficult as we did want our time on Jeju to end. I had a moment of panic and made a push for calling the airline to see if we could extend our journey by one day. Then, I remembered that it is only an hour flight from Seoul and we would be back.