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Getting to Route 1 of the Jeju Olle Trail

This is a helluva long post, so grab yourself a cup of coffee.

What a day.  Once again, my efforts paid off in magic and the universe provided in the most wonderful of ways.  Positive thinking can really take you a long way.  Or blind faith.

This morning I was out of the hostel by 11 am. I left about five pounds of clothes behind and plan to retrieve them from the hostel in a month.  It’s not terribly easy to pack for hot monsoon season in Korea AND cold and wet Scotland in one bag!  Scotland stuff got left behind.

My Mission

My mission was to get myself across the island to the guesthouse where a room was reserved for me.  I had determined the fare for the bus and had asked an employee at the hostel to write my destination in Korean on a piece of paper which I clutched in my hand like and owl clutches a mouse.

Ummm???

Ummm???

Once again I found myself mystified at the bus stop.  So many schedules! I tried to match the characters written on my paper to what I was seeing on the signs – literally a shape matching game – but still no luck.  I showed a young man my paper and pointed to the ground. “Here?” I asked.  He read my paper, looked at the schedules, showed me the columns I should be reading, which still made no sense as I could not read the headings of the columns.  He asked where I was from.  For ease, I told him California.  He said he was born on Jeju Island and dreams of going to Hawaii or California.  I told him I would Facebook friend him and if he ever came to California, i would help him.  He waited with me and when the bus finally came, he told me to board.

I showed the bus driver my paper.  He raised a hand in acknowledgement of having read it.  The aisle was narrow and the seats were filled with older people who examined this odd bird boarding.  Have problems with self consciousness? I have a 12 step immersion program that will cure you.  Get on a Korean public bus with a huge backpack 12 times.  That should break you.

On the bus, stops were announced first in Korean, then in Chinese, then in English.  It was unclear to me how to signal for the bus to stop other than to walk forward to the door.  I saw “Stop” buttons but since nobody was using them, I feared that maybe it would do something crazy like stop the bus or sound an alarm or something and I was not going to be the one to test it.

Jeju public bus

Jeju public bus. Cute curtains!

Mostly older people piled on.  Young people gave their seats to the older people. I was in the back and having hit people with my backpack getting on, I was not looking forward to a repeat and embarrassing performance getting off.  I don’t yet know how to say “I’m sorry” in Korean.  Clearly, that should have been at the top of my vocabulary list.

I waited with anxiety for a sign from the driver to disembark.  After an hour and fifteen minutes I was growing weary from my own adrenaline rush.  Finally, I heard my stop announced.  With no indication from the driver, I moved forward and got off the bus at the trailhead for Route 1 (which incidentally was the correct place for me to get off).  The driver honked at me, and signaled for me to get back on which of course I did.  What do I know?  He drove another ten minutes and indicated to me that I should get off.  He pointed at a bus stop across the street.  Nowhere in “the book” did it say anything about a bus transfer.  I looked at my map.  Where am I?   A port.  No idea.  I found a cafe and asked the worker there if he spoke English.  “No”.  I pointed to my map, and showed him the paper that I had shown the bus driver.  He looked puzzled.  I pointed to the ground and then to the map – “Where?”.  He showed me where I was.  I pointed to where I needed to go on the map and then pointed to the street “This way, or that way?”  He indicated that way – over the bridge.  Ok.  What to do?  I went to the bus stop and waited.  When the bus arrived, I boarded, and showed the driver my paper.  The bus was rolling before he read it.  He then stopped abruptly, said something in Korean and with my fabulous psychic powers I intuited that I was on the wrong f*&^ing bus.  I got off.  A taxi rolled by for the third time.   Having denied him twice already, I gave in.  I showed him the paper.  He drove me BACK to the starting point of the Ollie Trail (where I had disembarked previously) and I said “no”.  I pointed to the map, showed him the name of the accommodation and the phone number.  He called and we were less than ten yards away from the place!

I made it!

Outside an elderly Korean woman waited.  I was an hour late.  She invited me in and showed me my room.  Inside was a twin mattress, a fan, a TV, a closet and a mirror.  All for 20,000 won a night (about $20).  She immediately made me an iced coffee.  Not one word of language could be exchanged.  I bowed a lot.  It was awkward.

I then went to find the Jeju Olle Trail Information Center which according to my Jeju Olle map was very close.  I walked half a mile and no such place existed.  This felt like a rather major problem because this is where I was hoping I could finally get some answers to lots of questions that I had/have.

Surrender.  What else could I do?

Seaweed drying on the sidewalk.

Seaweed drying on the sidewalk.

I walked the village from one side to the other.  The air smells of the ocean.  It is hot and humid.  A purplish brown seaweed is drying on the sidewalks all over the village.  One person, crouched down was separating pieces of it and placing kelpy parts in a bucket.  Old men sit outside.  No cars pass.  Nothing is happening.  How reminiscent of the villages on the Camino in Spain.  Nothing but the sounds of birds and distant farm machinery.

I return to the guesthouse and find my host lying on the floor in the middle of the room.  She jumps up spryly when I arrive.  (I find out later that she is 86 years old).  I am sorry to disturb her.  We sit on the stoop together and through pantomime I try to ask her where I can get something to eat.  I use my Korean speaking app to ask “Can you recommend a restaurant?”  forgetting that residents of Jeju speak a dialect, not Korean.  She smiles at me.  Moments later she gets a pad of paper with numbers written all over it, and makes a call on her cell phone.

An Angel!

We sit silently.  And then a man appears.  He says “How are you doing?  What do you need?”  What sweet relief to hear someone speaking English!  I explain that I am trying to ask where I can eat and he begins interpreting for me.  He asks me many questions.  “What are you doing here in Jeju?  What is your itinerary?”  I reply “I have no itinerary.”  He laughs.  “How long are you staying?”  I reply “Six weeks.”  He laughs.  This question-and-laughing-game went on for a little bit and then we got back to the matter at hand. He tells me there are no restaurants around.  I ask him my most pressing questions about the Olle Trail and he tells me the information center has moved to a place near his house, up the trail.  He tells me he is worried about me going on the trail tomorrow alone because it goes through the forest and it is not safe for a woman.  I am gonna trust him on this.

He wants to show me the information center.  I get in his van which is the size of a milk carton and we drive up the Olle Trail to his house which he is building as a guesthouse:  “Kim’s Cabin”.  It is hardly a cabin but more of a palace.  He left his high pressure job in Seoul one year ago and has been building this guesthouse ever since.  It will open in a couple weeks.  Then his wife, who has been living in Seoul will finally join him.  He wants to show me what the trail markers look like and so he suggests we hike to the top of the mountain and back which will take about an hour.  Up, up, up we go.  I am surprised that my legs still feel strong from the Camino.  The heat is tremendous.  The only time I have felt heat this stifling and wet is in the Amazon.  Mr. Kim tells me that the temperature today has hit a heat record.  Of course it has.  At the top are beautiful tan cows and the most magnificent view of Sunrise peak in the distance and crops of all shapes and colors.  He suggests that he take my picture because tomorrow it might not be so clear.

Mr. Kim.  My hero!

Mr. Kim. My hero!

We hike down and talk about life, how he taught himself English, and how funny it is that I came here as my introduction to Asia.  He is polite, but I can tell he thinks I’m out of my mind and although it hadn’t occurred to me, I’m beginning to wonder if he might be on to something.  He tells me that he lived with the woman I am staying with for six months while his house was being built and that he himself is a foreigner to Jeju even coming from Seoul because he does not understand the dialect.  He tells me that I am the first American that has ever stayed with her.  Awesome.  Way to get into the thick of it, Laura.

He shows me the Information Center and it is open to his surprise.  He and the woman there agree I should find a companion to walk with specifically for tomorrow’s stretch because it is easy to get lost and not safe in the forest. Apparently, Gretel should not walk alone.  I need a Hansel.  I ask him “If I wait at the trailhead, will someone come?”  “Well, maybe. Maybe not.  Tomorrow is Sunday and most people start on Friday”.  Crap.

Laura on Route 1 - Jeju Olle Trail

Laura on Route 1 – Jeju Olle Trail

We come up with a plan.  Tomorrow morning, I will wait at his “cabin” for someone to come along.  Then that someone and I will walk together.  I thank him for about the hundredth time for helping me.

I tell him I can walk back to the village and he says that he has some friends that are opening an Italian restaurant (!!!) next week and he will take me there.  Two minutes later and we arrive at what looks like a construction site.  Inside, there is the sweetest young married couple and they welcome us and proceed to make two iced coffees with their authentic Italian espresso machine.  A cold drink was never so appreciated!

Mr. Kim tells me that even as a man he would not do what I am doing – that it must be very difficult for me.  “Yes, but I did not know what I was getting in to.  Now I know!”  We laughed a lot.  I explained that traveling allows me to meet interesting people that take risks.  Him, for example.  And this Korean couple, opening an Italian restaurant in a tiny seaside village on Jeju Island!  So, ok, I see now that what I’m doing is outrageous, but look at where I am!   And somehow, in the confusion and surrender of the day, I have been found by an angel in Mr. Kim and he is giving freely of his time and helping me.

Delicious dish!

Delicious dish!

Next thing I know, we are served a dish of shaved ice with milk, almonds, some type of black bean (sweet and almost crunchy) some type of chewy bread/pudding/cheesy substance, and corn flakes.  Mr. Kim tells me to mix it up and clearly I was not adept at the procedure because he switches our bowls after he has proficiently mixed his.  Whatever this dish is called, it was outstanding!  A Korean muesli if you will!  Will you?

The couple wanted to know what I did for a living and given that they had wifi I was able to show them my chalkboard signs on my website.  “This is a new job for Korea. We don’t have this.”  “Yes”, I said.  “It is a strange job, even in America.”  He seems to think I could do this in Korea.  Half jokingly, I offer my services to the couple in exchange for food.  They laugh.  Mr. Kim tells me to come back for breakfast in the morning and I can pay for that but the coffee and the dish were free because I am their first customer and the only American they have seen.  I bow and thank.  And bow and thank some more.

Amazing.  Thank you universe.

Mr. Kim walks me back to the guesthouse and I sit outside in the breeze.  Male workers also living on the property come home from work.  One says “Hi! How are you?” and laughs.  “Russia?”, they shout.  “America” I say and with that they pump their fists in the air repeating me  “America! America! America!”  They laugh and go inside.

I take a cold shower and realize that I can not get dry because the humidity is so tremendous.  I have always heard about heat like this but never experienced it to this extent.

Tonight I will go to sleep with satisfaction that I got here.  I will smell the salty air and feel the breeze that has finally cooled.  And I will be thankful for the kindness extended to me today by the boy at the bus stop, the taxi driver, my 86 year old host, Mr. Kim, and the young married couple who fed me.

The trail has not even begun and it feels like a journey already!

Tomorrow, I will continue to trust.

Photos of the Day (and a couple from yesterday):

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