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Jeju Olle Trail, Route 1 – Jeju Island, South Korea

Jeju Olle Trail - Route 1

Jeju Olle Trail – Route 1

I awoke at 3 am to my host yelling at someone outside.  Then at 6 am I awoke for good, as I have been doing since I got to South Korea.  My host rose at 7 am and made me an iced coffee and gave me two rolls wrapped in cellophane that said “Bakery Fresh”.  The rolls were filled with a substance much like Cool Whip and I was thankful for the food.  I bowed to her in thanks and went outside where I laced up my hiking boots for the first time since the Camino.  Oh how I hate them and yet, like a bad relationship, I need them.

I walked up to the Italian Restaurant but not seeing anyone around, I did not want to bother the sweet couple so I headed onward to the trailhead of Route One. There I found a stamping station and stamped my passport with it’s first stamp.  I followed the path which was flanked by lava rock walls and crops of many kinds.  It was only 7:30 am and already blazing hot and humid.  A few raindrops fell.

Approaching Mr. Kim’s house, I saw him in the distance and he waved.  My old friend, Mr. Kim! When I arrived he said he had not seen anyone pass to walk the trail.  He suggested I wait half an hour and if nobody came, I should give up.  He went inside and returned with a cold sliced tomato and a roll for me. We talked for twenty minutes and then a father and son walked by.  Mr. Kim talked to them and they agreed to walk with me.  The father, Te Hee and son, who’s name I forgot, live in Seoul and were on a brief vacation.  The father spoke no English and the son spoke pretty well but in the quietest voice you ever didn’t hear.  It was clear he felt shy talking to me and I did my best all day to smile and encourage him.  In any case, it was somewhat of a miracle that they arrived because all day I never saw any other hikers.  I was so appreciative that at least I could get started and did not have to give up on Day 1.

Today's heroes!

Today’s heroes!

The father asked to carry my pack and I declined his offer, not really sure if I was insulting him with my stubbornness. I was trying to spare him.  We walked through the forest and through tall grass.  I nearly died of fright when a pheasant flew out of the grass beside me.  Mr. Kim was right–it was a path that one could easily get lost on.  I was so glad to have gracious company.

We passed ancient graves surrounded by rock walls.  Much of the time we walked on paved roads in between crops.  I was reminded with each step of the pain concrete inflicts on my knees.

The son interpreted as his father asked questions: “What do you do for a living? Why did you come here? How did you hear about Jeju? Do you like nature?  Do you walk in the United States?”  The father was so kind to share some history of the island and information about what I was seeing.  He tells me that Jeju is known as the island of wind, rocks, and women (the women being the famous divers called “haenyeos”).  Here is a video about the women divers.

The walk was beautiful but the temperature and humidity were so high that I wondered if I would make it to the stopping point.  Two and a half hours into the walk I asked if we could stop for a break when we passed a soda machine.  The father insisted on buying a soda for me.  It was gone in seconds and I bought another.  Sweat was pouring off of me.  Salt stains were all over my shirt.  We continued on and made it to the shore line where black volcanic rocks met sapphire water.  Squid hung on lines to dry in the sun.

We took another rest and the father insisted on carrying my pack.  He said it was the same weight as the pack he had to carry in the Korean army!  He was stoic about it and I felt terrible to burden him but I didn’t want to insult his manhood by refusing him the opportunity to help me.   I wasn’t sure what to do.

I told them where I was trying to stay for the night–a guesthouse mentioned in my Jeju Olle book.  They brought me there.  I NEVER would have found it because there were no English signs on the place.  When we arrived, it was booked up but the sister of the owner said she could bring me to her place, which happened to be a new hotel close by.  She said that the regular rate was 50,000 won a night but because I had come all the way from the United States she would only charge 30,000 (about $30).  We all piled into her car and she showed me the place.  It is the first hotel room (with AC even!) I’ve stayed in.  A treat!

Laura

Laura

The father then asked if they could take me to lunch.  Honestly I was so fried from the sun and exhausted in every way that all I wanted to do was hide in an air conditioned room, but of course, I accepted.  The restaurant was traditionally Korean and we sat on cushions on the floor.  The father ordered black soybean noodle soup for all of us.  He asked me if I knew how to use chopsticks (which I do) and was seemingly impressed with my skills.  He told me I was very brave which seems to be the theme of this journey.  The noodles were gelatinous, chewy and nearly tasteless except for a faint cucumber flavor. They were in a broth that tasted like wheat and had ice cubes floating in it.  It was refreshing. Kimchi and spicy radishes on the side added a yummy contrast to the mild, cold soup.

At the end of the meal, I offered to pay but the son told me that if you are invited by a Korean for a meal, they pay.  Again, incredible charity for the poor lost American woman.

They asked for pictures to be taken and so did I.  I don’t want to forget the two men who carried me through my first day on the Olle Trail.  We shook hands and off they went.  I can say without a doubt that the Korean people have been the kindest people I have ever encountered while traveling.

After a nap in my cool room, I went to a cafe and used the wifi to look at my options on Jeju Island and off of it.  I am not a masochist and if today’s heat is what I am facing for the next six weeks, I’m not going to make it.  I’m going to give it a few more days but I won’t say I didn’t look for some last minute award tickets to Australia and Hawaii.

Things I learned today that suggest I’m screwed:

  • July is the hottest month on Jeju Island.  I foolishly imagined that the strong winds I read about would have a cooling effect but strong HOT winds have no such effect.
  • I have arrived at the very peak of tourist season here on Jeju Island, so accomodations may be tough to find and everything is at it’s most expensive.
  • Most people do not hike the Jeju Olle trail in the Summer.  There were no other hikers on Route 1 today.
  • Accommodations mentioned in my only Jeju Olle guide book do not have signage in English.  Finding a place to stay may prove challenging if I do not continue to have angels delivered to me.

But I digress…

I went looking for dinner and ran into the brother of the woman who owns the hotel I’m staying at.  His dog had purple fur and an outfit!  His wife gave me a popsicle and refused to take money for it.  He spoke some English and gave me his business card.  “If you have any trouble on Jeju, call me and I will help you.”  Amazing hospitality.  I have five other business cards from people who have said the same.  So I’m not alone.

I bought a bag of Korean Doritos because I could not recognize anything else to eat.

Today I walked 8.3 miles and met many wonderful people.  Thankfulness.

Photos of the Day:

 

 

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