Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Mt Hallasan and the Enchanting Island of Jeju (10/4 - 17/4) 230km - Total 732km

Far off the southern coast of mainland Korea lives an island with a big bike lane all the way around it. On this magical island the dogs don’t bark as you ride past and large juicy tangerines grow from roadside trees. In the middle of this island a big evil old volcano called Mt Hallasan sits on her throne. When she burst to life one day, many thousands of years ago the island was born. In her highland palace, snow, mist and icy winds replace the sub-tropical wonderland below. Down by the waters you’re safe from her grasp, her cruel steep curves cannot reach you on the outer rim.

Two young travelers and their steeds, braved the rough oceans and landed upon this volcanic land. They wished to leisurely circumnavigate mystical Hallasan’s arena. Forced to survive on fresh seafood and being tortured by winding coastal views they wound their way around the island...

Scribbling in worn paper journals, their findings were intriguing:
The volcanic activity of past years has carved out an extraordinary place that Koreans proudly and readily remind you is on ‘good terms’ with UNESCO. Kilometres of ‘lava tubes’ lie under the surface. The aftermath of submarine eruptions feature on the coastline and of course her majesty, Mt Hallasan, the highest mount in South Korea (1950m) sits in the centre.
It did, however, seem they were pawns in a weather game of sorts. One day of light rain gave way to clear skies. Mt Hallasan threw her mists towards the travelers at excruciatingly inappropriate times: we were 10 minutes from a jagged 200m high coastal volcano crater top when the clouds closed it…so close it still hurts! Perhaps the sight of towering wind farms along the south-west should have warned them of the impending gusts. Each morning they would peer outside with great trepidation to assess the direction the trees were bending, hoping it was billowing their way.

Jeju is a strange beast indeed. The wild weather melts into a calm spring that locals claim is ‘Korea’s paradise’. The two journey-people witnessed locals drawn to this enchanting island in their thousands. All wanted to walk the sacred lava tunnel and taste the sweet citrus. Most are able to break the spell, but some find themselves caught in the Jeju web. Like poor Mr Huan and his family who have not made it back to the hustle and bustle of Seoul for 8 years – they are held captive, working in a quaint guesthouse on the southern Jeju shores. Upon visiting Mr Huan’s Inn after dark, drenched and weary the two were whisked undercover, only to be found eating dinner with his family minutes later. It is a magical island.

Jeju has many peculiarities not least its amiable relationship with two-wheeled creatures. Far from the reaches of Mt Hallasan live the Haenyeo, literally, women of the sea. Each day they pull on their black suits, grab their earplugs, find their weight belts and goggles. They throw a buoy and net over their shoulder then waddle in single file along the coastal road. Lady by lady they wade through the water and swim out to where the action is taking place. Deep deep breath. Then down they dive for fish, crabs, abalone and seaweed. These free-divers are an extraordinary group of women. They once numbered 3000, but as younger girls opted out of the family trade the clan has dwindled to about 300. Riding along the coast one will pass lines of dry divers, some chatting, others walking metres apart getting the job done. Numerous stone statues immortalize their trade. Later in the day bags laden with abalone are carried back home as wetsuits squelch along the asphalt. Their wrinkled faces have seen at least 50 or 60 years of tides. For the Haenyeo, free diving in the freezing cold Yellow Sea waters day in, day out puts abalone on the table, to fresh eyes it’s mythical.

On their final day, the pull of Mt Hallasan was too much. The two trekked up to take a peek at her crater lake. Chilling winds, thousands of school children and snow were not enough to hold back the two as they crept closer and closer to her core. Yet, as they passed 1700m of altitude Mt Hallasan was done playing games and concealed herself in a wave of mist. The two travelers never did see the crater. They crept down the aging volcano warmed themselves in a public spa and then set sail for the mainland. They left behind them an island with a big bike lane all the way around. A magical island.

Cycling Summary
Day 20 Jeju-si to Seongsan 60km (Total 562km)
Day 21 Seongsan to Seogwipo 62km
Day 22-23 Rest days
Day 24 Seogwipo to Hallim 70km
Day 25 Hallim to Jeju-si 38km
Day 26 Mt hallasan 18km (trekking)
Day 27 Jeju-si to mainland



Post a Comment