Jeju Island - Siteseeing and Scuba
Jul 30, 2008
|July 30, 2008
Today I just got back from B-E-A-utiful Jeju Island (also called Cheju Island, Jeju-do and Cheju-do) and am extremely tired. Between the sun and all of the activity it wore me out pretty good. Plus, anytime I stay in a place for just a few days I never real get comfortable with the accommodations so it wasn't the best rest I have ever had.
With the greatest sincerity I can have I want to start by praising God for getting me through the week safely and without any major injury. As you will read in this journal and the next I flew to an island, drove a scooter in Korea for about 6 hours, went scuba diving for 2 days in less than ideal conditions, hiked Mt. Halla at an altitude of 1950 meters or 5850 feet and visited the DMZ line on the border of North and South Korea. I got great memories, a sunburn, sore legs and some cuts on my hand from the coral while scuba diving. It is because of His protection and I am thankful.
Well, lets start with day one. I got up at around 5:00am as this was the first time for me going to the airport in Korea to fly out so I wasn't really sure how difficult or challenging it would be. Much to my surprise and delight it was very easy. There re two major airports in the Seoul area, Incheon and Gimpo. I compare it at times to O'Hare and Midway respectively with Incheon being the larger of the 2 although I don't know how they truly compare size wise or with respect to reliability. One thing Korea does is sends Airport Limos (nice buses) to various locations to pick people up as opposed to having them drive to the airport which is nice. This is how my day started. I met with the bus around 5:30am with my flight not leaving until 10:00am. We made a few stops at other locations and then arrived at the airport at 6:40am. They dropped us off at the front gate for departures and I headed to check in. All I did was give them my passport and they gave me a boarding ticket, this was around 6:55am. I proceeded to security and since I only had my backpack as luggage I put a lot of things that I thought would be trouble (liquids, toiletries, etc.) but I was wrong. Even as I went through the metal detector I didn't have to take off my belt, shoes or glasses. I started to take it off out of habit but the guy told me to keep them on. I went through with no problem and only had to open my back to show them the hairspray. After I loaded my pockets again I was done to wait for my flight, this was around 7:10am. Did I mention that my flight was at 10:00am??? Luckily I loaded recent episodes of Arrested Development on my iPod to watch and was able to inspect the entire airport while I waited.
The time finally rolled around for me to board the plane. The flight itself was around 1 hour so we landed at approximately 11:00. When I left Seoul it was rainy and muggy but when I landed it was sunny and hot. I got an English map of the island and headed out to find a taxi. My first stop was Mr. Lee's Bike Shop to pick up my transportation around the island. I arrived at the shop to not find an English speaking Mr. Lee but to find his shop worker who spoke no English. After a few awkward moments Mr. Lee's wife arrive and she was able to speak some English so we were able to get everything worked out. I got a nice looking 50cc black scooter. I was thankful not to get the pink or baby blue bike. After a very basic explanation of the scooters operation and one ride around the block I was off. My initial target was to drive completely around the island between my trip to Seogwipo City and back to Jeju City and I met my goal, half way. I made it there okay but was so tired on the trip back that I decided to cut through the island for the trip back. It cut off 3-3.5 hours so in that respect it was worth it. The down side was that I missed some locations that I really wanted to see but I get ahead of myself.
On Sunday morning I decided to trek up Mt. Halla. It is the largest mountain in Korea standing at 1950 meters or 5850 ft. With scuba schedule the next couple days and then leaving on Wednesday to come home this was the only time I could do it as it is a long hike. The bus we took landed us at the 650 meter mark so we only had to hike 1300 meters up. The first 5-6 km of the trip were pretty easy as it was pretty flat but the last 3-4 km were very difficult. The conditions on the mountain were also changing the higher we got. When we started it was sunny but we were shaded by the trees. The closer we got the top the more it started to rain and got much colder. I never figured I would need more than a tank top as I was doing physical activity and it was 90 degrees when I started the hike but oh boy was I wrong! After about 4 hours I was at the top using my umbrella as a block for the rain and the cold wind. I was extremely hungry and had gone through 3 bottles of water (by the way, I only brought 3 bottles of water). The biggest disappointment was that the view at the top, due to the weather, was terrible. I was capturing misty, cloudy, rainy conditions. Just the opposite of what I was hoping for. Anyway I made it up, which was the main goal, and now I was ready to head back down. About 3 km down from the peak they have a shelter where you can stop and get some food and water. I stopped there and got some noodles (for those who know the inside joke...I LIKE NOODLES!!) and water. As I was resting in the shelter (I was the only person in the shelter everyone else decided to stay outside. I tried not to take it personal.) I had some Koreans buy some chocolate pies, our moon pies, and give one to me. I guess I looked pretty pitiful as this will happen again later in the trip. I was very appreciative and once I got done I headed out very anxious to get home. The round trip up the mountain took me about 7.5 hours which is by far my most challenging trip to date. I got home, got more water, took a picture of a waterfall (Cheonjiyeon Falls) and crashed.
The next day I regretted the decision to climb a mountain and tour the area for nearly 8 hours as I began my final stage of scuba certification. My first step out of bed told me it would be a challenging day as my legs were throbbing. I met my dive instructor at a local shop at 9:00am. He is a certified PADI instructor living on the island. His name is Paul and he is from New Zealand and I thought he looked a lot like Johnny Damon from the NY Yankees. We got all loaded up and headed to the boat docks around 9:30am. We charted out our trip and was in the water close to 10:30am. The water was pretty choppy and there were pretty significant swells but we thought we would give it a shot (I say we as I knew no better). We got in the water and initial visibility was terrible. I began to wonder whether or not this was something I could do but after being the water for a few minutes I felt better. We swam for a little while, did some skills and toward the end of the 1st dive we were just swimming around looking at the beautiful purple and orange coral along with the fish life. I began signaling to Paul that I was down to about 50 bar of air (the point where you should begin your accent) but by that time we lost track of where we were so when we came to the surface we were on the opposite side of the island. We tried to use the swells to push us up onto the island but believe it or not water is pretty powerful. I tried to hold onto the shell filled side but couldn't which is where I got all of the cuts on my hand. The water was too strong so we finally had to call for a boat to come and pick us up. We were always safe as our gear, specifically my Buoyancy Control Device (BCD), is to be used as a life preserver if needed and it worked perfectly keeping me afloat until help came. I am thankful that our second dive that day was much less eventful but because of the weather we could not finish our skills. They were going to be moved to dive 2. Okay, dive 2...
The weather in Seogwipo was pretty bad again to where many dive shops were cancelling all of their dive trips. My instructor was already there and I was anxious to get it completed so we agreed to go to Jeju City (about an hour away) to finish. Thought being as the weather progressed north it would lose strength and be calmer. Well, we got there and there were Korean shops that were cancelling their day trips as it was less than ideal. If anyone doubted, we decided to go at it anyway. We carried all of our gear down to the coast which was a challenge with hands that were screaming at me every time I tried to grab or hold onto anything but we made it. We did our first dive around 11:30am and where the water was choppy it wasn't as bad as what it was the day before. We finished some skills and took a break for our final dive and final skills. At the time of our final dive while we were in the water the conditions worsened. The surges and swells were getting bad again and with the water being so choppy it was nearly impossible to finish the skills so we called it a day. I have 6 skills left to complete which is disappointing as I paid to complete the certification in the two days but the one thing you can't fully plan for is the weather. I am looking to get it finished in the next couple weeks so I will be ready for Thailand in December. Positives were that I met a pretty nice guy in Paul and got some great experience in pretty bad conditions. He told me that after this I would be ready for just about anything. I took some pictures of the scenery, got some ice cream and went home completely exhausted.
Wednesday was the last day I was in Jeju. I got up around 6:00am as were many things I wanted to see before I left the island. I saw another waterfall, some nice mountain sides and seasides but about 2 hours into my ride I was quite tired and was afraid that I would not be able to make it around the island. I has assumed the trip around the rest of the island would have been approximately 6 hours so I decided to catch a road that went through the island at around 8:00am as opposed to around it. It would mean that I would miss Sunrise Peak, the Anti-Japanese Memorial (yes, I wrote it correctly. They hate the Japanese as they had control over Korea for quite a while. Now there is also a fight over island rights to the east of Korea and west of Japan), and the Jeju Women Divers. This last deserves their own few sentences as they are a group of ladies ranging from 60-80 years old that dive off of the coast looking for food for their restaurants. The amazing thing is not just their age but that they use no air tank. They can hold their breath for over 2 minutes while looking for the seafood. Very popular and I guess they are all over the island. Anyway, I got back to Jeju City around 10:00am and returned the bike. After that I walked around for a little while and then got a ride to the airport. I got to the airport around 12:30pm but my flight didn't leave until around 9:00pm so I asked for an earlier flight and got one for around 2:00pm. While I was there I must have looked needy as, once again, a Korean young person gave me a piece of chocolate. She was pretty shy but I did manage to get a picture of her and loaded it here. So once I got on the plan, as opposed to landing at around 10:00pm I got back to Uijeongbu by 5:00pm.
Many adventures, much exhaustion, minor cuts and great memories from the "Korean Hawaii". It was a great place to visit but like most places I visit I am glad to get home although the next day is another early one....
Here are additional pictures from Jeju. They are found Facebook.com and you may need to copy and paste them to your browser to view. Enjoy!!