Busan-Jeju Island Ferry
After picking a spot on the floor, we fanned out our limbs over the soft scarlet carpet. Prospectors continually poured into the room filling every available crevice while late-comers mournfully surveyed the scene from the doorway.
For only 42,750 won, the overnight ferrysupplies a large communal sleeping room. True to Korean tradition, there were no chairs- just two televisions and a carpeted platform divided down the center by a bordered walkway.
An hour into our journey, a nearby mother impelled her son to come speak to us. Once his youthful and inquisitive questions reached their end, he turned around to play a video game. However, after an imperative look and with a sigh of resignation he resumed his line of questions.
“Do you like soccer?”
“Um, do you like rainbows?”
That night the room was chilly without blankets. Only a standard issue foam block pillow had been supplied. We pulled our damp towel out of our luggage and huddled under it with thoughts of tropical islands filling our sleep deprived minds.
We arrived in Jeju City around 6 am and bought tickets at the intercity bus terminal for the Manjanggul lava tubes to the east. It was an hour by bus and then another half hour walk down the quiet road. At the ticket booth we left our bags in a locker to descend the fern-covered stairwell into a cloud of mist.
The temperature change was dramatic and welcoming after the unrelenting sun. The floor looked like a cracked dry river bed that had once seen a secret flow of water. The height of the tunnel was impressive and I felt dwarfed walking inside. A horizontal railing which spanned the entirety of the tunnel showed the height at which the lava once flowed. By the time we reached the world’s largest lava column, I felt extremely refrigerated. I couldn’t believe it was possible to miss the heat, but we surely made haste when retracing our steps.
From the lava tube bus stop, we hopped on the same circulating bus route to Seonsan Ilchulbong, or the “Sunrise Peak.” The pathway to the top runs through a verdant slope to a steep mountainous staircase. Under the afternoon summer sun, the climb feels more like a salty swim alongside fluttering butterflies. At the peak one can view the vegetative volcanic crater and enjoy the breeze as it blows in from off the ocean.
At the base of Seonsan Ilchulbong was an equally steep staircase which lead down to a small cove. Boats gently rocked in the clear blue waters while traditional haenyeo divers in black body suits hunted for sea creatures along the rocky coastline. These senior citizens slid out of the water and removed their wetsuits before an audience of curious cameras. After wards they settled behind their water tanks to begin the hard sell of raw and wriggling food items. With a no-nonsense demeanor they discussed prices while octopuses squirmed in their hands, slowly choking on the air.
A short walk back through the town from the volcanic crater is a ferry terminal for routes between Jeju and Udo Island. The 15 minute ride costs only 3,500 won and is popular with day trippers. At the Udo Island ferry ports, vehicle rental companies await to bait new arrivals with 4-wheelers, mopeds, golf carts, and bicycles.
On our rented moped, which only cost 15,000 won for two hours, we raced down the bumpy red dirt roads which traverse the interior of the island. We passed between black walls of coarse volcanic rock while large dragonflies weaved in and out of our path, their wings glinting in the sunlight. The only paved route followed the undulating coastline and offered views of sapphire water.
We found an open pension room on Sanhosa beach, despite being warned that everything would already be booked. The proprietor was a petite man with a severe walking impediment. After disclosing the price, the man hefted himself up and hobbled across the courtyard to show us the room. The effort he exerted was honestly 70% of the reason why we took the room. However, we did bargain it down to 80,000 won. Pensions are more expensive because they are designed for large groups and come with kitchens, living rooms, bedrooms, private bathrooms, and even a washing machine.
The next morning we left the island early because of impending bad weather. However, at that moment the sky was clear and the coast was peaceful. We took one last stroll over the white coral sand of Sanhosa beach, which felt invigorating under bare feet. The water resembled a clear soup because of the clouds of suspended seaweed that happen to tangle around legs. In the distance two haenheo divers clad in black rubber washed up on shore like laughing seals.
Back on the mainland, we caught the bus towards Seogwipo. While the second largest city on the island, it felt more like a small tropical town. Some of the most famous coastline on the island can be seen from a long stretch of park which runs up the rocky shore. This was also the location for the famous landmark Oedolgae. Battered by a mesmerizing repetition of violent waves, it is a pinnacle of rock thrusting out of a frothy white explosion.
However, the most beautiful sight we saw was inland. Following an ambiguous hand-drawn map, we directed our taxi driver to a construction site where we met our friend. From there we followed a path past rumbling equipment and towards a strand of trees. We descended a slope and entered a sunlit opening. A pile of smoothed lava rocks in the shape of an amphitheater dropped into a basin of clear water. Huge beige water-worn boulders framed the backdrop while a small rivulet of water cascaded from above. The cool water felt like silk against my skin. In the dark recesses frogs rested while small fish nibbled the feet and legs of those who stood motionless.
After climbing over boulders, we walked down a gully shaded overhead by a canopy of trees. I was amazed how close we had been to signs of civilization and yet how quiet and tranquil this hidden waterhole was. The shallow water eventually gave way to a deep pool with a scattering of leaves floating on the surface. Once I had built enough courage, I scaled the side of a small cliff to a platform above. I dug my toes into the rough surface and ran. Pushing off the cliff I felt my stomach rushing up into my throat. With an explosion I entered the water and splayed my limbs to slow the descent. I felt so exhilarated and alive- I had found exactly what I had been searching for on my vacation.