Jeju-do: Hiking a Dormant Volcano

During the second week of September myself and some new friends I had made traveled south for the weekend to Jeju, an island at the southern end of Korea known for its UNESCO world heritage sites. Jeju, a volcanic island, is known not only for the large mountain in the middle of the island, but also for its beautiful beaches and waterfalls.

Getting there is simply a matter of an hour long flight, the toughest part of the journey was actually ordering the plane ticket; for whatever reason I had significant trouble inputting my debit card information.  It turns out i was mixing up the numbers of two different cards!  Security for domestic flights in Korea is almost non-existent, no removal of shoes, belts, or hats and the entire process took maybe 3 or 4 minutes tops.  Once on Jeju island, we took a bus to the southern part of the island where our hostel was located in Seogwipo. Since we had left Thursday night after classes, we arrived too late for any restaurants to be open, and the hostel staff had already gone off to bed.  Luckily we managed to find a convenience store for food and the staff heard us as we had arrived (apparently we were not as quiet as we thought).

This was my first experience in a hostel and I was pleasantly surprised by our accomodations, the beds were large, it overlooked the ocean, and there was even food offered for free every morning; the hostel itself was also very reasonably priced.McGauleyS02

Waking up early in the morning, we were greeted by a fantastic view.  The six of us quickly got showered, made some toast and coffee, then headed out for the day.  Our first stop, was Dunkin Donuts for a quick bite since we had very little to eat the night before.  Dunkin Donuts menu is quite different from an American Dunkin Donuts, no bagels in site and all of the sandwiches were some form of focaccia sandwich that were delicious.  Next, we went a nearby waterfall for some sightseeing, the scenery as well as the weather was beautiful.McGauleyS03

After spending the morning there we took a cab to a black sand beach in an attempt to find a place to swim.  Unbeknownst to us however, Korea has a specific period of time during the year when swimming is allowed, which ended only 2 weeks before we had arrived.  After exploring the area for a bit and taking some pictures we attempted to hail another cab to head to another beach on the southern end of the island which would be bigger and give us a chance to sunbathe/swim around for a bit.  Hailing a cab from the first beach was easier said than done, luckily for us a friendly Korean was able to help us by calling one and explaining where we would like to go.  After stopping for a burger and some beers at a restaurant overlooking the beach, we made our way down as the tide was rolling out.  The beach and ocean were stunning, it kept going as far as the eye could see and were the only ones within earshot.  Myself and the other guys, Duco and Timo, threw around a frisbee for a while the girls sunbathed, then we all got into the water for a while and enjoyed the water as we took the chance to cool down for a bit.

After spending a couple hours on the beach, we once again hopped into a cab to head to Sunrise peak on the very eastern side of the island.  Despite the fact we were going to Sunrise peak for the sunset, we got a fantastic view of the entire island and the ocean surrounding it.  The peak itself was actually originally the center of the island, but as the caldera moved it left behind this small depression that now rests on the very edge of the island.  Once again the view was breathtaking. McGauleyS04

We stayed until the sunset over the western side of the island.  By this point everyone was ready to start heading back to Seogwipo and get dinner, we all hopped into cabs for the last time that day.  After changing out of our bathing suits and getting dressed we all went to dinner for Korean bbq to taste the renowned black pork that is native to the island.  The food was delicious and everyone enjoyed the meal as well as a couple of bottles of soju.  Soon after we all returned to the hostel and fell asleep for the night as we all knew we needed to get an early start tomorrow.

The next day, we all woke up very early to get ready for our hike.  After hitting up the convenience store for provisions and a Reese’s, we hit the road.  Our hike up Mount Hallasan began at 9:45, the hike began quite alright but it soon became apparent that some in the group were struggling more than others.  Our group quickly began to split up and after one more stop on the way up, we made the decision that those who wanted to go ahead could, and the others would go at a more leisurely pace while we would all meet up at the final rest station to regroup and make a push for the top.  We all met up again at 11:45 and started heading up at 12:30 after some rest and ramen.  By this point the trail had become rather crowded, but that did not stop me from starting to run up the trail after someone else from the group had decided they would carry my backpack.  At the top we once again stopped for some photos, as well as come celebration soju, and marveled at the surrounding area and all of its natural beauty.  A friendly Korean at the top who had completed his hike with some of his friends was enjoying lunch at the top and invited us to share in some drinks with them as well.  They were drinking makgeoli, a traditional Korean beverage made by fermenting rice similar to Japanese sake but weaker.  After spending some more time at the top, the clouds started rolling in over the top of the mountain and we decided to start making our descent.  The clouds continued to thicken and even permeated the forest as we slowly made our way down.  After another 3 hours of hiking and a little bit of trail running yet another friendly Korean congratulated us and gave us some candy, to say Koreans are friendly is an understatement, everywhere we went people were more than willing to help.  By now our feet were aching, luckily we had a chance to relax once we hailed a cab back to Seogwipo.  Myself and the other guys grabbed everyone’s bags and left Seogwipo to meet the girls back in Jeju City on the northern side of island.  Our cab driver, Bruce, spoke fantastic english and was a delightful person to spend an hour with as we traveled across the island.  At the end of our cab ride Bruce even went so far as to friend Timo on Facebook and “follow for follow” on Instagram.  Our last night we went out for seafood, some of the best seafood I’ve ever had, and headed back to our hostel to tuck in for a bit before our flights the next morning.  Unfortunately, I was having trouble sleeping, but Pitt vs. Penn State was starting at 2:30 that morning so I decided to stay up and watch it instead of rolling around in bed all night.  The game itself ended only 15 minutes before my flight, quite a shame the outcome of it but I still loved watching some football while I had the chance to see the Panthers on TV.

Our trip was one I’ll never forget; the friends I made on this trip have turned out to be my best friends, and all because I decided to tag along last minute to a trip with people I hardly knew.  The scenery was fantastic, the food delicious, and the people delightful.