May travels

Warning. This is a super-long post — I didn’t dare stop in case I never started again. It also probably will need some proof-reading which I will do AFTER publishing for the same reasons. It starts out wordy then gets more picture-based as I stopped being a lazy mclazypants and dug up new pictures instead of recycling Facebook ones.

I have not updated for six months. This is because my trip with James to Nepal and Bhutan happened and there were SO MANY PICTURES (a month in the Himalayas will do that to you). And then straight after I got back to Melbourne, my baby sister came to stay (so busy, lots of pictures!) for two months. And James turned up in the middle of the night for a surprise 10-day visit from Afghanistan. And then my friend Susan dropped by for a few days, and my Supermate Cici came to stay for a couple of weeks. And then my first uni course started up. And then I had a surprise last-minute holiday with James in South Korea. And then uni started up a second time. And now it’s nearly June and the only reason I’m making time to write a blog post is because I have only completed 4 of my 16 chemistry assignments and I OBVIOUSLY need to procrastinate.

So I thought I would come and post some pictures of our time in Jeju Island, but then I realised that means crawling through the hundreds of pictures James and I took between us (well mostly him, to be honest), and then uploading them. If I wait, I’ll never write anything! So I am going to cheat by just using the ones I already put on Facebook (for my non-FB readers) EDIT: THIS WORKED. I ENDED UP ADDING MORE PICTURES.

My red-eye flight to Seoul took well over 24 hours. I had a stopover in Hong Kong so I went into Central for breakfast with Cici which was lovely, I had forgotten how much I love HK and was really glad I had scheduled another 12-hour stopover on my way back. My plans to move to Hong Kong a couple of years ago are not completely forgotten, although I don’t know quite how that would happen!

Then after several delays I was finally reunited with James — seeing each other three times in 5 months, we are spoilt! We had rented a little apartment in Seoul, although we barely got to spend 10 hours there due to my flight being so late.

Together at last!
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Lotteria fast food, pocket cheese, and plum wine: the trashiest, tastiest Korean late night snack.
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The next day was James’ birthday and we had what would be the first of many Korean pizzas for a celebratory lunch before dashing to the airport. I have never missed a flight in my life, due to an obsession with being early wherever I go, but lunchtime birthday beers helped me relax so well that we only made it to check-in 10 minutes before the flight. We rushed through security, only for them to spot a little knife I gave James last year, and which I was very anxious for us not to lose. I whispered to him we should miss our flight rather than give up the knife, but fortunately they allowed us to get it back once we landed. Very accommodating, the Koreans!

And where were we headed? Jeju Island! It’s normally a highly popular tourist destination, but with canny planning we managed to avoid crowds all but the last day. We rented a tiny KIA and drove from Jeju down to Segwipo (the Other Town on the island).

We have a tradition of travelling in shitty cars.
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On the first day we just lazed around in our rental house whilst I recovered from all the travelling. The floors were heated and the weather wasn’t very nice which made it tempting to stay put, and I was supposed to be doing homework but mostly just napped. Then in the evening James coaxed me out of the house for dinner, and casually suggested we check out one of the waterfalls for which the island is so famous. It was late at night and raining, but he reassured me this meant there would be no other tourists at Cheonjiyeon.

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Why yes, we did get a bit wet. No other tourists though.

We went back to some other waterfalls the next day, when it was nice and sunny. There were some other people around, but we escaped by clambering over the boulders where no Mainland Chinese Tourist has ever been. I was wearing my hiking boots and this allowed me to feel nice and smug and strong as I scrambled about, compared to everyone else in flip-flops back at the waterfall.
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Jeongbang waterfall is the ONLY waterfall in Asia to fall into the ocean. The more you know.
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Exploring is how we discovered a cave, with a secret Buddha.
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I did some posing at the entrance of the cave.
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Obligatory (and rather inflexible) dancer’s pose (I explained to James this is what all yoga-practicing show-off traveller girls do so he obligingly took about 50 shots of it).
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Signs along the path warned us that Cheonjeyeon waterfall is apparently invisible most of the time, but the crazy rains we got soaked in the night before meant it was out in full force. Lucky us! (Psst. Check out those awesome boots)
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We found a cave and in the cave we (meaning James, because I was too chicken to follow him down the tunnel) found pickles… I guess they must be super-spiritual pickles.
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Then we packed up and drove to a traditional guest house, Kasan Tobang, the other side of Segwipo. It was INCREDIBLE. Because I am too lazy to go find my external drive with all the photos, here are some I “found” on the internets.

This is our room, which seems almost sparse in its simplicity, but was very delicately decorated, with visible wooden timbers and the plaster walls covered in handmade white paper. I wasn’t too sure about the thin mattress padding but James assured me I would be fine. I was fine… but I still requested an extra mattress the second night, because I am a wuss. I’m apparently too lazy to even find a photo without someone’s backpack. Let’s say it’s there for scale.
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Our room was in this hobbit-like corridor, with tiny little doors, just like in the Shire.
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The entire guesthouse was in the same style of yellow ochre clay, visible stone and timber, and gorgeous traditional paper everywhere.
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It somehow just avoided being twee, by being very calm and comfortable and sort of… authentic-feeling. Some reviewers on TripAdvisor were distressed about the communal bathroom, which I admit I wasn’t too keen on when we made the booking, but in fact I LOVED the bathroom. It was much more like a spa, with lots of polished wood, warm stone floors, steam-filled shower-rooms, and a general Orientalist touch of decadence.

Whilst we were staying at Kasan Tobang we decided to go climb Hallasan aka the highest mountain in South Korea (which is only 1950m, the North Koreans get all the crazy mountains I guess). Our original attempt was flummoxed when we started on the wrong trail a mile up the road.

This is me prancing around showing off. I laugh now, thinking how different things would have been, if I had been on the right trail… you may well laugh too, once you read about the actual hike.
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Once we realised our mistake, we hunted down the correct trail, where the man at the gate told us 11am was too late in the day to start the 8.7km ascent — he swore it would take at least 10 hours return, and could not allow us to proceed. We pouted a little then took off to the famous lava tubes, which were quite impressive. The one we visited allows you to walk along the corridor carved by lava flows for a full kilometre underground, and is fun in that they haven’t sanitised it by putting in lots of safe walkways and “tasteful” lighting like they do in France. Obviously in the absence of light, photos are not that easy to take. James took some great ones actually but again… they are on another hard-drive.

Just pretend like this photo actually shows something…
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I once again felt smug in my hiking boots. I had insisted we buy me some warm leggings on the way to the tubes (as I was wearing that tiny running skirt, not really suitable for spelunking), but as we walked towards the tubes I saw lots of women in mini dresses and flip-flops emerging and thought maybe I was over-dressed. Nope! more smug for Rosie! it was COLD and WET down there. I saw one girl with blinged-out white platform wedge trainers hobbling along and felt all kinds of self-satisfied.

So much smug…
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Once back out in the sun, we decided to go hike an Olle trail, which are a network of paths around the island. The closest one left from a beach, and I was not prepared for how breath-taking the white sand, black rocks and bright blue-green water would be!
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Couple Selfie! I make James do these all the time, mainly because we see each other so rarely I need a way to remember how we look together.
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More scrambling over lava flows. It was hot and sunny and so quiet, apart from the sound of little crustaceans attending to their duties among the rocks, which make a clicking, cracking sound, making it feel quite exciting as if the hot lava was still cooling. Again, much hiking boot smug.
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Growing on the lava was bindweed, which is my sister’s special flower…
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What next? I think we probably drove home and ate something with kimchi. I don’t mention the kimchi much, but we did eat plenty of Korean food, I just never found it terribly exciting. We had several local black pork barbecue dinners — the speciality being that the pork does not taste like pork. WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT? of course, it was very tasty. But you know. Pork belly without pork belly taste is kind of… sad?

I’ve just realised I didn’t even mention the women divers — kick-ass elderly ladies who go diving every day for abalone and what appeared to be kelp to my untrained eyes. Go read about the Hanyeo here. They are incredible — and who doesn’t love a matriarchal society? I don’t have any good pictures cos I am incredibly awkward about taking tourist photos of people.

Anyway the NEXT day, we woke up at 5am, determined not to be refused our Hallasan experience. It was raining. And grey. And windy (Jeju is famous for its insane winds). I did some research (aka reading someone’s blog describing their hike up the mountain in the rain) and decided we’d be fine. James had already warned me it was really not a high mountain at all.

I should probably have had a full post dedicate just to that hike. It went on forever. It got wetter and windier and colder and steeper as we climbed, and because we didn’t think it would be that huge of a deal and erroneously believed there was food at a shelter before the peak, we didn’t eat breakfast OR pack any food. I was starving about 10 minutes in, and when we reached the shelter, my ramen fantasies were shattered. We were 3 hours in on an 8-hour-long hike, and the rain was thrashing all around us, and there was no food. I am not kidding — I found the wrapper of a chocolate-nut bar I’d eaten the day before and licked the insides of it, whimpering as James urged me to drink more water to stave off hunger pangs. Of course he is used to going without food, what with the whole Afghanistan thing, so he wasn’t too worried.

In fact, the entire memory gave me the strength to get up and fetch my harddrive and hunt down some pictures. If I can climb that freaking mountain… I can do this.

Started out alright…
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This is me speeding up ahead to dash to the shelter where I imagined ramen and hot water awaited me.
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This is not what I was expecting.
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All I found was fire-fighting equipment, which seemed extra cruel given the weather.
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“What weather?” you may be thinking, “doesn’t look too bad to me?” That’s because even driving rain does not show up in the photos.
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And admittedly, the weather there can be worse. For example this used to be a shelter, a proper building, of stone and cement and wood and everything, until 2007 when a storm hit it. Now it’s just a memorial.
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For a while it was still somewhat scenic in places…
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But then it just got… silly. That’s a mountain range behind me.
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Silly and very wet. The path was basically turning into a mountain stream. We took no photos on the way down due to James’ iPhone shutting down from cold and wet, and me not being at all in the mood for photos, but it was not far off a river at that point.
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The path ahead:
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The path behind:
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I can’t remember much about the bit before, during, and immediately after the peak. It was mostly just a lot of this:
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The wind and rain were lashing at our ridiculous blue rain-condoms and my feet and legs were aching (yes, even with the special boots…). The rain had seeped in through my socks, and I was so hungry and still only halfway done. I only know I got through it because James held my hand instead of running off ahead as is his normal process (actually he was very good on this hike, a potent mix of hunger and pity for me?).

Proof we made it to the top:
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I hear it’s extremely picturesque.
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[I’m already so tired writing this marathon of a post. It feels like climbing that damn mountain all over again — too far in to stop…].

Climbing back down took almost as long as going back up. I did not feel very shiny and I could not believe how far there still was to go, every time we reached a marker I would shriek in despair. My previously amazing hiking boots were like small cauldrons of warm soup attached to my feet. Anyway, I’ll abbreviate the account of my sufferings and skip to the end: We devoured chocolate and cheese in the car and headed home (there was a big, underwhelming but protein-heavy meal of course, but not worth discussing).

The next morning we had planned to do climb up Sangumburi Crater and watch the sunrise. My calf-muscles seized up completely after Hallasan and I couldn’t even stand up unassisted, let alone walk, so the sensible thing to do was to forget about it.

(I’m hoping these are a reasonable size as they are from James’ real camera and I had to resize them in Photoshop… so much effort)
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Do I look like I’m in pain?
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Worth it.
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Totally.
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As you can see, we aren’t quite that sensible, so instead we speed-walked up and down again in 37 minutes flat before dashing to the airport and flying back to Seoul. I must have been half-delirious from the previous day, but I did it. I’m not sure if it made things even worse, or if the DOMS hadn’t yet kicked in properly, but once we were in Seoul my handicap bordered on humiliating.

At this point I am debating just stopping here because I’m tired of writing. But I have to finish! So in quick summary, we stayed in another traditional guesthouse in Seoul, it was very beautiful.

Entrance:
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Courtyard
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Our little appartment/house
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Me limping off somewhere, either a dentist or the museum.
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Then my last wisdom tooth (remember the penultimate one?) started giving me hell so we went to a dentist. We did get to visit the National Museum of Korea first, and I saw some very exciting ceramics — archaeological ones and gorgeous porcelains. Ceramics make me happy. Especially celadons. Especially celadons repaired with gold!
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Oh also there was some bear beer, apparently.
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And we say the Grand Budapest Hotel — the poster looks so pretty in Korean.
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And on our last night the host lit the underfloor fires…
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So we hung out in the dry sauna for an hour — which possibly helped my legs? But was just very relaxing and smelt amazing. Bikram yoga has made me very resilient to heat so we just lay on the floor sweating for ages, before eventually going to pack.

Ok, I think that’s pretty much all the interesting stuff we did in Korea – I was going to talk about the numerous pizzas we sampled but in hindsight it’s not THAT compelling.

A full 10 days later and my legs have recovered from Hallasan, you’ll be glad to hear. Cici and I got fantastic massages during my stopover in Hong Kong and I was able to return to daily Barre classes (my current exercise obsession) the day after I got back to Australia… no permanent damage done.*

The end!

*Except for the hiking boots. They still haven’t recovered from being soaked and staying wrapped up in plastic for 3 days. I am worried they may never be the same.