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Trip 37 — Jeju and Xiamen Walks

Jeju day 4: Moseulpo to Seogwipo
Saturday, 29 July 2023

Yesterday: 47822 steps/36.39 km/22.61 mi/6h 37m
Total: 131835 steps/103.37 km/64.23 mi/19h 20m

Wary of its neighbor to the north, South Korea does not allow its full map data to be exported. As a result, Google Maps provides a baseline map with streets, landmarks, and businesses, but it cannot provide directions in South Korea. I can generally get by with "follow the road along the coast," but sometimes I want something more specific and the ability to have the distance along a winding route calculated.

The Korean app Naver has some personality: Along with basic directions, it tells me how many crosswalks I can expect to encounter, and it provides "Easy" and "Fastest" options. Sometimes its math is a little fuzzy — it has told me that a trip of two hours and 13 minutes was faster than one a minute shorter — but it does the job.

It also has the advantage of including all of the Jeju Olle Trail routes, which don't show up on Google Maps. This results in a more robust network of possibilities. Yesterday I headed south from Moseulpo, past the harbor and through farmland, toward Jeju's southernmost point on a knob jutting out near the island's western end. Jeju is otherwise oval-shaped, wider on its west-east axis than on its north-south.

Horses greeted me as I went up the slight hill near Songaksan, the mountain that occupies this knob. When I reached the crest of the hill, the faint landscape features to the east came into view, welcoming me to the rest of Jeju. It was an overcast, breezy day, excellent for walking. So far.

This is a popular sightseeing area. I didn't join the people climbing Songaksan; instead, I continued north along the coast. Naver put me on route 10 of the Jeju Olle Trail, at one point on a retaining wall, then on the beach, and then on a path that didn't exist, but I found a way through the shrubbery.

The Yongmeori ("Dragon's Head") Coast is a lovely spot, one I visited in 2016. It's Jeju's oldest volcanic crater, and it sits at the base of Sanbangsan, an almost perfect bell curve of a mountain that itself is a lava dome formed from eruptions around 750,000 years ago. I remembered climbing along Yongmeori's beautifully stratified sandstone platforms and enjoying grilled octopus from one of the seafood vendors.

Alas, yesterday the site was closed due to large waves, so I took the path up to the Hamel Monument, erected in memory of a Dutch sailor shipwrecked here in 1653. Hamel's account of Jeju is the first of the island by a western visitor. From the monument I descended to the beach and then returned to the highway.

It was another long walking day. I hoped to get halfway through before lunch, and ideally take the meal break in Jungmun near its five-day market, which happens on the third, eighth, 13th, 18th, 23rd, and 28th of each month. There are several five-day markets around the island, each with its own similar schedule.

But Grandmother Seolmundae, or perhaps the deity of the sky, was feeling angry. I'd been on the highway for about an hour when a rumbling announced a heavy rain. I ducked into the next restaurant I came to.

It was a popular one. People were already waiting, and I took my chances with the electronic sign-up, which promised a text when my table was ready, even for foreign phone numbers. The device assumed a 15-minute wait for each party ahead of me, of which there were ten. I couldn't imagine it would take two and a half hours to be seated.

The rain stopped. I thought about continuing, but I was informed that only four parties were ahead of me, and several had just left. I was soon seated.

The restaurant was popular because of its 15,000-won lunch specials. For solo diners, there was only grilled mackerel or grilled cutlassfish (hairtail). (Larger groups could have it braised, in a stew.) I went with the latter; it was a sweet, light, bony fish, accompanied by seaweed soup.

Fifteen thousand won is about $12. Jeju is good for the budget, with most basic meals costing around that much. Except for high-end seafood, more elaborate meals aren't much dearer. Even the heaping steamed seafood platter I had in Moseulpo was only $65 — for three half-liters of Cass beer and enough food to satisfy two or three people. And the price nearly always includes banchan, a few side dishes such as kimchi and pickled radish that are brought out at the beginning of the meal to satisfy the initial craving. As the banchan vary from place to place, I enjoy the anticipation.

Place-setting is done by the customer; there's a drawer that pulls out from the table with chopsticks, spoons, infinitesimal napkins (but at least you don't have to pay for them, like in China), and a bottle opener. Then at one end of the table are condiments and cups for water, which is brought out cold in a carafe. When you're finished, you go to the counter and you pay an amount that matches the sum of the numbers you saw on the menu, no less, no more. Fifteen thousand means fifteen thousand. It's the future, I hope.

I continued the walk, and almost immediately Grandmother Seolmundae grunted and croaked with such booming fidelity and staccato precision that her decree might have been audio-engineered. "You aren't aware your clothes are getting wet in the rain" is another maxim repeated in "The Island of Sea Women," but that didn't apply here. The torrent arrived with such swiftness that I barely made it into a bus shelter without getting soaked.

The rain started to let up, but I stayed put, and the downpour resumed. I waited in the bus shelter for a half-hour, waving the bus drivers by.

Finally the rain was light enough for me to proceed, not much more than a drizzle. I hadn't gone far when it turned moderate again, and I found the overhang of a cafe and dug out my poncho — the same cellophane-thin poncho that folds (or by now, scrunches) into a pouch smaller than a pack of cards and has served me since my New York–to-Boston walk. I was most certainly aware my clothes were getting wet. I cared more about my phone and passport than my body.

The rain let up again, but the damage was done. What would have been a wonderfully curb-protected walking and cycling lane was now a chute of water. I was headed up a hill, with two lanes of traffic to my left. Coming at me was river. Sometimes I escaped briefly into the nearer car lane, but the traffic was swift, and mostly I resigned myself to arriving in Seogwipo with soaked socks and shoes.

I reached the top and went down the other side. No improvement. It was perhaps 15 minutes before I finally reached a drain and the walking lane was clear again.

Jungmun was a lively town, with lots of restaurants, a post office in the middle, and good bus service. I took a quick look at the five-day market. It was in a covered structure that seemed oversized for the amount of activity, but it was due to close in not much more than an hour, so maybe most of the shopping had already been done. No doubt the weather didn't help.

The main benefit of the rain was that it jolted me into a faster pace. In the morning I'd been ambling along the Jeju Olle Trail, often stopping to admire this or that. Now I just wanted to get to Seogwipo.

I returned to my target of a kilometer every ten minutes. Helga — MapMyWalk has a new voice, replacing the one I called Katie — announced my completion of a kilometer whenever the time ended in an eight, and I considered that lucky. She had a bit of a singsong lilt in her voice, just slightly seductive, as though she might suck on a strawberry after calculating my split pace. Her brogue seemed slower than that of no-nonsense Katie, however, and I hoped she wouldn't distract me.

I plummeted into the lower altitudes of hilly Seogwipo a little after six. My hotel for two nights was the Lucete. Like the food, hotels on Jeju are good value. Most in my itinerary are in the $30 to $60 range. The Lucete is $24. At each hotel, I walk into a spotless room, where there are slippers, a reasonably comfortable bed, a small refrigerator, two bottles of water, and four tiny towels that wouldn't wrap a tangerine. There is soap and shampoo. There is also usually a toothbrush with tiny packets of toothpaste, like ketchup packets. There is good air conditioning and a television set where, as seems to be the unfortunate trend, everything is on demand and most of it needs to be paid for. I just want local broadcasting and one channel in English.

These are not luxurious places, but I have no complaints for the price.

The Seogwipo Traditional Five-Day Market operates on dates ending in a four or a nine. It was a 45-minute uphill walk from the main part of Seogwipo, and it was well worth the effort today.

I'd planned to return to the harbor for lunch, but there were too many things to try. I soon found myself staring at what looked like a tray of orange bugs with horizontal black stripes.

"Cocoons," the proprietor said.


He checked with someone. "Yes, moths. She is cooking them." He gestured toward the next stall, where the cocoons seemed to be stewing in a broth. "You can try one."

Even with the broth, it didn't taste like much. It was like a mushy grain of barley without flavor. When people with Covid-19 complained of the tastelessness of food, this is probably what they were experiencing. "Thank you," I said. Later research revealed the insects to be silkworm pupae.

Farther down the line, I tried noodles wrapped in fried seaweed and a slice of fried sweet potato. It's coming up on the harvest time for sweet potatoes: According to Ms. See's book, unmarried haenyeo sometimes left the country to earn money diving for nine months starting in October, often in Russia, coming back to harvest sweet potatoes in August.

Then I came to the fish section. Slender hairtail and sea eels a few feet long were drooping over the corners of their tables like fringed tablecloths. Fans with arms like children's mobiles were keeping dried fish dry. Mackerel were splayed open.

"Is it ready to eat like this?" I punched into Google Translate, and I showed it to the man, gesturing toward the mackerel.

"Yes," he indicated. "Five thousand won." And then, just before he handed me the fish, he made an over-under slapping gesture that suggested perhaps the fish needed to be cooked after all.

Well, we'll find out, I thought. As I walked away, I peeled a piece off its skin. It was light and delicate and of a perfectly slightly mushy texture, not salty like mackerel tends to be. I extracted more pieces as I made my way around the market to the restrooms — sashimi on the go — and then I rinsed my hands off.

I might have had enough food by that point, but then I found the stalls selling sundae gukbap: soup with rice, blood sausage, and pig's innards. I wasn't really in the mood, but I'd regret not partaking. How often do I get to have this?

They were chopping the sausage and adding it to a giant cauldron. They ladled me a big bowl, with intestine, liver, ear, spleen, and what I recognized as the Fallopian tubes as I'd had in Singapore. I expected it to be heavy and the flavor overbearing, but it was surprisingly mild.

The market's fruits and vegetables looked so tempting, but the vendors preferred to sell in bulk. What would I do with five kilos of mandarins? I did find one person to sell me a single giant peach, which left me with sticky fingers. Time to rinse off again.

The market had other things besides food: brooms, knives, furniture, basketball jerseys, button-up shirts, shoes, and trousers. One vendor had what looked like refreshing green juice. I indicated that I'd like to try it, but she pointed to my knees and shook her head.

She said something in Korean, and I turned my phone's microphone on for a translation. "It stains clothes" was the result.

Well, so what, if I'm drinking it? I camera-translated the sign above the bottles: "Native persimmon juice." What was wrong with that?

But she was adamant about not selling it to me. Instead, I bought more hanrabong juice, which was frozen and turned to liquid as I headed back into town. Blood sausage, pig's entrails, possibly raw mackerel, a peach, fried snacks. With all those things in my body, I expected my stomach to growl "What the hell?" and launch a violent counterattack with no warning. But none came.

The Seogwipo Maeil Olle Market was more central and more conducive to finding ready-made meals. I didn't need any more food, but I couldn't resist a set of four pieces of (cooked) black-pork sushi.

Around the harbor from the Lucete was the pathway to Cheonjiyeon Falls. I was most of the way to the cascades when I realized I had been there before. I had confused them with Cheonjeyeon Falls over by Jungmun, and as the latter are closer to the Yongmeori Coast (and similar-looking in the pictures, I must say), I figured it was the others I'd been to.

I remembered the pathway; I didn't remember all the picture-taking. I was hoping for a tranquil place to sit for a while (and prepare a lengthy message about nonkosher food at the market), but the crowd consisted almost entirely of people trying to get themselves into the right positions for the optimal shots. A large group would take over most of the viewing area and several photos would be snapped, and then of course the photographer would have to swap places with one of the group's members and another camera would be used. A pair of British teens took dozens of pictures, posing this way and that, and getting shots from all angles. I'm not sure either of them ever looked at the cascades. I'm sure hardly anyone studied them earnestly, contemplated their majesty, felt them with more than a glance.

Finally I was able to crouch down at the closest point to the falls, and I let the whoosh drown out the "Three, two, one" (of Koreans) or "One, two, three" (of most everyone else). I listened to the rhythm of the water and eyeballed individual droplets coming off the cliff. What would it be like to be one, plunging into the pool and then flying away as mist?

Around the corner from the Lucete was a bank of self-service laundry machines. I'd prepared for Jeju's heat so efficiently that I hadn't brought a sweater or long-sleeved overshirt as I usually do. That meant that I had exactly six days' worth of clothing with me: six shirts, six pairs of socks and underwear, one pair of shorts, and Clothing Arts Pick-Pocket-Proof Convertible Travel Pants. And a bathing suit.

Today was day six.

I wanted to wash everything except the bathing suit. If I could, I'd have enough clothing for the rest of the trip with just one more laundry session.

The laundry kiosk seemed to be an unfrequented place, on a corner with little foot traffic. I'd bought a packet of detergent from the vending machine last night (what if it was empty or didn't take my coins today?). I'd changed into my bathing suit. I emptied the contents of my laundry into one of the machines and added the soap. Just before I shut the door, I took off my shirt and threw it into the drum.

I hoped no one would come by in the next 31 minutes, the advertised length of the cycle. Korea felt like a conservative enough place that I didn't want to get caught shirtless, though the back of a laundry kiosk, clumsily hidden behind a table and a laundry basket, might be a justifiable place to be in such a state. As far as I can tell, no one noticed me.

As usual, I skipped the dryer and brought my clothes back to my room, laying them out to dry overnight. Anything I put on that was damp wouldn't be after long. I pulled out the contents of my bathing suit's pockets. They included a pouch of detergent. How had it gotten there? I'd used one, I was sure of it. And I'd bought only one, I was sure of that too. Had there been one left on the table in the laundry kiosk, and I'd taken it absentmindedly? Oh, well, I'd need some in China in another six days.

I was on a schedule. It was now 7:30 and I wanted to dine at a restaurant specializing in sea eel. I'd gone last night at about 8:30 only to be told that last orders had been taken at eight. (I had spicy seafood noodle soup at a pub-like place instead.)

I showered, put on clean clothes, and hied myself to the eel restaurant only to find a sign apologizing and saying they'd be closed for three days. But I found the eels anyway, in vegetable-soup form at a place a short distance up from the other side of the harbor. (The harbor itself, despite having dozens of restaurants shown on the map and posted across the way by the falls entrance, seems to be a sleepy place. Most of the places have been closed, the others with few or no patrons at what even by Korean standards isn't a late dinnertime. Perhaps that's a post-Covid condition, and hopefully it will return to what I assume was a considerable bustle.)

The soup — priced as a small portion on the menu — was more than enough for dinner, but because I can't help myself, I had a plate of sashimi as well before repairing to a bar overlooking the harbor. Then I went to my room and watched an episode of "Portlandia," because it was in English and it was free.

Go on to Jeju day 5