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Trip 37 — Jeju and Xiamen Walks

Jeju day 5: Seogwipo to Wimi
Sunday, 30 July 2023

Today: 21982 steps/16.23 km/10.08 mi/3h 29m
Total: 153817 steps/119.60 km/74.32 mi/22h 49m

Naver calculated the distance from Jeju's second-largest city to the little port of Wimi to be ten kilometers along a reasonably coastal string of roads. But with such a short distance to cover, I instead followed routes 6 and 5 of the Jeju Olle Trail. Route 6 ran from upper Seogwipo, not far from the Lucete hotel, to the bridge upstream of the estuary at Soesokkak. From there, route 5 took over for the final few kilometers.

I got a late start: The red beers at Jerry's Pub were strong, I was cheering on Fred Armisen as he took back MTV, and I wanted to finish the mackerel from the five-day market. I took it out of the refrigerator and instantly knew it as a familiar flavor. It was lightly smoked, like I get from the Russian markets in New York. Why had I not recognized it yesterday? Maybe I was thrown off by its proximity to all the dried and raw fish.

As I was about to step out of the hotel lobby a little after eleven, today's downpour started. Better while I'm still inside than when I'm on a mountain trail, I figured, and I congratulated myself on my excellent decision to have an extra beer last night. Fortunately this rainfall lasted only a few minutes.

I picked up route 6 a couple of blocks from the Lucete and walked up the Chilsimni Food Street, where I had last night's dinner. This brought me to Jeongbang Falls, a place to revere nature and to remember the 256 people brought nearby to be killed during the April 3 uprising.

These falls were not as crowded as those back at Cheonjiyeon. They were reached by a long stairway down to a jumble of rocks that needed to be traversed to get to the base of the falls. I picked my way across with the others and gave thanks that this terrain made setting up a tripod almost impossible.

A lovely boardwalk with flowers connected Jeongbang and Sojeongbang falls, the latter of which were smaller and more intimate but no less beautiful. The water seemed to come down in large crystal droplets, like falling stars. I was up close and the noise was ferocious; yet this was serenity.

As usual, the trail was exceptionally well-maintained. It led me up through forest and became narrow, with a steep drop on one side but with safety ropes. It took me to a clearing beside a cafe and then down by a rocky shore — Jeju's volcanic past means most beaches are littered with porous rock.

Two hikers passed me in the other direction. "Hi," one of them said, with an articulation that suggested she had just been through something traumatic.

I soon saw what she meant. The normally easy trail crossed a stream. There were protruding rocks for stepping across, but they were bound to be slippery, they weren't flat, and there was nothing to hold onto.

What happened, Jeju Olle Trail? You're normally so user-friendly. I was surprised that there was no rope here, where it was most needed. I went one way and started to stumble, getting my shoe and sock wet. Better try the other way. I trusted my balance and put my faith in the series of rocks, and I made it across these ten meters of path. This may have been the most treacherous part of the entire 437-kilometer trail network. Maybe the water was higher than usual after Friday's long downpour.

Then it was easy again, usually through shady forest, sometimes emerging along a rocky shore. There were plenty of places where I might have had lunch, but I wasn't hungry or in the mood to stop.

Near such a stretch of eateries, I almost missed the arrow indicating a left turn on the trail. For better or for worse, I followed it. The path took me up a few hundred winding steps, to the top of the Jejigi Oreum — an oreum is the island's dialect for a volcanic cone. There are 368 of them on the island.

I snaked my way down Jejigi's other side and rejoined the coastal road about 200 meters from where I'd left it. I'd forgotten that the point of the Jeju Olle Trail isn't to get me around the coast; it's to take hikers to beautiful places. And that's a wonderful thing. But I might have saved myself 20 minutes and a lot of altitude.

The trail resumed its path along the coast. At Soesokkak Estuary, the turquoise fresh water from the Hyodoncheon Stream meets the sea, and people can rent boats to paddle. This is also where route 6 of the Jeju Olle Trail, after following a beautiful boardwalk along the stream, finishes (or begins) and meets the end of route 5.

At the next bridge, I stopped for a moment. According to Naver, I was about to cross another stream, one with a small island in the middle. If this was correct, I would violate my arbitrary Abecedarian Walks rule about not stepping onto another island. But I realized that it wasn't so much a stream, at least not anymore; it was exposed riverbed and as such was part of the island's land as far as I was concerned.

The Co-op City Hotel Harborview overlooks the little Wimi port and its pretty pedestrian bridge. Now I was ready for a meal. I managed to land in Wimi on the one day that the appealingly named Wimi Port Raw Fish Center was closed, but I found a bowl of flatfish sashimi nearby. Another customer helped me order, and as she was leaving, she asked where I was from. She was with a boy about ten years old.

"The USA," I said. "New York."

"How did you come here?"

"I walked. I'm walking around all of Jeju. Tomorrow I'll go to Seongsan."

"Seongsan!" she said. "Tomorrow we'll go to Hallasan."

The mountain in the middle of Jeju. "Way up!" I said, making a corresponding walking motion with my fingers.

"Way up!" she answered.

It was then that I realized she must be a visitor to the island as well. "Where are you from?" I asked. But perhaps I should have phrased it more clearly.

"Co-op City Harborview," she said.

"I'm staying there too! I'll be at the pool later." She insisted on giving me her phone number, and I gave her a business card.

The rooftop pool had a lovely port view, much like my room's but six floors higher. The pool was busy with children and wasn't deep enough for any real swimming, but it was a beautiful area to spend a couple of hours around sunset. After dark, the pedestrian bridge was lit up with colorful LEDs.

I didn't need a full dinner, but I had some tteokbokki — rice-cake noodles, sort of like filled-in ziti, in a spicy sauce with fish-cake strips and hard-boiled egg — at a pub about ten minutes down the road. By the time I got back to the hotel, the lights had been shut off on the pedestrian bridge. Wimi is a quiet place, and I can only hope it's almost as quiet when I return to the road in the morning.

Go on to Jeju day 6