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Trip 37 — Jeju and Xiamen Walks

Jeju day 6: Wimi to Seongsan
Monday, 31 July 2023

Today: 47403 steps/37.99 km/23.61 mi/6h 55m
Total: 201220 steps/157.59 km/97.92 mi/29h 44m

Today I finally slid into my preferred schedule. I left the hotel a few seconds before eight, kept a brisk pace, and completed most of the walk by lunchtime.

It wasn't hot when I started. The sky was partly cloudy, and there was a light breeze. The main road through Wimi connected with the larger town of Namwon, which had a pretty, small harbor with a fence-post pedestrian bridge. The road ran roughly parallel to the busier, wide ring road before merging into it.

At 9:28, the sun said screw you, and it was suddenly time to dig out the sunscreen. I was grateful for the 88 minutes of lovely walking weather. Maybe those eights were lucky, too. At least the wind was still blowing intermittently; it wasn't nearly as bad as the brutal heat on the way to Hallim.

I kept on steadily. The landscape was somewhere between suburban and rural: houses, gas stations, restaurants, banks, groves of citrus trees, periods of nothing. The road, Iljudong-ro, had two traffic lanes in each direction, with speed limits alternating between 70 and 50 kilometers per hour.

Not quite a highway, but the closest thing to one on this part of Jeju. And with the exception of a few turning lanes, there was a barrier-protected lane for bikers and walkers in each direction for its entirety. If they can do it, why not the same on U.S. Route 9 in Westchester County? Route 22 in New Jersey? U.S. 20 in Massachusetts? They all have similar activity and are belligerently devoid of safe walking space for long stretches.

The first place I tried for lunch wouldn't serve single diners; it specialized in seafood soups and there was no efficient way to make a single portion. But a little farther along I found a sashimi bowl with noodles, a combination of shellfish and flatfish. More refreshing than soup on a hot day anyway.

I had a little over two hours left. I might have gone along the coast for a bit, but the coastal roads often had me walking in the roadway. Iljudong-ro was easier, with its wide sidewalk. The only times I had to detour into traffic for a moment were brief construction zones: repairing the sidewalk or installing lane-separating bollards. Heroic work.

Just before I turned toward Seongsan, a car stopped behind me: a couple perhaps in their 60s. The woman in the passenger seat addressed me. "Hello, hello!"

I turned around.

"Cap, cap!" she said, waving a hat.

"Oh, thank you," I said. I meant to articulate the sense of "I prefer not to put things on my head because I find them distracting, they cut off my peripheral vision, and I'm used to the heat," but all that came out was "I don't like to wear it." I hoped she understood my appreciation of her offer, as I tried to show with a nod.

I kept going, and so did they. Half a minute later, the car stopped again, this time right beside me.

"Cap, cap!" she repeated, with a mother's devotion and urgency.

I couldn't say no, not to that caring voice. I took the hat from her and she smiled as though I'd made her happier than she'd been all summer. "Thank you very much."

It had dark-green brim and orange mesh on top. It looked like something a walker might wear. I put it on and she practically squealed.

"Very good!" I said. "Thank you."

We nodded our goodbyes.

On the way into Seongsan, I passed the ruins of an elementary school from the late 1940s. The Northwest Youth League, a right-wing, anti-communist organization even more violent than the police force, rounded up people in the school's sweet-potato storage area and committed murder and acts of torture for three months in 1948–49. The site is now a pile of overgrown stones, but I'm glad the marker is there.

After checking into a hotel room with a splendid view of the wall of the next building a meter away, I walked around Seongsan town. I'd been here, all too briefly, in 2016. Seongsan is most famous for its tuff cone, a relatively recent one, the result of volcanic activity five to seven millennia ago. It's the easternmost point on Jeju. I'd taken the bus out from Jeju City, but I'd misjudged the length of the ride, and by the time I arrived it was time to head back to catch the ferry to the mainland. All I'd had was a quick look from the base.

Did I really feel like climbing a kilometer's worth of steps this afternoon, after walking for almost seven hours? Well, when else?

It took around 20 minutes to reach the top, and then I sat for an hour with everyone else and waited for the sunset. (And what a lovely place to compose today's missive!) The interior of the cone, visible only to those who made the effort, was a luscious green. As dusk set in, an almost-full moon appeared right above it, and the lights of sightseeing ships shone like stars in a half-ring around the base.

Then the sunset came, over the land to the west. Dozens of oreum — Jeju's volcanic cones — rose up like pyramids across the island, with Hallasan towering over them all. The sky became a sandy orange, evoking the Sahara, gradually becoming infused with purple as we made our descent.

After doing laundry in the evening in Seogwipo, not only was I finally on my preferred walking schedule; I was on the right clothing schedule as well. A clothing day on the Abecedarian Walks lasts from just before dinner through the following afternoon. Arriving in a new town tired and sweaty, I finish up the afternoon's business and perhaps have a nap, as I did today. Then, before going out to dinner, I shower and put on clean clothes. I take off everything but the underwear before going to sleep, and then I put it on again in the morning — it's still clean enough for a walk. Then it lasts me until I arrive at the next hotel. After descending Seongsan Ilchulbong with a sweaty T-shirt, it was 8:30 and I was ready for a shower.

Seongsan is a smaller town than Seogwipo, but with the volcano peak nearby, it's more of a tourist area and, consequently, I didn't worry about finding dinner at nine. A few minutes' walk from the Breeze Bay Hotel, next to the bay, was a seafood place offering fish I'd never heard of, or perhaps rendered in excessively scientific translation on the English menu: convict grouper, spotted knifejaw, sawedged perch, rudder fish.

Once again, dining for one subjected me to a limited subset of the offerings (most fish were served by the kilogram), but a grilled red tilefish and sliced raw abalone satisfied me. Amidst the Korean songs playing in this casual, family-geared eatery was one in English with the chorus "I'm still fucking Christian." Did they know what they were playing?

I went to a bar a couple of blocks away, because it's more fun to write these updates in that setting than in a room with no view. I didn't need more food, but everyone was eating, so I had some fried dumplings and soju. The Hallasan soju comes in alcohol volumes of 17 and 21 percent, in a 360-milliliter bottle, the equivalent of about half a bottle of wine. I usually go for the former.

I needn't have worried about having enough. "If you want more soju, you can take it yourself," the waiter said, indicating the refrigerator.

Go on to Jeju day 7