I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but one moment we had no vacation plans and the next we were applying for visas to South Korea during mum’s Spring Break. Needless to say our itinerary revolved primarily around chasing the cherry blossoms around the country, from Jeju to Jinhae up to Seoul, for what would be our first real Spring.
We were scheduled to take the midnight flight to Seoul with a four hour window in which to catch the 8.30pm flight to Jeju which meant that we should have slept earlier during the day to avoid jet-lag but us, being us, couldn’t sleep and ended up falling asleep shortly after boarding – in fact so soon after boarding that we didn’t realize the flight took off about half an hour late. Squeeze aforesaid window to 3.5 hours. Already the plan that took weeks to calibrate was beginning to look too tight. Strike 1.
We were optimistic though that we’d be able to make it on time. Immigration after all, at Incheon Airport, couldn’t possibly take that long. It wasn’t like there were millions of Chinese tourists like in Japan… right? Wrong! Strike 2. It took over an hour at immigration just to reach the immigration desk (Shrunken window – 2 hours) where Strike 3 took place in the form of our Pakistani passport. Now we’ve never had a problem travelling before, but it would appear that the rules in South Korea are a little unfavourable towards Pakistanis, in that Pakistanis coming from Pakistan are subjected to more rigorous questioning. That shouldn’t have mattered to us of course, since we’ve never lived in Pakistan but the ladies at the immigration counter were confused as to what to do with Pakistanis who don’t live in Pakistan and decided to play it safe and send us all for questioning too. -_- The staff was wonderfully polite which was great because my nerves were wrecked as I was beginning to come to the conclusion that we were not going to catch our next flight. They simply asked us about our itinerary which we had handy, cross-checked our hotel bookings, and gave us the sound advice that we would have to make a run for it if we were going to make it to Jeju that night. Stamp, stamp, stamp and half an hour later we were scrambling towards baggage claim, the money exchange and then down to B1F, running to catch the AREX. (Vanishing window – little over 1 hour).
Of course we needed to get a SIM card because I was supposed to contact our tour guide in Jeju to let him know that we had arrived and what time to pick us up the next morning – this meant further delays in the form of an excellent gentlemen who meticulously set up our EG SIM Cards while I ran to get the AREX tickets (Is it still a window if there’s only an hour left? When does check-in close again?) With promises of our SIM cards being activated at the latest by 9am the next morning we piled on to the AREX and began counting the stops down to Gimpo Airport.
The ride was comfortable and uneventful with the exception of the rather drunk 아저씨 who boarded at a later stop and decided to amuse himself by removing the stickers labelling each stop on the map, much to the chagrin of the many 아줌마s on board whose stares did little to dissuade him. I managed to get a hold of our guide on the train and let him know that our schedule had suddenly been thrown wide open to the possibility of change. We then ran through Plan Bs, Cs and Ds which involved all manner of rescheduling and re-bookings while a Korean Air air hostess seated opposite us continued to chat away on her phone in what may be the most silent conversation I have (n)ever heard. By the time we reached Gimpo our so-called window was narrowing quickly and as luck would have it, the AREX does not stop , as we had prayed, exactly at the departures gate. In fact, there is a lot of walking (in our case mad dashing) to be done before reaching domestic departures. For someone who’s never, and I mean never, ever, ever, been late for anything, this was turning into an absolutely unanticipated nightmare.
I ran on ahead to see if we had a sliver of a chance of boarding, while my brother and my mum hurried on behind. By the time we reached, there was half an hour left to take-off but surprisingly, thank God, we were still able to check-in (hold the applause). Of course, baggage has to be screened again, and this time we discovered that we were now required to move our battery pack to our carry-on (Please note that as of today all battery backs are required to be kept in carry-ons.) This meant tearing the film that we had our suitcases wrapped in (I knew that had been a bad idea) before we could unlock, remove said pack, relock and reseal. We reached the gate for boarding at 8.15pm. Boarding started at 8.20pm and by 8.30pm we were in the air, hopefully with all our luggage.
Within an hour we had landed at Jeju Airport and after collecting our baggage decided to see if we could find something to eat. Unfortunately, from the 7/11 to the coffee shop, everything was closed. Getting a taxi at the airport was a breeze, since the taxis are sorted based on their destinations- Jeju or Seogwipo. We were headed to Seogwipo to the Ocean Palace Hotel– an hour long drive in the dark. We were surprised by how few streetlights and how many cats eyes there are in Jeju especially on highways. On the way we passed a place called 사라마을 which made me feel right at home ^^
The check-in didn’t take long and before long we were in our surprisingly spacious…apartment? Calling it a hotel room would be doing it an injustice since it was literally an apartment. The hotel has a 7/11 in the lobby and plenty of coffee shops all around but by the time we reached only the 7/11 was open which meant dinner was going to be all the things we had wisely gotten from the Dubai Duty Free after receiving due warning that there are only three halal restaurants in Jeju (only one of which is in Seogwipo).
…And so the adventure had begun even before the adventure had begun.
Stay tuned for Day 2!