Day 3 – also known as The Day I Nearly Inadvertently Killed My Mum or more positively as The Day We Conquered Seongsan Ilchulbong.
We woke up at an unearthly early hour for a holiday to get ready for the hour long drive to Seongsan Ilchulbong where we were going to see the sunrise at 6.30am. Mr. Song arrived right on schedule and we ended up falling asleep in the car. That’s not to say we missed the entire night drive… I was awake enough to enjoy the sight of the silver moon in a pitch black sky untainted by light pollution and long enough to appreciate the comfort of a car heater on a freezing morning. We reached at about quarter to 6 and since it takes about half an hour to climb up, we decided to head out since we didn’t want to rush. We were bundled up pretty warmly but nothing could have prepared us for just how cold that morning was going to turn out to be.
We followed the many sunrise-hopefuls towards the entrance where we were expecting to pay for the tickets, but as luck would have it, there was no one manning the darkened booth and soon enough they started to let us all in free of charge to make sure we wouldn’t miss the sunrise. And so we climbed… and climbed up the steep, slippery, uneven, rocky pavement. The first part of the climb proved too much for my mum, so we decided to stop and watch from a lower area while my brother went on ahead. But after a while, my mum decided to venture up a bit higher… how much higher, we weren’t sure, so we just started to climb again and luckily we realized the rest of the way was in the form of wooden steps instead of rocks which made the climb much easier. I say ‘easier’ with much caution, because the climb is rather steep and for people who don’t get much exercise, it may prove to be a whole lot of panting and resting and looking up to see when the seemingly endless stairs will relent. There was a lot of encouragement in the form of a lot of senior citizens and even a lady with her newborn on her back who were also making their way up, which meant if they could do it, so could we! There were also lots and lots of couples making their way up to watch the sunrise together. Not only was the climb physically exerting, but the cold- the cold was biting, seeping through our gloves and freezing our fingers so much so that I ventured to take just a single photo on the way up, as the sky began to lighten into a pale blue. The rest of the way was spent wiping our noses, silently joining the chorus of 아이구s by middle aged 아줌마s and praying the next 거의 다 왔어 didn’t refer to the landing before the next staircase.
We made it eventually, and just in time to catch a seat for the sun, which was beginning to silently peek out from its blanket of morning mist and rise over the ocean’s blue.
It was a splendid sight and the half an hour trudge up was beginning to be worth those 3 minutes of a glorious sunrise.
It was here though that we truly came face to face with the 셀카봉phenomenon. It was a pity, to be honest, to see people more focused on themselves than enjoying the majestic sunrise, or even enjoying the company of the people they came up with. For most couples, it was just another photo op, so I can honestly say that most of them didn’t even see the sunrise, their backs having being turned so they could get a good shot of it in their selfies. And then it became about having the perfect shot, so off went the jackets in the freezing cold, because jackets just don’t look so fab. At one point, we saw one half of a couple so obsessed with taking her own picture that her boyfriend eventually had to remind her of his presence and convince her to stop so they could go back down.
We started the descent hoping it wouldn’t be as tiring as the climb up and it wasn’t. The steps on the way down are much better than the ones on the way up, which made it much easier to climb down and there were also lots of places where you could stop to admire the view, of both the city, the sea and Jeju’s famous horses (which you can ride too).
The first thing we noticed when we finally made it all the way down, was a large sign on the ticket booth saying that people with blood pressure, heart disease etc were not allowed to climb up… Had this sign been lit when we arrived, we would never have made the climb up with my mum. We headed straight for Caffebene for a cup of hot tea (I say cup, but tea sizes in Korea are as big as coffee which we found quite odd) and a seat around the heater. We were hoping to have breakfast at a Korean restaurant, but it turned out they were closed for breakfast, so we headed to Paris Baguette instead. You would think that most bread products would be halal, but they weren’t which meant a lot of label reading and cross-checking with the lady there to make sure we were picking the right things. As we headed upstairs to eat, I overheard the teller telling one of the other staff that it was about time they had more vegetarian options to cater to the large vegetarian and Muslim crowd of tourists, even it meant just serving rice cakes 떡.
After having a yummy breakfast of 마늘빵 and tea, we headed out to our next destination just as the crowds of Chinese tourist buses were pulling in. On the way to Seopjikoji, we passed a beautiful field of 유채꽃and so we stopped there first to enjoy the sea of yellow and then Mr. Song tempted us to cross the highway to enjoy another pristine beach with a view of the peak we had just climbed. The beach was lovely- cold clear water, black sands complete with hoofprints of horses galloping across the sands.
At Seopjikoji, we were in for another long walk, and climb around the coast. The good news was that the weather was not as cold as before, with the sun making its way up the sky and the climb was not so steep either which made for a leisurely walk with beautiful views of the black rocks framing the dark blue sea on one side and grassy plains sprinkled with yellow flowers on the other.
We stopped at the famous Glass House which houses a Zippo lighter museum on the ground floor and a restaurant on the first. We ventured into the museum, but on finding that it was completely devoid of staff or visitors, decide to make an early exit and enjoy the surrounding views instead.
My brother headed on to climb upto the lighthouse while we waited below because mum couldn’t stand the thought of more stairs. (My friend was right… vacations with lots of climbing involved are less of a vacation and more of 훈련). As we made our way back down, past hordes of oncoming tourists (our timing for the whole trip was really spot-on as we were managing to avoid all the major rush), we realized it was rather early to have lunch as we had initially planned, so decided to skip an early lunch and instead head on down to the Everyday Market near our hotel.
Being at the market reminded me of being in Japan, except there were more fish here ^^ From fruits and vegetables (we couldn’t resist getting some more 한라봉 oranges), to dried and live fish and all manner of unidentifiable seafood, the market had it all. The most rush, we found, was in front of a 떡집 but we didn’t stop to try any. Instead we wandered around, stopping occasionally in interesting stores like the one with a picture of 대한, 민국 and 만새 wearing traditional 감옷.
We took our things from the car, sent off Mr. Song who had had a long day, and decided to walk back to the hotel through the food street. Now Jeju is famous for all sorts of food, notably black pig, most of which is not halal. Nevertheless, we wandered through the food street, past murals painted on walls and past an 어린이집 where the cutest kid started waving to us much to the surprise of his teacher who was busy on her phone.
We stopped at the supermarket and managed to get some bread sticks (explain to me why loaves of bread are so uncommon in Korea) which we ended up having with our duty free cheese, oranges and random assortment of other food for lunch and dinner. We still had not managed to eat our apples which we had bought the day before since, strangely enough, there were no knives to be found anywhere – not in the grocery stores, nor at the hotel. We called it a day early and even messaged Mr. Song to let him know that we had decided to scratch the short climb on Mt. Halla the next morning from our itinerary and instead rest our weary legs which had, by the estimation of our S health trackers, made it to our personal best for two consecutive days.