I’ve been waiting for what seemed like an eternity for the cherry blossoms to start blooming here in Korea. While the majority have not yet bloomed, but I did find a small grove of the white variety. They are a breath of fresh air after a very long winter!
I went on a photo walk with a local group of photographers to Yongmasan Mountain last weekend. Despite keeping our fingers crossed on the way up this steep climb, the Korean haze never did clear. I made the most of view by highlighting in these photographs what a typical day under Korean (actually, probably blowing over from China) haze looks like. Even through smog one can witness the glory of God and the amazing talent He bestowed on man to create metropolises as great as Seoul! What a trip!
Our latest family adventure took us to Gosu Cave. This is one of Korea’s most famous caverns, located in Danyang (about 2.5 hours from Camp Humphreys). This cave is open year-round and has amazing limestone formations and clear underground pools! I’ve been to a number of caves, but this one just might be my favorite because it has a more “authentic” feel. By this I mean that unlike the overly protected and cautious caves in America, in Gosu you walk along steep corridors, can touch and feel everything and must crouch and squeeze to get through many of the twists and turns. This also made it super difficult to get quality photos because there was almost no areas for a tripod. For this reason, you’ll notice grain and a bit of blur in a few of the photos.
Included in these pictures is the adorable city of Danyang and its picturesque bridge. On the way home we drove through a bit of Woraksan National Park. What a gorgeous area! There are multiple camping grounds, creeks and rock formations that go for miles! We decided to be a bit adventurous and took our car on a dirt trail there (not recommended, by the way). Happy adventuring!
I’ve taken an ice-cold shower once before. I was camping then too. I was just a kid, but I remember the moment well. Who can forget what it feels like to shower in mountain spring water so cold that it knocks the breath out of you? Never once did my whole body stand underneath the stream of water that came from the spicket in that wall. Instead, the trick was to wash one appendage at a time. First an arm, then a leg, and so on. To wash your hair simply turn your head to the side so the water runs straight from your head onto the floor, never once touching your lower back. That’s the worst part about a cold shower. Washing your back…well, that and maybe your armpits.
Ava took it like a champ. She was in and out of there with a thorough cleaning. Sarai, her 7-year-old twin, not so much. Sarai had a bit of a breakdown in that shower room, even more so when we discovered that one of her earrings was missing. The only thing that kept her mind on this planet was the promise of a triple s’more. And then we found her earring.
Wide awake like I’d had three double espressos at around 8pm at night, we jumped back into the truck and headed out to round-up some dinner. I’d packed enough food to last almost the entire trip. In fact, we were only shy two dinner meals. Packing our food saved us a ton of money. We drove to the closest CU (like a 7-Eleven) I could find on my Google map, hoping for at least a cup of ramen, a Korean staple food. Next to the CU was a “chicken snack” restaurant, Bill’s favorite. Basically, it fast food fried chicken in whatever kind of sauce your heart desires. He likes his blue flame hot. The man was happy.
While we waited for our chicken we began to notice the walls and the floors moving. With both the front door and the back door wide open, this place was literally crawling with insects of all kinds. No matter, when in Korea do like the Koreans. The bugs didn’t seem to bother the other customers in the place and the workers went about their business as though these bugs were just a part of everyday life, so we did the same, except that our feet were no longer on the floor but rather tucked underneath our bottoms.
To say that the landscape surrounding our campsite at the base of Mount Hallasan was beautiful would be an understatement of the grandest kind. Then again, I am partial to a mountain setting. Soft morning light filtered through the tree canopy and highlighted the mossy rocks of the dry creek bed that was located behind our tent. The birds chirped and the crickets sang. It was a symphony that any nature lover would adore. Our short, but sweet (excluding the pouring rain that seeped into our tent and onto our bedding that night) mountain visit did wonders for my soul. As we packed up the ice chest and the tent and everything else, I watched our puppy sleep through it all, exhausted from five days of near endless activity that her young life had not previously experienced. She looked so comfortable to me, even if she was laying on a bed of rocks and wet dirt.We spent our last night back at the bungalow we’d stayed at when we first arrived in Jeju. Our ferry was scheduled to leave the port very early in the morning (click here for ferry schedules) and we wanted to be as close to the port and as packed as possible so as to avoid any issues we might have on the return trip.By 7:50am the following morning we were standing in line waiting our turn to present our tickets and board the Hanil Express, Wando bound. Our rental truck was already on board and secured, as was Roxy, who was probably sound asleep in her crate. It had been an amazing vacation.
But just as the journey to Jeju was complicated and stressful, so too turned out to be the journey home. The man collecting tickets took one look at the Hangul across the top and stated, “ticket exchangie .” We may not speak each others language, but those two words said enough. They meant that something was wrong with our tickets which meant that we had to leave this line for a completely different one where tickets could be exchangied. I looked at the clock. In 30 minutes the ferry would pull away from the dock, separating us from our beloved dog who had no clue what was about to happen.
I panicked and tried cutting in line. My good Christian sense flew out the terminal window. All of my American intuition told me that I would not make this ferry in time because people don’t work fast enough to make everyday life happen, let alone miracles. Bill turned in any direction opposite of me so as to hide his embarrassment of my actions.
Faster than I thought possible, the ticket agents worked their way through all the customers in front of us in a matter of minutes. By 8:00am we were in the process of getting our tickets exchangied. I produced our passports to the smiling agent who began thumbing through them at an efficient pace, that is, until she reached Bill’s. Being an American soldier sent to Korea on orders to protect the country from communist overlords, his passport was not stamped at customs when we arrived in Korea. Instead, they simply check his military ID and wave him on through the metal detectors. Now, here at the ferry terminal of hell, as it had so quickly morphed into, for me at least, this was a problem. “No stampie,” she said with a quizzical look on her face.
Bill tried typing the English explanation into his cell phone translator while sliding his military ID onto the counter top. As his phone translated she called someone from hers. I watched the clock tick and the kids fed into my panic, asking questions like, “Are we going to make it on time Momma?” And, “What’s going to happen to Roxy?!” The ticket agent continued her conversation with whoever was on the other end of the phone and Bill tried showing her the now translated version of his explanation for not having a stamp on his passport. “I’m an American soldier,” it read. “We do not get stamped.”
“Try writing it a different way” I begged him. “Try again!” But before he could erase the first translation the ticket agent had gotten the response she needed from The Person Who Ruled Terminal Hell and hung up the phone.
“OK,” she said, and the smile returned to her face. The ticket machine spat out five new tickets that looked exactly like our old tickets and we ran back into the line that was ferry bound. I held my breath as Bill handed our new tickets to the ticket collector man. After checking them once again he waved us by and I began to let out my breath, but promptly sucked it back in when we were stopped by another lady in the “foreigner” lane, who wanted to review our passports.
We made it on that ferry with 15 minutes to spare. When my feet stepped onto the plank that connected the ferry to the dock I looked around, half expecting to see someone running to us, needing to stop us from getting on that boat for some reason I wouldn’t be able to understand. But no one was running, and no one was looking at the foreigners. It’s all going to be alright, I thought, and I could feel my stress begin to melt away.
Despite all the details written into this post, know that I’ve left so many out. Reading about someone’s journeys is one thing, but living them yourself is quite another. I’m grateful for my camera and the modern technology of blogs so that I can share my experiences with the world, but I am even more grateful for the power of the mind, a gift that God has given to me, where I can hold and treasure the smaller, sometimes more important memories that my family creates. Bill, the kids and I held God’s hand throughout this trip to Jeju. He watched over the Army training up north, He soothed the nerves of the Korean leaders, He provided a safe and comfortable vehicle for us to travel in, He opened up a passageway for us to the beautiful island paradise He created so many years ago, He provided shelter for us every night and He threw in a few twists to make this story a little more interesting. I thank God for allowing me to discern His voice in prayer and for allowing me to see His wondrous creation!
Ears that hear and eyes that see- the Lord has made them both. Proverbs 20:12
Here are a few more photos from the last portion of our trip. Also, I’ve included a map that shows where each location mentioned above can be found should you be interested in seeing any of these sights yourself. Happy travels!
The next morning I woke early again to watch the sunrise from the beach. Little did I know that the very spot where we had camped was the exact same spot that tourist buses take their guests to watch the sun rise from behind Sunrise Peak. As I set up my tripod, and Roxy sniffed around the black lava beach sand (amazing by the way), I realized that hordes of photography tourists where piling in all around me. On one hand I was thrilled that we had inadvertently camped on the most perfect of all spots to be for a photographic opportunity, but on the other I hoped that everyone would be quiet enough to keep my family from waking up. Roxy wasn’t sure what all the black blobs emerging from the distance were and, being that she’s only five months old, did what any inexperienced dog would do. Sat next to me and softly growled. The growl was soft enough not to alarm, but loud enough to be heard, and to my delight, kept an invisible bubble all around me so that I was then free to photograph as I wished. Good dog.
In this picture you can see our tent which was just behind me while I took pictures of the rising sun. After breakfast we packed up our campsite again and headed out for some more sightseeing. Our first stop was the estuary at Hahyo Soesokkak Beach. The water here reminds of me of the book The Blue Lagoon. Yes, those are glass bottom kayaks folks!
From there we headed just down the road to Jeongbang Falls (daily 8-5:30pm), known as the only waterfall in Asia that plunges directly into the sea. It was midday when we arrived, so the lighting was less than ideal for photography, but hey, you win some and you lose some. The midday sun did make the falls all the more enjoyable for the family, however. We all took our shoes off and played in the cool water and mist at the base of the falls.
Photographing a waterfall presented a new challenge for me. I wanted to get close to the falls and use my wide-angle lens so that as much of the area could be seen. But this meant that I had to be quite close the falling water which was spewing spray and mist at who knows how many gallons per second. My camera was protected by a rain sleeve, but covering the lens when you want to snap a picture is impossible. My plan was to preset the settings as best as I could before getting in front of the waterfall. I would then position myself for the shot, remove the lens cap, and fire the shutter as fast as I could before my lens became completely covered in water.
My first try out was a failure. I was soaked to the bone in a matter of seconds and my shutter wouldn’t fire. I went back to the bank of the falls to troubleshoot and quickly realized that I’d left my shutter on timer from the family shot I took a little farther away from the falls. Settings fixed and lens wiped dry, I headed back out to the pool underneath the falls. This time I got the shot, although it isn’t as magical as I’d like. Still, it was a sight to behold and I’ll treasure it in my memories for the rest of my life.
Looking in the other direction from the falls were amazing boulders that seem to have fallen into their place thousands of years ago as well as a small island. Islands like these dot the circumference of Jeju’s coastline.
After cooling off in the water of the falls we said goodbye to the beach and the beautiful sea water of Jeju for the mountain region of the island. Along our way inland we came across a horse farm where pregnant ponies roamed the lush hillside in a dreamy and serene sort of way. Looking across the fields of thick grass and Korean pines as the fading sun shone on the feeding animals I felt as though I had been transported into one of my girl’s fairy tale books. As a horse lover, the place felt magical to me. Really, that’s the best way I can describe it.
We continued around the base of the Mount Hallasan in search of the Gwaneumsa Trail head. This trail is the only one I could find in my research with an official camping area, complete with pay-as-you-go showers.
Also, this trail is one of two that actually terminate at the summit of Mount Hallasan. I didn’t figure the whole family would make it to the top, but hey, a girl can dream can’t she? (For all the information you need on which trail to hike and why please visit this site.) Alas, upon arrival we were quickly turned down at the mere mention of a dog. I turned on my helpless foreigner look which brought nothing more than brisk wave with a hand that held no remorse for sending a family on their way to who knows where. If you plan to bring your dog on your trip to Jeju, know that you will have to hike unofficial trails because you will not be able to schmooze your way past these forest rangers.
I remained undaunted. We turned around and headed farther down the road until we spotted a turn off that looked somewhat remote (so no one would tell us to leave). Our makeshift campsite wasn’t five minutes down the road from where all the other campers had paid to stay. Sure, Bill had to clear the land a bit to get our tent to lay flat but hey, our dog was with us and it was all an adventure anyway! By now Bill and I were expert tent setter-uppers. I was glad for that because all I could think about were the showers five minutes down the road. Even my son, who I have to remind to take a shower, was now asking when he could clean up. It had been four days since any of us had experienced clean running water down our backs and over our faces. My girl’s hair was beginning to look like Bob Marley’s. We set that tent up in record time and piled back into the truck, anticipating clean skin.
The showers were out-of-order.
“Broken,” the forest ranger motioned to us in a giant X with his forearms. All five of us just stood there and stared at him. We knew what he was trying to say, we’d played charades before, but we were in such a state of disbelief that no one knew what to do next. “No workie” he motioned again.
“Like, how broken?” I tried to motion back.
“Ummm…ice,” he motioned by shivering and wrapping his arms around his body.
“That’s OK!” Bill and I exclaimed at the same time in overly excited voices. The ranger looked from us to the kids. “Ice,” he repeated.
I tried to think of how to explain to this man with body language that I was filthy. That my kids were filthy. That I wanted to look everyone over for ticks. That if I didn’t feel fresh water and soap on my skin in the next 10 minutes I might choke him.
I woke the next morning just before the sunrise, grabbed my camera and tripod, and walked 10 feet to the shoreline. Roxy, our puppy, danced around me and the two of us breathed in the fresh morning air.As the day wore on, sand castles were built, and Coronas were kicked back, I grabbed my camera again to photograph the beauty all around me. Yet again I marveled at the lava rocks that had once flowed from a mountain at the center of this island.
Here’s a picture of Roxy at our campsite on the beach. This was a view from the tent. Gorgeous!Hado beach is known for its cleanliness because fewer tourists visit it. This was the main reason we chose this beach as the second (although the first night we didn’t get to camp) of our camping spots. Not only was the beach clean, but it was perfect for children as the water was crystal clear and as the tide recessed, a sandbar appeared creating an amazing pool for even the youngest of swimmers to play in safely. Despite the blue skies, by the afternoon the winds from Typhoon Goni began to kick up again. The stakes to the tent kept pulling up from the soft sand and so Bill and I decided to pack up shop and head to our next camping spot, Seogwipo Beach. This beach did not have an official camping ground, but it was lonely and beautiful, and since no one was around to tell us otherwise, we decided to make a camping spot of our own.
This, my friends, is the beauty of Korea. Apparently this couple had just gotten married and were now having their marriage photos taken. I snuck in behind the real photographer and snapped a few myself. Even at high noon with no shade, a nightmare for any photographer, these photos show you just how romantic and beautiful the scenery at Jeju is. The mountain behind the couple is Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak). This mountain is famous in Jeju, but I didn’t understand why until I saw it for myself.
After snapping wedding photos I joined Bill at the campsite just 20 feet away. At that moment we heard the distinct roar of jet planes overhead. To our surprise and delight, Korea’s Black Eagles (think America’s Blue Angels) were flying overhead! I drew my camera like Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry and snapped what I could in the moment. It was like Korea itself was welcoming us to the beach of Seogwipo!
Here are my kids playing in the beautiful water of Seogwipo Beach.All situated at the beach front, we hopped back into the truck for a quick, five-minute drive to Sunrise Peak. I wanted to hike to the top for a sunset view, which I was told was only a 30 minute trek. Unfortunately, dogs aren’t allowed up the mountain, forest rules and all, so Bill and the youngest kids stayed below while my son and I prepared for the journey. It may not look like much from the bottom, but at somewhere around 400 nearly vertical steps up to the summit, my son and I could feel the fire in our chest and legs which continued to burn days later. I was panting people. Panting.
But the view at the top was oh, so worth it. Here is what the remains of the volcanic crater look like from the top.
And here is the sunset view. The first picture is the more iconic vantage point. The second shows Mount Hallasan in the distance. Our tent on the beach could be seen from the second picture’s perspective during the daylight.As we turned to head back down the mountain I took one last shot from across the crater. In the distance you can see the moon and the many fishing ships with their lights aglow in the sea. Back at our campsite, Bill grilled steaks and I poured wine.