Monday, March 08, 2010

It ain't no Hallaback, girl

The best plans are the most sudden ones. I've always enjoyed taking trips if for no other reason than the fact that I have the time and the (limited) money they take. If it's a strange trip, even better. That's why I agreed to a 39-hour trip to and from Jeju-do, which was scheduled with the precision and controlled panic of a military operation. We started on time, finished on time, received a $30 discount, as well as the one water bottle and lunchbox of Chinese food that we were promised.

Jeju is a large island southwest of Korea, large relative to the size of Korea. At its centre is the 6,000-foot Hallasan, a long-dormant volcano that is the tallest mountain in South Korea. This trip was actually a group tour that left the Seoul area Friday night, arriving in Jeju Saturday morning after a 14-hour boat ride. Then, we were to take a tour bus to the mountain, climb it, get back on the bus, get on a ferry and come right back. As far as impressions go, it was a bit like Vertical Limit combined with Titanic for the traumatized and muddy masses huddling aboard a massive ship.

Friday night aboard the ship was one of the weirdest nights of my life. If you consider that I was taking a lengthy boat ride just go climb a mountain and come right back, it was odd enough. Our quarters on the ferry was a large, empty room that accomodated maybe 20-30 people who brought their own picnics. Just as I was explaining to my friend that the men next to us would have offered us their sashimi if we had all been foreign, we were offered some sashimi.

We took it, but that meant my presence and existence had to be accounted for. After the basics, I threw everyone for a loop by not drinking, because they simply refused to take no for an answer. I must have made an impression, because after a half hour of conversation, one of them placed one hand over his heart and formally introduced himself with a handshake.

His friend would later make a complete ass out of himself by passing out due to inebriation and then committing several acts of sexual harrassment against my person. But, before all that was the TV interview I gave on the chilly deck of the ferry, the all-women's arm wrestling championship that made liberal use of the Rocky theme, the live music put on by a guitarist named Mr. Romance and the fireworks show that degenerated into a middle-aged night club, with nothing but high-quality hiking gear and one alarmingly tight jump suit on a 50-something woman.

After all that, the climb up Hallasan was mild and uneventful. Though it's the highest mountain in Korea, it slopes very gently, with nothing but wooden stairs and somewhat steep sections of conveniently-placed rocks. The biggest challenge was negotiating the simultaneously muddy and icy portions of the mountain. I can't say I've ever been anywhere else that had six-inch-deep mud and foot-deep snow on the same day.

Owing to its size, Hallasan requires 19 km of walking, which we did in a leisurely 7 hours. The view at the top would probably be spectacular if not for the rain that fell all day, making the summit shrouded in gray clouds and sideways mist. The natural scenery is spectacular, with many portions crossing over small streams that have been forged through giant alleys of boulders.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That trip sound like a blast and a half!
Keep on having (and posting) your wacky adventure!