We passed the famed 500 Generals clinging to a cliff side, giant monoliths of stone rising out of green vegetation. Stopping again to stretch our legs, we saw more of the island.
The view became more spectacular until we could see nearly half of Jeju below us.
The moment reminded me of my conversation with a 40-something Korean woman I met at Tamna Library in Jeju-si, the island’s capital city. She told me her English name was Ashley. “How do you like Jejudo?” she asked, triumphantly displaying her language skills.
I told her I loved everything about it—the food, the weather, the people, the slow pace of life. She didn’t believe that I was simply on the island for a vacation.
Although a popular destination for Asians, most Westerners on Jejudo are expatriates teaching English, so life isn’t catered to the English-speaking tourist. We talked through our language barrier about Ashley’s family and my vacation, and I helped her pick out some English books to study for an upcoming test.
She gave me her phone number and told me I was welcome in her house anytime.
“You will like Jejudo very much,” Ashley promised me as we parted ways.
Just as we seemed to near the top, the trail stopped following the edge of the mountain and led us into shoulder-high shrubs. Clouds began rolling in, and the damp air left my skin clammy and cold. We moved into flatter, rolling hills reminiscent of Scotland and onto a boardwalk-like path that led us toward our destination.
A freshwater spring meandered its way beneath a small footbridge, and we refilled our water bottles with ladles left laying on a rock nearby. Shortly beyond the spring, we reached Witseoreum Shelter. At 250 meters below the actual peak of Mt. Halla, the shelter is the highest point on the Yeongsil trail.
One other path leads to Witseoreum, while the longer two hiking trails traverse to the highest point on Jeju. Families sat scattered on the ground and on benches, eating breakfast and taking pleasure in each other’s company.
Sunset from Iho Beach - Nothing says paradise like a sunset from Iho Beach.(Photo/Cory Haugen)
We bought a couple bowls of spicy Ramen noodles and pondered the classification of a 420-meter climb in slightly over an hour-and-a-half as “easy.” Above me the peak of Mt. Halla still beckoned to me, but I had come as far as possible.
The melodic hum of Korean swam through the conversations around me, and my body felt instantly relaxed to be surrounded by happy people who had spent the morning in the fresh island air.
It was the physical manifestation of serenity, and I closed my eyes, savoring every instant.
Ashley had been right. I did like Jeju very much.
JoAnna Haugen is a Las Vegas-based freelance writer with vagabond tendencies. A former Peace Corps volunteer, she can often be found planning her next great adventure. Click here to read more of her work.