Time Travel on Route 97, Jeju

This isn’t the time travel part.

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This is the heading to Sangumburi part…the second crazy-green volcanic crater I peered into on the sweet isle of Jeju.  Same day, even.  It was a Sunday.  I had risen before dawn.  Suddenly the day was so much longer!  So I decided to take in a few sites post-Seongsan country stroll.  After packing up my bags at the minbak–wait, my mom has requested I explain what a minbak is, so I guess this is the time: it’s like a cheap hotel, but run out of the home of an ajumma, which is a middle-aged to oldish Korean woman who can be both charming and feisty.  Mostly feisty.  All ajummas look eerily similar: permed hair, gigantic visors, and loose, multi-patterned clothes.  Some minbaks are cleaner than others, and they’re all very plain: mat on the floor, a pile of thicker mats to make a bed with, a couple polyester blankets, and usually a t.v., not that I was watching any tube on my trip.

So after packing up my bags at the Seongsan minbak, which, incidentally, was the cleanest I stayed in the entire week away (it’s called the Yonggung Minbak–if you’re staying the night in Seongsan, I recommend: see end of post for info) I hopped a bus back to Jeju city, where I checked into a hotel a friend had arranged for me back in Busan. 

The guidebook detailed various bus routes to experience various Jeju sites.  You’ll hear me mention “the guidebook” frequently in these posts, as I fell in love with my Rough Guide to Korea, which was written by a dude called Norbert Paxton.  It’s incredibly researched and beautifully worded, so much so that I read it like a novel, lingering over passages and bits of history and context and studying the same maps over and over again.  Norbert devoured every inch of this country (and North Korea!) during his research trips and compiled more insightful facts, useful phrases, necessary tips, and funny asides than I could ever dream of doing.  Well, that’s not true.  I’m actually now officially dreaming of writing for Rough Guides.  But that’s another post.

Norbert suggested I check out Route 97: a road from Jeju City that cuts across the Eastern half of the island from North to South.  First stop was Sangumburi–possibly, according to the book, Jeju’s “most impressive” crater.  The road that curved along it looked like this…

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And the crater was 2 km in circumference and 132 m deep.

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The best way I can describe it is an extremely lush forest thriving in a giant hole. 

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Sangumburi is a Marr crater, which means it was created by an explosion in an area that was mostly flat.  (If you’re in any way impressed by my expertise here, don’t be–it’s all Norbert.) You can’t hike in, because wildlife live inside it, like deer.  And badgers.  And I’m pretty sure I saw some kind of pheasant.  So I roamed around the rim for awhile and marvelled, again, at just how GREEN it all was.  And the sounds!  Birds calling and bugs buzzing and leaves swishing whenever a breeze came along.  Craters! My new thing.

Then it was off to stop two on the route: the Seong-eup Folk Village.  This is where I time-travelled…

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to a town where people still live in old-school Jeju-style digs.  Seong-eup  is the real deal, not a re-make.  Apparently the government gives its residents financial assistance, in part to keep the village afloat so visitors can check it out.  Though on this afternoon, there wasn’t another traveler in sight.

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There wasn’t a lot of locals hanging around outside either.  But one smiley older guy who knew a little English spotted me across the road and offered to show me around.

He explained that the pairs of hareubang–Jeju’s ubiquitous stone grandfathers–always have opposite hands placed across their bellies…

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and that three wooden poles down at the front of a gate means come on in.  (All poles up: not home.  One pole up: back soon.)

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He insisted on taking this photo, through a hole, in a stone…

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and wanted me to buy some homemade cactus jam, made from the plant’s red blossoms.  I didn’t.  And I’ve been feeling guilty ever since.  It’s not like he was a hustler on Khaosan Road trying to push his product.  He was a sweet Korean man in a folk village with jam for sale.  Damn, I still feel guilty.  If I could actually time travel, I’d go back to Seong-up Village July 25th, 2010, to the heat and the dust and the hareubang, and ask the man how much his cactus jam costs, and buy a jar of it, instead of simply smiling at him with a little bow of my head and saying kamsahamnida before I walked away, never to see him or his village again.  Lesson learned…

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by the jam-less woman in the mirror.

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Mostly, I loved the thatched roofs…

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And that people still live their lives beneath them, in a village on an island in the Pacific, guarded by big-eyed statues sculpted from the rock of ancient, exploding volcanoes.

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Get there: For both Sangumburi and Seong-up, take the Route 97 bus from Jeju City. If you want to see both sites, a bus will swing by the crater entrance about an hour after you were dropped off; just stand back out on the road to wave it down.  Seong-up is another 20 minutes south. 

Yonggung Minbak in Seongsan: it’s a red brick building on the left on the way from the bus stop to the Ilchulbong ticket office.

Phone: 782-2379/Price: KRW 25,000/night

 

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6 thoughts on “Time Travel on Route 97, Jeju

  1. Hey Cocobusan,

    this is Norbert of Rough Guide fame. Or rather it isn’t… slight issues with North Korea prevented me from using my real name! (Are there any Norberts these days?) If you’re interested, Norbert Paxton was a character in a short story by my favourite author, Anthony Burgess. Norbert was an old man who threw his passport away in an airport customs office and went slowly insane as he travelled the world’s airports. I felt it apt.

    Anyway, I was doing research for the second edition today, and it was a little odd to come across my own words when looking for other people’s views! But hey, thanks so much for the kind words and the bigging up of my pet beast; I really appreciate it.

    Glad you got to see Yakcheonsa at sundown. I was there recently, and a Dutch mate of mine totally ruined the atmosphere… after the monk had finished banging the gong and gone to lead the chants, he said “that’s the difference between him and Phil Collins… Phil can sing and play the drums at the same time.” And there was me trying to Zen. Git.

    If you’re ever in Seoul, give me a shout. Well actually not for the next month, as I’m off to Vietnam tomorrow! Yeah, it’s a horrible life…. best of luck with your own travels!

    M

  2. Seong-eup with it’s marvelous statues, wooden pole messengers, and gorgeous thatched roofs/volcanic stone
    fences is absolutely delightful, wish I could have been their
    with you. You should have bought the jam, it was a gift!
    The islands/craters are so lush/green they are marvelous!

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