Jeju , Korea Rep.
We docked at Jeju Island at about 730am and we could see its volcanic peaks from breakfast in the Belvedere. A lovely bright, sunny spring day with a cool wind. Jeju has been designated a Global Geopark, with 12 spots making that grade. Several of them, and indeed the whole island has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. We wanted to see a couple of them and also one of the most famous of the cultural aspects of the island: The Haenyeo – The Women Divers.
Bob had found us a brilliant taxi driver/tour guide: Mr Ann! We’d been in contact by email and he was right there to meet us when we came out of the terminal at about 9am having been stamped into South Korea. Nice Hyundai car of course! He took us to a couple of viewpoints and then on a 40 minute drive to our first stop: The Manjanggul Lava Tube Cave, one of the UNESCO sites. Interesting scenery along the way. Miles of drystone walling made of pumice stones. Pine trees mixed with citrus trees. Probably the most famous product of Jeju is the orange or tangerine. They grow masses of them here and turn them into every product you can possibly imagine.
Anyway, the cave tube is one of the largest on Jeju. The tube’s total length is 7.5 km and it is as wide as 23m in parts and as high as 30m at its highest point. The part that is open to the public is around 1km in length and we were fortunate enough to see it at a very quiet time with few other people. The floor was quite uneven and wet and you could see the different lava levels in the walls. We walked quite a long way in, admiring the atmospheric lighting. We had been in one before in Volcanoes National Park on the island of Hawaii but this was much larger in every way.
After our lava tube visit, we headed along the northern coast road admiring the rocky coves and sandy beaches. Jeju is a popular holiday island with Koreans and there is certainly plenty to do. Our next stop was at the Haenyeo Museum, something I was really looking forward to. The Haenyeo (women divers) only eist in Jeju Island and Japan and they gather seafood, abalone or other shellfish from the sea. They have for a long time been the bulwark of Jeju’s economy going on long expeditions to Japan as well as other parts of Korea. This is a tradition that goes back to the mid 1600s at least. These brave women were also in the forefront of the struggle against the Japanese colonial oppression and they are still active today. There is worry that the population has shrunk dramatically. At one time there were possibly 20,000 Haenyeo, there are now perhaps 3000 and they are getting older. Younger women are not following the craft. Many of the ladies active today are in their 70s and they still go out in all weather conditions to free dive for seafood. It is a sustainable industry, they alternate their catchesand are very strict about this. We passed through several Haenyeo villages on the way to the museum and the ladies’ houses were painted with murals depicting diving and the sea. The museum was very interesting and had several films detailing their work and their traditions. We saw the drystone square enclosures they build on the beach in which to light a warming fire and store their catches as they work in teams. It was quite moving really, to appreciate the hard life of these ladies as they struggle against the elements clad only in very thin wetsuits or sometimes just cotton clothing!
After we left the museum we drove further to the east side of the island, to Seongan Ilchulbong Peak, or Sunset Peak, as it is more popularly known. It is an extinct volcano that erupted out of the sea around 5000 years ago. The crater is 65 acres in area surrounded by pointy rocks resembling a castle or a crown. Mr Ann took us to a viewpoint for it first and I was taking pictures there when I realised that there were black clad figures coming across the beach. It was the Haenyeo! About 20 of them. Such excitement! They were all at least middle aged plus but looked fit and strong, carrying their kit as they fanned out across the bay. They have a personal float, and carry rudimentary tools such as knives and bags. These ladies were in thin wetsuits with weightbelts strapped around their waists and down their spines from neck to waist level. I imagine this helps to keep them head down as they work the seabed at depths of up to 20m. So thrilled we actually saw them in action.
Bob and I then set off on our trek to climb to the top of Sunset Peak. A bit of an undertaking for us! It was a very steep hike uphill to the edge of the crater, took us about 30 minutes and with much panting and red faces. We were very pleased that we’d done it though as the views were stupendous at the top plus we were the only people on the top over the age of about 25! Old fools!
We drove back across the centre of the island and r Ann took us to the main market in Jeju Town: Dongmun Market. A market for locals primarily, there are about 300 traders inside selling fish, shellfish, fruit and veg, clothes, pottery, cookware. The importance of the orange was very visible. There were lots of stalls selling a range of orange products: juice, fruit, ice cream, macaroons, conserves, bisuits, chocolates of all sorts, jelly. Had a nice fuddle around in there. Then back to the ship for about 4pm. Pretty knackered so had a rest for a while.
Had dinner and then went to see Sicario in the cinema. We’d seen about 3 minutes of it in Goa with Kirsty and Tony before there was a fatal power cut. Wow. It was bleak. Good but pretty unrelenting.