|I left the room to go in search of breakfast. I don't remember breakfast being included, but I found a room where they were serving Korean breakfast. It was full of people, and no one was asking for money. Since they didn't understand my questions, I decided breakfast was included and no one seemed to disagree. I got two boiled eggs, some rice, and coffee and took a seat by the window. That's when I noticed the snow. It was coming down in barrels. I went back to my room to confirm the tour. Yes, someone will pick you up at your hotel at 9:00.
The tour consisted of the tour guide/driver, 6 20-something girls--3 from Australia, 2 from Singapore, and 1 from Hong Kong--and me. It was a fun group for an adventure. Actually, the two Singaporean girls completely ignored me. The girl from Hong Kong talked a little, but seemed painfully shy. One of the Australian girls was tall, homely, and sort of weird, but I liked her. The other two Australian girls were sisters. The pretty one was very friendly, kind of got everyone talking. Her sister was sort of a loner, kind but detached. They all told me their names but I can't remember any of them.
The guides name was a little hard to figure out. He told me twice, but it was such a long explanation I forgot his name before he had finished. His Korean name is Gee-something. GeeLong, Geewey, GeeWhiz, something like that. His English name is something like Lowen...I think. He got it off a bottle of German beer--Lowenbrau--when he was asked to choose an English name. It is particularly odd since he has never been to Germany and doesn't drink beer. I thought about telling him I wasn't sure it qualified as an English name, but decided it would only add to my considerable confusion. I just decided to call him my friend. Personal and non-specific.
We crunched along through the snow until the van skidded a little. My friend decided we needed chains and pulled to the side of the road to put them on. You need help? No, I'm fine. Ok. With chains in place we were off again, but in about 5 minutes, he stopped to tighten the chains. Need help? No.
First stop was the Trick Art Museum. Here you are not supposed to view the art, but take pictures where you are in the art. That's right: It's a selfie museum. My friend gave us 45 minutes to...um, enjoy the museum. I was assigned two partners, the weird girl and the Hong Kong girl. I actually had to laugh at the people really getting into the spirit of things. I took a few pictures for the other girls who seemed almost as disaffected as I was. I decided I needed at least one momentum photo, so I asked the weird girl to take my picture inside a dragon's mouth. Then I went to get some hot tea.
The snow seemed thicker when we went back to the van. My friend seemed pleased that we had all taken pictures. In fact he had seen me in the mouth of the dragon and taken my picture. It would be cruel irony if I ended up on a brochure for the selfie museum.
The second stop was this native Jeju village where one of the young men (only 70) showed us around. He was a card. He told us about Jeju women being super women who could do everything. Why did they do everything? Because the word for married man is king-self, and the king only sits around and drinks all day. He gave us umbrellas to protect us from the snow, but the snow was beginning to blow sideways and I was beginning to wonder about my flight the next morning. We even got to meet his black pig. And he tried to sell us native tea which cures everything from snoring to cancer. Him maybe I should have bought some.
Lunch was bbq black pork. Hm...two pig fat taco meals in as many days. Everything looked the same except the meat. That was meat...with a little fat. And it was delicious. The restaurant was in this group of businesses with a common building for toilets. My friend asked us to go first to the restaurant, so we could all see where it is. I looked a little longingly at the toilets, the trudged in frozen shoes to lunch. Food was ready as soon as we arrived, so I sat down to eat, only slightly uncomfortable and not wanting to get back in the snow. At some point during the meal, my bladder became more insistent and this discomfort of cold wet feet seemed less important. When I got back, the weird girl and the girl from Hong Kong had mostly cleaned up the pork. I found a few more scraps of meat, passed on the lettuce taco and ate them with rice.
Back in the van, my friend explained why black pork is so delightful. The pigs have a diet heavy in human poo. Ok, I think I'm done with black pork.
Next stop, the lady divers and Castle Mountain. On the way, the snow finally stopped. My friend decided to take off the chains. Need help my friend. No, I am fine.
The lady divers, the Haenyeo, are women who spend their lives learning to hold their breath under water. With this skill and a wet suit, they are good to dive up to 20 meters to catch fish, octopus, and muscles by hand. Divers can be as old as 75, and one current diver is 90. In the demonstration, one of them sang a song while the others did a little dance. Then, they donned mask and headed into the water. I am amazed at the women for sticking their faces in the cold water, but the water in the cove was only about waist deep and the only thing I saw them catch was sea weed, but they celebrated like they had snagged a killer whale.
Next the pretty girl and her sister started climbing the mountain with me. My friend told us which cafe he would be in if we needed him. Slacker. The mountain is a signature location of Jeju, a cratered extinct volcano. At least my friend told me it was extinct. There were stairs and thousands of tourist, so if you are thinking the Rockies...no, this would be more like climbing to the bell tower of Notre Dam...which is cool, of course. Still, I was outside. And it was cold. And about halfway up it started snowing. By the time I reached the top the snow was falling so thick I could hardly see the other side of the crater. It was cool and I was glad I had climbed it. But it didn't take long for me to get my fill and start the slippery journey down.
You know the movie poster with Leonardo d'Caprio looking frozen and rugged. That's pretty much what I looked like when I got to the bottom. Except of course that I am so much better looking than d'Caprio. Koreans found me hysterical. They kept asking me for pictures. Finally, one shop keeper put a plastic bag on her hand and started brushing the snow off me. Too bad, I was kind of enjoying the attention. Mostly Koreans just ignore me.
One more stop--the Manjanggul cave, or, more exactly, a lava tube. It is the longest in Asia and, like Castle Mountain, a UNESCO world heritage site. It is some 18 kilometers deep, but only 1k is accessible. On the way, the van was slipping again, so my friend stopped to put the tire chains back on. Need some help? I asked again. He smiled at me. No, you just sit back and relax, he told me. So I did.
The lava tube was impressive. You could see the shelves on the wall indicating different levels of lava flow at different times. The tunnel ended with a big lava spire, dramatically lit. The pretty girl and her sister caught up to me near the end. I had stopped to read signs on the way in, but time had become short and I was slightly afraid my friend might make good on his threat to leave us if we were late. I doubted it, but didn't want to take any chances. It was bitter cold and the snow fall was thick. The pretty girl and I chatted as we hurried back. Her sister found time to get pictures and still keep up.
The ride back is one of the scariest adventures of all my travels. The roads were treacherous. Many cars slammed into each other. Many others slid off the road. My friend had a steady eye. We slipped a bit but he kept us on the road and out of the path of other cars. It was like a giant game of bumper cars with a lot more danger. Traffic lights became big obstacles. Once cars stopped they had a hard time going again. We hit several major traffic jams. Traffic lights. Hills to high for cars without chains to climb. Wrecks. The drive that normally takes about 15 minutes took almost 3 hours. I tried to keep from talking and let my friend concentrate on driving. With his careful driving and my hard praying, we got as far as my hotel.
I felt oddly bonded to the group of people but had little time to say good bye. I thanked my friend for all his work of the day, said happy trails to everyone else, and made my way into the Hotel Robero.
I was hungry, so I set out for a pizza place I had seen a couple of blocks away. Bulgogi pizza. Hot. Tasty. Thought about a Starbucks but decided I just wanted to get back to the room and get my feet warm.
Tomorrow will be an interesting day, I'm afraid.