It was my honeymoon that brought me to Jeju for the first time back in 2010. My wife and I spent four rainy days in February driving around the island. The only thing we had planned was our departure. I’ve forgotten a lot of things over the past four years, or so my wife claims, but the memories of that wet landscape accented with bright orange hallabong, lush green foliage and jet black lava rock stay with me to this day.
There is just something about Jeju that reminds me of home. When I was young, my family and I would visit Hornby, a very small island on the west coast of Canada, during summer vacation. Hornby had the same wet, wind swept planes and island mentality. Perhaps this partially explains my affinity for the large rock.
My journey to Jeju began with a flight out of Gimpo, one that was almost canceled due to a mixture of fog and micro dust. The weather in Jeju wasn’t much clearer but the ocean scented air was far easier on the throat and eyes. The same gray sky I spent my entire honeymoon under four years ago was waiting right there to greet me again. I was all set to embrace it — there are way too many photos of Jeju with sunny blue skies anyways! I slipped into my rain jacket, pulled a yellow plastic garbage bag over my camera and took off down the road on my 125cc rental scooter ready for whatever weather Jeju had in store for me. My goal — to explore the backroads of Jeju in search of people and flowers.
My adventures lead me to a small canola field tucked away near Pyeonghwa-ro. The bright yellow flowers contrasted beautifully against the dark, dreary sky. I sat for a while and watched gusts of wind wisp over the field like waves rolling into shore. As much as I loved spending the day on these backroads, I realized I would have to seek out more popular areas if I was to fulfill my assignment of finding flowers, roads and people.
The next morning the weather was far from perfect by tourist standards but that didn’t seem to stop anyone from getting outdoors. All of the main attractions were buzzing with students, families and tour groups. I arrived at Mt. Songak just as the first tourist busses were arriving. Everyone I encountered on the path greeted me with a friendly nod or hello. All looked to be avid hikers eager to get an early start on the day. From Mt. Songak I rode by Mt. Sanbang and encountered a tour group so large they literally looked like a 500m snake from afar.
Over at Seongsan Ichulbang and Seopjikogi I finally found more of what I was seeking — people enjoying flowers. Three ladies spent close to an hour in a small field of flowers just below Ichulbang. The canola fields amidst the peaks of Seopjikogi were also a popular photo location amongst visitors. I realized during this assignment just how difficult it is to capture a tourist who ISN’T taking a picture.
During my two days on Jeju I spent twenty-one hours covering 287km of road by scooter. I took in a lot more than the first time. Honestly, I was shocked and a little saddened to see how much development had occurred in four short years. There’s now a Starbucks and Lotteria right at the bottom of Ichulbang and a massive resort is being developed in the middle of Seopjikoji, a place I feel would have greater appeal left untouched. I sincerely hope that Jeju can and has implemented sustainable tourism strategies for their future so myself and others can visit again and feel like we’ve escaped the city.