Summer has hit here in Korea… oh man. We are talking 100 degree days, 100% humidity, and UV index levels of 11 (read: extreme!). On days we get a little relief from the glaring sun, it pours down rain (did I mention 100% humidity?). Unlike in Oregon, where summer rain brings a clean sense of cooling relief, here the rain just adds to the stickiness. For two people who like to be active and spend time outdoors, this weather has been kind of a bummer. Even going to the grocery store leaves me sticky, sweaty, and tired in the way that heat and humidity have of zapping your energy and spirits. The AC has been my best friend.
Summer break is the shorter of the two school holidays here in Korea, lasting around a month coinciding with the hottest and wettest part of the year. Joey and I decided to use some of our vacation time to take a proper holiday: we headed south to Jeju Island, hoping for some tropical relief from the stagnant heat in Jeollobuck-do.
Prior to our trip, we did not know much about Jeju. It is known as the “Hawaii of Korea;” it famously produces a lot of citrus; and it is home to a few breweries. All told, it did not disappoint! We rented a motorbike—one of my favorite ways of exploring new places—and found some beaches and viewpoints. We bought multiple kilograms of oranges from market stands, drank plenty of fresh squeezed juice in cocktails and smoothies, and hopped between a few breweries. Good beer is a luxury I will never take for granted in Oregon again.
One of the major attractions on Jeju Island is Mount Hallasan. It is a large mountain in the center of the island, and hiking it is a full day excursion. Naturally we decided to check it out. And, like everything in Korea: it was not quite what we expected, but we decided to make the best of it.
We went on an overcast Friday, with the hopes of it being a cooler day. By the time we got off the bus and to the trailhead, it was nearing noon. Things were looking good, though: with the increased elevation, the air was even cooler. We had a lunch packed and were ready to roll. As we approached the entrance, a park ranger informed us that we were leaving too late in the day to reach the summit. She said that according to their strictly enforced rules, in order to hike all the way we would need to pass a checkpoint, about 3 hours away, by 1pm: impossible. Undiscouraged, we decided to challenge ourselves to see how far we could get.
Our pace was quick, due in large part to this being a princess hike, clearly made to accommodate the old and the young. The first kilometer or two was carpeted in some sort of woven organic material to keep the rocks down. We cruised, but by 1 o’clock we still had 2 kilometers to the checkpoint and resigned ourselves to the alternative and, at a fork, we chose the trail for a smaller lake loop, and ascended into the clouds.
It turns out it would not have mattered if we made it to the summit that day—our view was exactly the same on the lower peak: clouds. We had been hiking for about two hours by the time we reached the lake. Or, at least I think there was a lake there. By this point, we were so engulfed by the thick, cloudy mist that we could hardly see 10 feet in front of us. The wind was wild on the viewless-viewpoint; it was unexpected and beautiful and thrilling and a little disappointing all at once. A good metaphor for this whole experience.
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It seems like everybody on social media lately has been posting incredible traveling photos. It is to the point that I live abroad and am thinking: I want to be traveling more. I’m guilty of the glorified posting, too. And while I’m a huge advocate for traveling—it opens your eyes to new ways of living, new foods, beautiful places, and humbles you (especially if you are in a country where you don’t speak the language or in a developing country)—I think it is important to acknowledge the fact that it is not all glamorous; it is never all glamorous.
There is no way that every moment of your friends’ beach vacation was perfect. Sure, that sunset was probably beautiful and that view was probably really nice. But getting there might have been challenging. Maybe they got car sick on the bus or they have been shitting their pants for threes days straight because of something they ate in this beautiful country with strange, delicious food.
Take it from me: just like in your every day life, not every moment of traveling is perfect… no matter how much Instagram makes it feel that way. Some of my favorite travel memories were, in the moment, stressful and not fun. I do not have any pictures from those times, because in the moment I was so focused on the current situation that I forgot about trying to prove anything to my followers back home. Some of these moments make good stories to reminisce on, no filter required to soften the edges; other times, the situations have no redeeming qualities—you just have to accept it and keep moving forward. Those, too, are moments of growth. And they are one of the important experiences that few people tell you about true, authentic travel when they are inundating your news feed with perfect bikini-sunset-cocktail photos.
Likewise, when traveling things are not always what you are expecting. I would not call Mount Hallasan a fail. Was it perfect? No. But few things in travel, especially in our Korean adventures, ever are. We enjoyed the experience for what is was. As we close in on the 4-month mark, marking one-third of this experiment complete, I hope to remember to enjoy the experiences—big and small—for what they are, not what they could be or “should” be.