Thursday, September 8, 2016

Part 1 of Our Day on Jeju Island. Mt. Hallasan and Manjanggul Lava Tube.

Manjanggul Lava Tube

Today is our one and only day on Jeju Island. Everyone that I asked about what there is to see and do in Korea always mentioned Jeju as must-do. So, here we are.

Our day began with a buffet breakfast at the hotel.  Based on the offerings, it's obvious that this place is either owned by the Chinese or caters to a lot of Chinese tourists.  As you might expect, for that reason, I was very happy with the choice of food items :-)

I have to say, George made a nice pick of hotel.


After breakfast, we had to quickly figure out how we were going to spend our day.  If you look at the map of Jeju, one thing immediately stands out - there's a huge green spot in the very middle of the island.  Jeju is a volcanic island and that green spot represents the part around Mount Hallasan, a now dormant volcano that stands 1,950 meters (6,400 ft) high and is the highest mountain in South Korea.

We decided to head to Hallasan National Park first and then after that we went to see the Geomumnoreum Tubes System, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Jeju island itself measures approximately 73 kilometers (45 miles) across, east to west, and 41 kilometers (25 miles) from north to south so it's not a long drive to get from one location to another.  Jeju City, which is where we are staying is in the north of the island so we just had to make our way to mid island.


The cities and residential areas are pretty much all located on the periphery of the island so once you get inland, you are surrounded by greenery.  It's nice to leave the world of steel, glass and concrete behind if only for a short while.


Jeju Island is famous for its pork but today, I didn't see any pig farms on our drive.  Just trees and grass and mountain views.


Ms. Kimchi led us right to the parking lot for the park....at least one of the parking lots.  There was a Visitors Center there but oddly, it was completely empty.  Not a soul around.  I was hoping we could get some information and a map to guide us around but not today.

Instead, we found a board with some information on it.  We just headed in the direction that pointed to a trail.


The park does have camp sites - we saw a few pitched tents as we made our way into the woods.  At one campsite, they even had exercise machines set up. 


I don't know why anyone who is coming to a park to experience nature would be inclined to use these things.  Okay....I was.  George had never seen these things before - they are common in Asia.  I had to demonstrate a couple of them :-)


We stopped to look at the map for the trail we were on.  Not a long trail but it would take you to near trhe top of the volcano. The first part would be relatively flat and then it would be a steep climb.  I told George that we didn't have time to do the whole hike but we could at least walk until we decided we had had enough and then turn back around.



We started walking and it was a beautiful day for a walk in the woods.  The greenery here reminds me very much of the woodlands in the part of the US that I call home.


The trail wasn't always paved but overall, it was an easy walk.




The one thing that was nice was seeing green leafed Japanese maples growing in the wild.  We don't get those in the US.



Every now and again, there were signs posted to tell you about the native flora and fauna.  Unfortunately for us, everything was in Korean :-(


Having no idea how long it would take us to reach the part of the walk before the steep ascent begins, we decided to turn around after barely half an hour in to the woods.  I think for both of us, we weren't really up for a walk but had the landscape been something different, we would have stuck with it.  But at least for me, with a few minor differences in plant species, I might as well have been on woodland walk in the park near my house.

We decided to  leave the park and head to our next destination which was something that we don't get to see in the US mainland - a lava tube.

From Mt. Hallasan National Park, it was a very short drive to the Geomumnoreum Lava Tubes System, a UNESCO World Heritage site.  This is obviously a popular tourist destination - nice big parking lot, a gift shop, a convenience shop and a small information center/auditorium.


A lava tube is a natural conduit formed by flowing lava which moves beneath the hardened surface of a lava flow. Tubes can be actively draining lava from a volcano during an eruption, or can be extinct, meaning the lava flow has ceased and the rock has cooled and left a long, cave-like channel.

The Geomumnoreum Lava Tubes System is comprised of a several of lava tube caves formed when basaltic lava flow erupted from the Geomunoreum volcano (which has an elevation of 456m) and flowed in a north-northeast direction, down to the coastline for about 13 kilometers. It is estimated that theGeomumnoreum Lava Tubes System was formed between about 100 and 300 thousand years ago.

Today, we got to walk a stretch of the Manjanggul Lava Tube which runs for about 8 kilometers.



The entry ticket cost 4,000 won.


We found our way to the entrance and made our way down the steps.



We descended in to another world.  It was dark, damp and chilly.  Although I've never been into a lava tube, it felt just like being in a cave except you can walk for a long distance and you're walking through a space that is tubular in shape.



At various points along the way, there were lighted displays to explain unique lava tube formations.  Honestly, I can't remember them.  I think the photo below shows one that looked like a chair rail design.


It was not easy taking photos in the dark - I had to find lit spots to shoot.



It was amazing how high up the top of the tube was in certain sections.


There was no sort of a wooden walkway so you walk on the uneven floor of the tube.  I had to be careful walking not just because of the unevenness of the ground but also because it was wet.   Groundwater still seeps down into the lava tube.


In the photo below, you can see the effects of minerals leaching down via the groundwater.



The path came to a dead end at a very unusual lava stalagmite.  Perfect spot for a photo op though there was barely enough light for my camera to work.



From the stalagmite, we made our way back to the entrance.  So far, the lava tube has been the most interesting thing I've seen on the trip so far.


After our subterranean walk, we headed for the convenience stop.  On the way, I got some very sad news via Facebook.  My cousin Jimmy who is quite a bit older than I am and whom I only met for the first time last year passed away suddenly.  I later on found out that he had died from a stroke.

Jimmy and Matthew.

Jimmy said he knew me when I was a small child but I only met him barely 18 months ago.  We were at my cousin Kim's house for a family dinner.  We only chatted for a few minutes as Jimmy wanted to make his way around to everyone else in the family many of whom had never met him before either.  Jimmy had traveled from his home in Portland to Westpoint to see his son Matthew graduated from the US Military Academy.  He stopped in the Bay Area on his way back home.  Though most of us didn't know much about Jimmy or his life, the one thing that he made sure that we all knew was that he was extremely proud of his son.  Jimmy was planning a return trip to the east coast the following year, to meet up with Matthew who was slated for training somewhere down south.  Sadly that trip will never happen.

At the store, I bought and ice cream cone and for a few quiet minutes, thought about Jimmy's passing.  Gone too soon.  Another reminder of how short life can be and how we should all live each precious moment to its very fullest.

Today, all I had to toast to Jimmy was an ice cream cone.  I hope you're enjoying the same, dear cousin!